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Tuesday 15 Mar 2011
Delhi, India

Delhi Day 1...Part one

My horrible 1am flight was leaving Abu Dhabi to arrive in Delhi at around 5am (the clocks in India are 2.5 hours ahead of Dubai).

The Abu Dhabi emigration "officials" seemed to take great amusement at abusing the Indians and Filipinos that were exiting through this particular terminal (this was a side of the Emirates that I'd forgotten about... "everyone else is a 2nd-class citizen"), so the queue to get through to the boarding area was slow to progress. I was quite astonished with the way they snatched the passports from some of the passengers and threw them back accompanied with a few sneering jibes. So it's understandable that I gave the guy glaring looks when it was my turn, although he daren't treat me, a Westerner, in the same way.

I had only about 2 hours sleep on the flight over so, despite arriving in Delhi in the morning, this day was always going to be a bit of a non-event and really just a chance to aclimatise.

I had arranged a shuttle to pick me up the airport and take me to my hotel. This, according to the TripAdvisor hotel description, was included in the price of the room (only later did I find out that they wanted me to pay, but more on that later).

No sign of any driver holding a sign for me when I went out of the arrivals area.

Lots of fun ensued as I tried to make use of the free wifi connection at Delhi airport (which was complicated enough to get working, requiring that you send a text message to a number and then get the code in response) to get the hotel phone number from my email on my laptop, and then try to contact the hotel, who said the taxi driver was outside waiting. I couldn't see any sign of him so had to call them back. And on and on this went. At this point a young Delhi-ite, who overheard my conversation from the arrivals café, offered to help and used his phone to talk to the hotel in Hindi, and then eventually to the taxi driver himself. It transpired that the driver had been waiting outside all along, but had conveniently decided not to stand up with the sign! The guy who helped me worked in IT - predictably - and also did poetry, a passion among Delhi-ites going back to the time of the Mughals.

I was glad to be out of that situation, but I quickly learned this rule of thumb henceforth: nothing in India ever goes to plan and you always have to be prepared for unnecessarily-complicated workarounds.

Finally out in the Delhi air I entered my "shuttle" (actually just a banged-up Maruti Suzuki taxi that the hotel had hired) and was off to my hotel: The Pearl. What struck me first about Delhi was how fresh the air was at this time of year. I was expecting a smog-ridden town, and indeed it does have sections where this is the case, but it was also remarkably temperate (a nice balmy 25C at the height of the day) and not the sticky humid climate I was expecting.

One thing did live up to my expectations though, and this was the colour of the sky: it was the familiar "dusty blue" misty sky that always defines Indian photographs. You'll see this in all the photographs I post up as it seems to be the same throughout India. Whether caused by smog generated by the 1.2 billion people nationwide, or dust, I'll never know.

My hotel was typical of many in Delhi: a narrow 3-storey rundown-looking terrace from the outside, along a dusty & littered road chock full of rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws beeping each other incessently. It's only once you enter the building itself that they often reveal themselves to be fairly luxurious, and such was the case with my place. I dropped my bags, ran straight for the shower and slept on the bed for a couple of hours ... India was already exhausting me!

2 things had to be done today:

  • Get my train ticket to Agra the next day to see the Taj Mahal
  • Make the most of the first day in Delhi and try to see some sights and sample my first genuine Indian hot curry!

The area I was staying in, Paharganj, was ideally placed for getting train tickets as it's a mere 10 minutes walk away. It's supposed to be a backpacker area as well, but to be honest you wouldn't know this from looking. There are no real "backpacker restaurants" or bars in the area, mainly just busy streets lined with several budget hotels.

Off I walked to the New Delhi train station around 12pm, found my way upstairs to the Tourist Ticket area (dissapointingly I didn't get stopped by the touts that Lonely Planet warned me about that try to convince you the place is closed...), opened the doors and saw the largest concentration of farangi ("foreigners") that I was ever going to see on this trip sat around in a mish-mashed disorderly fashion. English, Americans, French, German and half the population of Israel (who all spoke as though they were stoned). There was supposed to be a queue, but it took a few minutes to figure out where exactly it began. And so this was the first of many queues I was going to experience on this trip!

The crowd of people didn't bode well for me getting a ticket the next day as a lot of tourists would have been planning to go to Agra, but after around 2-3 hours or so of queuing I managed to wrangle one of the few remaining tickets: a 2nd class sleeper on the way over... and then a 2nd class tourist car on the way back (I was only going to do a day trip to Agra). I was dreading the fact that I didn't get a 1st class ticket, thinking that I was going to be stuck in a sweltering dirty crowded shithole for 6 hours, but the next day I was to discover the pleasure that is Indian Railway! Smile (P.S. It's best to try to buy tickets a few days early in India... although bear in mind that cancellations are common.. and exceedingly annoying)

Next up, some sightseeing: (continued in next entry...)

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