Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Coming to the Capital

We stepped off our train in Delhi and braced ourselves for the forewarned onslaught of touts, agents and other what-nots, all who would seemingly be most concerned about us spending too much money at the wrong places though who would themselves ensure that particular outcome happened. Before leaving the station we sorted out our bearings and had a good idea which way to head. If all went well our hotel would only be a ten minute walk or so, straight down the obvious road that should be facing us when we exited.

Our packs were buckled onto us, front and back, our hands tightly gripping our other bags. Our caps were tipped over our faces to avoid the eye contact of doom and we were ready. Head down we started out. With the weight of your bags on you, once you get up to speed you have a useful force of momentum which is often a good aid to repelling advancing 'friends'. In particular, a pack attached your front is an excellent buffer with which to ping your adversaries, who are normally smaller in frame and standing roughly still, far across the station car park. The tipped cap then gives you the confidence that any onlookers will simply assume you didn't see the now horizontal fellow, and if otherwise, it aids you in pretending you don't see them.

We charged out through the doors and there was a wall of waiting people. We slipped through them, maybe they were waiting for family after all. Next the car park jammed with tuc-tucs (which in India are called auto-rickshaws), nope they didn't seem interested either. Busy road to cross, that means standing still, we're doomed. Nope, got across that. Wow, we're doing great. Right there's the road we want, hard dash down that should do the trick. It took us about ten minutes down that road until we got to our hotel. In that time, only one person offered us a hotel and even then accepted our 'no thanks' with almost immediate satisfaction. Our arrival in Delhi turned out to be one of our easiest arrivals.

Our hotel on the other hand was rubbish. They had our booking, for that we should at least give them credit, but we had picked this one and phoned ahead on the recommendation of our guide book. It's hard to pin down exactly what it was that made us decide to find another hotel the next day. It might have been the owner who asked us every five minutes to give him our laundry, or the shower that only provided five minutes of warm water if you phoned reception first. Maybe it was the window with glass made of wood, or it could have been the ceiling fan that was as noisy as if a single prop plane had nose dived the roof. As the mosque to the right of us and the Jain temple to left competed to make the most noise in our room we resolved to check out first thing in the morning.

Day two, and our second hotel fairs little better. Its fan is quiet, in fact we have two fans and they're both quiet. The room is massive with two double beds and a couch. The couch is so grotty though you wouldn't want to leave your clothes lying on it, let alone sit on it yourself. The only window is back into the internal indoor courtyard thing which is surrounded by every other room's window and door too. The only thing that prevented us from being overly distracted by someone else's telly was the racket of the several parties happening on the various floors. Then at 5 o'clock in the morning, like clockwork, the daily two hour power cut meant the generator got started to shake and rattle its way around the down stairs concourse rousing everybody for breakfast.

Day three and our third hotel does good enough. It's not great but as the best of a bad bunch it serves us for the next week. We are staying in a corner of Delhi called Parhganj, this is the budget travellers quarter and consists mostly of a single street with hotels running the length of it, and stalls selling cheap tack and souvenir clothes.

With our somewhat deep immersion into the noisy, less sanitary ways of India, our first priority for Delhi was to hang around the nice big clean shops and cafes and enjoy a little bit of 'clean' again. Connaught Place performed admirably. A giant ring of big posh shops with a park in the middle and circled by a road carrying cheaper more affordable shops on its circumference. The shopping on offer would not stand up to most western city's ideals but it was good enough for us, especially since our budget didn't stretch much past a T-shirt for Nikki and a clutch of magazines anyway.

We spent a couple of days doing very little else, using the time to find a comfortable relationship with India. One of our favourite haunts was a chain of cafes called Coffee Day. In Connaght Place alone, there was about half a dozen of these shops, where we sat and plotted our attack strategy for seeing the city. Another chain restauranteur we were making friends with was a familiar fast food company from home but with a distinct difference. McDonalds in India doesn't serve Big Macs, Hamburgers or Cheeseburgers. In fact, India being a largely Hindu country, it serves no beef whatsoever. The same selection of Chicken Dippers and McChicken Sandwich are available but that is where the meat offerings end. The menu must be as much as 50% vegetarian, offering about 4 or 5 different vege-burgers, plus wraps, pizzas, pies and chunky potatoe wedges. It was fab.

We were recomposed and ready to get out there and see the city.

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