2 days too long in the Capital.
After being in India for a little over a week, we were pretty confident we had experienced and grasped true India. We had been to Mumbai and Goa, two completely different areas of India but we had already seen so much through these amazing experiences, met incredible people and been confronted with some harsh and raw realities of India.
We had navigated our way around Mumbai via local side-hanging sardine trains, eaten delicious food from happy smiling street vendors, visited a slum, learnt to block out the blinding noise of 100s of horns at once (‘horn-ok-please’ they say), ridden tuk-tuks all around town chatting with drivers about Ricky Ponting and Aussieland, met so many people that have friends in Aus, mingled with the locals of Goa, ridden a scooter around town and haggled with many at markets and bazaars. We were falling in love with India. The people, the landscape, the optimism, the colours, the diversity and the food (don’t get me started on the food).
But then we arrived in Delhi… An altogether different world, with a giant slap in the face. Making it an unforgettable 2 days.
The Indira Gandhi Airport, as with most of the airports in India are calm, clean billion dollar buildings.. But then you step outside into the harsh reality of India and its a different story. Delhi was no different.
We prepaid a taxi from the airport, as you do, particularly when you arrive at 2am and made our way out of the airport and onto the streets to find our driver.
From that moment it was absolute chaos, the kind we hadn’t ever experienced, not even in the past 11 months through Central or South America. It was a chaos of colour, noise, smog, smoke and people trying to help find our cab “I’ll take you” “I’m your driver” “I’m prepaid taxi” “Need help?” “Where you go?” “I have a good hotel”.. touts. They were in every nook and corner trying to help or sell something or the other.
We found our prepaid taxi, closed the doors and warmly welcomed the silence. The streets were quiet enough and our taxi driver seemed to know where he was going.. we were moving quickly. Then we got to a point of a closed road, still roughly 2km from our hotel. The driver insisted that we couldn’t go around to another road, that all the roads were closed and it was to difficult to get to the hotel. “Call your hotel and tell them we cant get there” We don’t have an Indian phone number of course “I can call” “You have to pay more to get there with another taxi”.. Looking at our map it was clear he was lying and trying to play us as the fool. Eventually after quite a bit of yelling, demanding and giving him turn by turn directions (almost sounds like Melbourne) we made it to our hotel. Was he even our prepaid taxi driver? We still don’t know. How do you ever know?
The hotel staff were useless, but I won’t even go into that. Time to sleep.
We woke up the following morning fresh and ready to see Delhi, we were excited! But before seeing anything we had to head to the train station and get tickets for the remainder of the trip as we would be travelling on train around Rajasthan.
Trains are the quintessential way of travelling around India and roughly 30,000,000 Indians travel by train through India per day. Yes I did write 30 million. So as you can imagine it is tough to get tickets and they must be booked very far in advance. As a tourist we are lucky to have a small quota dedicated to touristic travel, but even these seats fill up quickly.
Our hotel was less than 1 km away from the station so we chose to walk the distance. We were immediately approached by several tuktuk drivers offering us a lift for only 20-50 rupees (less than $1). They seemed friendly and helpful but we insisted on walking as we wanted to get to know our local area a bit better. After saying no quite a few times they instead drove alongside us for awhile chatting and asking us to take photos of them! Eventfully they understood we actually wanted to walk and sent us off in the right direction with specific detailed instructions, along with a warning to look after our bags and that it wasn’t really a safe area. Btw, it is a safe area and a very touristic area that we stayed in.
We were at this stage about 200m from the station and ready to turn right when a very friendly local told us we just needed to cross this road to get to the station, but why were we going there? That we needed to go to the government office in the centre of town as tourists to get train tickets, not to the station. We knew tickets as tourists were challanging to get and he was very convincing. We had read about the Government office as a form of help to tourists so we agreed. He helped us hail a tuk-tuk for a good price and told the driver where we needed to get to, the government tourism office. The driver was lovely- asking us so many questions, sharing humour about Aussies and how good we are at cricket. About 20 minutes later we arrived at ‘the government office’ where we were warmly welcomed outside into a travel agent office and introduced to a man who guaranteed us that we were in the right place and that he would help us buy train tickets. Great! There were also other tourists in here at the time.
As soon as we entered the office we knew that it wasn’t the government office, regardless of what this man guaranteed us. We decided to stay, go along for the ride and hear him out. He offered us tea and beer and started planning our itinerary around Rajasthan. We knew it was a busy period with the Diwali holiday coming up and that trains were quickly filling up so were keen to organise ourselves ASAP. The itinerary he planned out with us sounded great/ everywhere we wanted to go and achievable in our tight time limit. We started looking into trains & every-time he searched for a train he would turn the screen away and then show us that they were fully booked. He followed by suggesting to go via taxi that he would organise for the entire trip, a private driver, all paid for, no hassle, cheaper than trains! Wow! Can you imagine travelling in a taxi for an overnight trip of 14 hours? Our driver could barely stay awake in the 1.5 hour journey from Goa airport.
We were familiar with the train system and Simon had looked at the availability that morning and knew that there were still seats on trains, so we questioned him. He turned around with an over the top audacious spiel about us not trusting him and Indians and that we needed to trust him. In order to prove he was legit he opened Facebook and showed us some reviews from other fellow ‘Aussies’ he had helped, while rambling off a number of clients he had organised trips for. Not exactly what we wanted to hear and at this point decided it was time to leave. We were correct in our assumption and that our time was being wasted. We left the office and were told immediately that this was a fake tourism office and that the actual government office was on the next corner. Basically, we knew exactly what was happening but went along for the ride anyway, still extremely frustrated that we had wasted an hour. On a positive, we had a better itinerary than we went in with and the taste of a delicious chai lingering.
