Tuesday, 5 May 2009
Back into India: Delhi!
After a great week in Nepal, which certainly wasn’t enough, the time came to go to Delhi where we will be spending the next four days. We were originally going to take the bus from Kathmandu to the Indian border and proceed to Delhi by train, but the current high risk of violent strikes increased the likelihood of roads being closed. We sought advice from various travel companies in Kathmandu and most of them suggested another bus route to the same border crossing, which sounded absolutely fine until we discovered that the journey would last for fifteen hours. We learned from our last grueling bus journey that fifteen hours probably means about twenty-two or so. Alas we decided to play safe and take a flight, which lasted for just an hour.
But before the afternoon flight on Jet Lite, there was time to hit the Kathmandu streets once more, for some last-minute souvenir shopping: this town really is an Aladdin’s Cave of Himalayan treasures! In the street some days ago we had met a flute-seller, with his beautiful wooden transverse flutes inlaid with Nepali decoration. He wouldn’t really take no for an answer, and would appear magically infront of us at five minute intervals. I suppose our first mistake when he originally crossed our path was to take up two of his carved instruments and to have a mini jam-session right there in the street: he knew he’d hook us eventually. Gradually his price came down from Rs 1,000 to Rs 200. But did we really need a delicate flute to carry in our backpacks? So that day, we declined, declined and declined, and walked on with money intact. But now here he was again, sporting his massive grin and beckoning us to buy his wares.
Doing business with Hindus can sometimes be advantageous. We have managed to work out that they have a handy little superstition that the first sale of the day is a gift from the gods, and promises more sales to them as the day goes on. This first sale is always accompanied by the kissing of money and the rubbing of a grubby bank note on the forehead, along with other ritual gestures and the shaking of hands. So desperate is a merchant for this first sale, that it may be possible to beat his price down to genuine bargain levels, especially if this transaction occurs after a day of zero business: Simon managed to bag a wonderful gift from a textile salesman only a few days ago as it was his only sale that day!
Back to Flute-Man: here he is again, keen for us to become the proud owners of a wooden flute. But the one Simon has his eye on is larger than the rest and is made from a rich, black wood. Flute-Man won’t let this one go for less than six-hundred rupees, but today he hasn’t sold any flutes yet. “Ok, ok ok” he says, just like everyone else in South Asia, always in groups of three. Maybe they say “achar” in exactly the same way? “No problem, no problem!” (They always say this too…) So the flute is sold for three-hundred rupees. Result!
As we disembarked the aircraft and collected our luggage, we spotted the green bus that runs from the airport into the centre of Delhi. This bus looked a whole lot better than all of the buses we have been on in this trip. We kept a look out for a stop called ‘New Delhi Station’ and from here we could easily walk to our hotel.
When the bus conductor loudly shouted the name of our stop, we were very surprised not to see a large train station but rather a solitary, brightly lit bus shelter, which was on one side of a dark avenue. A storm had brewed up in Delhi and was there to greet us as we got off the bus, so we listened to the rustling of the leaves in the trees and the howling wind as we walked whilst being accompanied by irregular, but frequent, strikes of lightning. Thousands of leaves were forced through the air by the wind and millions had already fallen onto the ground. Have we suddenly jumped to autumn?
Since the bus kindly left us in the middle of nowhere, we walked a couple of hundred metres where the gloomy area was becoming more built up with restaurants and travel agents. We stopped into a Japanese tourist company for directions to ‘Main Bazar’ where our hotel is situated, and the man who helped us was very friendly and had a good command of English.
On we walked and as we continued to Main Bazar, we left a lonely, smooth tarmac road and were soon following a bumpy, muddy street with small rocks making it difficult for the rickshaw wallahs to get around, not to mention the huge crowds of people browsing around the bazaars.
Eventually we found the Hotel Vivek where we will be based for three nights. Although our room is slightly shabby, the hotel has a fantastic rooftop restaurant with great sweet lassi, which boasts the vista of Delhi’s cityscape as well as marvelous food. The time to go up to eat is in the late evening when the atmosphere is at its best. The most amazing part of the day was as we were eating in the green garden high above the city whilst looking at the mixture of the city lights; some glowing modestly alongside others that shone competitively. So we tucked into delights such as “Chips-Chilly”. Now these were seriously sensational! Our Indian fare consisted of Butter Chicken, Vegetable Curry, Garlic Naan and other wonderful tasty dishes. We’d ordered far, far too much food. Again. I am dreaming of what breakfast will be like!