December in India

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Let’s start at the beginning of the end…
The final week in London, a terrific day on Sunday in The Engineer, with some of my favourite people ever, ending of course in total drunkenness and talking nonsense…


The rest of the week was packing (massively over-packing more like) and giving away belongings and more goodbyes and running to the shops for the bits we forgot, and before you know it it’s Thursday and we are at Heathrow!

Joe came with us but mercifully kept the slushy goodbyes and tears at bay (nice one Joey)
We met Mary and off we went.
Flights are flights, nothing happened. Read up on Delhi. Middle seat = that awkward jump-shuffle over the stranger in the aisle seat every time you want to get out… why didn’t we assign ourselves seats?? Why why? Rubbish film choices too…

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Arrive at Indira Ghandi Int airport about 10:30 the next morning (1st December), a bit dazed. I immediately have a private panic attack that I’ve ballsed up my visa and am going to get deported, but all the official said was ‘nice tattoo’ and then waved me through. 1st stamp in new passport tho. Pretty chuffed.
(Walked past a room of depressed looking guys smoking cigarettes on the way to baggage collection: the deportation room… no stamp for them and first plane home)
I had arranged a shuttle to our hotel and it took a while (and a pay phone call to the hotel for clarification/general stressing out) to find the driver with the little sign with my name on it, but I’m seriously glad we did… the first thing that strikes you about Delhi is the wall of traffic. The sounds yes, the heat, definitely, and thanks for that, the smells… well it’s mostly exhaust fumes at the moment, but the traffic… I’ve never seen the like in all my days. We are escorted to this battered white people carrier, squeeze in and zoom off into the madness. Like bumper cars but with actual cars. I think at one point there were lanes drawn on the road, but no one pays the slightest attention to them… 5 cars on a 3 lane road, plus whoever is driving the other way towards us (suicidal? Thrill seeker? Quickest route? Who knows??)
We are deposited, somehow still in one piece, at our hotel, the Aster Inn, in Karol Bahg, west Delhi
A spicy layer of smog covers the city, as up north they are doing the annual crop burning, and the smoke drifts into the basin that Delhi was formed in and there it sits, mixing with the exhaust from millions of cars, and the smoke from a million trash can bonfires. The haze is palpable and unavoidable turns everything a yellowish grey
We boldly brave the metro to Connaught Place, the middle ground of the city, a huge roundabout with a white colonnade of western looking shops running around it (is that a Marks and Spencer’s I see? It bloody is!!!)
We walk out and are scooped up pretty sharpish by the touts (could we have looked more like bumpkins? I think not). Less than. 5 minutes later we are experiencing our first rickshaw ride to a ‘very good place, very good price, beautiful things’ emporium with not much idea how we got there… and I figure out pretty fast that you’re unlikely to actually die, so just hold on tight and go with it: rickshaws in Delhi are a matter of pure faith.
Obviously we didn’t actually want to buy anything in these emporiums in the middle of I-don’t-know-where, so we made a swift graceful exit and caught another rickshaw back to town (worst bit of the ride is seeing children begging for money at the lights… it is heartbreaking, and scary, that they’re running around in this nutso traffic… but those kids are not going to get swiped by any car, they’ve had way too much dodging practice…)
Scrummy dinner at Veda, then home (via metro though…  rickshaw after dinner might be testing luck a bit far…)

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