Over the past couple of years I have been very fortunate to have visited and filmed in quite a few countries. All have been very different and my next trip to India was to be no different. Wasn’t quite sure what to expect, my wife certainly loved it when she cycled there a couple of years ago. She did say that the cities are so overcrowded that it makes London look like a country village. This trip I was to be accompanied by Indian chef and patron of The Star of India; Reza Mahammed. He also cooks on ITV’s This Morning but it was the first time we would film together.
The premise of the week long trip was to highlight three main curry dishes that are very popular here in the UK. Jalfrezi, chicken tikka masala, and Vindaloo. We would be looking at the specific area, history, culture and cooking the original recipe with local chefs. Then on our return to the UK we would then travel to 3 key places that are famous for these dishes. Apparently chicken tikka masala was invented in Glasgow; Newcastle is the hot spot for Vindaloo and Brick Lane for jalfrezi.
So it was a late pick up to Heathrow terminal 3. There I met up with Christina (director) Rhian (assistant producer) Geraint (cameraman) and soundman Rich from my Israel and Namibian trips. We were to fly overnight to Delhi some 8 hours. After checking in and sorting all the camera and sound kit, it was pretty much let’s get on the plane, apart from a swift pint.
Jet Airways (yes, I have never heard of them) were pretty good. Newish plane, lovely staff and they were very attentive. Dinner was okay, straight to the point. The plane was full of a group of women cycling across India for a cancer charity. We did not all sit together due to the late booking (could not get visas in time) Reza was in his element being surrounded but said girls. Mind you he can talk and is very entertaining. Before long the lights were going out and we all settled down for a good kip. I slept reasonably well; in fact it was quite good, only being woken by a rather portly Indian gentleman with a chronic snoring problem.
Breakfast is the normal dismal affair, under-ripe, ice-cold fruit, tepid, awful coffee with bloody whitener and rock hard rolls.
We land okay, slightly bleary eyed but happy to be in India. The temperature is a cool 30C and its only 7.30 am. We are held up with customs checking the kit and finally make it through to meet our two fixers. As we are waiting we have a Costa Coffee Cappuccino, yes even here in Delhi. Too hot, but not too bad.
We pack all the luggage into a small mini bus and head off into downtown Delhi to the hotel. The traffic and people get steadily worse. Thousands of people packed into busses, tuk-tuks, pedal cycle tuk-tuks, cars and bikes. There seems to be no road rules, I ask our fixer if you have to pass a driving test. He replies yes, I then ask him why, as there seems to be no rules, including driving into head on traffic. He smiles and wobbles his head from side to side. It reminds me of a scene from the 70’s series ‘It Ain’t Half Hot mum’
Some hour later we arrive t the Oberoi Hotel. It’s an impressive place, teaming with staff. A real tranquil place set in all that mayhem. Security is very strict here after the Mumbai bombings a couple of years ago. We are scanned airport style before entering the hotel, so is all the kit. Once inside it’s stunning, large and spotlessly clean. Every member of staff is impeccably turned out. I try to find fault for my own entertainment, like are the shoes polished, ties straight and hair combed. Not once in my 2 days did I find anything out of place.
We check in and are shown to our rooms. They are spacious, very clean and well presented. Everything is perfect; my room overlooks the two vast swimming pools. I shower quickly and unpack and meet up with the crew for a late brunch.
The restaurant is airy and smart. The offering is truly amazing, probably the best spread I have ever seen in a hotel. Cold offerings range from sushi to full buffet including a superb range of gateau and desserts. Hot section is packed full of every Indian dish you imagine. Reza is suitably impressed and I ask him to select dishes for me to try. Clove fried chicken; fish tandoori, sharp mustard braised fish is wonderful. Featherlight naan bread is the best I have ever eaten. Paratha, chapati and pouris are all equally as good.
Black-eyed pea and lentil cakes are served with yogurt and tamarind. Dal is also superb I always reckon that you can tell a good Indian or Bangladeshi restaurant by the quality of its dhal and breads. We all are in agreement that the whole experience is special.
Full and ready to go we head straight out to film the oldest spice market in the world. We take the mini bus as close as we can get, then transfer to pedal cycle tuk-tuk. The traffic is so congested and its everyman for himself. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that there really are no rules of the road and I’m surprised we have no accidents. The streets are lined with makeshift stalls selling lime sodas and pakoras. This is also an area to buy a goat; we see plenty. I ask Reza to find out how much one is. 7k is the answer, that’s a bit much we both agree.
We turn left by the famous landmark the Red Fort and slowly make our way down the long road to the market. It seems to take an age. Reza is organizing all the traffic, he’s very funny. The fumes from the cars, busses and tuk-tuks is choking. Finally we arrive and our driver turns into the top end of the market road. We climb out and survey the hustle and bustle. A policeman is shouting at our driver, and whacks him with a stick for entering the market. He remonstrates with him but to no avail. He is whacked a little harder this time and retreats to the main road. I feel a little sorry for him.
Christina decides to film a piece to camera, big mistake. A large crowd soon gathers. Rhian is brilliant at moving people away. It’s funny when you get a camera out the Indian’s just stand and stare. We struggle to get the shot, but finally do. We head off to film spices and some street food. The humid air is thick with pungent spices. Sacks and sacks of chillies. Cloves and the freshest, greenest coriander seed I have ever seen are everywhere. The small shops are heaving with allsorts of spices. Small alleyways are filled with people buying sweets, parathas and dips all freshly made. A pickpocket feels my radio pack twice, I look round it’s a child of about 9 or 10. His accomplice tries to tell me it was the camera touching me. He slides off but I see him further down the street eyeing up the victims. He sees me and disappears into the throng.
Our fixer says we can film from the roof of a local shop. Geraint jumps at the idea. Reza and I film walking shots, up and down the street. He camps it up even more; the locals are bemused by him. He engages with them and is charming, they seem to love him. We finish filming just as the sun is setting, throwing a wonderful glow across Delhi. The air is warm and close but not too hot.
Our poor beaten driver returns carrying our tripod, he is a star. He takes us back to the bus, it takes ages, as its festival weekend here (more on this later) We are all feeling the jet lag now. Even in this mayhem I rest my head against the side of the tuk-tuk and for a moment drop off, we all do.
Finally at the hotel the air conditioning is a welcome rest bite. The bar beckons and a ‘mug’ (that’s what they call a pint here) of local lager is swiftly dispatched. A quick shower later and dinner is served. I eat dhal, prawns and breads, as per lunch delicious. Very full and knackered I head off to bed. The bed is really, really comfortable, the crisp, cool linen is just what you want. You even get a pillow menu here, how cool is that.