Indian Yatra: Day 1
Conversation was flowing and no one held back - drone strikes, US policy in the region and why we weren't visiting Agra to see the Taj Mahal, Woodrow Wilson's leanings (left or right) and the great partition debate. Lively is an under statement in this group. And it seems we ARE visiting Mumbai!
In typical Asian style where a 14 30pm departure to Delhi means sometime that afternoon, a group of 11 Pakistani journalists from print and TV collected in the departure hall of the Allama Iqbal International Airport at 12 30pm discussing ... politics ofcourse PAK US/India/Afghanistan and picking a few souvenirs gifts for colleagues in India aka 'the othe side.' We the Group of 11 are: Cyril Almeida of Dawn, Dr. Moeed Pirzada of Duniya, my good friend and colleague Kamran Shahid and Asim Awan of this paper The Express Tribune, ShaukatPiracha of Aaj TV and Saeeda of Business Recorder, Reza Rumi of TFT, Faisal Khan of Geo and Khan Zafar of the Jang Group and Ansar Bhatti and we're visiting India on the invitation of India's Ministry of External Affairs.
In the vast and almost empty lounge, indicative of reciprocal visa regulations, we found two Indian journalists: Sandeep Dikshit of The Hindu and Sankarshan Thakur of The Telegraph who had been here since the weekend covering the Indo-Pak bi-laterals. Our High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik was a fellow passenger, as was Ali Zafar who was on his way to India to promote his movie. We had a few hours to kill so, Kamran and I took turns playing DJ at the music store. Coke Studio 3 was my choice and Dum Gutko (Alif Allah) and Bibi Sanam were played on repeat and a few hours later - two Indian journalists purchased the CD and Meesha Shaffi's voice was also going to Delhi.
The plane from Delhi was half an hour late and then boarding took an hour. Space was aplenty and Cyril, Moeed, Kamran and I found seats close by. Kamran and Dr. Moeed are real celebrities we found and keeping close to them means VIP treatment which Cyril and I enjoyed throughly. I'm talking about unending glasses of juice and even a cold towel courtesy the adoring Mr D from PIA crew. After 35 sweltering minutes on the tarmac we were off. 45 minutes and 2 chicken sandwiches and a gulab jamun later we were in Delhi. In true Foreign Office (or when in India MEA style) we were met by our hosts -who facilitated us with the dreaded immigration process. Luggage collected - hotel taxi's sorted and we drive towards Delhi.
Two words when we left the airport - construction zone. Over heads, hotels getting a face lift and the tracks in place for the Metro. Delhi is gearing up for the Commonwealth Games. At first glance (and this is my 4th trip) Delhi looks like Lahore except for the women on motorcycles and the street sign in English, Hindi and Urdu. The hotel we're staying at is the ITC Maurya. Upon arrival we're greeted like celebrities with garlands and photographs. This is a gorgeous hotel and we're on the Executive floor. I can't wait to go for a swim tomorrow.
At 8pm after freshing up we met our hosts for orientation and dinner. And what a dinner it was - located on the hotel's main floor it was declared Top 50 Restaurants in the World and the Finest Restaurant in Asia by Restaurants magazine in 2006. We weren't disappointed - papars, were followed by succulent jumbo prawns, BBQ'd panneer tikkas, potato cutlets, cauliflower pakoras, lamb, chikken boti all served with chutneys, dahi and roti, naani and paratha. Absolutely flawless (though the pakoras could have been a little smaller) followed by kulfi and gulab jamun. Conversation was flowing and no one held back - drone strikes, US policy in the region and why we weren't visiting Agra to see the Taj Mahal, Woodrow Wilson's leanings (left or right) and the great partition debate. Lively is an under statement in this group. And it seems we ARE visiting Mumbai.
Our agenda for tomorrow is choker blocked and why not? As a fellow journalist put it - let's see if there's a constituency for peace in India. Watch this space :)