Okay. So day one was great. We landed, the hotel guys came and took us to our mid-priced-but-swanky-for-us hotel (which I splurged on as a sort of “culture shock airlock”). Headed across various highways towards Delhi, seeing two and three people per motorcycle, cars that looked simultaneously new and forty years out of date, and impossibly thin dirty children living under the overpasses. That, and everything around us looked oven-baked. Welcome to Delhi.
We got to the marble-floored (did I mention swanky) hotel lobby, and no sooner than we do does Natacha spot a french accent and starts up a convo with the young couple checking in next to us. They’re grad students doing a semester in India, and they’re helping get two friends of theirs checked in.
So we end up going to lunch with the four frenchies at a dynamite southern indian place in nearby Connaught Place, learning about the dos and dont’s of India, and generally having a great time. This barely 90 minutes after touching down in the country. We joined them for a bit of a walk-around CP, spent some time at a city temple where people stopped by to pay worship ($, food, flowars) at the altars of a dozen different gods. As Chuck’s girlfriend Debbie warned us, many of these people brought their animals with them, and since you have to remove your shoes before entering a temple, I had my first real exposure to the “everything in India is covered in a thin layer of shit” theory one of Natacha’s friend shared with us. We then headed to the room to wash thoroughly and sleep off the 20-odd hour flight.
So that was Day One.
Day Two, we spent walking around CP (the city center) and formulating travel plans. Needless to day, Delhi is an incredibly vibrant city, teeming with life and color. It’s also teeming with dirt, traffic, and people who seemed to view us as wallets with legs. Beggars galore, and also what the Lonely Planet calls “touts:” people who latch onto you in the street and try to sell you things, mostly transportation or tours, or they’re trying to “direct” you towards the “good” travel agency. A typical tout enconter is this:
You’re walking down a street in Delhi. An Indian man keeps pace with you for a while, then greets you, sympathizes with how hot it is, and immediately tries to offer you things. And doesn’t stop. And doesn’t take no for an answer the first 50 times. Occasionally, you’ll get one who says that he’s not trying to sell you anything, but is trying to “helpfully” guide you towards the “real,” i.e. govenment-approved, travel agency. after the first dozen of them you catch on. And your sense of humor is all that will keep you from an international murder rap.
So after hours of these guys–including one at the restaurant who I though was being a genuinely nice guy, but Natacha knew better–we FINALLY find the ACTUAL government-approved travel agency, i.e. the one that won’t rip us off. And it’s our second day. And we (mostly I) REALLY want to visit the sights of Rajastan, which hosts most of the “classicly india” sights like the Taj Mahal and the Jaisalmer fort. And we have 13 days before we have to meet Natacha’s friend at the southernmost tip of the country. And the sights of Rajastan loop takes most people two weeks minimum. And after hours of Delhi heat and touts affecting our judgement. So we, as I put it, punted. We took the decidedly tourist move of hiring a car & driver to take us around Rajastan.
Now, it’s not entirely unheard of to do this. My dad, who’s covered more ground than Alexander the Great, does this in most places he goes. People we talked to who’d been here, had suggested it as a viable alternative to India’s oft-chaotic bus and train process. And we’d just gotten there, for christ’s sake, and didn’t know if we could handle the classic forms of backpacker transport, at least not when faced with a deadline.
So we did it, pondered our decision for hours, but were still genuinely glad we’d made one. It’s not going to sink us financially…we’ll do the night trains and bus station slaloms in the last 3 weeks of our time here.
Anyhoo, as I write this, we’ve continued to have a wonderful time, despite almost getting heatstroke in the middle of the night, Natacha getting sick for a day but bouncing back in time to go shopping, and my getting my breath taken away by the Taj Mahal. One of the Seven Wonders, folks.
Desperately trying to upload photos and failing. More later!