Off to India – Navigating the Delhi Chaos!

Day 1

So, landed in India after a pretty uncomfortable flight. It wasn’t the longest in the world but it was properly overnight, 10-6am, so I was feeling pretty knackered. Despite that though the standard tiny airplane seats and the presence of around 280 people around me put paid to the idea of sleep. As a consequence, We walked out into the lobby of Delhi plane station a pretty bleary eyed, and confused looking pair. I’d been told to look out for a boyo

with my name on a card who’d drive us to our hotel (I ended up booking a reasonably overpriced hotel for the first night just because I could do it online and get an airport transfer) and we saw him straight away. I asked for the security code provided by the hotel to identify him though and he didn’t have a scooby what I was talking about. Given the stories I’d heard in the run-up to the trip I was a bit suspicious – pictures of our real driver tied up in the back of our current driver’s boot and a very premature and messy end to our trip running through my mind – but the combination of sleep-deprived delerium and fuck all other option led us to his car anyway. Most of the stories I’d heard just involved trying to sell you shitloads of stuff anyway and in my current state of mind I’d have been quite happy telling them to bugger off. on the whole, Delhi airport wasn’t half as much like hell on earth as I’d been expecting so I put the suspicions on hold just for a little while.

My suspicions proved unfounded in any case and we arrived at Hotel Ajanta about 30 minutes and 3 pairs of pants later. Just so that you know, driving in Delhi seems to require two things: a total disregard for any kind of rule of the road and a very, very strong and flexible horn hand. Two lane roads are seldom found without at least 4 cars driving abreast, and that’s just in one lane while two cows, three camels and a donkey cover the other. Your confidence is never inspired either when you reach back frantically for the seatbelt and find only a gaping hole where you imagine it should be. And to add to all of that, honking of the horn seems as natural to the drivers as a tap of the brake. I thought the spanish had a heavy horn hand (going by the complete racket I hear on every spanish holiday) but your average delhi-ite has the two-ton version.

Anyway, we rolled through Connaught place, on into Pahrahganj and the deeper we drove the more we sped straight into the aforementioned and oft-described hell-on-earth. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but going on my limited travelling experience it’s the closest so far, or so it seemed at first. I was already plotting escape routes when we pulled up outside the hotel but on heading through the front door we discovered a decent looking wee place. This was my first encounter with the majorly weird disparities present all over India – a marble clad, air conditioned lobby just a door’s depth away from a shit encrusted, beggar strewn street – a well dressed, immaculately groomed man waiting for the bus right next to a ragged looking, filthy crowd of guys just chatting away in a circle on their haunches. Not that you don’t get that kind of contrast in the rest of the world, but india seems to be fully made up of that type of cross-over of what we think of as two different worlds.

The first hour of our time in the Hotel Ajanta was spent listening to an initially-subtle but later on completely-blantant sales pitch for a tour of india during our stay. I was straight away on guard, saying no-no-no as I had been intending to get the train the next day to Agra but after speakin for a while and actually looking at the numbers I began to think it wasn’t such a bad deal. We were looking at a private car to Agra the next morning, dropping by a few sights on the way and ending up with a lift to the Taj Mahal. Then we’d get a lift back home again the next day. While it seemed like a wuss move – hardly adventurous getting a chauffeur eh? – we only had 3 days in India and it’d get tons of sight seeing in in the minimum time. I got the bargaining hat on and managed to get 30% off and a free lift to the airport the day after, but no doubt still got the shaft being a dumn foreigner with no idea what a rupee’s worth. No matter though, I was happy enough and managed to pull off a startling piece of self-deception by passing of the wussiness as a simple easing-in move to the rigours of the trip.

The room didn’t seem too bad at first – no window and washed out blood-stains on the sheets aside – but since seeing a few more I realise we received the full inch on that one. Close to 2400 rupees for the room (honestly, didn’t have a clue what they were worth at that point…) but I paid in dollars in advance and it didn’t seem so much. Never mind though, I saw a monkey climbing past the window, and that seemed pretty awesome at the time.

After having a quick sleep we heading out into the mess in search of some food. I was expecting shitloads of beggars and hassle but in actual fact it wasn’t too bad, and they weren’t as persistent as I’d feared. All my pre-trip worst-case scenario thinking seemed to be paying off and I actually started to warm to the not-quite so worst case cluster-fuck of spitting man, speeding tuk-tuk and ‘my friend, my friend, good price!’. Another just-so-you-know, the only thing more dangerous than driving in Delhi is walking in Delhi. When crossing the road stick to a local like glue – you then have only about a 75% chance of being mashed to a pulp by 23 bikes, 15 tuk-tuks, 8 buses and a cow in the space of about 5 seconds.

We braved the roads for a while longer and headed in the direction of Connaught Place, thinking we might find something that wasn’t being cooked in the street on what looked like, and probably were, dustbin lids. Normally I’d jump at the chance of boosting my immune system but I felt like being here for a couple of days at least before giving in to the inevitable bout of bum wrenching, paralysing squits. Ignoring the cries of ‘Vodka, banana, curry!’ (what a combo), we forged on.

I might as well bore you with the slightly more serious bits at this point as there probably wont be many later on. In all honesty, some of the sights were pretty horrendous. As I’ve already mentioned, the contrast of totally well dressed folks walking down the streets past the most destitute, broken looking people I’ve ever seen was just completely mind boggling. I know we have beggars in the UK but these people are in a different league entirely, and the sheer numbers of them is scary. You’re told in all the books that locals frown on actually giving money to anyone as it just encourages more begging, but it makes you wonder whether they’re just ignoring the problem or whether someone’s going to do something about it. Driving out of Delhi later on I saw tens of thousands of people lying by the side of the road in the same kind of state though, I guess that’s going to take a lot of soup kitchens…

We eventually made it to Connaught place and walked by a nice-looking noodle bar. Now, this is where I explain my other slight bit of wussiness as Cat is allergic to nuts. This basically means that eating in another language is a complete nightmare. Generally, the response we get on mentioning it is, “Aah, you want nuts, no problem my friend, I add extra.” And when we don’t mention it, just incase we get extra, it’s pretty much dicing with death on the first bite. When you take into account that the only allergic reactions she’s had before were in Indian restaurants in the UK who guarateed there were no nuts, then I pretty much have my heart in my mouth every time she’s taken a bite. So, we’ve had to avoid the more adventurous looking places and go for slightly more generic stuff, like the aforementioned noodle bar. It actually turned out pretty good though, marred only by the fact that I realised it was actually pretty close to dark about half way through the meal. Not feeling very brave yet, and certainly not brave enough to try a walk in the dark back through the tuk-tuk infested streets of Pahrahganj, I started eating pretty quickly and looked very shifty looking over my shoulder every two minutes at the ever darkening sky. A combination of a few Kingfisher beers and a surprisingly quick sunset, though, slowed my furtive looks and led us out into the street again in full darkness. Surprisingly enough, given the aforementioned beers, I was feeling a little more confident by this point though and I actually really enjoyed the walk home. There were Neon lights everywhere and the sheers number of folk seemed more exciting than intimidating. I think I lost some of my suspicions too and noticed that a lot of the hawkers and touts were actually pretty amiable along with their stream of chatter and if you just smile and shake your head without pausing your stride most will give up after a minute or so. I even had a look into a few of the shops, chatted to the boyos and bought some bottles of beer, water and a few bananas on the way home and by the end of the eve we were both feeling a lot happier with our lot.

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