Few days before our trip, Delhi appeared in all headlines of newspapers for the wrong reason: a brutal gang rape happened on 16 December 2012 . Frankly, I did not know much about India, and even less of Delhi. With that limited understanding of the city and some negative review about scams and danger, we came to Delhi. We had a rough guide where to stay, where to go, things to do…… I won’t plan too much otherwise it kills spontaneity and adventure. This was one adventure where I learned first hand how memorable and enriching it could be for things to go wrong. Read on.
On 24 December at around 11pm, my family of 5 arrived Hotel Shiv Palace. We were shocked that the hotel was full and there were no rooms for us despite our prepaid confirmation with Agoda. No explanations given, the staff could not speak English. At such a late hour, cold and foggy outside, we had no choice but to follow whatever Shiv Palace arranged for us. The staff brought us to Hotel Milan Continental, another hotel just few doors away.
The staff showed us to 2 rooms at Level 2 and we were completely appalled as we walked inside. The room was terribly shabby as I looked on in disgust. There was no toilet paper as I demanded and was told by the staff. Later, I came to accept this as a India way of life. The pail and jug was to contain water for cleaning. No bathtub, not even shower. The ceiling paint was peeling, the furniture and TV broken and dusty, I felt so bad and for the state we were in.
Goh came back with naan and Tandoori chicken bought from a restaurant nearby. I didn’t eat, I think I was still upset with how we were treated. After our late dinner in the room, to my horror, a rat came out from corner of the bed and went near the bin where we disposed the paper bags and chicken bones and curry. The rat could have smelt food. The staff did not manage to catch the rat. “This is not going to work!” I screamed in my head. I couldn’t tolerate another minute in this room. I packed luggage and wanted to move out. Goh asked me where we could go at such late hours. At the moment, my mind was not thinking and all I wanted was the leave, with or without refund.
The kids also wheeled out their luggage and wanted to leave. At this moment, the staff gave me another room facing the street. This room looked better but the sound of moving cars and honking were loud. I lose sleep, not sure whether it was due to hunger, noise or the rat incident. I remembered minutes before when I ran to the reception desk, the little laugh and a mumble of Hindi implied that I was silly to complain about the rat. It could a common sight here. We adapted to the environment on the second and third nights. The district was unsafe after 10pm, according to the owner of the eatery. There were many shady people milling around.
Arriving home, I sent a strongly worded comment on Agoda (where I booked the hotel) and Trip Advisor. I was disappointed that Agoda did not put the review up. In my opinion, they are not giving fair treatment of the reviews, regardless good or bad. Trip Advisor posted my comments. I don’t blame Hotel Milan Continental for the rat incident but now I have second thought about Agoda. I was upset by the overbooking at Shiv Palace and being dumped. If comparing the pictures, we were shortchanged and tolerated 3 nights at a dirtier hotel not of our choice. At the time of checking out, Hotel Milan Continental staff demanded payment from us. We asked them to get from Shiv Palace Hotel.
Moral of this story:
– We get what we pay for.
– If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
– Don’t leave any leftover food in the room. Lock your luggage bag when you do not use it, you don’t know what you will bring home.
Long story short, we took the culture shock in stride and spent the day getting to know the city of at Delhi. We hired a driver through a tour agent opposite the hotel at Pahar Ganj. The city tour cost Rs1,500 with a bigger car with more leg room. But we still packed like sardines in a can.
Delhi is not an easy city to walk in. Its occasional and irregular pavements contain hidden hazards. Most of the places the driver brought us were nice: Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, National Rail Museum, Baha’i Lotus Temple and a Hindu temple. Our original plan of travelling around by Metro was totally changed but we still ask the driver to bring us to one station to have a try. There was no tickets on Delhi Metro. Passengers buy a small circular plastic token which is scanned at the entry gates and swallowed up at the exit gates. Tokens were not sold in machines. They have prepaid card like our Ezlink. The queue of people buying token at Ramakrishna Aram Marg was very long. It took us 20 minutes because there were many people cutting queue or asked those who were at the front of queue to buy the token for them. We tried one station towards Jhandewalan and travelled back to Ramakrishna Aram Marg. The tracks were elevated high above ground. We got an almost aerial view of the surroundings. The service looked fast and efficient.
