Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
IWFS DELHI AGRA JAIPUR FEBRUARY MARCH 2017 - PROLOGUE AND PRE FLIGHT
IWFS DELHI AGRA JAIPUR FEBRUARY MARCH 2017 - PROLOGUE
This was a jolly organised by the IWFS Asia Pacific Zone to tie in with an AGM that was to be held in Mumbai. In this, IWFS Members from across the planet are invited to join and "do" the necessary visits and sights along with eating and drinking at top end establishments and attending the AGM. I think I have attended one APZ AGM, and that was in home town Kuala Lumpur. So it goes.
The schedule was for everyone to fly into Delhi and get transported to our Delhi hotel (which was way outside Delhi) to big eat and sleep, then the following day to chill out and join a tour of Delhi with lunch and gala dinner. Next day (third) would be some must visit sites around Delhi with lunch and rest evening whilst the fourth would see members transfer to Agra to "do" the Taj Mahal and dinner. Fifth day was a tour around the Agra region and another gala dinner with the sixth marking the end of the IWFS Tour and a return bus to Delhi. Lenglui and I decided to stay an extra few days to "do" Jaipur - one day to drive there, one day to "do" it and one day to drive back to Delhi for the flight home. We also went one day early to Delhi to ease into the place. Also, the flight times were not quite friendly enough to dovetail.
And now it has been done. I do not think that there will be another doing, and the next few posts will look to explain why. Don't get me wrong - Delhi and Agra and Jaipur SHOULD be done. Is just that I feel once in a lifetime is enough. No plans to go back. No thank you. Too intense, even for me.
I would also end up losing my main notepad at one of the restaurants, where despite various and numerous requests for a search it never turned up. Bastard. So pretty much all of this and subsequent postings will be what the memory serves up. I also did not take any notes on anything after that - figure it might be a sign from the universe to just enjoy the holiday and focus on other more lucrative writing projects which were actually on the horizon at that time and which have now materialised. The universe works in mysterious ways. Om.
Got the brochure in the email from the lovely Amber at the IWFS APZ office. It looked fair - three nights in Delhi and two in Agra - though others in the KL circle who had received felt it a shade expensive. Well, and maybe. In this, Lenglui figured we might as well join the tour and pay the premium as we would probably never otherwise go to India. And we would be with the IWFS gang and as a result meet old foodie boozer friends. So the deal was sealed. We duly transferred the cash and booked the MAS flights. In this, we added one day before and a couple of days after to negotiate the flight times - MAS only leaves in the evening to land around 10pm and leaves Delhi at 11pm. What to do? Lenglui wanted the Enrich points. Fair enough. Though MAS Business Class has seriously declined in standard of late.
When friends heard that were going to India, the first thing that most said was to watch out for the water, not to take ice, don't eat salad - anything which India water comes into contact with is perilous and will cause the Delhi Belly. Fair enough - we didn't take ice, used mouthwash to brush the teeth, avoided salad and unpeeled fruit and wiped glasses and plates and cutlery and medicated and sanitised the hands before eating. It worked - we survived. We drank all the various hotels provided and came through okay. Same with the fruit juices - the pineapple was fine, the apples were crunchy (after a polish) - no problems. And we didn't hear of too many feeling a bit crook on the whole tour - except one. But she would be a whole chapter all to herself. One of those total pain in the ass characters. Not sure whether to include too much about her since all it would do is validate her existence. Maybe. We'll see what I can remember.
Some friends also admonished against drinking the bottled water and best to take our own. From Malaysia. Yes. Five days of drinking water to carry on the plane - actually, we did steal a couple of plastics from the plane just in case. But on seeing that the local water was bottled by one of the big players, we figured it should be safe enough. It so proved - no running for the runs.
Booking the MAS flights to New Delhi were easy enough through the website. Same with booking the Delhi Hotel (though it would transpire that the hotel would have no record of us for the car pick up…). Then came the labyrinth and maze that was the application process for the Visa to enter India. The main website offers two routes - online and offline. With the offline, one can complete the form online and then print it out to be taken with passport to the local outsourced Visa Issuing Office (in KL it is in the Straits Times Building). With the online (e-Visa they call it), you get a similar form but you make payment with credit card and the whole thing whooshes off to India where someone decides whether to grant the visa or not. There are a number of timeframes available, for which different fees apply. The standard is the 30 day tourist visa.
This is where it started to get complicated. For the offline, the visa runs from the date of ISSUE whereas for the online the visa runs from the day of ENTRY. And they only let you book a certain number of days in advance. And it is very easy to click the wrong button and think you are getting an ENTRY visa when you might in fact be applying for an ISSUE visa. Indeed, this happened to one of the members who found himself inadvertently overstaying and being refused hotel accommodation as a result. If not for being part of a group with friendly people who put him up at their home, he would have been on the street (or stretched out on the bus). It was apparently a darn nightmare for him to get extended. The fine print here is very, very fine indeed. Message to India Immigration - MAKE THINGS CLEARER PLEASE.
I decided as an experiment to pursue both, figuring in the event that the online would not get granted then the offline remained as backup (though the timing was a bit hairy - offline needs five days to process which can cut the time very fine - not the most confidence inspiring of set ups IMHO). So, the offlines got done and printed off and then the onlines got processed. Well, they TRIED to get processed, but it transpired that one can only apply for them in the thirty days prior to arrival. Which AGAIN cuts the timing process finer and frets about sufficient time being available in the event that the online process proves unsuccessful. Aaaarghhhhh!! Notwithstanding I did a false date trial to see the process, which proved identical to the offline, except for the payment process. Oh yes and by the way, you have to pay irrespective of whether it gets approved or not (same for offline).
I must say that I didn't particularly want to go to the KL Visa office. I have passed it on a few occasions - not very inviting with lots of scratchy looking individuals lolling around outside looking in need of a good wash, as my mum used to say of the tramps of my childhood. So I waited until the first date possible and did Lenglui's and crossed fingers as the Enter button for making Credit Card payment got hit. Please Lord, let it be smooth and fraud free. It was - almost. It was processed within a day and Lenglui was duly emailed, but Lenglui thought it was junk and promptly trashed it. I only discovered this by chance when I received mine and looked in Lenglui's email trash. Sheesh! I retrieved and printed out the approval letter (which needs to be presented at Delhi airport immigration for the stamp) and all was now set. The website was also insisting on two clean pages in the passport to take the Visa. Two fucking pages!??!? So I blocked off the necessary two (they were the last ones, I was intending to renew later in the year in the UK to maximise my MM2H Visa ahead of a desired renewal) with some Post It notes, given a planned interim drive to Singapore and not wanting these pristine pages getting deflowered by a border chop on the Causeway and wrecking entry into India. These details can crush you and I didn't want to take chances. As it transpired, on this occasion I actually could have...