Category Archives: Delhi

Delhi in 48 hours

Cover the lion’s share of New Delhi’s architectural marvels, garden paradises and culinary secrets over an exciting weekend.

If you find yourself in India’s regal capital city for just 48 hours, fret not. While you may not be able to explore every single landmark of Delhi, you can get more than just a taste of its atmospheric Mughal-era monuments and stately government headquarters.

Day 1

Parliament, Ministries & President’s House

Rashtrapati Bhavan

The Sansad Marg area, bordering the Southern Ridge Forest is a beautiful quiet neighbourhood full of manicured gardens and palatial political abodes manned by tight security. Citizens are free to stroll across the area and gawk at the magnificent Rashtrapati Bhavan, which serves as the President’s house, the Parliament of India and the Defence and Home Ministries, fronted by lovely fountains that serve as a great backdrop for photos. Yes, you can pose for pictures as long as you don’t cross the barricades. One thing to note is that vehicles cannot be parked in this area so it’s better to park elsewhere and come to Sansad Marg on foot, or keep driving around for a good view.

India Gate

India Gate

As you drive along Rajpath Marg, you’ll see the famous arch of India Gate slowly coming into view, until you’re at its very doorstep. The war memorial pays homage to the 82000 soldiers of the Indian Army who died between 1914 and 1921 during the First World War. Their names are inscribed on one side of the arch. Around the main arch, you’ll also find clusters of bright flowers, gardens, a fountain and minaret. Beneath India Gate is the Amar Jawan Jyoti, or the Flame of the Immortal Soldier, which has served as India’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since 1971.

Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun's Tomb

This is one of the most beautiful monuments in Delhi and deserves a detailed exploration. The stunning main structure may remind you of the Taj Mahal but here, the marble is interspersed with red stone and the turrets have azure tips. The tomb is housed inside this structure and there are various chambers and doorways that demand examination. Remember to look up, for the domed ceiling is surrounded by intricate latticed windows. There are many other tombs housed inside lovely structures in the Humayun’s Tomb garden complex. The octagonal Isa Khan Tomb enclosure predates Humayun’s Tomb by 20 years and is incredibly detailed as well.

Agrasen ki Baoli

Agrasen ki Baoli

This historical stepwell on Hailey Road has 108 steps and is made of red sandstone. Possibly named after the wealthy Agrawal community, the protected monument offers a stunning view from above. If you’re the adventurous kind, you may undertake the journey to its far-off depths, where bat nests and the dank smell typical of underground places await you. You can circle the stepwell at every level, admiring the inner arches.

Red Fort

Red Fort

End your first day in Delhi with a visit to the iconic Red Fort and perhaps a sound and light show at dusk. The fort complex is vast (over 250 acres) with over a dozen important structures that are often far apart, so be prepared for a lot of walking. You’ll often see eagles circling over the tall red sandstone towers, while happy tourists walk beneath the curved arches. Not all the structures inside the complex are red; some are pure white with grey patches due to age. On the pillars, you’ll often see Islamic style floral motifs. Don’t miss the Freedom-Struggle Museum, which lets you walk back in time to India’s fight for independence.

Akshardham Temple

Akshardham Temple
Courtesy: Pixabay

In case you decide not to go for any sound and light show (there’s a good one at Purana Qila as well), you can drive to the outskirts of Delhi to visit the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, the largest Hindu temple in the world. The opulence and perfection of this temple complex cannot possibly be described in words. Walking around its pools that reflect the surrounding towers is a sublime experience. For a fee, one can enjoy a cultural boat ride, watch the Sahaj Anand water show, visit the three exhibitions and the sunken lotus garden. Photography is prohibited.

Day 2

Qutub Minar

Qutub Minar

The sprawling Qutub Complex, a captivating melange of ruins, gardens, tombs and temples houses the Qutub Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world. You’ll have to walk quite a distance to get the entire minaret in your frame! Seen from up close, the minaret has various inscriptions in Arabic and Nagari characters, which tell the story of its origin. Other landmarks in the Qutub Complex include the Alai Darwaza, Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosquem, Tomb of Iltutmish, Ala-ud-din khalji Tomb and Alai Minar.

