Wow. Delhi. It’s so it’s true what they say about you! Crazy, chaotic, hot, beautiful, mindblowing….
My 7hr something flight from Rome to Delhi was uneventful and pleasant and actually went by pretty quickly, which I think was helped by watching a film whilst eating my meal with a small glass of wine and then promptly falling asleep for several hours. I woke a couple of times thinking I had just dozed off yet the crink in my neck and announcement we were only an hour away from landing confirmed I had actually properly slept. So upon arrival at Delhi airport at 7:30am I was actually pretty refreshed and alert. Who needs business class eh?!
I flew with Air India and despite being a predominantly vegetarian airline these days still didn’t quite get the concept/were unable to provide a full vegan meal. I could smell delicious curry as soon as I boarded and felt instantly ravenous for my first dish. As being vegan means being ‘special’ my meal came out first. Yesssss! No waiting! But then I had many curious eyes all directed at me wondering why I got mine first. That was my first experience of the intense staring…. And so of course I couldn’t start to eat it, as no-one likes an audience as they tuck in to their food. So I waited for a few more people to get theirs (luckily the service was amazingly quick and efficient) but then faced major disappointment when I opened the main carton to find…. grilled/boiled veggies and plain rice. No luscious curry gravy. Gahhh. I checked my fellow passengers’ meals and yes, there it was, the gorgeous smelling thick curry I had been salivating over. I consoled myself that it probably contained milk, butter, ghee, paneer. But it would have been soooo easy to make the same thing without any of that dairy…! Ah well. My meal still filled me up, which was good as the rest of the items on the tray were not vegan, including the dessert. And it also meant, in my unique way of thinking, that I could therefore treat myself to a glass of wine. Which in turn helped me sleep. Win win.
Arriving in Delhi airport was my first introduction to The Way Things Work in India. I needed money and a SIM card and a taxi to my hotel. I’d heard about the scams (more in the Travel Tips page if interested/need to know, coming soon) and felt kinda confident I’d be prepared, but when actually there, with only the airport workers to ask, who seemed to wobble their heads a lot in answer to my questions not confirming yes or no, I was going to have to keep my wits about me and stay strong.
Luckily all three services (money, SIM card and taxi service) were all located together in little booths on the way out and this proved to be the most straight forward part of my airport-hotel run experience. First up: money. I’d heard that in Rishikesh, where I was going to be doing my yoga teacher training and where I would need to pay the balance upon arrival (and which was quite a lot of money) getting cash out can be quite tricky. Turns out getting cash is quite tricky in Delhi too, although at least not as bad as this time last year when the cash machines ran dry every day. So I thought I’d do it at the airport in one go and not have to worry about it any more. Unfortunately it wasn’t so straight forward. Swiping my debit card in the Thomas Cook desk revealed I had not transferred the money from my savings to my current account and I could not access my savings account either with a card (I don’t have one) or online (I had no SIM card/online access). So I paid over the odds fees to get out just enough for my stay in Delhi. Finding more cash before leaving Delhi would have to become a new task for the coming days…. Next up SIM card. Easy peasy. Just had to wait an hour or so to be connected (took another day or two to get the mobile data working) and this meant still no access to Google for assistance or maps to check the taxi driver was taking me the right way and all the other things we rely on our phones for.
Next up: taxi to hotel. I was offered 400 rupees in a non-AC ‘black and yellow’ cab or double that in an AC plush taxi. I opted for the former to cut down on unnecessary costs, took the voucher and went off to find said taxis. A long line of black and yellow taxis lined the road and as I worked my way to the front the drivers approached me forming a big crowd around me saying their taxi was the best and to go with them! It was quite comical and slightly unnerving! I couldn’t remember the protocol and got in an old battered tiny cab and handed over the voucher, something I should have probably done at the end of the journey, but ah well, I arrived safely.
The journey to the hotel was amazing. I had to keep pinching myself that I was here finally, in my beloved India! Somewhere I had felt an infinity to for so many years but had never been here. How can you want something or know something would be good for you when you’ve never actually experienced it or known it before? When you feel that way it is very special, and something you have to find a way to make happen in your lifetime. Something deep inside is calling you there, calling you to feel something new, deeper, raw, to learn something about yourself, other people, a new philosophy maybe. Whatever it is, when you have it, act on it.
Anyway I digress! The taxi ride presented me to what will be the ever presence beeping of horns. Man they love to beep them horns! And traffic/driving is crazy and chaotic and seems to be so dangerous with lanes marked for two becoming three sometimes four actual lanes of vehicles swerving in and out of each other, beep beep beeping… yet somehow works. These guys would make excellent rally drivers! And also along the way….. monkeys. Yes I did say MONKEYS! At the side of the road, right next to people, clambering along the fence…. and wild piggies, cows – of course but I wasn’t expecting them in the middle of a busy main road! The driver skilfully got us around the wandering cows without any harm. Then there were people. So many people. So much poverty. I caught my first glimpse of a slum and the first sightings of people so poor they lived on the roadside with just the clothes on their backs, probably defecating and urinating right by where they sleep. So many people with nothing. How can this be?
