Since Don gave up being Dr Read, Neuropsychologist, there’s no stopping him. Look at him now – India style!
Arrival in Delhi: a comedy of errors
On the flight from Hong Kong I realized I’d not written down the instructions of where and how to find our driver at the airport. We were arriving in Delhi at midnight and had hoped to get safely to our hotel. On our previous visit to India we’d arrived at 2 am at the Chennai airport and knew what a madhouse the airport would be with milling crowds, and touts wanting to take you somewhere. Anywhere. This put me in a bit of a panic, though there was this small voice assuring me it would all be obvious when we got there. It was. And it wasn’t.
We get through immigration into the baggage carousel area, and while Don waits for our cases I sit on the edge of an unused carousel to try to get onto the internet to get into gmail to find the email about where to meet our driver. You have to pay for wifi at Delhi airport. It was all a bit fraught. I try to log in and don’t have a user name or password, and need a cell phone number to get one. I go across the hall to Don to get his help. There’s crowds waiting for their bags and I’m wandering around with an open laptop. So weird, and I feel a bit vulnerable. Anyway we discover between us that I can use my Canadian cell phone to receive a text message with the user name and password. It says don’t put in the country code so I punch in my Canadian cell phone number and it’s immediately converted to +1250604339etc which any Canadian knows is just wrong since 250 and 604 are two different area codes. We carry on anyway, and sure enough it works, I get a text message. It makes absolutely no sense, and certainly doesn’t work as a user name and password to get to me on to wifi. Then we notice a pay option so I click on that, punch in the credit card number and get a message about being sent to a secure login page only to get “Safari can’t open the page”. So much for that. I have read there’s an expression “Yeh hai India, darling!” It means “This is India, darling!” and I was having my first experience of it, for this trip, here in the airport baggage hall.
We get through customs and Don goes to buy an Indian sim card while I look for our driver among all the drivers holding signs inside the terminal. Nada. So I look among all those waiting outside the terminal. Nada. Oh shit. It was nearly one in the morning and we had no way to get to our hotel short of trusting one of hundreds of taxi drivers offering their services for unknown amounts to unknown destinations. I go back inside and tell Don we have no driver. Then I convince the man who’s selling him the sim card to let me use his computer to get into my email to check where we’re supposed to meet our driver. I find out I’ve been looking in the right place anyway. So I tell Don I’ll meet him back where he is, and go outside again to have another look. There’s our driver! Relief! We have a way to get to our hotel. So I attempt to go back inside to let Don know, when suddenly I’m stopped by a gun-toting guard. No! You cannot go back in. Passport please. Oh shit, again! I explain that my husband has my passport, and all our luggage, and is waiting for me inside. I go to three different guards at three different gates. They all give me the Indian head wobble, smile, even laugh, but won’t let me in.
A kind man, who may or may not be known to our driver, points out that I can get a visitor’s ticket. I go to get one but of course it costs money and I have none on me – everything is inside with Don. Then the same kind man gives me money to buy the 80 rupee ticket, I take the ticket to the border guard and he directs me to gate three. Walking to gate three I can see the sim card counter through the window and Don’s not there! I turn around and head back to gate six and there he is coming outside to meet me. Phew! Finally! I return the 80 rupees to the man who was kind enough to lend it to me. I’m in India. I have my luggage, I have my passport, I have money, and I have my husband, all together in one place, and we have a ride to the hotel.
I have two words for Delhi – Mind. Blown.
Day one we met up with my sister Julie and brother-in-law Robbie, who’d also arrived the night before, and set out to explore our neighbourhood, Karol Bagh – a residential area rich with life and colour and energy. I love the way most Indian people encourage us to photograph them.
And later in the day we went to India Gate for day two of Phool Walon Ki Sair, an annual five day festival. First I had to have a henna mehndi design painted on my hand, or risk grievous bodily harm. Not really, but it was easier to say yes and pay the $1 than resist. Julie actually had her hand just grabbed and painting started before she could say no.
Another of the mehndi painters
Getting ready for the parade
Music and flower pankhas (big sign boards decorated with flowers) – a festival where hindus and muslims come together. This is only day two. On day five there’s a huge procession and fireworks. And yes we will go to it.
We’ve been in familiar and safe western environments for about the past six months – a month in Australia, followed by three months or so in Vancouver, and another month and a half back in Australia. Most of our time in Vancouver was devoted to necessary administrative “housekeeping”. Apart from that it’s been a pretty quiet time. It feels so good to be travelling again, to be exploring other cultures and countries and ways of doing life. We’re both feeling very alive. And this time we’ve fallen in love with India.
A shout out to our travel agent Vini, of Vinstring Holidays. Highly recommended!
Next blog post – a walking tour through Old Delhi led by one of its residents, and a special celebration at the tomb of the great Sufi saint Nizam-ud-din.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.