We arrived in Delhi on the 2nd of November. First stop of our round the world trip. Delhi’s airport was a pleasant surprise. Very clean, organized and modern.
Once we got out, it was a different story. It was 6am, so the traffic was not too bad compared to what we saw afterwards. During our trip to the hotel we learnt the meaning of that “Horn OK please” written on the back of the trucks, and the basic rules of traffic in India: (1) lanes are just imaginary, decorative lines and (2) you need to honk to communicate your presence, so the other cars know you’re there.
The hotel I picked seemed quite good from the reviews, but we were a bit disappointed when we got there. A bit expensive for Indian prices yet very basic. Because we were very tired and we had no energy to face the crazy streets of Delhi, we just went straight to bed and stayed in all day.
The day after, we felt better and with more energy. On our way out we were met by a guy in reception that volunteered to take us to a place where someone else would give us a free map and tell us about what to do and see in Delhi. Because we wanted to buy a sim card for our phone, the guy also brought us to a vodafone shop. Well, they managed to rip us off when we bought the card as we found out later that we paid 5 times more than the normal price. We were then brought to an agency that organizes tours in Rajasthan. I was thinking “why am I being taken here? I didn’t ask for anything”. But there we were and so… the guy in the agency talked about Delhi, then touched on Rajasthan and finally offered us a tour. Facing the offer, we gently said “we will think about it” and left.
We found out that a lot of hotels bring foreigns into these agencies, because they get commissions if their clients end up buying a travel package. While there’s nothing wrong with it, we didn’t ask for an agency, so the whole experience was kind of awkward. Some of these agencies are also approved by the Indian government but if they think you’re inexperienced they might try to overcharge you.
After this episode we decided to take the metro and go to the Red Fort in Old Delhi. The metro was a pleasant experience. Very modern and organized, however, very packed. Fortunately for me women have carriages just for them, so I had all the space for me. Emanuele though, had to go with all the man in a very packed carriage.
We finally got out of the metro in Chandni Chowk. Walking through the market you see a lot of poverty and hear a lot of noise. The smells are very strong at times and the rubbish is all over the place. Not that I wasn’t expecting it, but it was some strong impact nonetheless.
Finally we had to cross the street to reach the fort and crossing the street is an adventure in India (even more so in the big cities, I guess). The only safe way to do it is to follow local people, they know their stuff! We finally reached the fort alive and we found out that the tourist tickets were 5 times more expensive for foreigners. I suspect this applies to all attractions.
We visited the fort, which is a nice and interesting place to see, and managed to take some pictures. After we left the fort, we were kind of hungry, and we ended up going to a McDonalds to have a veggie burger, a McVeggie – quite nice I must say. Because hindus don’t eat beef, and muslims don’t eat pork, Indian McDonalds are quite different from normal McDonalds. They have just chicken products and a range of vegetarian recipes; if you are in India you should give McDonalds a go, even if you’re not a big fan of it, like us.
The day after, we woke up thinking about what to do and where to go next. We called another another agency that a friend who travelled to India last year recommended. We were trying to figure out which was the best way to do Rajasthan, a state that we wanted to visit, so we considered the idea of hiring a car and a driver (drivers come with cars in India) and asked for a quote. It turns out that the offer this other agency made, while tempting, could have been a treat to our budget, so we took some time to think about it. The offer included a driver for a number of days, plus train tickets to two destinations outstide Rajasthan, plus accommodation. Tempting offer, as I said, and it would have taken the stress out of our adventure… But then it wouldn’t be an adventure anymore, would it?
This offer would definitely have been a good one if we were on a two week vacation. But we are in a long-term travel type of situation and we want to travel as independently as possible, making sure we stick to our budget.
We decided it was not for us. Let’s do like the real travellers do, we said to each other. So, we decided that we would travel by train and hire a driver locally only when strictly necessary (e.g. some destinations are not on the railway line and other destination have a beautiful countryside that you simply can’t enjoy if you don’t have a car – and of course someone who drives for you). Finally we packed our bags, checked out at our hotel, got ripped off again (the guy charged us previously unknown fees), and we went to the train station. We managed to to buy a ticket to Jodhpur, took a night train, and 11 hours later we were in Jodhpur.
Now, does buying the ticket, going to the station, and taking the train sound like an easy sequence of tasks to execute? Well it wasn’t… But I’ll leave that part for my next post.