The moniker spread throughout the land, promoting tourism and luring people from foreign countries. What does it mean? I love to use words like incredible, amazing, and unbelievable to convey feelings in ambiguous ways. I guess we'll find out. We have heard the horror stories and the success stories of India travelers far and wide, and what better place to spend a little time and explore than Delhi.
Now, all my life I always thought that the capital of India, was NEW DELHI. I guess I was wrong. To the Indians, New Delhi is nothing more than a neighborhood in Delhi. Even when searching flights from Chennai, we failed at finding New Delhi as an airport. So what does Delhi have to offer? Everything and Nothing.
We felt as if our fears about India were beginning to subside, as our short day trip to Chennai, was without major incidence, scam, or danger. Our stomachs were feeling great too. What is there to worry about in Delhi? So, Chennai is the 4th largest city in India with a scant 10 million people. Delhi has 25 million people. So what?
On our Way from the airport (pictured is a hearse)
Day one: Get to the Hotel Settle and Explore a Little.
Once settling into the hotel the Hotel Kings Inn in Karol Bagh, we decided to get an auto-rickshaw a few blocks away and asked that he take us to a local market where we could see some street food stalls and shops. Why not? Our Tuk Tuk ride in Chennai worked out so well. The man says he will take us for 20 rupees. Wow! Cheap! We figured it was cheaper in the bigger city. We hop in and fight unbelievable traffic about a kilometer away and the driver pulls up to an emporium and says, "three level market". Not impressed! We really had a hanker for some good old-fashioned hustle and bustle market. Not a trinket store full of souvenirs and silks. Out of mild respect, we entered, looked around for a few minutes and came back out.
Driver with a plan
A little disgruntled with the driver, I went to pay him with 100 rupees, to which he replies, "I don't have change, let's go to a Train and Reservation center two doors down, they will have change". We drop in to meet a very pleasant yet pushy travel agent who offers us chai tea and to help us with our travel arrangements. Really slick talker, good english, personable, so we decided to indulge. Besides, he sent his man out for some Chai, and change to pay the driver. I give 40 rupees to just get the driver to go away and drink our Chai tea speaking with "John" the reservations guy for an hour from everything from politics to travel stories. We leave his agency and head out to the street to try to find a market.
Instantly 1.5 hours of our day gone, without doing what we originally set out to do.
Another Person with a Plan
As we start walking down the street, a man approaches us and asks where were from, how long are we here, and where we are going. We saw what looked like a market at the end of the road, and told him we were headed there. He insisted that it didn't exist, and that there "was nothing down there". The man tried to get us to another emporium and he owns a tuk tuk and can get us there. We declined and continued walking to a wonderful little multi-block market where another man stops us and states "that is not a real tourist shop authorized by the government.
"Those guys are scammers." He proceeds to explain that some shops sell train tickets and then when you go to get on the train, they tell you it's not a valid ticket. We thanked the man for informing us, spoke with him some more and continued walking down the street to enjoy the market. We later realized... they're all scammers.. Everyone we met today pretty much.
Sticking to OUR Plan
What an unbelievable place. There's that ambiguous word again. The smells were a mix of poop (not sure what species) fried foods, sweat, and flowers. A strange brew of smells to say the least. This market looks pretty old too. Above the stalls and shops there were wooden handmade ladders going up to three stories where it appeared people lived above their shops and stored goods. It was filthy and magnificent all in one. Finally after a couple of hours we pushed our way through the crowded market dodging, bicycle rickshaw drivers, motorbikes, push carts, and people. It was exactly what we wanted. We also tried Jellibe which is basically batter that is fried like a small funnel cake they candied in some hot liquid and then you eat. Deliciously sweet and 1o rupees a serving. About 15 cents.
Karol Bagh Train Metro Station
Day two: Go to Old Delhi and See Some Sights.
The next day we decided to start taking the above ground Metro Train. When we get outside our hotel in the morning. Who do we see? The same auto rickshaw driver sitting outside our hotel and the same weird guy that was on the street telling us there was no market down the street when there was. Strange! How do these guys know where we live? And what the odds of both of them being right in front of our hotel at the same time? We shoo them away, ignore their persistent requests to take us somewhere and barrage of "where you goings" and "what you looking fors".
We walk down to the Karol Bagh market street which is a little less congested to get some street food from one of the many stalls we have seen walking around the night before. At the corner where decided to get something to eat, a bug-eyed man comes up to us with the usual "where ya from, where ya going, how long in Delhi, ect. ect." We decline his request for help and eat some fried sandwich like things and head to the Karol Bagh Metro Station a couple blocks away.
The Scam Continues - The soft sell guy
We buy a 3 day pass and head through the metal detectors to our platform to get our train and we are greeted by a young man who wanted to practice some English and help us. Indians are very chatty and will sit and talk until you walk away or end the discussion. This kid was different. (or so we thought) He gave us some valuable information that since it was Monday, many of the tourist attractions like the Lotus Temple and Old Delhi were closed. Sunday and Monday is much like Saturday and Sunday for the USA in India.
