Expat tales: New start New Delhi

JAN SMITH
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2013
Taj Mahal
DANIEL BEREHULAK/ Getty

AMAZING: India is a country rich in colour and steeped in history.

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Life in India is a colourful rollercoaster, writes Jan Smith.

Why did you move to the city and what do you do there?

My husband Tony and I came to New Delhi, India in February 2011. Tony was the executive chef for the Crowne Plaza Christchurch, before its closure following the 2010 earthquake.

His role here is with a new Crowne Plaza in Greater Noida, Delhi. I worked for the Cancer Society in Christchurch but now work voluntarily for the expatriates support group "Delhi Network".

What do you like or dislike about life in New Delhi?

This has been an incredible time for us - every day is another adventure, the colour, the cuisine, the culture and the history all add to the experience.

The world famous Taj Mahal is only two hours drive from our home, and another highlight has been white-water rafting the pristine high country reaches of the Ganges at Rishikesh, below the Himalayas.

The challenges of living in India coming from a New Zealand way of life is coming to grips with real poverty and a class system which is just so socially different.

How does the cost of living compare to New Zealand?

Food and general household costs are about a quarter of what you would expect in New Zealand, but remembering incomes for many are stretched for simple food and shelter.

What do you do on weekends?

Tony has a standing date with a friend on Sunday mornings for a game of tennis, often played in significantly higher temperatures than we would tolerate back home.

We sightsee of course, having immersed ourselves in reading Indian history and literature, and enjoy visiting the many historic places in Delhi.

What do you think of the food?

The food is far more complex than we imagined, with subtle differences in the use of spice from state to state, town to town. With much of the population vegetarian, India would have to lead the world in interesting, economic and varied vegetarian cuisine.

The variety and availability of truly fresh spices brings this cooking to life. Tony has come to love the South Indian breakfast of idlis, dosa, uttapam with various chutneys - his favourite being the coconut chutney.

We enjoy the North Indian cuisine including Biryani, Paratha, Dal Makhani, Naan, cooking a variety of masala curries and devouring the fresh mangoes and papayas.

What's the best way to get around?

Our local friends love to tell us you need three things to drive in India - a good horn, good brakes and good luck!

People living here generally employ a local driver.

The Metro can be quick and is pretty efficient. Radio taxis with meters are the best; auto-rickshaws are OK for short trips and another adventure - best to get a price before you start your journey.

What are the shopping and nightlife like?

Shopping takes some time to get used to, but if you enjoy the prospect of a real bazaar this style of shopping remains unchanged in many parts of the city. Great bargains are available here.

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There is lots of development happening to create more upmarket shopping destinations and malls. Night life such as bars or nightclubs can be challenging for a visitor and good local advice should be sought.

There are many good cafes and restaurants scattered around the city.

What is your favourite part of New Delhi?

I do like where we live in Greater Noida, it is outside of the "real" city centre and more green and less polluted, but for a real experience of India, Chandi Chowk in "Old Delhi" is a must to visit.

We always enjoy a visit to Haus Kaus Village, including historic 13th-century buildings "hidden" at the back, with a mosque and Feroz Shah's tomb.

What time of year is best to visit?

The shoulder seasons are best, February to March and September to October - easier to sightsee in less heat.

What's your must-do thing for visitors?

Of course no visit to India is complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra, two to three hours from Delhi. Another must is to the market of Chandi Chowk (Old Delhi).

Historic buildings abound, such as Tughlaqabad Fort, Purayna Quila, Haus Kaus. Meander through Lodhi Gardens, with its many historic buildings dotted around the grounds. And for a luxury feel and a taste of old imperial India, indulge in afternoon tea at The Imperial Hotel.

What are your top tips for tourists?

"Incredible India": This country's travel slogan sums it up. Come with an open mind and be prepared for a rollercoaster time. Buy a couple of historic books on arrival and read them alongside your travel (new books here are very cheap), this helps connect it all.

Read up on security tips, well covered in travel books. Mention you're from New Zealand, we are a popular country with Indians and for this country that is obsessed with cricket any discussion on it can be a real ice-breaker - the first week I was here I heard how a taxi driver had seen Richard Hadlee bowl and Martin Crowe bat!

How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?

Flights are plentiful but it is a 20 to 30-hour trip, depending what your stopovers are.

If you know an expat who wants to share the inside knowledge on their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

- Sunday Star Times

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