The first thing that strikes you when you get to Delhi is the sheer volume of people. The torrent of human traffic is a little overwhelming.
I opted to stay in a boutique guest house which is in a charming neighbourhood. It’s affordable chic and there are only six rooms. It’s nestled in the shadow of the Humanyan Tomb – a stunning historic site. The area Nizamuddin is leafy, quiet and away from the cacophony of the main city centre. It’s home to embassies, close to Lodi Park and a very impressive horse racing course.
My first day in Dehli was spent whizzing around the city doing admin stuff. In the safety of a taxi I watched with amazement how both pedestrians and other motorists navigated through the chaos of bumper-to-bumper traffic. I witnessed some extraordinary sights that even out did how people in Africa travel.
How many passengers can you fit on a motor-bike? The answer is as many as gravity will allow. Also anything goes when it comes to carrying objects while on the move. I have seen a passenger carrying an enormous glass window with his arms outstretched into a V-shape balancing precariously while squeezing his thighs to grip on for dear life. My Australian friend Noodle, has told me he has witnessed a man carrying a refrigerator on the back of a bicycle, how he wasn’t flattened is a miracle.
So I’m here in India for a small bit of travel before Noodle’s wedding. He is marrying a beautiful Indian girl from Delhi who now lives in London. The wedding is in a week, which gives me enough time to crowbar in a bit of sightseeing.
After checking in, my first stop was back to the airline in the city centre. I decided to extend my ticket so I could fly down to Bombay post wedding to see a dear friend who has moved out here. I’ve known T for more than 20 years and in the last five we’ve seen very little of each other due to work and family commitments. He persuaded me to visit and bless him, he’s used his air miles to pay for my ticket!!
India may be developing quickly but it always makes me laugh that in a country where technology is manufactured en mass the products used in country just fail to work. You would not believe the palaver I had trying to pay by credit card for the difference in fare for extending my ticket. In the end they had to call London on the blower in order for me to read out my card number because their machine wasn’t working.
Next stop train station.
I’ve consulted a lot of people on what’s the best way to travel. The advice was train is fine providing you book your seat and travel first or second class due to safety reasons. As a woman on her own it’s advisable to pay more to avoid the hassle. The scene at the station was bedlam. There were people everywhere and no queues. If in doubt huddle. My guide book advised that the tourist office is on the first floor of the New Delhi Station and that under no circumstance should you believe anyone who says it is closed or it has moved.
After pushing my way to the front of one scrum in front of a ticket desk which resembled a trading floor when the markets open, I grabbed some booking forms. As I scribbled in my details a young man peered over my shoulder and broadcasted loudly that the office was shut. Sceptical and a little disappointed that what I was hearing was what was predicted, I gave him a raised eyebrow. But he wasn’t deterred. He walked me up the stairs to the first floor where I was met with concrete slabs and barbwire blocking the path. Unsure of what to do and feeling vulnerable I hoped he wasn’t going to be a con man. He then trotted out that he knew somewhere that might be able to help me. “Oh here we go,” I thought not wanting to get ripped off.
But a small part of me urged me to be open minded, No harm in browsing. I arrived by tuk-tuk for 30p, which was an enjoyable way to travel if you ignore the on-coming vehicles from every angle.
As I stooped my head to get out of the motorised rickshaw the sign that greeted me said: The International Tourist Bureau (government approved).
Really? Do they think people are that naive? Any fool could see it was a private business run by three men trying to look professional. As I oushed the door to, they smiled broadly on cue and offered me tea – this is a theme throughout. No matter what someone tries to sell you, they’ll always give you a cuppa first before trying to fleece you. Small mercies.
Dan, his name not an alias I have concocted, logged onto the India railway website and we searched for the routes I wanted. I had done this at home in the UK but it is impossible to book tickets unless you have an Indian reference number. I had feared that leaving it so late meant that all seats would be taken. And yes I was right, on top of that there were also several waiting lists of around 20 people.
A road trip was something that as beginning to look increasingly appealing. “Right time to strike a deal,” I muttered to myself. After an hour of talking and haggling and getting T on the phone to properly sound these people out I found myself with a private driver for 8 days who would be at my beck and call.
Delighted I was dropped home where I spruced up to meet Noodle and Miss India to tell them about my first day. They took me out for dinner at the city’s prestigious golf club. Inside the bar area looks like a plush version of the TV show Cheers, with wooden furnishings and leather upholstery. We ate with the view of the 18th hole in our sights but inside. It is by no means warm at night. My cardie was no match for the chilly Delhi air. The grounds are mighty impressive. You need to be connected to be a member here. There is a 25 year waiting list to join!
After stocking up on fodder – tikka paneer, kebabs, curry, rice and amazing naan, I crashed into bed excited about the next leg of my journey – first stop Jaipur.