National Rail Museum

National Rail Museum

A one of its kind museum of trains and everything related to them, the Rail Museum is a wonderland for children and adults who are fascinated by vintage engines. You can walk among displays of actual steam locomotives built by different companies with placards displaying the details of their mechanics and lifespan. There is also a musical fountain, indoor museum and cafeteria at the museum. The interactive indoor museum is excellently built, featuring many games and quizzes that encourage you to explore India’s fascinating rail history.

Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar

At first sight, Jantar Mantar looks like a collection of interestingly shaped structures that seem to be oddly spiritual in nature. But it’s actually a set of 18th century observatories constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh II, a keen lover of astronomy. There are four main yantras, housed within six structures. Back in the day (around 1724 AD), these instruments gave quiet precise readings and enabled Jai Singh II to prepare a revised set of astronomical tables.

Lodi Gardens

Lodi Gardens

This impossibly vast garden and monument complex replete with storybook lakes, architectural marvels, lush foliage and rich biodiversity will truly charm your soul. While locals come here to walk, play, perform yoga, feed the swans or engage in bird-watching and photography, the tourist in you will be drawn to the three-domed Bara Gumbad Mosque full of Arabesque stucco decorations and paintings. Then there are the tombs of Muhammad Shah and Sikander Lodi, after whom the gardens are named. Watching the sun set beyond the Sheesh Gumbad is an ethereal experience.

Lotus Temple

Lotus Temple Delhi

End your two-day tour of Delhi with a visit to the lotus-shaped Baha’i Temple, a place of worship with no affinity to any one religion. 27 free-standing marble-clad ‘petals’ were arranged in triads to form nine sides and construct the temple. The temple complex is spread across 26 acres and includes nine pools and serene gardens. Though it’s not open to visitors at night, the temple looks arresting from the outside when it’s lit up.

Fact file

Stay: Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon and Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport are convenient options for touring Delhi as they offer top-notch five star facilities, city tours in luxury cars and classy accommodation with excellent views. Both hotels have in-house spas where skilled masseurs can bring solace to your tired feet after a hectic day of sight-seeing.

Eat: Bella Italia, a cheerful Italian restaurant with woody interiors and kitschy wall art is a great option for lunch or dinner. Wildfire at Gurgaon is a part of the international chain of gourmet Brazilian restaurants and a must-visit for meat lovers. Enjoy a quick lunch buffet at Vito or Café G and evening drinks at Hangar, an aviation-themed bar in Delhi and Connexions, a 24 hour bar in Gurgaon.

Shop: A trip to Delhi is incomplete without a visit to Delhi Haat, famous for its collection of Punjabi juttis, jewellery, dress material and other artefacts.

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Delhi in 48 hours

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Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport: Review

On my third visit to India’s regal capital city, I had the good fortune of staying at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport, a four star hotel popular among frequent business travellers. While the spacious rooms and stellar service make this hotel an obvious choice for those wishing to stay near the airport, what truly impressed me was the quality of their Lea Spa and Salon; Hangar, the innovative aviation-themed bar and the gourmet fare on offer at Bella Italia, their Italian restaurant.

Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
The reception area

The neighbourhood

Aero City is only 3 km away from Indira Gandhi International Airport and we reached Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport in less than ten minutes. The locality is choc-a-bloc with airport hotels and you’ll see a lot of foreigners walking around. Since it’s away from the hustle and bustle of the main city, it’s perfectly safe to go for a stroll and admire the paintings adorning many of the walls.

A lavish pool-view room

The swanky reception area with its installation featuring the monuments of Delhi (see featured image) and the supine stone head on a couch raised my expectations. My room on the second floor definitely lived up to them. There was no verandah or bath tub, but there was a lovely couch, huge television, writing desk, a three-way shower for ultimate pampering, toiletries from my favourite brand Biotique and a marvellous view of the swimming pool below.

