The number of dad comments Tyler has made on this trip has risen exponentially since we caught our first flight: the above was the first. This was when we had made it as far as Frankfurt, where our first flight stopped over. We had to break it to him gently that this would be nothing compared to the heat and noise and general stress of the Delhi night.
Our second flight passed without too much hassle (just two whinging kids, one of whom was repeatedly kicking the back of my chair throughout the flight to make SURE that I was still awake, and a seat that seemed to physically lack the ability to recline) and before we knew it, we’d made it to Delhi. My fears that the queue for immigration would stretch to the horizon proved to be unfounded, and we made it out of the terminal building at the relatively sociable hour of 1.30am. Even at that hour, you stepped out of the bubble of cool, air-conditioned terminal into an almost tangible heat; instantly you were covered by a thin veil of sweat.
We piled in to two cabs when we got outside, provided by a company whose reliability had been confirmed by an incredibly helpful email sent out to us by the hostel (Meru cabs – expensive but worth it for peace of mind. And by expensive, I mean about seven pounds). We pulled up to the hostel after 2am, and were greeted by the security guard who would swiftly become one of our favourite people, and who then checked us in with neither party fully understanding the process. Getting into our assigned rooms was a tricky process, both not wanting to wake anybody up but also wanting to feel human again after the long journey. Personally (and I was inexplicably put into a different room from the others) I just got into my room, put stuff in the locker and went straight to bed fully clothed.
The next day, despite my visions of getting up in time for the breakfast provided with the price of the room, we slept in (my phone was set to completely the wrong time), and got up slowly. Once we’d all emerged from a kind of half-sleep drunk state, we decided to have a bit of an look round the area around the hostel. Greater Kailash is quite an well-to-do area (hinted at by the presence of a Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Pizza Hut all in close proximity), and though we (okay, I) managed to spectacularly misread the map, it was a nice enough area to walk round and see a bit of the city. Not that there were any paths or anything.
We stopped for lunch in what I would consider quite an expensive restaurant, but definitely a good place for us to have our first Indian food of the trip (air-con is always a good indication), and ate until we were all about to explode. In India, you never need to order one dish each. Once we’d eaten and our hunger-induced grumpiness had abated, we decided to venture further afield, and once we stepped off the metro we naturally encountered our first taste of “you want to go to market let me take you very nice bazaar nice suit tailor made suit for you you want sari very nice saris” in the form of a tuk-tuk driver, and ended up not where we wanted to go at all and very disgruntled. Clearly I was out of practice.
Anyway we eventually made it to our original destination, Lodi gardens, and had a nice wander round and Tyler practiced his dad act again: “it’s a pleasant walk”; “oh look there’s a sign, shall we have a little read?” Once we’d had our fill of walking and admiring and taking pictures of the architecture (and also chipmunks), we headed back to the hostel ready to crash.
However, hostels being hostels, we got back and started chatting to a few people, and one thing led to another and we later found ourselves first in Pizza Hut (I didn’t get anything – it’s the principle!) and then in a mad Delhi bar called Social. Our newfound friends were Andrea, a crazy German or Italian guy (depending how he felt), who told us about the time he had rented a Ferrari to drive Top Gear’s best driving road and inexplicably lost the number plate; Natalie, a girl travelling on her own on holiday from teaching English in Madrid; and a guy who was the inevitable token Australian, who we met that night and sort of haven’t split up with since. His stories include the time he was arrested in Thailand, the time he got hit by a pick up truck in Bali, the time he got married to his best friend somewhere in South East Asia, the time he got not one but TWO phones stolen by prostitutes – oh, and the fact that he’s working on the next Star Wars film.
Hostels are the best.
Anyway, the bar we went to in Haus Khauz district was completely surreal: you step out of the dust and dirt of central Delhi, go through a tunnel painted in bizarre colours, and emerge into a room that could be basically anywhere in the world except for the fact that it was full of Indian locals. It was quite expensive (not even just relatively so), and I just stuck with a beer, but the others went for these crazy cocktails – Dan’s had candyfloss in it, Tyler’s was served with some kind of weird dry ice, and Kate’s came in a gigantic test tube. So enamored was Dan with the place that he decided it would be a good idea to send a Snapchat of the fun. It cost him 8pounds.
We stayed there until closing, chatting and drinking and watching the revelry of the birthday party that we sort of crashed, and then headed home. We didn’t go to sleep that night until probably 3, but it was a great, great day. Unfortunately, we had decided that we were going to get up early the next day for the (potential) ordeal of booking all our train tickets for the remainder of our time in India, so we were all quite sleep deprived when we forced ourselves out of bed (though we did get to try the breakfast).
There ensued possibly the second most stressful experience of India thus far: despite having full knowledge that there would be obstacles to our finding the right place to book tickets, it still took a few tries to get us even as far as the ticket office. It’s so difficult to ignore people that seem so sincere, especially because often you will find people genuinely willing to help you. Anyway after one narrow miss with a fake tourist office who promised us that a car would be cheaper, an auto ride to the ‘official’ government tourist place which we swiftly about-turned from, and several people assuring us that the foreign tourist ticket office was closed because of Eid (which seemed fair enough), or had moved (which also seemed reasonable), we made it to the actual place with the biggest sense of relief – and also of achievement, before we’d even booked anything. I think my natural stinginess and disinclination to accept an offer of anything other than just a train ticket definitely saved me – for a minute there even I thought that a guided tour round Agra and a door-to-door trip sounded nice. The trouble is, with a place pretending to be an official tourist office, you never know what you’re going to get – and from what I’ve heard friends say, it won’t necessarily be what you pay for.
After that stress was over (we also booked tickets to Jaipur and Gorakhpur at the same time: no way were we trekking back there again) we went for some food, then began a jam-packed afternoon seeing the India Gate, Gandhi memorial and museum, Humayan’s Tomb, and Delli Haat market in the evening. We inadvertantly caused a huge scene at the India gate (the most stressful experience of India thus far: ‘one photo please’ always spirals out of control) and ended up pretty much sprinting for the tuk-tuks after we’d had our fill of amusing photos of Kate wading through gigantic crowds. The Gandhi museum was a very calming place to go after that debacle – not only was the air-con welcome, it was just in general a peaceful place, and really interesting.
Delli Haat in the evening was definitely my favourite place of the day. It’s a market which charges a 20 rupee entrance fee but is genuinely one of the beautiful (and clean) markets I’ve ever been to, all handcrafted furniture and brightly coloured kurtas – and delicious, delicious food. We finally got to eat some South Indian food, which I’ve been craving since we got here, and heavily over-ordered on the dosa (still so worth it). We met Claudia there, who we knew from college, and who has the enviable position of being in Delhi for 3 months this summer working on healthcare for a research company. It’s such a small world, coming all the way from tiny, insular Durham and finding another person from our college of 700 people here in a sprawling city of 300, 000.
With the knowledge that we’d be getting up at 4am the next day to catch the train to Agra, we called it quits after dinner and headed back to the hostel, nobody relishing the prospect of rising when it was still dark.
I’ll leave it there: we made it to our 5.15 train, and are a sweaty half way there. The Taj awaits!