And then we pull up to my hotel. I’d booked something a little plush, not too posh, but definitely higher end, thinking I would need it from my flight and to gently ease into Delhi life. And it is here we pulled up outside to the doormen and bellboy in our little battered non-AC taxi! I couldn’t stop giggling, handed the driver a healthy tip (was so glad to have made it there in one piece without being the victim of the many scams I’d heard about I figured it was money well spent) and proceeded to put all my luggage through a scanner before entering the smart, AC’d lobby to wait for my room to be ready. Whilst waiting the staff were very attentive bringing me coffee and tea, finding soya milk etc. Being a female solo traveller has its perks! The next two days at breakfast all the waiters knew I’d like soya milk with my coffee and went about making a very nice cappuccino for me, so nice!
But Delhi was about to be hit by another short (thankfully) monsoon rain. It was to last two days and was unbelievably humid in the day I arrived leading up to it. I took solace in my comfortable room with it’s massive bed and just rested, thinking about what I would do with my 4 days in Delhi and also pondering the journey I’d booked from there to Varanasi…. something I wasn’t quite sure was the right thing to be doing….
Those first two days were the hardest for me in India. I had the safety and security of the hotel yet didn’t want to be stuck in there, especially alone, knowing there was so much to explore outside. It was scary heading out into the thick of it, but necessary. I I was going to fall at the first hurdle I may as well get on the next flight home with my tail between my legs. So out I did venture…. Thank goodness my Googlemaps, saving my skin again! And also group walking tours. I joined a ‘free’ (ie make a donation at the end) walking tour of Old Delhi, in the pouring rain, and was so glad I did. There I met fellow travellers who sparked some adventure and inspiration in to me as well as pass on handy travel tips. It meant I also got to witness the intense stares from the local natives whilst feeling a little more safe having people around me who ‘knew’ me and were in the same boat. It also allow me to find my feet with the Metro (sort of), find some confidence to walk around the narrow lanes and busy roads as well as see a working elephant wandering down the main road whilst in my taxi taking me to the walk starting point.
After getting pretty wet and saying goodbye to the lovely people on the walk, I somehow made my way back to the hotel alone via my first go on the (very, very squishy) Metro and a 15 minute or so walk passing surreal extremes of poverty and riches, arriving at the plush hotel with the filthiest wet, muddy feet I think I have ever had (save for Glastonbury Festival 2012). Again, making an entrance to the nice hotel 😀
It soon became time to leave the sanctuary of the hotel and make my way to Zostel, a hostel near the main railway station and a few minute’s walk to the Main Bazaar Road (which I did wander down and made my first market purchases – two pairs of trousers for Rs 250, total bargain). If I thought I was in the thick of it at the hotel, then this location was in the centre of the storm! Bewildering as it was, in hindsight I can safely say it was probably a good move. It also meant that instead of hiding away in my room I shared a female dorm room with two others, who were to become my friends, and also hung around the lobby where I met a few others, including a lovely German guy who wanted to go see some sights on a tuktuk. Thankfully he invited me along as doing these kind of things for the first time is much easier when not doing them alone! And he was way more confident and experienced so I get to learn the ropes, so to speak, in a nice afternoon spent in the grounds of a beautiful serene temple and visiting the highly touristy India Gate. Unfortunately he had to leave that evening so we exchanged contact details and said our goodbyes. Luckily my two dorm-mates were perfectly balanced in the being sociable but not OTT scales and we got chatting.
The next day I was due to leave for Rishkesh, having changed my travel plans and cancelled my train to Varanasi. I’d decided it would be nice to arrive early in the place I would be staying for 4 weeks for the yoga teacher training course (YTTC) and get to know the place. Plus it looked gorgeous in the travel guides; a valley town surrounded by mountains and nature with the glorious turquoise Ganges running through the centre and filled with backpackers, yoga and meditation seekers. It seemed just the tonic I needed after feeling quickly wiped out by Delhi. I just needed to get there, but compared to the 14hr train ride to Varanasi I had originally booked, the 5hr train ride to Rishikesh would be easy! Although I could see there was some charm to Delhi, I wasn’t sorry to be saying goodbye to Delhi. Many fellow travellers felt the same way, it’s just so overwhelming and, as someone quite well put it, astonishing! Maybe some more time in India will help me get used to things. Let’s hope Rishikesh will be the just the place.