He did however give us some suggestions of where we could go and even got off on the metro station, two stops away, to guide us in the right direction. The kid continued to talk and talk and ask all sorts of questions about our life, what we did for a living. how long in India, what have we seen, etc.
And it Continues.....
We walked down the street about 10 blocks and came to a roundabout where we were directed by the kid to find a Monkey Temple that was peaceful and had a bunch of monkey residents. We then parted ways. All of a sudden, the weird guy from the day before and in the morning pops up out of nowhere and asks, "where are you going?" At this point my blood starts to boil! This guy is following us. This is not coincidence. I turn to him, point my finger at him and tell him, "stop following us, we don't want your help." Even if we did, he would not be the one we get help from. He walks away and who shows up? The tuk tuk driver from the day before and morning. We got the 1-2-3 punch... Kid, Wierd Guy, then Tuk Tuk driver.
NO WAY! These two are working together. I shoo him away with a frown and a wave of my hand. Now I am pissed! Were being followed! Two days now, we are being followed and for what reason? It can't be for 20 rupees to take us to another shop or reservation center. We both had a sinking feeling in our guts.
Visibly anyone can see I am upset, and paranoid, looking around and over my shoulder constantly, completely disgruntled, and ready to fight the next guy I see, that I have seen previously. Who showed up next? You guessed it! Bug-eyed guy! I threatened the man and said if he didn't stop following us I was going to call the police. He left. That's 4 people who worked together to get us somewhere to take advantage of us.
Another guy comes up to us in an Air Jordan hat and basketball shirt and sweatpants and asks why we are upset. We told the guy of the scammers. He explains to us that the drivers get a commission for everything we would spend at any store, and reservation centers pay 50 rupees for tuk tuk drivers to drop off clients. He tried to console us and state that it's a harmless scam and they men weren't dangerous.
I told the guy in the Jordan hat that I wanted to buy a knife or a gun and wondered where I could buy one? We also told him I am a not a guy to be trifled with and that I have military training. I also didn't trust this guy anymore either. Figured that by acting tough with all this talk about guns and knives, the "word" would get out that this tourist is crazy and not to mess with him anymore. Who knows? Maybe he's in on it. I even told him so. He stated he had a cooking knife he would sell me at the restaurant that he worked at. I declined and continued walking down the street.
Time-Out! We need to get out of here!
We sat down and were complaining about how we felt to each other. How it's now impossible to trust anyone and that we needed to leave Delhi sooner than later, and maybe we should just forget the whole India thing. If this kind of thing is happening, we don't need that extra kind of attention and danger. BEING FOLLOWED SUCKS!
A few guys sitting outside a Chai Tea shop who spoke decent English came over and stated that we didn't need to worry, and that the network could be 100 or 200 hundred guys, not just the three we saw. They told us that there was no danger and that they only wanted to get commissions. People are fighting for work and scammers exist all over Delhi and India, and that we have nothing to worry about. This still didn't calm our fears much and we decided to scrap the day, go back to Karol Bagh and our hotel and call it a day.
Needless to say, we saw no sights this day!
The Lotus Temple
Day Three: More scams and learning things the hard way.
Now that the Lotus Temple might be open today and Old Delhi we decided to get on the Metro, not take any auto-rickshaws, and explore the city again. Also on the list of things is finding a way to purchase train tickets. We now are aware of some scams and maybe we can get a better handle on our situation. We were also told that calling the police, taking pictures of dodgy tuk tuks and actually hitting someone who is pestering you is perfectly legal. So we felt better about moving about the city today.
The Lotus Temple
We decided to go to the Metro Station and take two separate trains to the Lotus Temple. While in the area, we also decided to go to the Okla Train Station to try and buy tickets. Going to the train station first , we are told that we cannot buy a ticket at this train station and that we would have to go to the New Delhi Train Station (main station) to the International Desk (for foreigners). That was fine, as the New Delhi Train Station was near Old Delhi and the main market we wanted to visit that day as well. We did however see the Lotus Temple, a temple constructed in the shape of a lotus flower.
Old Delhi Market
After walking around the grounds and seeing the temple, we headed back on the Metro to the Old Delhi Market called Chandni Chowk. Chandni Chowk, or the Moonlight Square, was designed and established by Princess Jahanara, Shah Jahanâ€™s favourite daughter, in 1650 BC and has continued today as one of the oldest continuous markets in India. The amount of people, honking horns, bicycle and auto rickshaws, vendors of everything from toys to spices, temples, and street food stalls are mind-boggling. We meandered through the crowds, took a ton of pictures with the locals and took a few pictures ourselves.
