April 30, 2007

My thoughts on India

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It's been more than 2 weeks since I came back from my India trip. I must say that my first trip to India left a deep impression on me. These are my observations:
  • India is a beautiful country with lots of rich history and culture, which leaves a string of wonderful monuments and other places to visit. The Taj Mahal aside, all the monuments around Agra and Delhi were just amazing bits of history that I never had exposure to before.  Photos from my trip can be seen here.
  • Everything you ever heard about India is true. All the horror stories about how dirty it is, the crowd/traffic, the beggars/vendors/kids who hound after you...we saw it all. Everwhere we went, we were hounded by people who knocked on the windows of the car, trying to ask for money or sell us something. Mothers would hold their kids and ask us for money. We felt for these people...but I ignored them and did not offer anything, because I knew that the moment we responded, there would be 30 people coming our way and we would never see the end of it.
  • India really is as dirty and filthy as all your friends have told you. A main reason for this is the fact that bulls and cows roam the streets, and you end up with dung just everywhere. People don't seem to bother to clean them up. Personal hygiene also plays a contributing factor, as adults as well as children find it perfectly acceptable to relieve themselves on the streets.
  • I have never been so paranoid about food/drink and cleanliness when traveling anywhere else in the world, not even China and other places in SE Asia. Most of the days we brushed our teeth with mineral water, never ate anything outside the 5-star hotels we stayed in (except for 2 meals: 1 meal at McDonalds in Agra, and the other on Jet Airways), and carried wet wipes and waterless alcoholic cleaning gel everywhere. In spite of all this, I still got sick! I had food poisoning the day I ate the airplane food from Varanasi to Delhi on Jet Airways, but fortunately the effects were gone by the next evening.
  • India is expensive for foreign tourists, because going expensive is the only way to insulate yourself from the "real India" with all the filth and beggars. Case in point: Why are so many people willing to pay USD 600/night for the Oberoi Amarvilas? Does the view of Taj Mahal from your room justify the USD 500/night difference? Well, for people who can afford it, it is the only game in town for now. The next best option, the Mughal Sheraton, cost around USD 100/night but has a reputation for being a bit old and run down, with the musty smell that puts people off. So the choice is simple.
But despite all the negative comments I may have had, I would want to go back to India and visit the Rajastani cities of Jaipur, Jodphur and Udaipur. I found that, much like myself for the last 10 years, India is not on the radar screen for many people I have spoken to recently. Like me, they stayed away due to all the horror stories they have heard. But I would encourage people to go to this beautiful country. There is a way to do India in a more "sterilized" fashion with 5-star hotels and traveling by clean hotel cars. You can do this with your first trip to India, like we did, to dip your toes in the water. I think people would enjoy it.

April 25, 2007

Le Palais des Grands Crus 2007

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Last Friday I had the fortune of attending the Deutsche Bank wine tasting for the third year. From the wine list it seems that we are getting "cheaper" compared to previous years, as there were fewer "stellar" wines around this year. Or maybe it is because wine prices have soared in the last year, and for the same amount of cash spent, we cannot afford the same wines we tasted last year. In any event, there is never any plonk or average wines at these tastings so I should not complain...

As usual the Grand Hyatt Ballroom is set up with tables with specific themes, with either sommeliers or representatives from the wineries pouring the wines. Based on past experience, the plan is to prioritize and hit the best wines before it is gone.

My first stop was at the Red Burgundies table since there usually are several offerings from DRC. I tried a couple of 2003 grand and premier cru wines from Prieure-Roch, but was less than impressed. The Romanee-Saint-Vivant 2001 from DRC was much better (duh...), and the 2000 DRC Echezeaux was drinking very, very well - shows the power and concentration from a DRC grand cru. After seeing one person after another asking for the La Tache (most probably have no idea what it is, but have been told that it is an expensive wine so they must drink it...), I finally worked up to it...but was very disappointed. The '88 La Tache (served from methusalem no less) was definitely over the hill...a bit of stewed prunes and higher acidity than I expected. Certainly the biggest disappointment of the evening.

Next stop was the Jaboulet table. The '98 Jaboulet La Chapelle was not bad but not outstanding. The '83 Jaboulet La Chapelle was drinking quite well, although it never was a stellar wine. The highlight of course was the '90 Jaboulet La Chapelle served from magnum. Wow! This was my wine of the evening...everything I expected. There is enough concentration and fruit to last for a long time, and no question why Parker and others gave it 100 pts. Wonderful stuff!

I stopped by the Angelus table to greet Coralie de Bouard, Hubert's daughter. She had hosted their table at last year's tasting and I thanked her for participating again. I tried the '98, 2003 and '83 in that order. '98 Angelus was drinking alright but did not perform up to its potential. The 2003 Angelus was drinking better than I expected, and the '83 Angelus was beautiful. Missed out on the '70 because I waited too long.

Finally to the whites. The 2004 William Fevre Chablis Les Clos from jeroboam was a good starting point. The pair of 2004 Domane Leflaives - the Meursault Sous le Dos d'Ane and the Puligny-Montrachet Clavoillon - showed powerful nose of petrol and minerals, a bit too much for my taste, especially the Meursault. The 2000 Bouchard Meursault Charmes was more elegant. The 2002 Bouchard Corton Charlemagne from jeroboam was very, very nice.

And I spent a long time hanging around the sweet wine table. I started with the '24 Huet Vouvray le Haut Lieu - this was really wonderful. The pair of '78 and '79 Rieussec was great, as was the '85 Suduiraut. These are wines I would drink any day after a nice dinner. Of course, everyone goes for the Yquem, this one the '99 from Imperial. You will never have a bad Yquem, but this one was a little too young. Tonight, the winner was definitely the '24 Huet, and I managed to get the last pour out of the bottle.

It was a very good evening, and I finally went home some 4 hours after I started.

April 15, 2007

Updated list on UNESCO World Heritage

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Back from India and have now added 5 sites to my original post.

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