Rooms at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
My room on the second floor

Best of all, a platter of strawberries dipped in chocolate, hand-made chocolates, cookies and a basket of assorted fruits awaited my attention. The mini bar was stocked with tons of snacks, soft drinks and beer. I enjoyed a good night’s sleep in my room after a wonderful Balinese massage (more about that later) and dinner at Vito, the all-day restaurant. And in the morning, Delhi revealed itself to me in all its soft, foggy splendour. Spring is really the best time to be in the city of Mughals.

Pool view room at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
The view from my room in the wee hours of the morning

All-day dining at Vito

Vito is the bright and cheerful all-day dining option at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport. Located behind the reception area, it has both a buffet and an la carte menu for lunch and dinner. The variety is not very extensive but you can always ask the chef to prepare anything you like. I loved the sweet corn soup (pictured below) and the masala papad rolls served in shot glasses filled with chutney. Since the hotel hosts several Japanese guests, there is a Ramen and sauteed vegetables section as well both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Vito restaurant, Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
Papad, served with a twist

I enjoyed my breakfast at Vito much more (it’s anyway my favourite meal of the day). There’s an attractive pastry counter for those who love their croissants and muffins and an array of Indian options as well. I liked the idlis, poha and masala dosa. There are also fresh juices, cold coffee and flavoured yoghurt on offer. My advice – ask for a tall mug of cappuccino, find a table facing the outdoors and plan your day ahead. The hotel arranged an excellent eight-hour city tour for me in a comfortable Innova.

Soup at Vito, Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
The sweet corn soup was a definite winner

Balinese massage at Lea Spa & Salon

The highlight of my stay at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport was without a doubt, the hour long Balinese massage session (Rs 3500) at Lea Spa & Salon, followed by a luxuriant sauna, shower and Jacuzzi. My masseur Malli Mahato was very adept with her technique and use of pressure. Prior to the session, I filled a form stating my areas of concern (such as neck, shoulders or back) and the desired pressure (gentle or strong). The massage room was dimly lit with faint, relaxing music. Malli asked me at regular intervals if everything was as per my preference.

Lea Spa & Salon, Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
A couples massage room

It was a full body massage with adequate attention to every part, including the face and scalp. The oil was a little difficult to wash off but the steam helped. Lying in the Jacuzzi tub relaxed me completely and I felt like a whole new person when I’d toweled and changed back into my clothes. I was offered some refreshing green tea after the spa, along with a bottle of water. The best time for this spa session is before dinner, so you can soak in its benefits over a restful night’s sleep.

Hangar, the aviation-themed bar

Hangar, the bar at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
The bar is open in the evening

A good bar needs character and Hangar has oodles of it. You can spend hours examining the real airplane parts on display on the walls and the tables. Almost like a mini-museum, the bar has a large amount of seating space with many attractive nooks and couches and even a large smoking area with its own television set and seating. The service is quick and there’s a decent food menu for small bites so if you’re not too hungry, you could just end the day at Hangar and skip dinner. The music includes the latest English hits and dress code is smart casuals (not too many turn up in shorts and t-shirt).

Hangar bar at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
Real airplane parts on display, including the infamous black box

Gourmet food at Bella Italia

While Vito is multi-cuisine, Bella Italia is a dedicated Italian restaurant with top-notch salads, pizzas and pastas on the menu. The wooden interiors feel very welcoming and the kitschy wall art depict various facets of Italian culture. There is a lot of colour here and interesting touches to the interiors, including brick-patterned walls and mosaic tiled flooring. We noticed an upstairs seating area as well but it didn’t seem to be operational.

Bella Italia restaurant at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
Stunning interiors

Coming to the food, we ordered a salad, pizza, dessert and cocktails. The server recommended the salad over a portion of garlic bread, and I’m glad we complied. Misticanza was a delightful concoction of romaine lettuce, rocket leaves, frisee lettuce with cherry tomatoes, ample goats’ cheese, walnut, creamy avocado and balsamic dressing. The walnut provided crunch and the avocado and cheese practically melted in my mouth. We were provided a complimentary portion of bread and dip, which was so tasty we couldn’t help finishing it all.

