Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Delhi II

We arrived back at the New Delhi train station late in the morning. The smell of urine and hordes of people had not changed in the two days we'd been gone. I was thoroughly stared at once again, only this time I was too tired to find any amusement in it. Instead I gave them my best glare and stuffed down my feelings of annoyance at being looked at like the wolf-man at the circus. Outside we had to fight off the tuk-tuk drivers since we chose to walk to the hotel - it was only about 1 km from the station. We were staying at the same hotel we had been at for our previous three weeks in Delhi and everyone there remembered us. Our new room had a fridge which was nice. We liked to go down to the grocery store and get waters and little box-juices and now we could keep them cold in the fridge. We didn't do much that afternoon, the most notable event being dinner which we ordered at the hotel. They brought a small feast of tandoori chicken, mutton curry, chaat, rice and naan. The tandoori was so spicy that it left our lips burning for ten minutes after we had finished! And the mutton was soft and fell right off the bone. I think in India they call goat "mutton," so it might have been either goat or adult sheep. Either way it was a meat we hadn't tried yet and it was very good.

On the 24th we decided we'd better go to the local Citibank and get some more money. We would need a good chunk of it for our two week trip around India's western desert state: Rajasthan. The first tuk-tuk we asked said there was a festival going on that would make getting around difficult and quoted a price double what we were used to. We'd learned never to trust tuk-tuk drivers about such things though and moved on to the next one. He also told us there was a festival, so we were feeling more convinced. We took his offer of not-quite-double-the-price and headed down the street. He went the opposite direction than we expected and soon enough we hit some heavy traffic. He tried a few side streets but had to turn around due to oncoming traffic. Slowly, we butted our way through a tangle of cars, tuk-tuks and motorcycles until we were stuck in a serious grid-lock traffic jam. The huge intersection was at a complete standstill, most vehicles being trapped in the middle with no escape. That's when we decided it would be best to just get out and walk. It was madness!! Everyone was trying to go the direction they wanted to which made for a giant mess of vehicles that weren't going anywhere at all. The chaotic driving in India works pretty well most of the time, but in situations like that one it just creates a huge mess. So we walked towards Connaught Place and the Citibank. On the bright side, we got to see the festival along the way which was neat. There were a lot of marching bands. Like I've mentioned before, they aren't the stiff, disciplined groups that you would find in DCI (Drum Corps International), but they have uniforms and instruments and walk through he streets playing music. There were tons of different groups of kids dressed in various school uniforms, tightly packed and looking bored. There weren't really any floats, but there were vans covered in strings of orange flowers. Many vendors were wandering through the crowds selling cotton-candy-looking treats, or pinwheels. And of course, there were tons of people there to watch the parade inch it's way down the road. One old lady saw me with my camera out and spun her grandson around for a photo. He didn't seem very happy with this and made an extremely pouty face, but Grandma looked awesome in the picture. I wish I could have given them a copy. Past all the festivities, the traffic cleared up and we managed to get a nice cheap tuk-tuk the rest of the way. Getting our money from the Citibank was no problem. If it had been a problem I might have had a breakdown... I would not take kindly to them canceling our debit cards again. But, like I said, no problems! We tuk-tuked back to the edge of the festival and walked the rest of the way. I caught sight of a street stall that had a big wok full of bubbling oil, floating with fat pakoras. We got two of these awesome, golden pakoras for just 5 rupees ($0.12 USD) each. It's kinda scary getting street food, but is usually so worth it. It must have been street-food-day for us because we also grabbed some bananas from another cart. They were covered in black patches on the outside, but inside they were firm and sweet. And cheap: two for 5 rupees. And then we got some shortbread cookies from another cart that was passing by later that evening. We were on our way to an internet cafe to print our train tickets and I saw the cart rolling by with interesting looking foods on it. There was a covered tray full of little round cookies, and next to it a warm wok with a bunch of cookies pressed to bottom to keep them warm. We asked for just a small bag of them. He pulled out a home-made newspaper baggy and dropped nine of the little suckers in there. We handed over 9 rupees in exchange and went on our merry way. Turns out they were shortbread cookies!! Yum! A little taste of home-baked Christmas right there in New Delhi, India. So our simple day in Delhi turned out to be pretty interesting.

We were off again on the 25th. We had to get up at 4:15 AM to catch our early train. We once again found that the hotel staff had spent the night on the couches downstairs, wrapped in warm blankets. One of the hotel workers grabbed a rickshaw for us and set a price of 20 rupees. Once we got to the station the driver claimed that it was 20 rupees a person, not total... My foot. We paid him a full 40 rupees anyways. I'm pretty sure we were swindled. It was only an extra $0.40 USD, but it's principle of the matter. Oh well. The floor of the large, covered lobby area of the train station was crowded with little blanket-covered lumps. Tons of people had spent the night there and I suspected many of them spend many nights there. I found myself amazed at how tiny a ball they managed to roll into and because they were covered head-to-toe I had to wonder if there was actually a person under a few blankets. They just looked too tiny. We had trouble finding our train because it wasn't listed on the departure board, but a few people directed us in the right direction. As we were walking the full mile down the platform towards our carriage (those trains are long) a British woman caught up to us and asked if it was the train to Jaipur. We told her that it was, and then got to listen to her complain about India for a few moments. She liked to curse. When it turned out she was in the same carriage as us I was a little relieved to see that she wasn't actually sitting near us. Sure, I'll complain about India to Chuck, but I'd rather not trash-talk the place on a crowded train with a boisterous woman. While we were waiting for departure time an attendant came by handing out free newspapers and bottled water. And after we left (on time for once) we got a fun little "tea kit" and a thermos of hot water to make our own tea. A few hours later we were served a decently tasty breakfast. It was pretty cool! Indian trains may look old, dirty, and unkempt, but the service on some of the lines is pretty awesome. Getting a newspaper, bottled water, tea, breakfast, and a 300 km at $10 USD a person is just incredible!

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