Today started at about 6am with the final packing and getting ready. I made sure that I printed (again) the boarding passes and the information for the first hotel in New Delhi the Suncity Hotel. I was up the night before until after midnight doing the needful, like writing those last emails to clients and wrapping up some loose ends. Despite my lack of sleep or perhaps because of it I was overly cheery and pumped for the upcoming adventure. Mom and dad stopped by at about 10 to say goodbye and as per usual I was handling some customer emergency, you know the kind of emergency that people have when there is nothing else to worry about in the day. Never the less it took time to resolve and ultimately the customer was happy, but I did not really get to spend quality time with the folks.
Lisa was picking me up at noon for our adventures and I know that she is never late 🙂 Amazingly she was on time and we set out on our one-hour drive to her parent’s house in Laguna Nigel where we were getting picked up by a shuttle service for the last leg to LAX and our twenty-six hour journey on India Airlines. I am skipping out the parts where I was getting phone calls from clients right up until we board or the whole security process at LAX which is less than organized and I will pickup at Gate 2 waiving for our flight.
Air India is so ultra security conscious (or they just don’t trust the TSA) that they have their own round of baggage checks and people screening. Each bag, and each person were screened and checked and then permitted to sit in the waiting area. If you went to the restroom you then had to stand in line again and get checked. The crowd just formed a line and everyone stood there patiently waiting their turn.
The plane was a Boeing 737 that looked as if it was freshly painted on the inside and ransacked on the inside. This plane lacked the modern comforts and conveniences that we have come to expect. On my seat you could either have the headphones working or the seat reclining, but not both at the same time. On Lisa’s chair the armrest covering was gone and a shiny piece of metal gently poked at her the entire trip. The bathrooms were actually cleaner than I expected during the flight, we had head horror stories of filthy toilets and the constant smell of curry. The smell of curry did permeate everything, the seats, the air the whole experience. But it was clean. The toilet although clean did have a small issue, for most of the flight it was detached from the wall. Balancing there if by the grace of G-d performing its services without fail.
Now most people that I know order a special meal on long distance flights, you know ordering vegetarian or Kosher just so that you know that you will be getting a quality meal. We had ordered the Kosher meal and as far as airplane food goes it was quite good, but let me tell you if you fly Air India and you LOVE Indian food, skip the special meals and just eat what they serve. It looked and smelt amazing, honestly if this is what plane food is like, just imagine authentic Indian food!
One Ambian later and we woke up just in time for our decent into Frankfurt for a refueling stop. We had left Los Angels about an hour late so we only spend about forty-five minutes on the ground before boarding and an on time departure. Another ten hours in the air and we would be landing in New Delhi.
Landing in Delhi at five in the morning, the city was still dark. The first thing that hits you is the smell. Its not the smell of shit and piss that everyone warned us about, this was more familiar somewhat easier to tolerate. It actually smelt like the city was on fire. San Diego just recovered from a huge fire, so for about a week the smell of smoke was everywhere. This is exactly what Delhi smells like. Smoke from burning wood, the air was absolutely pregnant and about to pop. The air is thick and the first few breaths leave you gasping for more, my body readily accepted that each breath was delivering about half the air that it needed and the pace of my breathing changed to match my needs. Dirty yes. Filthy not really.
We walked out of customs and into the great wide airport hoping to see a sign from our driver. No such luck, we spent about thirty minutes looking for our prearranged transport but he was nowhere to be found. Everyone was saw or spoke to be unbelievably friendly and willing to help. Finally we changed some dollars into Rupees and make a phone call at the payphone to the hotel number that was printed on our confirmation. The hotel then gave us the number to the car service, they checked our reservation and noticed us that we were scheduled for a pickup; But the pickup was at 4PM and not 4AM, I assured the man on the other end of the phone that we were indeed at the airport and in need of his services and that 4PM was a clerical error. He agreed and he asked me where I was standing and what I was wearing. Blue jeans and a black sweatshirt and within three minutes a man walked up to us, on his cell phone and confirmed with us that we were going to the Suncity Hotel and with a smile he took our bags and we headed for our first venture out of the predictability of the airport.
Umm, remember what I was saying about the sweet and smoke filled smell? For a few moments the smoke gave way to an overwhelming smell of who knows what and the first thing that entered my mind and leapt from my lips was that ‘my farts smell like roses!’ This unidentified smell dissipated after a few seconds and has not returned since.
Driving! If that’s what it’s called is more like a video game or Mr. Toads wild ride than a predicable and positive experience. I will say that Lisa sat closer to me and held on tighter than she ever has before. What a ride! Disneyland should consider creating a ‘Streets of Delhi’ roller coaster! Lanes are simply suggestions and honking horns serenaded us for the forty-five minute ride.
When we got to the hotel it was clean and characteristically Indian with an Ikea modern feel. Not quite old, but not quite new at the same time. The room by American standards would be considered small. Maybe 80 square feet including the shower and toilet. It had a double bed that consumed 85% of the floor space but it was clean and the sheets were crisp. It was perfect.
By the time we checked in, and headed to the roof for breakfast it was about 9am, and we anything but tired. Wired is a more accurate description. Ready for anything. Breakfast was cold white toast and curried potatoes that were lukewarm but amazingly tasty.
We went down stairs to the front desk and the guy behind the counter asked us if we wanted a map of the city. (This is where it all starts. The simple question of asking us if we needed a map started the sales pitch.) We responded that we were interested in a map and a well-groomed guy came up to us from the travel agency that had shuttled us for the airport and walked with us to get a map. They were back at the offices 🙂
They pitched, we caught and within about an hour we had negotiated a tour of Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan for 14 days including hotels and a driver for $1000. Which worked out to be less than $45 per day per person including transportation, and hotels. We were well researched on this and willing to accept the offer after some specific accommodations were confirmed. The company name is Abyss Travel and as a side note we have completed the first three days with them and everything has been excellent. Well above our expectations. The driver Sanjeev has been at our beck and call and has whisked us to see the amazing sites of New and Old Delhi. If everything on the tour goes like these last three days it will be phenomenal.