A long and eventful day, which isn’t quite over yet. We're now sat in our room on the sixth floor of the Connaught hotel in Delhi, overlooking the hockey stadium in the foreground, with foggy, smoggy Delhi high-rise in the background, including a large lit-up McDonalds golden arches sign. The open window is admitting the sounds of a new place, such as the “pok!” of the hockey balls, the tooting cars, scooters, bicycle rings and police whistles, a general hum in the background and loud Hindi music. Ness is having a kip, having drifted off to sleep almost immediately despite what looks like an uncomfortable bed.
|Girls dancing before the start of the hockey match in Delhi|
Our long day started at home with lots of things to do. Last minute phone calls, clearing up, shopping, and of course pack our bags. The taxi arrived at 3.30pm as planned and our journey had begun, at long last. We got to the airport around 5pm, checked in without having to queue (minor hiccup with pre check-in passport checks), and wrote our christmas cards in a bar before going through to departures. Quick dash into duty-free for cigarettes, despite best intentions, and then settled in Chez Gérard for a bite (caesar salad for Ness, eggs Benedict for me). It amused me that, in an airport, they had fitted out CG as a railway lounge! We got chatting with Peter, a middle-aged/retired gay man who is off to Bangkok "for the winter", whiling away the time until our gate is called. Boarding is quick and we’re very pleased/relieved to have booked premium economy – decent seats and leg-room. The flight passed without anything worth mentioning. Some food, a film, sleep/slumber for a few hours, a bit more food as we fly over Afghanistan into Pakistan.
From the air we can see the Himalayas in the far distance. Below us Afghanistan looks deserted and rugged, lots of brown rocks and mountains and no sign of roads or villages. Closer to Delhi we can see towns and villages but it all looks fairly non-descript. We collect our luggage, after clearing immigration, and find our TCI rep who has come to pick us up and transfer to our hotel. Saw great posters in the luggage hall. Below a picture of a kayaker going down wild rapids, a caption that says “There is always rebirth”, and another one of a temple with the caption “God creates man. Man returns the favour”!
Along the way we start to get our first real impressions of India. Life is lived on the roadside. Traffic is chaotic. It feels like the drives from Santiago and Buenos Aires airports, through poor, grubby, filthy districts.
The traffic gets worse closer to the centre. Our hotel is an anonymous concrete multi-storey job, next to the hockey stadium and very close to Connaught Place, right in the heart of Delhi. The TCI guy takes care of checking us in, we cash a few TC’s and find our room. It’s basic but decently furnished and has a great view over the city. Two showers later, having washed off the accumulated stickiness, we’re ready to venture out for our first taste of Delhi proper.
Immediately we are accosted by a succession of rickshaw drivers and touts trying to steer us towards the tourist tat shops. We end up striking up a conversation with a non-tout-looking guy called Raji, and exchange some pleasant banter. We end up by the tourist emporia after all. He was just a clever well-spoken tout! We leave him at the entrance to the first shop, saunter in and out after an abortive attempt to buy a mini Ganesh, and find Raji still waiting for us. He promptly guides us to another tourist shop. This time I do buy a little wooden Ganesh. Despite having knocked the price down from Rs.450 to Rs.250 I still feel ripped off! But let’s hope he brings us good luck. Ganesh is an elephant-headed god, son of Shiva, and a good god to offer to when starting anything, particularly a journey (or a business venture or whatever). Raji is still outside but no longer sticks with us and we make our way back to the hotel, not feeling quite adventurous enough to go exploring further. Besides, all we want is a drink, not shopping or sight-seeing, and the hotel seems to be the only place nearby where we can sit and have a beer.
The empty small bar is staffed by five, who all seem to get in on the act of serving our drinks. Draught Kingfisher is not available (only determined after about five minutes of collective jabbering between the bar committee), so I have a large bottle while Ness has a non-alcoholic cocktail. Eventually they get the draught beer working and a pint is brought for me to try. It’s cloudy and I stick with the bottle. Then we head back to the room as Ness is in need of a nap, giving me the chance to start the diary.
First impressions: not great, especially the constant pan-handling. Everything else is great – new impressions, sights, sounds, smells (none of them very nice, just different and lots of them!) – but the pleading for attention is tiresome after even just half an hour, never mind a month!
It’s now the next day (Friday?) and we’re settled in the lobby of the Mansingh hotel in Agra, waiting for our drinks, and have some time to catch up on diaries.
Last night we went out for dinner after having caught up on some sleep. Delhi did not feel like a place where we could simply walk out of the hotel and find somewhere to eat, at least not yet, so we consulted the guide books and picked a restaurant at another hotel. That way we would find it easier to get a taxi back to our hotel at the end of the evening.
Chor Bazaar at the Broadway Hotel was a good pick. Inside it was ornately decorated with lots of woodcarving and nick-nacks. Food was great, service likewise, and we felt happier at the end of the meal, the pan-handling at least partially forgotten. Traffic out was as mad and busy as yesterday but much less on the way back. Chor Bazaar has a branch in London, Mayfair. Our receipt entitles us to a 50% [Note: misheard – 15%!] discount in the London branch so will have to be tried. Taxi driver didn’t seem to “understand” we wanted the Broadway hotel. Good end to our first day in India. Tomorrow we’re off to Agra at 8am.