It’s hard to believe its come to this, but we now have less than one month left on our journey. We are spending most of that time in India, having arrived here last night. So far, here are our first impressions.
We have this habit of overpreparing. This is sometimes good and useful, and other times pretty much counterproductive. For the last four days of our time in Malaysia, we poured over websites and through our guidebook, absorbing every tidbit of information we could about India. All of this extra time to think and rethink is also partially an indictment of the lack of enthralling activities to do in KL combined with the archaic and tedious process of obtaining an Indian visa.
Nevertheless, we found ourselves hearing all sorts of horror stories about the subcontinent, especially for new arrivals. We were amazed and terrified by stories of rampant pickpocketing, constant tout bothering, scammy drivers, demands for tips, food poisoning and various combinations of the above.
Things did not get off to a great start. Our thorough research had uncovered a well reviewed hotel near the train station in Delhi, the quality being quite a unique and remarkable thing for the area. After emailing for two days trying to find out the rate and reserve a room, we ultimately failed to know anything for certain as we boarded the plane in Kuala Lumpur. So we got off the plane in India not really knowing where we were going, already breaking a cardinal rule of tout filled areas. We had decided to head to our chosen hotel anyway, bought a prepaid taxi ticket after comparing rates of a few companies, and headed out to the taxi ranks. Here things got confusing. One tout tried to lead us away from the taxi rank. We followed him for a few steps before realizing he was headed away from the taxis. Then another tout offered his services and led us to the third taxi in line. Thinking the first two already had customers, we got in, but the yelling and arguing that ensued probably meant the tout had an arrangement with lucky #3. Just as we pulled away our friendly tout jumped in the car with us and began chatting us up. We spun a good yarn about it being our third visit to India, this time to visit our friend who was working in Delhi and was waiting for us at our hotel, where we already had a reservation. Finding this scenario to be unlucrative, since he couldn’t steer us to his hotel of choice, our tout friend jumped out on the onramp to the highway out of the airport.
Arriving at the hotel, we pulled into the Pahar Ganj area of Delhi. At 11 PM, this area is choc-a-block full of people with nowhere else to go. Cardboard beds lined the streets, people wandered about and a few rickshaws waited for fares that weren’t materializing. Every shop was sealed shut and the whole neighborhood was terribly uninviting. It was not somewhere we wanted to be wandering around with backpacks looking for somewhere to stay. Luckily, when we arrived at the hotel, they had reserved a room for us and we checked in no problem. Waking up the next morning, we found a bustling series of market streets coupled with a chorus of honking and lively chatter amongst people despite the monsoon rain. In reality, a complete 180 from the night before.
Our first mission was to book our train tickets, which we managed with relative ease at the tourist booking office, scheduling out our entire next three weeks. On the one hand, this was a terrifying prospect, because one thing we have become accustomed to is last minute and spur of the moment decision making, but on the other, it is nice to not have to think so much about what we are doing the next three weeks.
Our afternoon consisted of our first foray out into Delhi. We started by hiring a rickshaw to take us to the National Museum. After a long drive, frankly longer than either of us were expecting, our driver pulled over in quite an industrial area and with a smile pointed to a sign that said “International Doll Museum.” There were two things wrong with this: first, what kind of rickshaw driver doesn’t know where one of the biggest attractions of the city is, but second, what kind of driver instead knows where the International Doll Museum is? I mean, when I asked where on the map we were, we were halfway out of the city. Amazing really. Anyway, we got him straightened out and after almost as long a trip headed back, we arrived at the museum.
We perused the museum until closing, a beautiful collection of Indian art dating back five millenia through a long and impressive history. We left and headed for the India Gate, circumnavigating it before walking back along the Rajpath up to Parliament and the President’s house. We walked back to Connaugh Place through a light but steady rain before giving up and hiring a rickshaw back to the hotel. We never any troubles, rarely had touts bother us and if so, never for long, found most people to be delightful and helpful and the areas of the city we visited, especially along the Rajpath, to be lovely. For all the stories we’ve heard and worries we had, I must say, we’re off to a good start in India. Now let’s just hope writing this post hasn’t jinxed everything!