The Famous Red Fort
The Red Fort
The Red Fort was also there and we declined to go on the grounds and only took a few pictures from the gates. We walked around for another good 3 miles, gawking our way through, clutching our bags. It was a great experience and we finally got our market experience. However the Old Delhi Market was not what we expected. The stores were actual stores, not a lot of street vendors, or open fruit/veggie vendors, or spice bushels on displays. In fact, not any. We were kind of disappointed in Old Delhi. I thought it would have more of an "old" feeling to it. The architecture and some temples were very old and interesting, however most of the sites were not impressive.
The New Delhi Train Station
What? Another Scam?
We decided to head back to the New Delhi Train Station and secure our tickets out of Delhi. Train Travel in India for us was a disappointment so far. We get to the station, and go to the first floor, and we don't see an "International Desk". A nice man who "worked" there said the station no longer has the desk and that it has been moved off site to the main touristy area of the city where every tuk tuk driver dreams of taking foreigners. Connaught Place! Well, we decide to trust this guy, he seems to understand what the situation is, and we were directed to talk to him from a ticket counter representative. He puts in a tuk tuk and sends us on our way.
We drive through Connaught Place and he continues driving down a road, and when we get look at the neighborhood.... it's the same roundabout where we almost beat up 3 guys the day before. There is front of us a Reservation Center "authorized by the government" to sell train tickets. We knew this wasn't the right office and that it wasn't even Connaught Place. So we grabbed another tuk tuk and explained to the driver our plight and he took us to the heart of Connaught Place, apologized for the confusion with the scammers, and said "THIS IS THE PLACE!"
Not the place we were looking for
Well it wasn't. Same song and dance with a guy trying to book us tours and tickets all over India, smooth talker stating he is the real place. We were once again down trodden and upset to say the least! SCAMMED AGAIN! We began to think that it is a literal impossibility to get a straight answer or a straight tuk tuk ride to somewhere we want to go. How can it be this hard to book a train ticket. We need to get the hell out of Delhi!
Day Four: This can't go on again can it?
Yes it can! And it did. Again, after reading the government website, we find out that train tickets are reserved for tourists. With 1 billion Indians taking trains, they need to reserve some tickets for only tourists and foreigners. These are indeed bought at the International Desk in New Delhi's Train Station. Sometimes trains can be sold out for weeks in advance. Will we ever be able to leave Delhi? We take the Metro to the New Delhi Rail Station. Once getting there we also learned that the first floor in India doesn't mean ground floor. The day before we only looked on the ground floor. The International Desk is actually on the second floor (1st floor if you are India).
With renewed hopes we headed for the station and went to the second floor, we walked down a hallway and was stopped by a man in a plain polo shirt who stated that they indeed did move the International Desk to an offsite location in Connaught Place and stated it is on Janpath road and that it is the ONLY international office that can help us.
Back to Connaught Place
We hop on another auto-rickshaw to Connaught Place and we arrive at another run down reservation center exactly like the others we had frequented but, this time the man inside wasn't as pushy and showed us his Government ID, and his picture in a Government Tourism brochure from 4 years ago, and a picture of himself receiving an award from the Ministry of Tourism. Wow!! Can it be we found the right place? It looks like all the others right down to the tourist map under glass on his desk. After speaking with him a few minutes, he started to try to book us multiple tickets, with hotels and food included. We realized this was not the place, we were duped again! Unreal! Incredible, Amazing! Unbelievable!
Getting Mendhi Done at the Monkey Temple
Monkey (Hanuman) Temple and Mendhi
We left the reservation center, and headed toward the Monkey Temple a few block away. Hearing that this would be a good place for Shelly to get some Henna work on her arms and hand called Mehndi we took the short walk there. We get to the temple and see no monkeys. There are a dozen or so ladies in the park in front of the "Monkey Temple" (Hanuman Temple) doing Henna Tattoos. Shelly spent about 20 minutes getting an artfully intricate Mehndi design on her right arm and hand. We were told to let it dry for an hour or two. We decided to just sit in the park and people watch.
Before we knew it, we saw a few monkeys, then more, and within a half an hour monkeys were everywhere, mingling with people like they belonged there. No one moved away from them as they walked around the park. We saw one man buy some popsicles and give them to the monkeys. We sat for the better part of two hours and people watched! It was great! Definitely a high point for us in a city that just didn't give up on disappointing us.
Another Temple of Hanuman
GTFO... Get the F*#@ Out!
That night we booked two airline tickets out of Delhi for Varanasi the next day. Needless to say our desires to go to Amritsar were dashed. The allusive and mysterious train system skirted us, and all hopes of seeing India cheaply by train flew out the window. We started to make plans for leaving India earlier than expected but, we weren't ready to give up on India yet. Let's see what Varanasi had in store for us and good riddance Delhi!
Change In Perspective?
We realized that nothing is easy in India. Simple things like getting a sim card for your phone, booking a train ticket, getting somewhere, or finding something is at times simply impossible. Extreme patience and perseverance don't really pay off sometimes. You have to roll with the punches. We are fast realizing that what you want to do, and what India has in store for you, are very different. Rolling with the punches is hard here sometimes as in life. I guess we need a change in perspective or we aren't going to make it in India.