In Delhi, part one

Posted on 16 May 2008 in:

Delhi, or Dilli. These characters still need work, I know. Sorry for the lack of images; I haven’t made any photos yet!

Wednesday, May 14

My flight left Heathrow in the morning, quite early. I flew with Air France to Paris, and then switched planes to fly to Delhi. While I was waiting in the terminal in London, I went online at one of those pay-as-you-go Internet terminals. They also had sites that you could surf for free, like the UK Foreign Office travel advisories/country reports. I looked up India and saw that it had just been updated—on the 13th, a coordinated series of bombings hit Jaipur, where I’m travelling to next week. Oh dear.

On the plane I read more about the bombings in The Times. It seems that several blasts hit the city center, where tourists congregate. Many people were killed or injured. Although I worry about everything, I still guess that it is safe to travel there. Is Jaipur significantly more dangerous than New York or London?

My takeoff from London was delayed. As a result, I didn’t have much time to catch my connecting flight. I did make it to the airplane in Paris on time , but my luggage did not. Air France only flies once a day to Delhi, which means that they won’t deliver my bag to my Delhi hotel until Friday morning…

I sensed this as soon as I got off the plane in Delhi. Already they had a message board up on the jetway with my name on it, asking me to report to the Air France desk in the baggage claim area. There were about four or five other names on the list. The two Indian Air France workers at the desk were completely over-worked; in addition to those of us on the missed luggage list, several passengers’ luggage had been damaged, and they were all angry and wanted claims filed immediately. Some people in the queue felt the need to tell these employees how to do their jobs, while two Italian men quickly lost their temper and began screaming. In an airport, I might have screamers arrested.

I had arranged for pick up to my hotel, for Rs 690. The driver had to wait an extra hour and 15 minutes for me, even though my flight arrived early. My delay was mostly caused by the above-mentioned baggage mess, but I also had to wait in line for some time in order to exchange money. Although I hope to pay for all of my hotel accommodations with credit cards, and I suspect that ATMs will work just fine, I feel better with some rupees on hand. So I changed about £200.

The hotel seems all right enough; my Rs 1600/night room is spartan, but it is also cold (hurray air conditioning!), and has TV. But no Internet. I’ve certainly stayed in worse places (in London, Paris, Berlin, Prague, Thessaloniki, Bucharest…).

I room-serviced a large bottle of water before I went to bed, for which I feel oddly weird, but the whole water-born disease thing does have me thinking. Brushing my teeth with the bottled water, I had to keep telling myself, “don’t turn on that tap! That’s what you have the bottle for.” Well, that, and hydrating myself.

Thursday, May 15

My hotel’s name is the Hotel Broadway, and their logo is set in Broadway, naturally. I really wanted a hotel room without bugs. The Hotel Broadway’s roaches at least had the courtesy to let me have the room to myself for the first night. So far, I’ve seen two small ones. Not at the same time, mind you, but one in the morning, and another in the evening. I was too tired to kill this morning’s little bugger, but his evening cousin didn’t escape my grasp.

I had a nice little breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, which turned out to be the only food I ate all day. The hotel provides each room with a free copy of the Times of India each morning. Score! That means more issues for my collection; too bad that the newspaper isn’t in Hindi, though. But at least this gives me something to read over breakfast. After breakfast, I walked to the New Delhi train station, which is about a half hour away. I saw a few donkey’s carrying goods along the route, and should have photographed them for Otmar. I also saw a proud bull standing by a cart. What a different-looking animal!

At the train station, I went into the new Metro, which is just fabulous—and air conditioned, at least during the day. I only wish that the network was more comprehensive, but I guess that it will become so. At the moment, they are building a new line to the airport. If I come here again, that is the route I would take in and out of the city. I rode the Metro for one stop, to Connaught Place, which was a nightmare. Most of the stores weren’t open yet. The whole place was teeming with tourist agent racketeers. Someone will approach you on the street and strike up a conversation with you in hope of steering you into one of the competing branches. They tell you at first that they are not trying to sell you anything (and they aren’t), all the while moving you in the direction of their specific travel agency, which will give you a free map of the city, even. They go along saying that they are just interested in getting to know someone new. My hair seems to people. When I tried to ignore these agents, they become upset, and accused me of being a stereotypical foreigner, unfriendly, and too stressed out. I was looking for a map of Delhi, which I somehow managed to get without booking a package tour to Kashmir or the Himalayas. Those in the tourist business that I talked to seemed a bit distressed that I was planning a trip to Jaipur, and suggested Agra instead, orr Dharamsala.

