Delhi introductions

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We landed at the Delhi airport on time, but getting through immigration took hours. First, our flight had not been provided with the landing card forms, and then they were running short, inside. We finally got one of the forms, but couldn’t find the other. We decided to wait in line anyway and when it was our turn, were told that we needed to go to a different area for the visas on arrival. Eventually we made it through, stopped at an ATM, and found our driver who had been getting antsy.

The drive from the airport was interesting. Our driver hated traffic so took some interesting turns (u-turn on a one-way street since he didn’t like the jam up ahead, etc). Then, he said we needed gas. We pulled into a cement barricaded aisle where we were queued up behind a few other cars. Then, when we pulled up to the pump, the driver had us get out. We were standing just next to the car, keeping an eye on our bags while everyone else at the station was keeping their eyes on us. It was well after 11pm at this point. It didn’t feel “right,” but things turned out fine. Our driver eventually came back around to our side of the van, we piled in, and he drove us the rest of the way to the hotel.

After our late night arrival and a pretty good nights sleep, we woke up to dogs barking outside. Showers were good (after waiting the recommended 5 minutes for the water to get hot), and my “shower shoes” (cheap flip-flops) came in handy as the shower was the entire bathroom, not a separate stall as the website pictures had indicated.

We went up to breakfast on the top floor and started to look over the buffet, but it was busy and we were shepherded to a table where we got the full service treatment. I ordered a “masala omelet” (came with peppers inside) and we both got plain “pancakes” that were more like crepes, along with a fried dough bread and another crispy crepe filled with curry vegetables that we hadn’t asked for, but enjoyed. I ordered chai/milk tea and J got some coffee with milk (which was sweet).

At breakfast, we were joined by some blond women from England – another aunt & niece traveling together! They’d come from Nepal before these 5 days in Delhi and gave us a few tips (good coffee shop down the street, how to get to the train station, might be good to hire a driver for a day, wear a mask to keep the fumes from bothering you when in the auto-rickshaws, etc.)

And with that, we were as ready as we were going to be, so we set out for the train station.

Of course, we had forgotten the simple instructions of how to get there, so we took a circuitous route, passing by open-air sidewalk-side urinals and walking up and back down stairs of a pedestrian bridge we didn’t need to take. We eventually found the tourist ticket office and dutifully took a number to wait our turn. It was very DMV-like. While we waited, we filled out some forms for the trains we wanted. When our turn came, we were told that unfortunately there were no tourist allotment tickets for the Agra to Varanasi night train we needed, but the agent suggested that we (or someone from our hotel, on our behalf) should go to the station the day before our trip at 10am sharp, when some last-minute “tatical” tickets become available. He seemed pretty sure that we would be able to get tickets that way. Let’s hope so, or we’ll be stuck in Agra during a festival when the hotels are full! We went ahead and got our day train tickets from Delhi to Agra while we were there.

After getting tickets, we wandered around the city. J wanted a cellphone so we stopped in a few places to enquire. The phone is easy, but getting & activating a SIM card may not be. One place wanted her passport (hopefully just a copy?) and said we would pay them now, but that the phone wouldn’t be active until 6pm. That may be normal but we wanted to shop around a bit and, if the 6pm thing is true and not a scam, find a shop closer to the hotel just in case there were any problems.

For lunch, we found a little open-air vegetarian restaurant with some tables and chairs inside. Pretty tasty and very cheap. I was surprised to see the server shoveling rice from the pan onto plates with his bare hand. There was a sink (with soap) right up by the cooking area though, so hopefully he used that! Our meals came with spoons, so we didn’t have to shovel the rice & sauces into our mouths with our bare fingertips like the guy at the table next to us. I’ve eaten with my hands a fair bit, but usually there’s some sort of bread involved!

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We wandered around a bit more after lunch. Through some crowded areas and some not. Some very narrow alley-like streets with scooters beeping through them anyway. Past cows sleeping on one side of the street, and dogs napping on top of a (covered) car on the other.

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One thing we hadn’t seen was a tailor where we could have some Indian clothes made. We asked at the hotel and got a list of areas we could shop in. We took our first auto-rickshaw there. Each shop we went to, they went crazy bringing out things for us to look at — most of which were not at all what I wanted, so I felt bad and just wanted them to stop taking everything out. They were just going to have to re-fold it all!

Eventually I saw one that caught my eye. It wasn’t a tailor shop and they had a lot of premade clothing, but the set I liked was just fabric. After some back and forth, I explained that I needed to have it sewed too. They could help me with that, and another guy came over. I didn’t negotiate enough on price, but it was still super cheap so I went ahead and put down a deposit (half now, half when I get the finished clothes) and followed the guy down an alley and then down some narrow cement stairs to a hole in the wall with 3 guys and a sewing machine. They took my measurements (I remembered to take a deep breath in, to expand my lungs, per my sister’s recommendation!) and also asked me some questions about how I wanted it made. There was a bit of a language barrier, plus I’m not up on Indian fashion, so I didn’t know how to answer some of the questions, but I’m excited to see what I wind up with!

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We walked a bit further before deciding to make our way to Dilli Haat, and flagging a rickshaw. The first one that stopped had a shady driver, but the second one was great. Not only did he quote us a reasonable price up front (and refused to bargain, instead simply saying, “no ma’am, this is a fair price”), but he was a really excellent driver. I wish in retrospect we’d asked for his card. Anyway, we got to Dilli Haat and browsed the crafts for sale, but the longer we were there, the less interesting it became. More and more of the same things at every shop, and the workers were really losing us with their hard sell tactics.

We took another rickshaw back to the hotel. By this time, it was dark out and quite chilly when zipping down the street. The fumes were pretty bad after awhile and we were glad to make it back to the hotel. We decided to walk over by the train station for dinner, and found a really great little restaurant (all vegetarian) but I don’t think I’ve ever been stared at so much in my life. Not sure if it’s because we’re western, women out after dark, or what. The food was fantastic though. All in all, a good first day!

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