Kingdom of Dreams.
For an unconventional twist to your vacation in India, consider a visit to the Kingdom of Dreams, the recently completed Disneyesque mega entertainment center in Gurgaon, about ten miles southwest of the Indira Gandhi International Airport of New Delhi.
Spending an afternoon at the Kingdom of Dreams represented for us an alternative way to fight off jet lag on our day of arrival in India.
We had woken up a few hours earlier to an energizing bright blue morning sky as our British Airways 747 was finishing its passage over the snow-capped mountains of Afghanistan and beginning its descent into the vast plains of the Indian subcontinent.
After initiating its approach towards the Delhi airport over Pakistan, the plane had crossed into India and landed just about on time at 9:20am and taxied at the gigantic and modern Terminal 3, where customs and baggage claim procedures went smoothly and quickly.
As expected, the representative of GeTs Holidays, our tour operator for this trip, was waiting for us outside the baggage claim area and he led us to the massive parking structure attached to the terminal to meet our driver and his perfectly clean and welcoming Toyota Innova vehicle.
Leis made of fresh Marigold flowers, a small bouquet of fresh roses as well as a welcome gift accompanied the warm welcome we received. Marigold flowers are used for good luck and for welcoming new things, said Vijendra, the company representative.
Cold bottles of Kinley water were on each side of our very comfortable seats. Interestingly, each bottle displays a large bold inscription: “Please crush bottle after use”, no doubt as a protective measure against those crafty Indians who refill used bottles of water and reseal them with glue before trying to resell the bottles as new and clean to unsuspecting customers.
Although delayed by bumper to bumper traffic, we enjoyed our ride from the airport to the Imperial Hotel, since it took us through the wide boulevards of New Delhi, through beautiful Shanti Path (Peace Road), the avenue of the embassies which ends at the President’s House, then along large avenues lined with government ministries and other important buildings with a fabulous view of the famous India Gate in the distance. In contrast with a capital city like Washington, the military is omnipresent in New Delhi and the central area is full of military bases and buildings right next to the government buildings.
The area around the Imperial Hotel is nothing but a mess, thanks to a huge construction site for the Delhi metro. But the interior of the hotel makes up for it with its colonial opulence and first class amenities. An unveventful check-in, a guided tour of the hotel and a quick shower later, we are on our way to the Kingdom of Heavens.
Vikram will be our driver for the next few days, and he will be with us in Delhi, Jaipur, Ranthambore and Agra. He is full of wit and good humor and we start learning some of his sayings, like “Good Horn, Good Brake, Good Luck” (apparently that is all you need to drive in India).
Did you know that India has 22 official languages? Apparently, people from each state, of which there are 35, speak their own language as well as the common Hindi language. Vikram speaks Rajasthani at home and with people from his home state of Rajasthan, and speaks Hindi with people from other states.
The Kingdom of Dreams is located in Gurgaon, a city of about one and half million people which started to thrive after General Electric opened a software outsourcing office there in 1997. Now it is said that more than half of all Fortune 500 companies have a presence in Gurgaon and the city has one of the highest per capita income in the country.
Our first stop at the Kingdom of Dreams is the vast Nautanki theater, where we are to see the Bollywood musical comedy Jhumroo. We quickly find out that the level of acoustic technology in the theater is easily enough to burst your eardrums, but the boisterous crowd appears to love it. The show is said to include old Bollywood favorite songs (something I am unable to confirm, although I can attest to the music being lively and energetic) and the staging, with about 30 singers and dancers on stage and gigantic screens on each side, is colorful and spectacular. We are seated in huge comfortable armchairs in the VIP section, and seated next to a woman of Indian descent who lives in Connecticut who tells us that the stars of the show are famous Bollywood people.
Since the dialogue is in Hindi, we can’t really appreciate the plot of the musical and finally decide to leave after half an hour or so, if only to preserve what’s left of our hearing.
We walk over to the Cultural Gully, an immense and tall building housing an interior “street” lined with structures from each of 14 different Indian states, all under a painted slightly clouded blue sky reminiscent of the Venetian Casino in Macau or in Las Vegas. Various entertainers are performing along the street. Each state has a restaurant or food counter with food from that state, as well as a store selling products from that region. The street ends at the Goa beach, or if you prefer, the kids’ sandbox.
Since this is our first day in India and believe that our stomachs need a few days to adjust to the local food, we decide to restrain ourselves and avoid eating any of the wide range of food available. Instead, we opted to return to the Imperial Hotel and feast for dinner at its reputed Italian restaurant, San Gimignano, which provided us with pretty near authentic Italian food, pampered service and soothing Italian music, a welcome contrast to the manic frenzy of the afternoon.
Clearly, the Kingdom of Dreams is an interesting new concept, of interest to families with children in particular. Our first look at what promises to be a myriad of different facets of India.
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