I am currently sitting facing the Taj Mahal as I write this, sitting on a viewing point inside a lush green garden, listening to the haunting sound of patrons chanting in prayer. To say this is surreal is a massive understatement. It’s breathtaking.
This is the moment I’ve been waiting for, but at the same time it’s hard to take it all in, it doesn’t seem real at all.
We arrived in India on March 9th, took an internal flight from Mumbai to Delhi and then settled into our hotel (in one sentence I’ve made that sound like it was the easiest thing in the world – let me tell you it wasn’t.) Don’t get me wrong the flights were fine, Jet Airways are awesome, I’ve got to admit we were expecting a rickety plane with hardly any facilities. We had movies, games, tv shows, nice legroom, yummy food – we were very impressed. But in that time I’d managed to loose my phone in Heathrow airport, have a fair few arguments and then arrived to our hostel to be told there were no rooms left at the inn. But it all resolved itself – my mom even called Heathrow & found my phone (bless her!).
We organised a airport pickup arranged through our hotel, which was great! We had arrived at 4.30am so to have that sorted was a blessing. The driver we got was a real sweetheart, he told us lots of facts, drove us past points of interest & got us to our hotel in no time.
We stayed at the Smyle Inn, New Delhi (located just off the Main Bazaar & was a short walk from New Delhi Train Station). This place is a real gem but of course we arrived the night after Holi Festival, and even though we had booked a room for the night before, ready for our 5am arrival, they had given it to someone else! Shocking I know!
At the time it felt like the worst news in the world (after 2 flights, hardly any sleep, a taxi ride & lots of emotional & physical exhaustion – that tends to be the case). But in retrospect it was not so bad really – we had to wait about 40 mins for the room to be evacuated (luckily by people getting an early train), cleaned and for us to be checked in.
The guy on reception really lacked people skills and definitely was doing everything very slowly (or in IST – Indian Stretchable Time as people like to say) which made the situation more frustrating. But that feeling of getting in a nice room with a nice bed was the best feeling ever so possibly worth the build-up.
But after that, all was well, the room had a hot shower, it was clean, there were comfortable beds, a working TV with an awesome movie channel, an Internet cafe, travel agent and they did an amazing breakfast.
The travel agent was great and managed to help us greatly by booking some trains for us (unfortunately now it is extremely hard for foreigners to get tickets – see: Seat 61 for more info).
Delhi in itself however is stark-raving mad! When the guidebooks tell you not to stay there for long – they mean it! You are exploited as a tourist as soon as you leave your door. We managed to fall for the oldest trick in the book – a guy with a railway ID putting us in an auto-rickshaw to take us to a tourist information office we didn’t even want to go to (but hey, it was our first day – lesson learnt: don’t be talked into doing anything you don’t want to/aren’t interested in – only they benefit from it, also everyone seems to have dodgy ID cards so just ignore them).
At first ignoring people was hard, we even got called racist and that was difficult to hear and deal with but the guy definitely wanted some kind of £ from us – so we had to). I read some good advice: you should never say you’ve just arrived in India, always say you’ve been there at least 3 weeks. We kept explaining this to people but they definitely didn’t believe us – we were too smiley, chatty and friendly in the busy, bustling (or high hassle) areas, but the next day we had learnt our lesson, we went out with added confidence and therefore received much less bother. Just think of it as playing face, that’s the key. Channel your most confident self and just say no, unless you’re interested of course.
It’s a shame really because we wanted to interact with real Indian people but in busy markets/tourist areas – it just ain’t the place. But don’t feel bad about it – you will meet lovely people in other places and lots of beautiful smiley children.
We also can happily reveal that we did not get Delhi belly! Yaaay! Quite hilariously we ate Dominos on our first night in Delhi but then the rest of the time we vowed to only have Indian cuisine (you can get a multitude of dishes in tourist places – American diner style breakfast, Chinese, Italian…even Fish & Chips).
The thing with Delhi we noticed, was if you went to a lot of the highlighted tourist spots – you often get the impression you’re not very welcome.
We went to The Garden Of Five Senses in South Delhi (quite a trek in fact from the Main Bazaar but very beautiful) and we were the only Westerners there and as a result we were constantly stared and pointed at. This is completely understandable in a country of 1,170,938 people (according to Google) – we do look pretty unusual but it does start to bother you after a while. We have also learnt that in any public park, couples are allowed to come and hold hands/cuddle/kiss whereas in other places they are not – so in each corner we took we found amorous couples which was pretty amusing.
There are lots of lovely parks and within them you will be left alone (everyone is too busy snogging to care about you), so they are great places to escape from the hustle and bustle (you will need to find the garden at the centre of Connaught Place after making your way there – that place is bonkers and full of hasslers unfortunately).
Dilli Haat is a lovely Market which is however, definitely tourist friendly. It is a (real) government run Market which allows local people to sell their goods. It costs sellers 150R for 15 days on a stall, then after that a new seller gets opportunity to sell for a further 15 days allowing people to make money fairly and without massive rental charges.
Walking to and from Old Delhi was hard work, the roads are really busy, there are no pavements, people are constantly trying to get you in their auto/pedal rickshaws.
We walked past severed goat heads, people selling motor parts on the side of the street, chickens in cages and it surprisingly didn’t bother us at all – we have fully accepted India for how it is, which I think is the best way to deal with it’s differences.
We walked past an old red sandstone mosque called Jami Masjid (India’s largest Moghul mosque) and sat on its steps to escape the noise for a while, which was surprisingly calming but then a man, seeing we were the only western people trying to enter it, demanded money from us, which was not so calming. We later found out it is completely free for anyone to go in there, just touts will hang around anywhere and demand money from naive western folks. It’s a shame but it happens.
We were also faced with this problem upon arriving at New Delhi railway station. At the bag scanning area a man asked to see our tickets (seemed pretty normal procedure) but then told us we had the wrong tickets. Luckily we had been on the fabulous Seat 61 website the night before and read how this was a classic scam. If you’re going to get a train REMEMBER the only person who needs to see your ticket is the conductor on the train (ignore everyone else).
Beyond the scamming, India is a fascinating, interesting place and if you read up the facts (like the info Im happily giving you) you won’t get any unpleasant surprises (well maybe in the toilets, but that’s a different story altogether hehe).
More to follow soon…
Love & loo-rolls Em xoxo