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.
ingrid rose said:
exquisite photos & what an exhilarating/terrifying journey! love hearing/seeing/smelling it all ingrid
Thanks Ingrid. It’s certainly an adventure. A bit overwhelming at times, but also exhilarating and very exciting. Not terrifying. Wary/alert at times but mostly feel quite safe here. Wherever we’ve been, even down the narrowest crowded alleys, people have been friendly and the energy welcoming. Long may it continue 🙂
A Raving Mind said:
Thanks for the comment on my blog Alison…..
And I must say, Don does rock out the ‘kurta pyjama’look. Did you know that Karol Bagh is probably THE place to shop for Indian Ethnic wear? So if you want beautifully embroidered saris or churidar-kurtas, or sherwanis , you know where to go….. Most of the brides and grooms from the big fat indian weddings shop there !
Have fun in Delhi and if you want any advice, must do list, places to eat list or just plain trivia about Delhi just ping me on my blog…….
And remember the Indian motto – ‘atithi devo bhava’ ( a guest is like God ) in fact qoute it to anyone troubling when and ask them to respect you ! 😛
Hope to hear soon from you,
Yes, we’ve seen some of the shops in Karol Bagh with male shop manequins dressed in the most elaborate outfits that we guessed would be wedding attire. They’re just spectacular.
We leave Delhi tomorrow for Ranthambore and then Jaipur. The blog is always a bit behind the times. I have to have the experiences before I can write about them 🙂 There’s at least 2 more posts to come just on Delhi. We’ve had a fabulous time here (apart from the smog!). It’s an amazing city.
Thank you for “atithi devo bhava”. We will learn that phrase. I’m sure it will come in handy.
A Raving Mind said:
Well enjoy Ranthambhore….. I planned to go there myself this december but have now changed venues to Kolkata in the east of the country! And make sure you visit ” chowki dhani’ while in jaipur….. it’ll give you a taste of authentic rajasthani culture and esp food! 🙂
Have fun !
Thanks for “chowki dhani”, we’ll be sure to follow up on it. It’s always good to get tips from the locals.
Hope we see some tigers!
Lovely to see you all dressed up Don…I had a second, just a split second that reminded me of that Great Soul Mahatma Gandhi!
It will say this comes from Alison, but it’s really from Don:
Thanks Graham. I just love the Indian clothing, it feels great wearing it.
Danny Breslin said:
I was getting stressed with you reading about your experiences in the airport. Excellent post.
Thank you so much. I think I don’t always succeed, but I really try to convey the emotions of the experiences I’m having, good or bad, not just a description. Nice to know I succeeded here.
I’m so glad you have fallen in love with india and Delhi. Delhi is stressful yes, and even I, after 20 years here, tend to throw up my arms in alarm often enough. But seriously, Delhi has its charm, and India has its unique chaotic poetic life and landscape. Now,to your next post.
Oh I love that – “India has its unique chaotic poetic life and landscape”. So true. We had an amazing time there.
I hope you enjoy all the India posts. I think my favourites are the two about Varanasi. Oh and then of course there’s the three about the Pushkar Camel Fair which was one of the richest experiences ever.
Reading the first few paragraphs of what you experience at the airport was really intense! I had experienced intense moments at some airports before, but none of them compared to what you had. There was a time when I arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Yangon at midnight where I transited for a few hours before flying back to Jakarta in the morning. Then I realized I had the wrong printed ticket booking. All counters were closed, the only solution was printing it with the self-service printer which means I needed to input my booking code, which I didn’t have. So I walked around the airport and saw a stranger using a laptop. I dared myself to ask for her help and she said yes. 🙂
Early this year when I arranged a trip for my coworkers to Istanbul I realized that our driver who was supposed to pick us up at the airport was not there. Then my boss gave me his cellphone to call the driver, but he didn’t speak English at all. Then I asked the guy at the information counter to talk to him and tell him that we’ve been waiting. It was intense, but again, nothing compared to your experience.
I will remember this post when I go to India one day so I won’t need to deal with those bureaucratic officers.
Yeah, it was pretty intense, not knowing for sure where to meet the driver, and then him at first not being there, and then not being able to get back in again to reconnect with Don, even though I’d already been back in once before. It was a bit fraught for a while.
Seems like you found solutions to both your situations too. It seems there’s always someone there to help when you need it. At least that’s been our experience so far. (Crossing fingers 🙂 – we like to trust but not take anything for granted.
I’ve always wanted to visit India! I’m so glad you got to go! The pictures are beautiful and I feel like I’ve taken a quick trip having read your posts on it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Alison and Don said:
You’re so welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed your journey through India. It is indeed an extraordinary place. One day maybe you will get to really go.
The Snow Melts Somewhere said:
Amazing photos! I can feel your frustration at the airport! Especially after just getting off a plane in the middle of the night! Luckily you managed to get to your hotel safely! And still enjoyed the destination!
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Alison and Don said:
Thanks so much TSMS. That whole airport experience was a scary at times, but eventually it all worked out. I’ve got no idea what I’d have done if Don had disappeared. I learned to always keep my own travel docs and credit cards/cash with me. And yes, we loved Delhi.
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