Back at the beginning of the year while I was travelling around South-East Asia with friends my partner, who I'd had to leave at home, came up with the idea of visiting an orphanage in India that her family had ties to. Being quite taken with this travelling thing I thought it was a fantastic opportunity for her with the bonus of getting to teach some kids who haven't had the best luck. Later in my first trip I decided I'd like to go with her and we decided we'd make a mini trip of it and take in some more of what India has to offer. She drew up an itinerary, flights got booked, bags packed and off we trotted (with only one hiccup of almost not getting a visa in time, I probably should have thought of that one...).
We flew out with BA, something I've never had the chance to do before and it is to date the best carrier I've ever flown with. The plane wasn't the newest but the service was very pleasant. However what I really enjoyed was the fully featured touch screen I had with access to a pretty wide range of films and TV. Bonus. I got a good three films in over the nine and a half hour flight and didn't even doze off - something very unheard of for me on long journeys. We had curries for food on the way there that were really quite nice for airplane food and at the end of the flight a kind of hot curry pasty which was incredibly tasty and filling!
Delhi's International airport does not seem to have the facility for many of it's arrivals to disembark directly into the terminal. This was a shock. Not having to take the shuttle to the terminal, but heat. Oh god it was hot, and close. At least in Bangkok I'd had the opportunity to prepare myself for this, in Delhi I wasn't really paying attention and then suddenly it's eight thousand degree, two thousand percent humidity and I'm on a rickety set of steps. WHAT is going on is my body cried...
We'd had the foresight to book a hotel before flying, which was for the best as the flight landed at gone 11pm so we made the hotel by about 11.45, a little tired. The drive there was pretty interesting too. First of all we had to change money and get a taxi. The first one being simple as ever with travellers cheques, the second being a little more interesting. We didn't have a travel guide at the time (thinking we could use the internet to research what we needed on the fly - big mistake) so we had no idea what a decent price for the taxi should be. We got quoted 490 rupees the first place we went and took it. It was 11.20pm, I'd been up since 3.30am BST and hadn't really slept since...I just wanted to get to a bed, stat. I hand over a 500 rupee note just as the booth next to us charges some other westerners 400 rupees. Bugger, oh well - too tired to care. Luckily our booth didn't have change so I got a 100 rupee note back. Karma restored.
From the off we were spectacles to everyone in sight, even at the airport. We'd seen one other white couple since getting off the plane, but we'd expected this so it was just a bit weird rather than intimidating so far. The drive didn't take long into the city but it was evident that the drive didn't know where our hotel (Hotel Volga International) actually was, just the road it was on. A bit of searching and we found a 20 foot sign strapped to the side of a building that just about had a light on. Success, shower and a bed.
A shocking moment was having my first shower and realising it was the water making every break in my skin tingle and then sting within thirty seconds. Teeth were washed with drinking water from then on...
One pretty decent nights sleep later (A/C was a dream after the climate shock) we prepared to make our first foray onto the streets of Delhi.....at 1pm, jet lag is a bitch. We made it as far as the end of the alley and 50 yards up the road to a food stand that was past some building works. We got water and went back [read: made a hasty retreat] to the room. After building up some more courage and cooling down by draping ourselves over the beautiful A/C unit we prepared ourselves to find some food as water is pretty boring after a while.
Once More Into the Breach Dear Friends
We followed the same route as before and if anything got more stares this time, sunglasses helped no end in ignoring this. Experience has taught us that Indians will stare all the more if you stare back since you have 'caught their attention' but will look away abashed if you smile and nod/wave. I really wish I'd know this at the time! A short walk from the hotel and we ended up outside a locals dining hall. They were cooking food in huge vats, always a huge bonus in my opinion and in this case I couldn't have been more right. Poppy and I shared a portion of rice (possibly Jeera as it was flavoured) with a potato and chick pea curry. It was utterly sublime and is still my favourite dish of the trip (almost two weeks in).
Behind Enemy Lines
The Red Fort was on the top of our list of places to visit and we decided it would be clever to pack our bags after two nights at Hotel Volga and grab the nearest auto-rickshaw up to that end of the city to stay a night so that we could spend more time in Red Fort. There were two major problems with this: Red Fort is only open to Westerners between 7.30 and 8.30pm for a light show and there are no hotels that end of the city that we could find. It turns out the area around Connaught Place is the top destination for hotels unless you want to go really upmarket and is really Delhi's version of Bangkok's Khosan Road. Another auto-rickshaw back and we found Snow White Hotel after a gruelling hour of looking at hotels well outside of our budget. Internet is not big at most hotels either... Our night at Snow White was less than good with an A/C unit that sounded more like a diesel engine and tiny little bugs everywhere, oh and a mouse. Granted Volga had one of these but the room was nicer so I'll let it off. We found a nice upmarket restaurant nearby where had our second meat dish of the trip. I'm pretty sure my chicken wasn't cooked properly, but it was tasty!
Third Times the Charm
We went further afield from Snow White and discovered Main Bazaar Road where we found Hotel Vivek that boasted actual honest to god internet in the room. I jumped at the chance, but it turned out to be a dud. The Internet Man promised me a wire was broken which was why I couldn't get wireless in the room. A cursory glance at the structure of the building and what must have been a metre of steel laced concrete between my room and the far away Access Point told me otherwise. I even tried to use the lobby internet, got on the wireless with no trouble but found the internet to be broken to which I was told 'Apple is different software, try restarting. Then there was the rage blackout. Overall Hotel Vivek was pretty nice even with the water being off for most of the first day, however I tired of being told everything would be fixed in half an hour repeatedly (it was more like 6 hours).
While trying to visit Jantar Mantar we found it was closed for building work so the possible taut who had jumped on our auto-rickshaw took us round some Indian shopping Boutiques where we saw some fantastic clothing and material that was sadly, for the majority, for the majority out of our price range. Poppy picked up a lovely scarf and we found stacks of carpets, wall hangings and cushion covers that would have looked great at home. Driving around for a while in Delhi was pretty fun and I managed to get some good pictures of that help to illustrate the manic nature of driving there, especially the beat up look of every vehicle on the road. I would have loved to have tried it for myself but unfortunately we didn't find anywhere to rent cars (motorbikes might have been a bit too much...).
Delhi is busy and so utterly dirty. Most of it seems to be under [de]construction too, but after some looking around this seems more to be because of the impending Commonwealth Games they are hosting. Indians seem to build in an utterly chaotic fashion but no doubt it is like their traffic system and has a beautiful pattern underneath as buildings do seem to get built. So often we'd see the side of a road demolished but nobody working on it or any workers in sight! The city in general is busy, dirty and completely full of life. It was a both a brilliant experience and a complete shock to the system that I would highly recommend to anyone.