It’s a good thing we paid up for 10-year multiple entry visas for India, because we didn’t get out and about to see nearly as much of Delhi as we’d like. We spent three nights in Delhi, though we basically didn’t go out during either of the two full days. Saturday day we spent in our hotel room doing research for our upcoming adventures in Thailand, Malaysia and Laos (we leave India so soon!). (But we did get out in the evening for a super fun night, see below!) And Sunday.. well, it was here that my streak of luck with avoiding a foodborne illness ended. At least I made it a cumulative four weeks in the country before it happened. And anyway, I think getting sick in India is a right of passage.
We had hired a driver in Agra to take us to Delhi, and much of the drive was actually incredibly pleasant. We paid extra to take the expressway (the tolls are over Rs 500), and it’s definitely worth it, as you travel on a nice modern highway with unbelievably little traffic. There is hardly anything around for much of the drive, which I found somewhat surprising as well.
I was amused by our driver (he is from Delhi) who asked our opinion on the people of Agra, saying that he thought they were not nice. Much nicer in Delhi we asked? No, he said. Only in the South. And when we pulled onto the street where our hotel was he made sure to tell us “this is a bad place.”
Despite that warm welcome, we really enjoyed (what we saw of) Delhi. Our hotel (Hari Piorko) was not amazing, but it was many many steps up from the accommodation we had in Madurai and Agra. I was pleasantly surprised that for about $30 a night in the capital city we could get a spacious, somewhat modern room with blankets, toilet paper and hot water. Each room also has a fish tank built into the wall. The water in them is practically black, and it’s a wonder the fish in there are still living, but it felt like this place might have been the bee’s knees back in, like, 1981. When the fish tanks were last cleaned. Anyway, I think it was the only place we’ve stayed in India that offered room service, and this came in quite handy since we spent so much time in that room.
After arriving Friday in the afternoon we stepped outside our hotel door and into the madness that is Paharganj (hawkers galore) and negotiated with a few tuk-tuk drivers before getting a ride over to famed Karim’s for some middle-eastern-ish Indian food. The place is absolutely packed, and I think there was even a security guard manning the entrance. Get there early, as they were sold out of a few things we’d contemplated trying. We ordered Karim rolls (lamb, and a delicious spice combo), which were fantastic, but quite small, especially at the price tag of Rs 125 each.
Our tuk-tuk driver was hilarious. Example: he asked, are we married? To Alan, are you happy? And then he tells us that when a woman cries on her wedding day (for arranged marriages it’s often emotional for the bride and her family since she is leaving her family to live with the husband’s etc.) and when the man asks why, she explains, I cry for only one day, you cry for every day after. Oh, ball and chain jokes. They translate everywhere.
After lunch/dinner/dunch we wandered over to Jama Masjid and explored the mosque for a few minutes before being kicked out for the afternoon prayers. It would have been nice to climb the tower for a better view of the city, but we kept on and bought a pomegranate from a street cart for our first dessert of the day. So good.
And then we ventured into the Chandni Chowk area. There are tons of shops selling textiles, clothes, food, everything. And there are tons of people and vehicles, of course. Holy mother of crowdedness. Each time I think I’ve experienced the on-top-of-eachother-ness of India, it’s one-upped. But I think Delhi truly takes the cake. At one point I literally had to crawl over a man’s push-cart to finish crossing a crowded road we were stuck in the middle of. That really is an awesome experience, if only when you reach a breaking point and confirm you are still in one piece.
We fought our way up to Chaina Ram, legendary for their desserts, and bought a nice big box of assorted sweets that we picked out based pretty much solely on how delicious they looked, though we had essentially no idea what was in any of them. And after eating them all I still couldn’t really tell you, except that I think pistachio, coconut, rose water, milk and cardamom(?) play big roles.
We hired a rickshaw driver to take us back to our hotel, and while he agreed to a price of Rs 80 we wound up giving him 100 because it looked like such hard work.
After a full day’s worth of trip-planning on Saturday we were rewarded with a fun night out with my college friend, Aash, who lives in Delhi. She and Adi took us to a happening spot (Smokey’s Bar and Grill) for dinner in Greater Kailash 2. I was very happy to have arrived at a place where we could drink the ice cubes and order salad. And even happier to reminisce on college days, share great conversation and get the locals’ perspective on all things India. They were fantastic and very generous hosts, and it was refreshing to see the “real” India as we might experience it if we were living in Delhi, rather than as tourists hopping from one sight seeing spot to another. We went big, closing down Smokey’s, venturing to another bar for a drink before last call, and last a sneaky, hidden bar that’s only allowed (I use that word loosely) open late because you can’t hear it from outside (it’s tucked far into the middle of a huge hotel). The crowd here was captivating. There were a handful of men being entertained by some Russian ladies, and one very drunk American who was super excited to see fellow Americans. When we arrived back at our hotel at around 3:30am I wasn’t sure if we were at the right place because I didn’t think it possible the packed street full of hawkers could ever be so barren.
After our experience trying to find the correct airport/terminal in Mumbai, we’d asked an Air India employee which airport we would go to in Delhi to fly to Varanasi. She assured us there was only one. Feeling smart, we hop in a car to take us to the airport on our way out and the first thing out of his mouth is “which airport?” Oh god, here we go again. Luckily, whichever one he took us to was the correct one.
Examples of things I by now find a comical part of the India experience: (1) We attempted to use an organized cab service that you call in advance so we could avoid haggling over price, though after 15 minutes on the phone trying to explain where we were and where we wanted to go all we ended up with was a text message saying “sorry, we can’t provide you a cab.” (2) Feeling not so hot myself, overheard in the Delhi airport bathroom: an American boy in the next stall puking up a storm and between sobs and retching crying to his mother, “I hate India.” (3) When we tried to use the airport ATM it shut off right after we entered the amount of cash to dispense. The helpful folks at the airport offered essentially no assistance, leaving us to figure out whether our cash came spewing out for a stranger once we’d boarded our flight. (4) Getting on the plane we discover that we were assigned seats that fail to exist. Mass confusion ensues while everyone stands around in the aisles until finally someone figures out that they switched the planes so our seat assignments don’t match, and tell us to sit wherever there’s an open spot.