Pizza at Bella Italia, Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
A close look at my pizza

The pizza list isn’t extensive but everything is beyond perfection. We had the Campagna, a vegetarian pizza topped with red pepper, red onion, mozzarella, goats’ cheese, tomatoes, rocket leaves, pine nuts and a sweet balsamic glaze. I’m fond of pizzas that have sweet overtones and the pine nuts were a unique addition. My sparkly Bella Bellini, a delicious combination of Prosecco, peach puree and peach Schnapps kept me company while I worked my way through the food. I didn’t have much room for dessert, which is why the ‘dessert shots‘ were a lifesaver. For Rs 300, you can have any two shots. I had an orange cheesecake shot and a caramel chocolate mousse shot and both were exceptional.

Bella Italia restaurant at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
As seen from the upper level

Good to know

The hotel also has a fully-equipped fitness centre with a great view of the pool and peppy music. If you have children along, you’ll be happy to know that kids under 12 stay and eat for free at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport. With a banquet hall that can accommodate 450 people and a total of 265 rooms, the hotel is also a great MICE and wedding venue. For added luxury, check into one of the 13 suites at the hotel. Rooms start at around Rs 7000 per night and for bookings, you can head over here.

Fitness centre at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
Fitness centre

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Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport: Review

Delhipedia: All the things you love about Delhi

If you haven’t fallen in love with the city of the Mughals yet, this diary will make it happen. A brainchild of documentary filmmaker Arjun Pandey, the diary puts into words what Delhipedia’s Youtube channel tries to depict in pictures. There is also an app that one can download to see what’s right near you, from restaurants to street food, monuments and activities.

Arjun Pandey, Founder of Delhipedia
Arjun Pandey, Founder of Delhipedia

“We have 200+ videos on various themes like Haunted Places, Hidden Places in Delhi, Food Trail, Katputli Colony, Medicine Baba and many more. The diary too embodies the content around these subjects or themes. Now with the existing and upcoming videos, we will be easily able to connect them with the content,” Pandey said in an exclusive chat with Trail-stained Fingers.

According to the makers, The Delhipedia Delhi Diary is a celebration of Delhi and its heritage, the people, the food and its colours. The Delhipedia edition was launched in February 2016; 10,000 copies were already released by DTTDC and The Delhi Govt. in January 2016.

The diary has a handmade feel to it, with a beautiful cover featuring illustrations of Delhi’s well-known neighbourhoods like Defence Colony and National School of Drama. Touching the images made me feel closer to the city though I’m not a native.

Delhipedia diary

Inside, this planner has glossy photographs and factoids about Delhi. So in the ‘did you know’ section, you find out that Delhi is home to the largest spice market in Asia. I had no idea. Did you?

Delhipedia diary

Then there are useful informative sections which serve like mini guides to the city. For instance, when hunger strikes in the middle of the night, whom do you call? Delhipedia tells you.

Delhipedia diary

Some sections simply make for enjoyable reading, even if you aren’t travelling. If I ever had to write an article about Delhi, I’d definitely refer to this diary.

There is a lot of fun you can have with the diary, apart from making notes about appointments and meetings. You can cut out Delhi’s best known monuments and mount them on slits to create attractive desk accessories.

Delhipedia diary

There are five significant maps in the diary: the first one is the cover map, capturing the landscape of Delhi; the second map is about the cycle tour in Mehrauli; the third is on the seven cities of Delhi; the fourth captures the cycle tour within Old Delhi; and the fifth is food map printed on a tissue paper. These maps endeavour to enable the user to get acquainted with the facts related to Delhi, imparting information related to the rich heritage and magnificent monuments, Indian delicacies, must places to visit and different weathers in the city.

Delhipedia diary

“We have launched the first edition of the diary. In the upcoming editions, we will be updating the content as per the requirements of the Delhiites. The new edition of the diary will be more interesting than before,” says Pandey.

If you’re a Delhiite, you will adore this diary because it sums up everything that makes the city your favourite place to be. And if you aren’t, it’s the best travel partner you can have on a trip to the capital.

About Delhipedia

Delhipedia logo

Launched in November 2014, Delhipedia is a location based application which allows viewers travellers, explorers and youngsters) to take virtual tours via short 3 to 5 minutes videos and share their experience through various platforms (Youtube, Facebook, Instagram etc). “Around the second or third quarter this year, we are planning to set content on theme based roll out which will include areas like adventure sport, worship, etc. I want to explore the whole of India and want to replicate this concept to other cities across the country,” shares Pandey.

