Journey of discovery, from culinary to monumental

Journey of discovery, from culinary to monumental
Highlights

My entry point to India was Mumbai and, aptly enough, it began with a magnificent view of the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea from the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The Taj, of course, is a fairy tale, opulent abode, full of old world charm. 

Isabella Rauter on her expedition to India explored myriad cultures, cuisine and the breathtaking monuments across the country. In her travelogue she writes how she fell in love with India and its traditions

My entry point to India was Mumbai and, aptly enough, it began with a magnificent view of the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea from the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The Taj, of course, is a fairy tale, opulent abode, full of old world charm.

The historic hotel reminded me of home, and our own enchanting places to stay in Vienna, especially the suite in Schönbrunn Palace overlooking the splendid baroque park with the Gloriette.

My stay in Mumbai was a gastronomic journey of taste and discovery. At the Taj Palace's iconic Masala Art restaurant, I sampled their signature dish - the unique local Bombay Tiffin meal, inspired by the famed Dabbawalas whose six-sigma quality delivery system story amazes me.

Meeting them is definitely on the list for my next visit to India. The meal is served off in a tiffin box - the server opens it, and three sparkling stainless steel dabbas emerge packed with a dal, a sabzi, rice and roti.

The meal pays tribute to the bustling culture of Mumbai, a city that is busy and teeming with little nuances. You round it off with Masala Chai served in a copper Katori.

If the Bombay Tiffin meal opened up the local flavors and wonderful aromas of the city, then my meal at the early 20th century Parsi eatery, Britannia and Co in South Bombay with Beri Beri Rice Pulav; Raspberry Soda was another fascinating culinary expedition.

Baklava made me recall Viennese signature pasty – the famous Sacher Torte. I was served by the elderly owner Boman Kohinoor, who showed me his impressive correspondence with a range of well-known personalities, including Zubin Mehta, the famous conductor of Indian origin who often performs in Vienna.

Just a few days in India were enough for me to fall in love with the ubiquitous local brew flavoured with ginger and cardamom - the Masala Chai. While I relished the spicy Indian food, some desserts like carrot fudge (Gajar Ka Halwa) and Gulab Jamun were cherry on the cake.

I could not get over the variety of Indian breads - from watching a roomali roti being rolled out in the Gymkhana Club in Delhi, to photographing an entire family dig into a huge bread, the naan, at the table next to mine at the Mughal Sheraton's Peshawar restaurant in Agra.

But food was just one part of my journey of discovery. Between all the business meetings there was some time to soak in Indian culture and see some impressive monuments.

My next stop, Delhi, brought me face to face with 1,000 elephants -- not in a Jungle Safari, but in the impressively carved Akshardham temple. In the evening I witnessed an exceptional sound and light show.

But the content was hard to understand for someone not familiar with Hinduism. A drive past the biggest Presidential Palace in the world, the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the impressive India Gate brought home the grandly classical architecture of Lutyens Delhi.

On my last day I visited the Taj Mahal, which was an undeniably breathtaking experience. I got up very early in the morning and had a comfortable drive on the Yamuna Expressway from Delhi to Agra, only stopping for a quick cup of Chai en route.

At the Taj, we were welcomed by guides who helped us with the tickets and enter the complex quickly. When approaching the main entrance, I could feel the excitement rising - in a few seconds, I was going to take my first look at one of the most famous buildings in the world. I was curious if it would live up to expectations.

And then, I caught my first glimpse of the shining white Taj framed, picturesquely within the shadowy arch of the main gate. I must say it was truly overwhelming and I fell in love at first sight.

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