On the roads, the trucks donned varying spelled versions of “Horn OK Please”. The purpose to use the horn before trying to pass since most trucks do not have functional side view mirrors and lane discipline is seldom observed. The use of horn is part of driving etiquettes and a necessity of Indian driving. I observed that the sheer volume of traffic, narrow lanes and the habitual nature of drivers make it necessary to use horn all the time. Some roads to India Gate were closed because of the gang rape protest. We missed that part of the city.
We asked the driver to bring us to Baha’i Temple. I read in Lonely Planet about Delhi’s most stunning and serene piece of architecture with the symmetrical white curves of the shimmering Baha’i Temple. It takes the form of a giant lotus bud, its nine petals just opening, with a huge auditorium inside. It stands alone, raised above the Delhi maelstrom by a landscaped hillock amid a well-tended garden. The appearance resembles Sydney Opera House, admission free was free, open to the public of any or no faith. A calming, silent place to linger and dream.
INDIAN STRETCHABLE TIME
25 December. We waited at hotel lobby at 6am for the bus to go to Agra. No one picked us up until 6:30am and the bus left Pahar Ganj at 7am. By 7pm in the evening, we covered just 2 out of 4 tourist attractions: Agra Fort and Taj Mahal. How wrong was I to think that the tour ends here. The tour went on to another 2 more places. We arrived the Sikandra Temple just 5 minutes before the closing time at 8:30pm.
Indian Stretchable Time, I guess. I don’t mean to be offensive or stereotyping. Every society has punctual people and every society has people who make you wait. I realize that lack of punctuality is common in India. But our experience in the tour, all people, tour guide, bus driver, tour members, our family were the first one to arrive and the only one punctual. Clearly behind schedule, it didn’t seem to bother them at all that what time we would reach Delhi. Perhaps it was because we were the only ones who couldn’t understand Hindi so we didn’t know what happened most of the time. In just 2 days, we were surprise that we were so patient with the lack of punctuality. The proverb, “ When in Rome, do as the Romains do. “ holds truth.
FOREIGN TOURIST AT TAJ MAHAL
Good gracious! We must alight the bus and board a electric buggy to get to Taj Mahal complex. Taj Mahal was going to close at 5:30pm, the tour guide told us. At 4:30pm, we were still waiting for the buggy. How could we missed the highlight of this trip? Other Indian tour members got to go first except my family and a couple. When electric buggy appeared, many people thronged on the street and boarded. There was no designated waiting place, no queue. All visitors must act on own discretion, hop on the buggy with all their might. We lose out to the Indian tourists. The other tour groups outnumbered us. The fact that we paid Rs750 compare to locals who paid Rs20, being left behind and got to spend another Rs20 more each person for the auto rickshaw made me sick. We could choose to take horse carriage or camel but they were more expensive. But the question I wanted to ask our tour guide, why us? I swallowed my words later because it’s no point to argue. The visit to Taj Mahal was so stressful.
ANSWERING THE NATURE’S CALL
For the first time, I came to a rude shock that public toilets are uncommon in India. At 8:15pm, the bus arrived at the Hindu temple. My family members were tired so we didn’t get down. It was very cold outside and the roads were dark. I didn’t know that the only public toilet was in the Hindu temple. It was about 8:30pm that I realized that. Too late. Most women in the bus went. I missed it.
Peeing at the roadside is a fact of life. I’m not sure about woman, but for me, it was hard to accept but I was forced to do it. It was at night, the road was dark. The place was a residential estate. Few shops stayed open at night. One shopkeeper rejected our offer of money in exchange for use of toilet. My bladder couldn’t take it any more, desperate to attend nature’s call. Although it was not the first time to “do business” in a non-toilet, but it’s my first time at the side of a public road.
The one-day tour started from 6am and ended at 3am the next morning. At freaking cold weather close to 0°C and low visibility caused by thick fog, the tour bus honked all the way. It was dangerous to drive in this weather condition. At 7am, barely slept for 3 hours, we checked out and left for airport.
Our adventure in Delhi and Agra were teemed with strange stories and bizzare quiddities, rich discoveries and unexpected diversions. Everywhere was a surreal world for us. It will take some time for me to understanding the meaning of it all. This is real life kicking us in the butt! Delhi, Agra experience is unforgettable. Welcome to Incredible India!