Where to buy the diary (priced at Rs 499):

Flipkart | Snapdeal

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Hello, Delhi!

Delhi. India’s capital city, steeped in history and a legacy descended from the Mughal era. A city whose beauty and nobility is shadowed by rising crime rates and the infamous ‘Janta hai me kaun hoon?’ attitude of its privileged denizens. Delhi – a city I’d only known through news reports, photographs and the accounts of friends and strangers.

The Qutub Minar complex
The Qutub Minar complex

I will admit – as I set foot into Delhi in the dark hours of the night, I felt more than a single sliver of trepidation creep into my heart. I remembered Nirbhaya and the several cases that followed. We arrived at the domestic airport at around 8 PM and had a bus to catch from ISBT (Inter-state Bus Terminal) at 10 PM. A couple of youngsters taking an overnight bus from big bad Delhi – oh, I was more than a little apprehensive.

I wouldn’t say that my fears were completely misplaced. Delhi is not a city to be messed with. It’s not a city where you can throw caution to the winds and do as you please. In the light of day, the city is revealed to the traveller’s eye in all its architectural splendour – the India Gate, the Qutub Minar, the bazaars and the dhabas – they welcome you with their myriad offerings. But in the shroud of the night, if you dare stay awake while the city slumbers, you will encounter seedy characters, clusters of men whose eyes follow you until you’re out of sight and an implicit threat in the air, which seems to counsel against daredevilry.

And so, while my friend smoked a cigarette, I stood waiting outside a pan-bidi shop on the street with cars zipping by, feeling not exactly unsafe but not at ease either. We wandered around for a while, trying to find a way to reach ISBT and the people we asked were generally helpful, even if they didn’t offer smiles or friendly words of advice. Eventually, we boarded a bus to the nearest metro station and I had my first ride in a Delhi metro.

The metro, the dhaba and the terminal

What’s a Delhi metro ride after enduring the inhumanly packed local trains of Mumbai? Not a big deal at all. The only difference was, we boarded a non-ladies compartment and nobody misbehaved. This Delhi wasn’t turning out to be a city of ruffians after all. We made it to the superbly organised ISBT terminal and even dined on sumptuous paneer paranthas at a dhaba outside. The food was delicious and replete with the true flavour of North India – aromatic, rich and succulent. Parathas are really not the same here in Mumbai; at least not at that price!

Ruins at the Qutub Minar complex
Ruins at the Qutub Minar complex

My second brush with Delhi

My second, longer encounter with New Delhi happened while returning to Mumbai from Manali. We had half a day on our hands and a lot to accomplish. Gifts were to be bought, friends were to be met. We managed none of that. What we did manage was to lose all track of time among the minarets and gardens of the Qutub Minar complex in Mehrauli.

Qutub Minar 

Qutub Minar
We arrived in Delhi in the wee hours of the morning, tired and disgruntled after a bad night’s sleep in a semi-sleeper bus. But the excitement of being in India’s capital city infused an irrational energy into our bones and I called up my friend Shruti to ask her what we could do in half a day’s time. She told us that we could either go to India Gate and Khan Market or spend all our time at Qutub Minar. India Gate’s true splendour would only be revealed in the night, she warned us. And so the choice was made.

IMG_20150323_122046
We breakfasted on perfectly made chole bhature at another dhaba and bought tickets to Qutub Minar metro station. Now in the daylight, I was able to appreciate just how clean and organised Delhi was, and what a welcome contrast that presented from the chaos of Mumbai! I only compare it to Mumbai because it’s the city I know best. Here in Delhi, we also spotted the slow but romantic cycle autorickshaws (maybe next time) and vendors selling nimbu paani with no sugar, only salt. This was a Monday in March and there was a pleasant nip in the air that confirmed the onset of spring. Walking amongst the many office goers hurrying towards their workplaces, I could imagine that I had built a life in this city, and I almost felt guilty at enjoying an excursion on a working day!