I decided to go to Lodi Gardens next, hoping to relax. I’d heard good things about this park, which you can’t reach directly via Metro. I took the Metro to the Rajpath near the government buildings, and was determined to walk from there. An autorickshaw driver approached mw and I couldn’t manage to shake him off, so I asked for a short lift to Lodi Gardens. He offered to take me there for Rs 50, and show me a shopping center along the way. I agreed, which was a mistake. I got taken for a ride instead.

We actually went to two stores; these give him gas vouchers for bringing in customers. At the first stop, I bought what I thought was a cheap scarf as a gift. I mean, I like it, and it is rather inexpensive, but at the next shop the same item would have been just a third of the price! The shopkeepers where all a bit uncertain about my craft interests: just stuff with writing on it, thank you very much! I managed to fend off an insistent rug seller, but I ended up with two more scarves, a small touch of jewellery, a little painted elephant, and a nice present for myself: an illustrated manuscript page (it was the only one that was in Devanagari instead of Urdu, and it had a full page of writing on the obverse of the image).

I finally got to Lodi Gardens, with an other detour at an Internet den that my driver suggested after hearing me mumble something about email. I was about to pay the drive Rs 50 when things got rude. He wanted more money for the long trip and the waiting time. Granted he did wait for me at the second shop and while I was online, but he did get commissions. He wanted Rs 300. I only had 200 and 500, and he only had 100 in change. This was really stupid. I should have given him 200. Hell, I should have given him 50. But I didn’t see the point of an argument over what still amounted to the same fare that would be reached in Reading in five minutes. Sigh…

I sat down on a bench in Lodi Gardens, and more people came up to speak to me. By now, I was super weary, but these people did only want to speak English with me, I guess. The first did not have such good English, but we did manage to have a conversation about the differences between Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s state visits to Delhi, and about Jenna Bush’s wedding. Then a yoga instructor heard us speaking and came by. He taught me about inner peace, and was fascinated that at least Anke had taken yoga. “The mother power is very strong,” he said. “Your girlfriend is very wise. You should bow down before her and worship her intelligence. She must be very strong and very happy. Follow her!” I’m sure that Anke will get a kick out of this when I tell her.

After this guru left, I walked around the gardens a bit more. The gardens are very nice. Someone there told me that it is the best-kept green area of the city. Amid the historic architectural ruins, there were lots of young, kissing couples, which shows that there might well be hope for the world. Several locals wanted to have their picture taken with me, or at least with my hair. Then I walked a few minutes further to the Khan Market, which has a few bookstores. I also went into a cafe there, and had the first of what ended up to be three frozen coffees with ice cream—what the Germans call Eiskaffee—over the course of the afternoon and the evening (each at a different establishment). My last stop at the market was another Internet shack, where I searched for a cafe where I could go online with my own laptop over wifi. It seems that most of these were at the dreaded Connaught Place, so I mustered up my courage for the journey back.

I walked from the market to the India Gate, and from there back to the Metro. This time, I avoided most of the rickshaw drivers by walking in the direction of traffic, and on the grass of the park that line the Rajpath. Two did try to give me a lift, though—one even insisting that my red hair would bring him and his family luck for the evening. Once I was in the Metro, I took a quick stop off at the train station along my way to Connaught Place. The New Delhi train station is crazy hectic, but I got to the tourist office upstairs without any problems and purchased tickets for my two train journeys next week.

At Connaught Place I first tried the Oxford Bookstore, which has a nice selection of books but no longer has wireless Internet. I ended my evening across the street at a Barista coffee franchise where I could surf an hour for Rs 100. Around 10pm, I took the Metro back to the train station and walked in the dark the full length back to my hotel. This was probably a bit dangerous, but I really have no idea.

Newspapers? I picked up five so far: Desh Bandhu, the Economic Times, the Hindi Business Standard, Mahamedha, and the Shah Times.