New Delhi. It was early morning and already sticky hot. I’ve heard stories of getting off planes in India and having a stench hit you in the face. I had braced myself for the Eau d’India but thankfully it never came. We were like moving corpses as we walked through Delhi International: and we had a whole day ahead of us.
I got to the baggage carousel and found both our bags right away (always a relief). Kelsi had to wait in line for a visa and came through about 20 minutes later with a scowl on her face.
Turns out whatever her travel agent had said about India visas was wrong. Kiwis are now only allowed a one entry, 30 day visa for US$60. They can also only get a maximum of 2 visas a year. This was a slight problem, as we are staying in India for 2 months. Luckily, we had a vague plan to fly down to Sri Lanka for a few days, and so I had applied for a double visa. Now it looks like Sri Lanka is a must stop over or Kelsi gets the boot by the beginning of April!
Surprisingly, we managed to find our way out of the airport, onto the metro, at at the Main Delhi station with only a few peoples’ guidance. Delhi’s downtown core was chaos! People, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, cars, stray dogs, cows: you name it, Delhi’s got it. Crossing the street was our main mission. Bags on, still half asleep, we followed close at the heels of some locals in an attempt to cross the main thoroughfare. It was only a four lane street, but somehow the city had made it into a chaotic mess of 7 or 8 lanes at once! When we crossed the street we felt like experts; we’ve got this! Go ahead Delhi, do your worst.
To get to the hostel we were trying to find we had to leave north from the metro station, then cross over top of the major train station, then enter the main bazaar and find the red mosque. Easier said than done. The directions weren’t difficult, but moving in a crowd with our life on our backs was not ideal.
The main bazaar was even wilder than I had expected from downtown Delhi. Merchants yelling, clothing shops spilling into the streets, food stalls with public urinals right behind them (we opted to avoid that food stall) and all the chaos of India wrapped up in a few squared blocks. It was like Bangkok’s Khaosan Road on steroids.
We eventually managed to push our way through the crowds and arrived at the Smyle Inn. Cheap, clean rooms for a couple dollars and it comes with a free breakfast! Sign me up.
When we checked in, all we wanted to do was go to sleep. We’d been up for over a day and we were both beyond exhausted. But sleeping now would screw up our pattern, and we had to do way too much organizing.
We had arrived in India with nothing planned. We have a booking for the Holi Festival in Mathura on the 25th and a flight home booked in May. That is all. I even only found out about the Smyle Inn off my hostel world app in the Dubai Airport. I love not having everything planned while I travel, but having a vague idea of what we should see is essential if you want to see anything at all. So for our first day, we needed to come up with a game plan.
First was money. The $20 worth of rupees that Cathy gave me was a lifesaver at the airport. It got us into town and saved us airport exchange rates and ATM fees. Right around the corner from our hostel was a CitiBank. Lonely Planet said that it should work with most foreign debit cards, except, apparently, mine. In fact, NO ATM’s will accept my debit card, because my “card is invalid, please contact your branch”. Great.
As we carried on, everyone in the street wanted to meet us. I knew that two blonde haired, blue-eyed girls were going to cause a stir in India, I just didn’t realize how much. We were the staring focal point of nearly everyone in the main bazaar (even all covered up in our layers of clothing).
“Where you from pretty ladies?”
“Hello. Namaste. Which country?”
“Namaste. What is your name?”
It was a little overwhelming on no sleep and I would have given anything to just crawl up in my bed back at the hotel. But we had to keep on trekking. We were on our way to Connaught Square, where the tourist information center was. Booking from there, you don’t have to pay commission (or as much) unlike at a hotel. We met one young guy in the street who pointed us in the right direction. His English was pretty good. “Where are you from?” He asked. “Canada and New Zealand” we said. “Oh, Canada. English or French part?”
“English. From Vancouver”
“Oh! I have a friend who lives in Delta. He says it very nice there”
Delta, wow, I’m skeptically impressed that he’d heard of Delta. Apparently the guy had spent a couple weeks in Montreal with his Canadian ex-girlfriend. He’s also been to New Zealand. He was now waiting for the arrival of his fiancé from Holland… Boy gets around the world for working at a jewelry stand (as we found out later).
