Day 98: New Delhi, India. We woke early today, got packed up and walked across to the airport – a quick 15 minute stroll along busy roads. Pavements don’t exist, so it was the two of us and the cars vying for space in the crazy early morning traffic.
We got to Terminal 2 unscathed – only to find that Terminal 2 has been terminated. It was boarded up and a lone and bored security guard pointed us to Terminal 1.
We flew with Vistara today, an airline we’d never heard of before we booked our tickets. It’s a joint venture between Tata and Singapore Airlines, receiving very good reviews and awards. Despite never flying with them before (or perhaps because we’ve never flown with them before), they unexpectedly stamped our boarding passes ‘priority boarding’.
After security screening (Lil got to go into the curtained ladies room for her security check), we went through to the departure lounge to sit and wait in the rows of comfy plush armchairs, reminiscent of Sunday trips to Granny’s house.
Lil went off for a wander and came back with a pile of free newspapers to catch up on the local happenings.
The ‘priority boarding’ stamps on our boarding passes turned out to be useless, as there was no priority queue when we got to the boarding gate, and certainly no way of manoeuvring past the overly-keen bunch of passengers shoving each other towards the plane.
The flight with Vistara was great – a new plane with comfy leather seats, decent legroom for economy, and very friendly flight attendants. A lovely old Indian guy next to Lil struck up conversation two minutes into the flight, asking “Good morning ma’am, please may I ask where you are coming from?”. He’s a Jesuit Priest who lives in New Delhi, and had just been to Kochi to visit his brother in intensive care, and his sister who has just got out of intensive care. A lovely guy who had some good tips on stuff to see and transport around New Delhi.
We arrived at Delhi airport, and headed for the metro. Lil was a bit peeved at being continuously jostled and queue-jumped, but that’s just how things are here. The metro is fabulous – clean and fast – the airport express line only takes 20 minutes into the city, and only costs around $1.20. We had seats and space to put our backpacks, and it was a very comfortable trip (disclaimer – we weren’t travelling in rush hour, which may be a very different experience).
And then we walked outside New Delhi station. Holy moly. The chaos and the noise and the stench made us want to run back inside again. A seething mess of people and cars and bikes and dogs and cows, a serious sensory overload.
We’d already checked out maps, and decided to walk across to our hotel, which was about 2km west of the station. Big mistake. The 2km walk was an absolute nightmare. Some people say that Delhi is one large rubbish dump, and that seemed like a fair summation as we scurried along the streets. There was rubbish piled everywhere, beggars on every piece of pavement, and the smell of rotting rubbish and urine was overwhelming. Lil commented that the city smelt like one big public toilet – just as we found ourselves walking past some open mens’ toilet cubicles, a sight we’d rather not have to see. Further along, we walked past other guys weeing openly on the street. It’s going to take a bit of time to adjust to what is everyday behaviour around here.
We were too taken aback to snap any pictures, so tomorrow we’ll make up for it.
We had to steer around a fight on the street at one point – it looked like a guy had stolen something, and a shop keeper was whacking him with her rubber flip flop, while guys kicked him repeatedly on the ground. Scary stuff.
We got to our hotel, and after checking in, headed upstairs to our room. As we’re travelling long term, we tend to stay in budget hotels and guesthouses, but usually they’re pretty decent and clean, if a little basic. Not this one. We changed rooms three times today (and will be changing again tomorrow). The first ‘no-smoking’ room reeked of smoke, and there was a dirty ashtray sitting on the small table next to the bed. The next one was pretty dire, and in need of some major renovation. The third one was better, but has no natural light, so we feel like we’re staying in a cave. We also discovered the toilet didn’t flush, so one of the staff had to come up and after some major banging and destruction noises in the bathroom, he eventually came out and said “Ok!”.
We ventured out to get local SIMs and have a look around. The streets are chaotic, and we were getting hassled, so we decided to walk to the nearest metro. While we were standing outside a hotel, working out which way to go, a guy asked if he could help. We said we were just trying to find the metro station, and he said he was walking home that way, so could point it out along the way. We followed him along busy streets (his tactic of crossing busy streets was to walk straight out into the traffic), and while we were chatting, he asked what our plans were after Delhi, and whether we’d booked our travel. He warned us against booking anything online, as scams are common, and said it’s best to go to the public tourist office, who can advise on the best options and organise travel for us, which is much safer. Good advice indeed.
A few minutes later, we found ourselves walking past the public tourist office (no co-incidence there we reckon), and he swung the door open and said we should take the opportunity to go inside, and get the information we need for Delhi and ask about other options. We were taken to a back room where the guy, who was very knowledgeable, chatted us through a map of Delhi, and also ran through the major sights of Rajasthan and sketched out a 2 week itinerary. He offered to ‘price up’ some tours for us, but we said it was fine, we’d have a think about what we wanted to do.
Then things started to go a bit wonky. Jim asked him where we should get local SIMs, thinking the guy would point us to a shopping centre or phone store. Lil kicked Jim under the table and raised an eyebrow, but it was too late. Straight away the guy was on the phone to get one of his mates to come around and sell us SIMs (a ‘Vodafone dealer from the back streets’).
The guy arrived on a motor bike, with only one SIM, which he set up on Jim’s phone, photographing his ID (which freaked Lil out, but then every hotel we’ve been to has copies of our passports, so it’s probably no biggie). The price was reasonable, though likely marked up a fair bit to what it would cost in local stores. He showed us his online credentials, said he is an official Vodafone dealer, but still seemed pretty dodgy to us.
Meanwhile the guy who had walked us to the tourist office was still sitting in the room outside. When we walked out, Lil asked why he was still there. He said he was ‘studying a map of India, to help tourists more’. Unlikely we think. He walked out behind us, and said we were only 5 minutes from the metro.
By now we were seriously uncomfortable and desperate to shake him off. He pointed out a restaurant and said we could go there for dinner now (we declined). Then we passed a tourist shop selling all sorts of clothes and tat, and he swung the door open, saying we must go in to take a look. Lil put her foot down, said we weren’t going in and we were going to walk to Connaught Place now for a drink. She thanked him, said he’d been very helpful, but her voice made it very clear that there was no way in hell he was going any further with us. He was pretty grumpy, but turned around and walked the other way (we checked several times to make sure he wasn’t following us).
Lesson learnt. Don’t talk to strangers. We were clearly getting immersed in some scam involving a bunch of local operators, and very glad we got out of it unscathed.
We walked to Connaught Place, feeling pretty stressed out, and had a couple of beers followed by food in a burger joint (the easiest option at that point), then caught an Uber home. Uber is now our best friend, and we’ll be using it pretty much everywhere in this chaotic city.
One thing that’s better than expected is the dog situation – there are lots of dogs everywhere, but they’re pretty chilled out compared to the snappy strays we’ve encountered in other countries. So that’s one plus point. Let’s hope we find a few more. 🙂
Tomorrow we’ll go sightseeing via Uber, change hotel room again, and hopefully find some more interesting food options. And one thing’s for sure – we won’t be talking to any strangers.