At the Qutub Minar complex
The metro station was actually quite far from the complex and by the time we made it there, it felt like we’d been walking for half an hour at least. At a height of 73 metres, Qutub Minar is the second tallest minar in the country and as we stretched our necks to see where it met the sky, the sun glinted on our eyes, forcing us to squint. We wandered in and out of ruins, mausoleums, gardens and photo galleries and in this exploration of a bygone era, we forgot that we were bound by the laws of time and place.

At the Qutub Minar complex
Nowhere did we see people littering, as is the case in many monuments in Mumbai, and there were guards posted strategically to pull up any miscreants. One guy decided to climb an ancient tree and pose there, while his friend clicked what would undoubtedly be a profile picture with at least a hundred likes. Alas, long before he could press the button and do the needful, a guard pulled the chappie down, while on-lookers tittered in an abject lack of sympathy.

Mausoleum at the Qutub Minar complex
We paused to read all the inscriptions at this World Heritage Site and learned that the minar was commissioned by Qutubuddin Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, in 1193 and eventually completed by Iltutmish. It was like reading about someone I knew, for these names had been such an integral part of my childhood existence, painted as they were, on the pages of my history textbooks. The structures at the Qutub Minar complex get their distinctive colouring from red sandstone.

A strange encounter

Strange events unfolded when we exited the complex, had a bite at an eatery outside and began looking for a ride back to the metro station (we were in no mood to walk again). A man was trying to hail passengers, announcing that a ride would only cost them 10 rupees each. We went to enquire and before we could protest, he had ushered us inside the vehicle and begun driving. It was almost like a willing abduction. Now, the strangeness began. The driver told us he’d take us to the metro station but before that, we would have to visit the Dilli Haat, a government-sponsored weekly bazaar.

A strange tree at the Qutub Minar complex
A strange tree at the Qutub Minar complex

It wasn’t like we could refuse and ask him to stop – we had already committed to the ride and although we didn’t have too much time to spare before our flight at 4:00 PM, the idea of a bazaar did sound interesting. He told us that the government offered free rides to the bazaar every week on Mondays and we’d just gotten lucky that day. I have no idea if this was true or not and the indoor store he took us to, bore little resemblance to the colourful open-air bazaars I equated Dilli Haat with. Nevertheless, they had an admirable collection of saris, salwar suits, jewellery and artefacts and we enjoyed browsing through everything. But the clock was ticking by and soon we asked the driver to hurry up and take us to the metro station. No, we did not purchase anything, indecisive as we were.

The mad rush

When we reached the metro station, we realised that we were running really late. We practically bolted up the stairs and bought a ticket to New Delhi station, from where we would have to change trains on to the airport metro express. Now the airport line will take you to the T3 terminal but that wasn’t our goal. To reach the domestic terminals T1 and T2, one has to take a bus from Delhi Aerocity. By now, it was almost 3 PM and panic was starting to set in. At Delhi Aerocity, the bus was already waiting at the curb and we thanked our stars when we finally made it inside.

Alas, the bus simply refused to budge. They wanted to wait until it was completely full. On top of that, one passenger had boarded the bus without a ticket and was sent back to buy one and return. We had already spent a lot of money on tickets (the airport line is ridiculously expensive though very comfortable and well-maintained) and we were quite aggravated at this unnecessary wait.  But our predicament wasn’t as bad as one gentleman whose flight was already preparing for take-off! The hapless guy spent a few minutes having furious conversations on the phone at the end of which, he admitted that there was no way he was going to make it in time for his flight. Our flight was the next in line. Would we make it?

The bus eventually reached our terminal at 3:30 PM and we fled up flights of stairs and escalators in time to hear the announcement blaring “Last call for Ankita Shreeram!” I had never imagined that I would be tardy enough to gain this dubious achievement! We felt like celebrities as everyone turned around to stare at this idiotic couple who had arrived just 20 minutes before the flight’s scheduled departure. The crew ushered us in as quickly as they could and at long last, we found ourselves on a flight headed back home. Mumbai.

A close-up of the Qutub Minar
A close-up of the Qutub Minar

(Featured image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons. All other images: Ankita Shreeram)