Maybe it was because we were exhausted, or maybe it was just a gut feeling, but every person that spoke to us that day I thought was lying to us. We left world-traveling-lover-boy behind and walked towards Connaught Place. It wasn’t half a block down the road before we picked up our next cling-on as we tried to cross the road.
“Here, walk with me, I live here, I can help you cross the road safely! Which country you from?”
And it began again…
This guy said he just happened to be walking by the tourist office and he would show us the way. It’s a sad day when what seems like such a nice gesture is construed as some sort of a trick. Is he taking us to his friend’s travel shop? Does he get commission off picking up tourists and dropping them off?
God we needed sleep. All my senses were skewed and I was in a constant state of skepticism. Either way we ended up at the tourist office and cling-on two continued on. Maybe he was just being helpful.
We got into the office and was greeted by Samel: a young tour consultant in his thirties who knew EXACTLY where we needed to go.
We sat down just to ask a couple questions and instead of answering any of them, Samel drew out a map with a bunch of dots and started listing the cities we were going to visit in the next three weeks. Wait, what? We just wanted to get some information and find out how to book a bus or a train? Now this guy is asking us if we would like the deluxe, mid-range or budget tour.
Hours since last sleep: 30 something.
This was all too much. We liked the idea of not having to look up anything, but didn’t want to be on a tour. Samel was a smooth talking and straightforward salesman. “This is what you want to do. Trust me.”
I didn’t trust him, not at all, but not planning seemed like a great idea on no sleep. We told him we would go home and discuss it, then come back to him in a couple hours.
We left the building and ran into cling-on number 2 again. He’d been waiting around the corner.
“Did you get all the information you needed?”
I thought he was going somewhere…
We thanked him for taking us and carried on. We stopped at the markets on the way home to buy some clothing. Long, airy, baggy Indian pants and some scarves to cover our shoulders. The stuff was cheaply made, but only cost us a couple dollars so we were happy. New wardrobe: Check!
Finally, we dragged our feet back to the hotel, briefly having to stop to hear more about world-traveling-lover-boy’s fiancé one more time. Fantastic.
Back at the hotel we struggled to stay awake as we decided where WE wanted to go over the next few weeks.
When we arrived back at the tourist office with a plan we sat down at Samel’s desk again to ask some questions.
“We’re back!” We announced, only 2 hour after we had left.
He stared at us blankly.
“Uh, no, from Canada and New Zealand. We were just here a couple hours ago.”
“I have a lot of tourists in and out all the time here” he said unapologetically.
This guy sucks at his job. But we were not about to find another place when all the shops were closing so we continued on with our plan.
“These are the places we would like to go. Can we organize a driver to take us here?”
He looked at the list, slashing things here, and changing dates around. He didn’t take into consideration much of what we were saying, but in the end we found a nice compromise that left us with so many more things than we could ever see on our own. Everybody is happy.
“Would you like to go on a city tour now?”
Oh god, we still haven’t slept.
“No thank you, we are tired. We are going for dinner then to sleep.”
“No, no. It is included. Here, I will get someone to take you to dinner, it’s a great place. Then the driver will pick you up and you will go for a short tour.”
Before we knew it we were pushed out the door and taken around the corner by some young guy.
“Which country?” He asked
“Canada and New Zealand”
“Oh Canada, French or English?”
“English, from Vancouver”
“Oh, I have a friend that lives in Delta! He says it very nice.”
Hmmm, Delta eh? Pretty popular place with New Delhians!
The guy that brought us to the restaurant also ordered our food: a special Thali. Thali is a common all you can eat dish here in India. It comes in a big silver platter with separate compartments. It has several different dipping sauces or curries served with naan and rice. A great way to try a little bit of everything.
When dinner was over our driver grabbed us and sped out through the city. He took us to see the India Gate and some temple that was beautiful and right in the middle of the city. Unfortunately we couldn’t appreciate it through all our exhaustion. We were probably at 40 hours with no sleep and we could hardly stand. When we were finally dropped off at the hotel later I collapsed into bed and didn’t wake up for 12 hours… Kelsi for 14. It was quite the first day in Delhi!