We made it to the government office around the corner and she told us straight away that we needed to buy tickets from the international tourist bureau at the bloody train station! She also showed us photos of what the office looked like because there were many fake offices along the way with touts again trying to scam tourists. We looked for a tuk-tuk for the same price we had already been given and were quoted overcharged prices with all of them, only getting a cheaper more reasonable price if we “just look at my friends shop on the way, only looking”. Again running into many ‘helpful’ people directing us to the office, we found a tuk-tuk, told him specifically where we wanted to go and he had the nerve to drop us at a yet another ‘fake office’ demanding it was the real one and then wouldn’t take us to the real one. Absolutely fed up with Delhi touts by this point we decided to leg it, listening only to ourselves and not believing a single word anyone would tell us. It’s a shame it came to that.
Do you know what, we actually made it to the train office!! 3-4hrs after we set off that morning. Unbelievable.
After around an hour of waiting, and then over 30 minutes to buy tickets with the worlds slowest computer system we finally had 3 train tickets getting us to and from 3 of the 5 places we wanted to go. Lucky, with only a few seats to spare. Job done. It only took half the day! And by this stage we had grown beyond tired of Delhi, it was draining- the scamming, the distrustful people, the noise. We walked back to our hotel with a delicious lunch pit stop. Food in Delhi is something that definitely doesn’t dissapoint. Dinner that night was also uneventful and delicious.
The next morning we were booked onto a tour through PajarGanj and with a foundation called Salaam Baalak (meaning hello, greeting children) that helps street kids in Delhi- providing them with a home, education and health care. It was a confronting experience hearing what children and families are faced with here in India. With many of the children both boys and girls (5-18yrs) fleeing small villages for many different reasons to make their way to Delhi, believing they would have better opportunities. Unfortunately for 90% of the children this is not the case and they end up on the streets involved in drugs, begging and struggling to survive. That’s where Salaam Baalak steps in to try and help as many children as possible.
It was great meeting many of the boys aged around 5-12 who are happy, healthy and safe with opportunities they wouldn’t have found elsewhere. This was the one thing I wanted to do in Delhi, so I’m happy to to have experienced this and hopefully contributed in some ways via donations.
Following the tour we had the most incredible vegetarian thali around the corner from our hotel and headed back to collect our bag, giving us 1.5hrs to get to the Old Delhi train station located 4km away to get our train to Jaipur. It seemed to be far too difficult for the hotel to organise a taxi “the taxis are broken down” and after 30 minutes of sitting around listening to back and forth Hindi going nowhere we reluctantly went with a tuk-tuk with all of our luggage!
A journey that should have taken 30 minutes max in traffic took over 50 minutes.. With the driver taking us on the most complex ridiculous traffic congested route of 8km, getting us to 50m away from the station in the middle of an intersection, literally 5 minutes before our train left. We were already prepared to miss the train and have to stay in Delhi for an extra night and try to find a new train ticket for tomorrow that wouldn’t be available. So we just had to go for it. We jumped out onto a busy road with oncoming traffic, crossing an intersection by holding our hands out telling traffic to stop and RUN into the back entrance of the station trying to find the platform where our train departed from. We ran as fast as our bags would allow us, asking anyone we saw where to go.. all pointing us in a general direction up the platform. Seriously, the longest platforms ever and barely a sign or information board in sight! It was 3:19pm now and our train was leaving at 3:20pm and we still had no clue where the train left from. We were told platform 4 from a man working at the station and we ran up the stairs pushing rudely past so many people, accidentally slapping people in the face with our backpack waist straps. Ok we were now on platform 4, we ran to the front looking for our carriage while asking if this was the ashram express and them responding with a head wobble and a no… Great. 3:21pm. We were at the end of the platform and it wasn’t our train.
In some other universe or place we must have done something right because we could see our train on platform 3 across the tracks, it hadn’t left yet. There was a ramp leading to the tracks and we could walk across the tracks in front of the train and thankfully climb in the doors that were open from the tracks. It was now 3:23pm. We had to jump over the blue, foul smelling waste channel & climb into the train. We threw our small packs on and Simon pulled himself on. Then the train started moving and I literally had to hang on the side and pull myself up as it rolled away.
We actually got on the train with not even a second to spare.
We are now sitting on that train, drinking chai masala while sharing some homemade snacks with the family sitting across from us. We talked about Diwali and the many colourful, wild holidays and rituals India celebrates. We shared our story from Delhi. We played and spoke with their 7 year old son. They asked us many questions about our trip and adventure. We spoke about trains and they told us that they had to book the seats they were sitting in 4 months in advance. We laughed together and slowly forgot about Delhi, focusing on the next leg of our journey.
We still cannot believe we made this train. And that we are out of Delhi. It was only 2 days, but it was 2 days too long. Farewell Delhi, time for Jaipur and what it has to offer.
Additional Note. After chatting with a few travellers in Jaipur about our experiences in Delhi, it is clear that almost everyone is tricked, scammed or taken on a ride to no where sometime while they are there. A couple from Lithuania had an almost identical story and it was so funny chatting with them and comparing war stories.