When not practising, almost every foreign athlete staying at the Commonwealth Games Village here is like any other tourist visiting India they have heard about and are itching to see the Taj Mahal, bazaars in Delhi, pick up souvenirs and sample the street life of the country.
Visiting the Taj, of course, tops the wish list of a majority of the athletes with some making plans to venture into Rajasthan’s cities and others looking forward to visit local monuments and temples in and around the national capital.
“I was hoping to go see the markets of Delhi. Also, the Taj Mahal is a must visit for me,” says Neoline of the Cook Islands netball team.
“We have received maximum requests to see the Taj Mahal in Agra. If we have had 100 enquires, 90 are for the Taj Mahal”, says an official manning the Games Travel Office.
“Others have also expressed interest in visiting palaces and lakes in Jaipur and some are inquiring about the Akshardham Temple in Delhi,” he added.
The Organising Committee has arranged for complementary visits for all athletes to the Taj in a special express train, says the official.
“We have prepared all the itineraries well in advance and offer option of road, rail or air transport. We have not started bookings as yet,” he adds.
Many athletes stroll around the village, engage in friendly banter, sharing their experiences and enjoying themselves after daily practise sessions, visit the salon to get a pedicure or hair colouring done, chill out in the bar or ice-cream parlour or shop for souvenirs at the village handicrafts shop.
The amphitheatre at the Village is where athletes gather to attend welcome ceremonies, held daily for various contingents, school students put up a dance and song performance.
It is also a hangout zone for athletes, especially at dusk when the musical fountain as well as the Village begins to light up.
A row of wooden Manipuri dancers’ sculptures have also drawn the attention of visitors.
Posters of “Incredible India” tourism campaign are plastered everywhere in the international zone of the Village which looks like a mini town with a post office, a gym, a golf simulator and other recreational activities.
The opening of a disco, separated from the bar with a partition has been a talking point for the residents.
“I am certain most of our athletes will visit it as it would give them an opportunity to relax,” says an official from the Wales contingent.
Food is another major attraction at the village with its 2,300 seat dining area serving 150 dishes including Asian, African, Indian and Western cuisine. Large refrigerators stored with water, juice, soft drinks and coffee machines make moving around the sprawling 63.5 hectares village a convenience for visitors and residents.
English shooter Michele Smith, who participated in the world shooting championships in Munich this August and who landed in Delhi on Thursday, dismisses all the negative reports about the Village.
“This is the first time I am staying in a Village like this. In Munich this August, we were all staying at different hotels. This is a different experience for us,” she says, adding she wants to savour the cuisines on offer and also shop for her two young nephews.
“Perhaps a T shirt with the emblem of the mascot will make my nephews happy,” she says.
Meanwhile, at the shop set up by the Handicraft and Handlooms Exports Corporation of India Ltd. puppets and string dolls set amidst a variety of goods created by national artisans from all over India are on display.
“We have more than 50 items in our store and have already sold goods worth Rs. 10,000 in the past three days and are expecting more sales in the coming days,” says an official of the HHEC.
Among the most in demand are traditional stick on tattoos and bangles. “We have received so much demand for bangles that we have sent word for the items to be brought in.”
Many young women athletes from countries like Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands, West Indies and Scotland seem to like the bangles, necklaces and other beaded jewellery. “We have requests from men asking for recommendations for gift items for their wives, sisters or girlfriends,” says the official.
Others like Cath Shearer and Joy Binger, medical personnel accompanying the Wales team also look forward to some shopping. “We have so much work to do, we have not been getting the time, but since I am going to be married in November, I hope to take back some Pashmina shawls from here for all my bridesmaids,” says Ms. Joy.
Athletes from South Africa say they are here for the Games and their aim is to bag as many medals as they can. “We love challenges and are up for anything,” says Girden Vermellion who was spotted at the merchandise store.
“People here are nice and the entire atmosphere is quite good with good training facilities but I need to return home soon after. It is a pity that I can’t stay back longer to shop because I have a wife who is working back home in Durban as well as a 22-month-old baby,” he says.
Of all the things, Vermellion says he liked the Indian dances. “I have seen quite a few cultural programmes and found the dances very relaxing,” he says.
The dances seem to be hit among other athletes as well.
“We come from a culture where dance is very popular. Some of the Indian dances we have seen are very graceful,” says Ngatokurua of Cook Islands.
The mother of four girls says she picked up a few multicoloured beaded slingworks with mirrors for her children. .
“I plan to buy quite a few Indian outfits such as the kurta, kaftan for people back home,” she says inquiring about the best places to shop outside the Village.
The vuvuzela, an instrument which gained popularity during the World Cup Football in South Africa also seemed to be attracting quite a few athletes.
“I am not a great fan of the instrument myself as I think it is distracting but I think it was good for South Africa and brought it recognition worldwide,” says the lawn baller.
Jitender, a final year hotel management student who is manning the souvenir shop, says the most popular items are the magic mug which have sold out, Shera T—shirts and vuvuzelas as well have also been big selling items at the store.
He says while he would like to be in the catering team his current assignment at the stores is helping him hone his sales and marketing skills.
“The best part is that I get to interact with a lot of foreign athletes and officials. I have met teams from Tanzania, Bermuda and Scotland. It is fun to assist them. All of them are so jolly.This experience is sure to help me in my future career,” he says.
For the gastronome athlete, the Village is a delight. .
“I am not a fan of Indian food, but I find the drinks here to be different from what is available back home. This is the first time I am participating in something so huge and televised at the international level. I have seen athletes on TV but this time I will also be on TV!”
Cameron Burke from Barbados says he had a case of the Delhi belly and is cautious about the food. “I like the Mexican food though and he has tried the African pepper soup,” he says pointing to his team-mate Glyn Clarke.
Mr. Burke has also been one of the first visitors at the Games salon, getting a haircut.
Mr. Clarke, who has travelled around 15 hours in flight to reach Delhi says, “It has been a long flight here. It would not do if I return without visiting some local temples. I have heard of the Akshardham temple and plan to visit it as also local monuments.”