Welcome back dear reader! It’s been a while! How are you? What have you been up to? Personally, I find myself sitting in a small coffee shop in Delhi, looking back on a busy year and looking forward to new and unknown adventures. And I’m reminded that I have a blog. So I should probably write some more!
It’s been a tough year for my Mum, having split from her partner of 10 years, and she’s been very down. I felt like she needed some support over Xmas, so thought I should visit. It’s such a long way, and visiting Australia isn’t that much of a holiday or adventure for me. It’s visiting family and friends which is great, but I also like to see something new. So I looked around for somewhere mid-way so I could stop for a few days and then continue on to Sydney. I was hoping for Mumbai or Ahmedabad to drop in on some work colleagues, but there were no onwards flights to Sydney. But Delhi fitted the bill, and allowed me the opportunity to do the “Golden Triangle” of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra for the Taj Mahal.
My last day at work came after several very busy weeks, and coincided with our work Xmas party and a farewell house party organised by my good friend, Luigia. A few quick drinks at the work shindig, and some farewells to colleagues who are moving on, and I rush to make my way to Luigia’s. Great party with some lovely people, and some rockin’ Xmas tunes. The Shard even put on a light show for us, which was almost as impressive as our indoor fireworks.
Well, safe to say I woke up the next day with a nasty hangover, and I’d still yet to pack. I slowly sorted myself out, booked a cheap hotel at Heathrow and took the achingly long tube journey to a soulless, conference centre style hotel near the airport.
Up early and I’m away. London life, and particularly the last few weeks have been so busy, I’m feeling quite wound up and continually rushing. I haven’t really prepared for this trip, as I haven’t had the time, so that is making me anxious as well. I was able to get some Aussie dollars, but the Indian Rupee is restricted so I had no local currency on me. I foolishly thought it would be easy enough to get some at Delhi airport.
Booking confirmation didn’t include all the numbers needed to check in online, so my delayed check-in means I get a middle seat between a lady who really should have booked two seats and a well-meaning, friendly and chatty old man with broken English who liked to interrupt my movie to tell me he didn’t speak English very well. Ah, he was alright when we were chatting, but not while I was watching my movie and had to constantly rewind. Although he told me that it would be difficult to withdraw Indian money outside the airport, so advised me to try to get some before clearing customs.
Flight lands at Delhi airport; I’m tired and keen to meet my pick-up and get to the hotel quickly. I’m running on fast-paced London time, and have not yet adjusted to India-time. And I don’t mean the time zone. An airport official sends us to the wrong queue, so when I make it to the front of the wrong queue, I then join the back of the right queue. Once past, we’re sent to the wrong baggage collection. Over an hour wait for baggage, and I join the first queue for money exchange. They run out of money and shut down. It’s here I realise that they are limiting the amount of money that people can take out. Second place is currently shut while they reboot, as their system has crashed. Worried that it’s been about 1.5 hours since I landed, I think I’ll have to risk not getting money out, and find the pick-up driver I’d booked before they leave. Exiting customs there are hundreds of people holding placards for pick ups. I wander up and down for about 10 minutes and can’t find my name or travel company. Ok, I’ll have to get cash and a cab. The Cash Point (or ATM for Australian readers) has a maximum withdrawal 2,500 rupee. Ah, that’s empty. I join my third queue for money exchange. It’s seems they’re all on the same system and all rebooting. I see a single point of failure here (SPOF for you IT readers). Forty-five minutes in, the system is still not back, and they only now announce that they can’t accept cards. I hang my head in frustration. I’m getting used to India-time now. Another walk along the queue of pick-up placards and I finally find my guy! We walk to our taxi, and drive the 45 death-defying minutes to the hotel. It’s around 1:30am now and I check in and ask the concierge when I can withdraw money. He sends for one of the lads who drives me around the darkened streets of the neighbourhood lit by old shop signs and the eyes of lots of stray dogs. It’s grim, it’s impoverished, but it’s as expected. My search for money proves fruitless. Hmm, how prophetic.
Hotel room is very basic and I’m a little uncomfortable. Brain is still in London mode. I’m starting to think it might be good to adjust out of that London anxiety before I hit Sydney.
After a restless night, I have a breakfast curry and black coffee and continue my hunt for bank, ATM, or Money Exchange. I don’t want to look like an obvious tourist, so I don’t take a bag. Guided by a map on the back of the business card to the hotel, I set out with a spring in my step. However, my skin colour instantly gives me away, and draws the attention of every taxi and tuk-tuk driver.
I spend the majority of the day just walking around and soaking in the atmosphere of the streets and the markets. All the money exchanges are out of money, all the banks are closed, and whilst some ATMs are open and still employing security staff to overlook them, they have no money. It’s a nationwide problem at the moment, caused by the government trying to clamp down on corruption, refusing to accept older notes as legal tending, and replacing them with newer bank notes, that they can’t print quickly enough. This turns out to be an ongoing issue throughout the trip.
After chatting to a local in the street, I decide to walk into town. My skin colour attracts the attention of the tuk-tuk drivers who queue up to follow me down the road. A local notices my frustration and tells them to stop following me. I befriend Jad Prakash and we walk into town together, past a round-about and a temple to Hanuman, the monkey-god.
In town I pick up a free tourist map, and notice the only working ATM I’ve seen, with a huge queue of locals. I don’t have any cash, but I have my bank cards so I stop for a coffee, some crisps and some water, and kick off the blog again. On leaving the coffee shop, it seems the ATM has run out of cash and people are now shouting at each other. I think I’ll wait and hope the banks open tomorrow as promised.
Back at the hotel, I meet the others on the trip, a couple from Brisbane, Australia, a lady from Townsville, Australia, a couple from Boston USA, a lady from Georgia, and two young ladies from Sydney, fresh out of uni, and on their first trip outside Australia. And of course our guide, Karni from Rajasthan.
After the briefing, we go for a curry in a local restaurant, which wasn’t too bad, back to the hotel for a beer, then to bed!