Unbelievably, we are now in India – and of course hit with culture shock. And I thought Bangkok was madness!
The flight from Bangkok was just under four hours, and were lucky enough to get a seat next to us free, so we could spread out a little. Arrived at Indira Ghandi International Airport about 10:30pm Delhi time. The smell in the arrival area was overpowering – we could hardly breathe, and there was a visible haze in the air.
We got our bags, and changed some traveller’s cheques at the Thomas Cook counter, receiving huge wads of 50 rupee bills in return, kindly stapled through to keep them together! When we got past Customs we headed directly to the Government Tourist Centre. Immeditely, these guys tried to rip us off – we had to insist they call the YWCA, then the YMCA when the number was busy. Then we had to force them to give us a voucher, so we would only pay the advertised 270 rupee taxi fee. After some grumbling we got our way, and since we’d talked to the YMCA on the phone they couldn’t tell us it had burned down or something!
Out the front doors, India hit us in the face! Swarms of people, what looked like a covered dead body stiffly laid out (of course this was just someone under a blanket, but it illustrates the state I was in and the surroundings that I jumped to the conclusion it was a dead body), a barrage of noise, a haze of pollution. We followed our taxi driver, got into an ancient cab and were driven into the city.
The YMCA Tourist Hotel had a pretty good write up in Lonely Planet but we found it shabby and crappy, and almost double the price listed in the book! In fact all the prices in the book have gone up – there is a new edition of the book available.
We ran a bureaucratic gauntlet of useless paperwork, paid over 1,365 rupee, and collapsed in the room, all in all pretty impressed with the way we had got to where we wanted to go without any major dramas.
This morning, after a crappy little breakfast of toast and jam, we headed out on foot into Delhi, carrying our packs. Jantar Mantar, the weird ‘observatory’ of structures built in 1725 by Maharaja Jai Singh II, was in a park nearby. The main pit was like a giant sundial, but there were packs of tourist-hasslers about and we felt a bit exposed carrying our packs, so we didn’t stay long.
So we headed for the tourist office on Janpath Road, which we found relatively easily. As soon as you stop for a moment somebody comes up to offer you ‘help’, so it’s hard to stride purposefully when you’re not sure of your destination. At the office we rang a place called Yatri House and booked a room, and got a map. Decided to walk it. It took us over an hour to get there! The area around Connaught Place is all ring roads, and badly signposted, so it’s very confusing. We were exhausted and fed up by the time we finally found the hotel, which is a quiet haven up a lane, and a perfect place to stay.
Chatted with the manager, then with some other tourists, and had a sandwich. K had a nap while I went out for a long walk all the way up the bazaar in the Pahargani area nearby, to the New Delhi Railway Station. Fascinating walk, and I’m really reminded of Cairo by the whole city. On the way back I stopped in a small café and had a glass of chai tea.
Back at the hotel, I had a brief rest, then about 5:30pm we got an auto-rickshaw to an area near the Regal Cinema. The rickshaw rides are like taking some bizarre amusement park ride, only with the added frisson of swallowing gallons of pollution and risking your life! There appears to be NO road rules.
We had an OK buffet meal at a restaurant called El Arab, then walked along nearby roads, past small shops. I foolishly gave a few rupees to a begging woman and was immediately swamped by beggars, some of which ran over the road to reach us, which was a bit unnerving. I suspect a good rule is not to give anything if there are others around.
Getting out of a rickshaw when we returned to the hotel we saw a wedding procession go by, with the groom on a horse and a funny little brass band surrounded by dancing men. Kids swarmed around us as we crossed the road.
What a day. This place is like a war zone, but like Cairo, fascinating, exhausting and challenging.
Tomorrow we go check out the old city.
Unfortunately, I still have a few health issues which make it difficult to walk around for too long, which is frustrating.