The Lemon Tree hotel in Aurangabad is one of those tourist bubbles that lets you escape from the frenzied streets outside its walls. While I appreciate the reprieve and ability to escape to a world that feels more “normal”, I often feel driven to venture outside of my comfort zone and explore the “real” India. After all this is why we travel in the first place – to experience a different way of life.
With this in mind we skip the hotel restaurant and get a taxi to the Great Sagar Restaurant in the center of the old town. A young woman, a native of Aurangabad who I met on the plane, suggested that we explore this area of town on foot. She explained that while it may not be as “clean” as cities in the United States, it was worth strolling the streets of old buildings. She recommended the Great Sagar if we liked spicy food.
A harrowing taxi ride through the congested narrow streets, our taxi feels way too big and out of place in the horde of pedestrians and motorized rickshaws. Traffic flows just fast enough with little respect for the center line to make it feel as if we will surely hit someone. In the jumbled mass of vehicles and people trying to get somewhere are also those just hanging out in front of shops or strolling arm in arm along the street as if they were enjoying a quiet evening under the stars. The faces are mostly male.
I try to picture Don and me walking along these streets as my plane companion suggested.
We reach the Great Sagar Restaurant located on a large intersection near the Bhadkal Gate. The Muslim restaurant is bright, clean and tastefully designed in polished stone. The front room is reserved for men only and we are shown through a doorway with “family room” marked above. The spacious tables, large enough to seat 6 or more, are more than half empty. Three young Chinese tourists chat happily in one corner chowing down on mountains of biryani and naan. I hear the voices of Indians hidden from view behind the stone patricians that separate the tables.
We order off the extensive menu that categorizes dishes by type – appetizers, sizzlers, biryani, etc. – but no descriptions, just meat or veg and the style of the preparation. We take a stab and order a mutton Kabur – an abundant spicy sauce with morsels of tender meat, a veg biryani, a half order of tandoori chicken and roti. Food is served quickly and without much fuss but is tasty and spicy. We pay the bill, less than $10, and walk back through the men-only room, now half full of groups of men, and stand in front of the restaurant contemplating how we should get back to the hotel.
After a while a security guard points to a motorized rickshaw stand across the circle. What the hell. After confirming the price back to our hotel, 100 rupees, about a $1.50, we climb in and start the noisy, bumpy ride along the back streets of town. Despite the gas fumes, it feels more fitting to be part of the crowd instead of in an out-of-place oversized taxi. 20 minutes later we are back safely in bubble land where foreign tourists dine on the quiet patio next to the pool. A lovely relaxed evening I imagine.