Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground...
21.01.2007 - 24.01.2007 14 °C
After visiting a number of smaller towns in a row I was quite excited about the prospect of returning to Delhi for a few days. While some areas of Delhi can been pretty full-on (read: grimy streets, stray dogs everywhere, riskshaw drivers trying to accost you every two steps etc etc) - there are also lots of things to see and do. And like most big cities - it is a lot easier to find the occasional western comfort to get you through the more stressful times.
Unfortunately, the Delhi experience hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as planned.
Drama number 1. After too many train and bus trips Ev and I took the plunge and splurged for a flight from Darjeeling back to Delhi. We figured that a 3 hour flight on even the dodgiest airline had to be more fun than a 27 hour train trip back to Delhi.
The journey started on Sunday morning, when we got ourselves up at 5am so that we could wedge ourselves on a share jeep from Gangtok to Bagdogora airport. Share jeeps are the way to get around in the mountains as they are quicker than buses and travel popular stretches every 30 minutes or so - but drivers take anywhere up to 18 people in a normal jeep (yes this is the standard jeep made to fit maybe 11) so they can get pretty uncomfortable. On this particular morning we were lucky - only 15 people were wedged into our jeep. But it turns out I have a stronger stomach for hair pin turns than most - cause five of our fellow passengers spend most of the 4 hour journey vomiting out the windows of the jeep. Nice.
We arrived a few hours ahead of the flight but we didn't mind since we figured it was better to be early than rushed. Five long hours of waiting later - our flight was cancelled due to bad visibility! I'm sure we should have been glad that the cheap airline was choosing safety over earning a few extra dollars but from where we were sitting the fog / pollution looked pretty mild. Don't airplanes come with some pretty sophisticated gps gadgets these days?
Anyway, after a mild panic about how the heck we were going to get to Delhi (the flights on the next two days were already full) we headed to the train station. After much discussion with Indian train staff in what can only be described as very pigeon English we established that there was a 5pm train to Delhi for which no sleeper tickets were available (these are the bed-like seats that you get whenever you go on the train overnight). But... we could buy an unreserved ticket for a normal seat, wedge ourselves on the train and from there negotiate with the train conductors for any available seats we could find. Only in India! Well despite my fears of spending the next 29 hours wedged in an upright seat with 10 other people and Ev's snowboard - we decided to go ahead and give this plan a shot. And low and behold it worked! After some lovely sucking up by Ev a few hours into the train trip, we bought ourselves two second class tickets. So in the end, some 39 hours after we left Gangtok, we arrived back to Delhi.
Drama number 2. The first thing we had to do in Delhi was to head to the Kazakhstan embassy at the other end of town to pick up our visas for the next two months. Some of you would know that we are planning to work with an organisation called Crossroads while we are there. The Kazakhstan visa process is a little complex as you need a letter of invitation in addition to all the standard paperwork. But we'd organised our letter - written in Russian - a few months ago so we headed off to the embassy fairly confident about it all. Bah bum... Turns out we really should have found more about our Russian letter as it was actually requesting a business (rather than tourist) visa. So when we rocked up saying that we were visiting people and doing some aid work it didn't really jell with the very strict and very unyielding consulate representative. After some panicked emails and phone calls to Kazakhstan we developed plan B -head back to the embassy tomorrow for a one month visa which does not require a LOI and which we can hopefully extend while in country. We'll keep you updated...
Drama number 3. When traveling around cities we normally just pick up rickshaws or other transport as and when we need it - preferring on the whole to save our money and walk. Today we decided to negotiate with a rickshaw driver to take us around for the day as we figured that we wanted to see a fair bit of Delhi and it would cost us far more to pick up individual drivers each day. So we found one who agreed to take us round for 400 Rs which seemed like a good deal both ways. Half way into the day we stopped at a petrol station and he asked us for some of his money to put towards petrol. Pretty standard practice really. Unfortunately we only had a 500 Rs note so we gave it to him expecting change. You can guess what is coming can't you... Well he gave us 100 Rs change but refused to give us any more back promising that he would continue to wait at each place we wanted to go. But low and behold, at the National Museum, the very next stop, we came out of the Museum after half an hour to discover him gone.
It's not a lot of money but at this point we were feeling pretty frazzled and frustrated with how often in India (and Delhi in particular) you feel like you are being ripped off. So Ev had a good yarn to the next rickshaw driver who picked us up - and he suggested that we put in an official complaint to the tourist police. Ten minutes later we found ourselves in the New Delhi police station trying to work out what the heck we were doing there and if there is any merit at all to filling in a police report. After telling our tale of woe to three people we were given a blank piece of paper and told to write our report. Only the good lord knows what will happen to that piece of paper but I'm sure it won’t get our driver into too much trouble. We declined the offer for tea in the officers’ mess as we had a train to catch.
To the hills for a little skiing!
When I first heard that Marge was joining the police academy, I thought it would be fun and zany, like that movie, 'Spaceballs'. But instead it was dark and disturbing like that movie, 'Police Academy'.
Nat and Ev