Arrival in India
Everyone warned us. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. There is trash everywhere. The people will just stare at you. Nothing works. You’re going to get sick. This list could go on and on, and the truth is, that would only be the beginning.
Arriving into the Bombay airport we had pre-booked an immediate ticket to go to Delhi, which is closer to some of the sites we wanted to visit. We grabbed our bags and started towards the domestic terminal where we were stopped by two young airport employees who asked to see our ticket. “We haven’t checked in yet, so we don’t have a ticket to show you,” I replied. After some discussion, apparently the email confirmation they send you after booking online is your ticket, yet nowhere in the email does it say anything like “print this because it’s your ticket.” That would make far too much sense. Having about two hours to spare we scurried upstairs to the internet cafe and printed our e-ticket and as we approached the counter I realized I had broken the golden rule to traveling, forgetting to confirm a price before doing anything. “$3” the attendant said. We had been there for all of ten minutes, and nine of them were spent trying to get the printer to work. “Seems a bit much, don’t you think?” “Ok, $2.” Oh yes, everything is negotiable in India. Everything. I paid him and walked away, realizing I still had just gotten completely ripped off.
We showed the attendants our tickets and were instructed to sit down, the shuttle would arrive shortly. They made some phone calls to the shuttle company and ten minutes had passed but no one said anything. We began to get nervous and over the next 30 minutes, repeatedly asked when the shuttle would arrive but were reassured that there was no problem, the shuttle was on its way and our airline is aware of our arrival. Sounded good to me. By the time we arrived at the domestic airport, it was too late to check in and our fare was forfeited. Customer service was of no help either because “it’s in the small print.” We scrambled around the other airline carriers ticket windows and bought another ticket for that evening, barely making it on the flight. Fortunately, we have travel insurance so everything is covered.
Our flight arrived after midnight and we proceeded to the prepaid taxi counter for a ticket to Pahar Ganj, the backpacker district of Delhi. As we walked out the door a young man approached us and asked if we had purchased a ticket and after showing him he ushered us past the waiting line towards a row of taxis. It seemed like a nice service. We put our bags in the trunk and then were instructed we would have to pay extra for taking bags. Pointing out the “extra service charge” we had already paid on the receipt, we put up a fight and almost walked away before they succumbed. Our usher, after letting us in the backseat, then rubbed his forefinger and thumb together. Sensing that we weren’t at all happy with the bag fee and not in the giving mood, the door slammed and he angrily walked away.
Pahar Ganj is the neighborhood we stayed in and our hotel was off of Main Bazar, which is equal to walking into the worst neighborhood in the United States minus the crime. It is the filthiest place I have ever seen, as avoiding trash as you walk is impossible, and the smells are almost enough to make you gag. It is even worse during the day when 100 degree plus heat mixes with the stench of cows – sacred in Hinduism so they roam free on the streets – and their excrement. Our hotel, Hotel Namaskar, was disgusting and we checked out the next day before finding a great place around the corner called The Cozy Inn. Our mission for the day was to book a train ticket to Agra, where we could see the infamous Taj Mahal, and see the Red Fort, Delhi’s main attraction.
The front desk of our hotel advised us exactly how to get our ticket and warned us of all the tricks the salespeople would try. “Do not go to anyplace that says government on it as this is just a travel agency,” they advised. We walked towards the train station and before making it through the gate were stopped by a man who said “don’t go in there, that’s for ticketed passengers only!” He asked us where we were going and in perfect English he broke down how the government office for those tickets was just around the corner. We blew by him and head up the stairs but couldn’t find ticketing anywhere. We came back downstairs and were approached by another man who sensed were were lost. Same old dialogue but he didn’t say “government” so we hopped in his auto rickshaw and were off. Ten minutes later we arrived in front of an office that said “Government Ticketing for Foreign Tourists.” I cursed him out and we stormed off. Dejectedly, we walked back to our hotel only to get better instructions including a hand-drawn map before returning to get our tickets again for the next morning.
We grabbed an auto rickshaw on Main Bazar and said “Red Fort please,” agreeing on 100 rupees, about $2.50. About five minutes after leaving Pahar Ganj, he picked up a friend and we carried on before they stopped and told us “this is as far as we can take you.” We were nowhere near the Red Fort and after asking why this was the end of the line, they told us auto-rickshaws weren’t allowed in the vicinity of the Red Fort. We refused to pay them for lying to us and stormed away. By now we were lost and had to find our own way. After walking for over an hour and a half and being approached by every leech on the street we finally made it to the subway. It was packed and Erin was grabbed on the butt for the second time that day. The staring is relentless and people even take pictures of her, pretending they are taking it of each other. Often I have to wave my hand to get the staring to cease, but after two seconds it resumes. We arrive at our stop and walk towards the Red Fort, which is surrounded by auto-rickshaws, identical to tuk-tuks. It will only be open for another hour they tell us as we are ushered into the “foreign tourist” line where throughout India, we pay at least five times the Indian rate. This irks me immensely. Next thing you know I’ll be asked to sit at the back of the bus. The Red Fort is extremely beautiful and we snap pictures and are approached by several Indian tourists who ask to take pictures with us. Erin, sick of the groping and staring by day two, always refuses but I play along by making awful faces as the pictures are snapped.
We eat Thali for dinner, ordering one to split, but receive one each. Thali’s are really, really good, and pack the most punch for the dollar. You get around four small dishes, each with a different dish, rice, roti bread, soup and dessert. The going rate is $1. Mostly every Indian we’ve seen eats with their hands, right hand only. This is because they wipe with their left. Since I am unable to accomplish that feat, I wash my hands regularly and eat with both hands. Daal, the equivalent to Mexico’s red beans and rice as it is served with nearly every meal and is extremely inexpensive to make, is a delicious lentil-based dish that has a thin broth and is usually placed over rice. The curries are amazing as well and everything we’ve eaten thus far has been vegetarian as it is unsafe to eat the meat because of power outages that occur frequently during the day. My favorite dish has become Channa Masala, a spicy, garbanzo bean based curry.
The next morning we get on the train to Agra at 5:30 a.m., where we plan to see the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, and the Baby Taj all in one day and board a train to Jaipur that night.