India was a whirlwind from the moment we arrived. Thankfully, we had a complimentary airport pick up from our hotel in Delhi which made things a lot easier. We found our driver and eagerly packed into the car. Even though we were exhausted and my eyelids felt like sandbags, I was hooked. I couldn’t look away.
We arrived at Hotel Ajanta, tucked away on a busy, narrow street in central Delhi and were quickly rushed into the tourism office while we waited for our room. At first I wasn’t sure what was going on, and then I realized they were trying to sell us tour packages. While Brian and I typically don’t buy into these types of deals, we were feeling a bit overwhelmed so we decided to sit and listen.
Brian and I had gone back and forth with the idea of hiring a car in Rajasthan. We’ve had some friends recommend it but also read some pretty horrible blog posts on the inflexibility of hiring a car. We had planned on going at our own pace and taking the train, but unfortunately the trains in India don’t lend themselves to flexibility. Enter, Zahoor, our lifesaver.
We ended up booking a private car for two weeks and confirmed that we would be able to set our pace. The original offer was $800 but we worked a deal and got the car for $600 plus they included a one night camel safari (around $120) and two tickets to the Taj Mahal ($30) . I felt like we were part of an infomercial! And if you call now, we’ll throw in one overnight camel safari for FREE!
We felt pretty good with our decision. Our daily budget in India was $75 but since we were overbudget in Africa, we brought it down to $50 a day, and while the Rajasthan car definitely put us over our daily budget, we figured we could make it up later (and herein lies the problem with our budget, we always figure we can make it up later).
So, back to Delhi! If I only had one word to describe Delhi, it would be chaos. It was loud. It was crowded. It was polluted. It was dirty. But, it was also beautiful. It was historic. It was exciting. It was energizing. It was incredible. Delhi was beautiful chaos.
There were times that Brian and I just stood in one place and watched. One day we hired a tuk tuk for 800 rupees ($12 USD) and toured most of the city. Touring via tuk tuk was definitely the best way to get around; I loved it! We fell asleep and woke up every day to the same sounds of the city: constant honking, bartering, greetings, and farewells. After a couple days, the honking really started to fade into the background, but in the rare moments that it died down, it seriously felt like music to our ears.
During our time in Delhi we took in the sunset and a full moon over India Gate
We attempted to wrap our heads around the enormity and history of the Red Fort and Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque)
We walked through the beautiful Lodi Gardens and marveled at the beauty of Humayun's Tomb (also nicknamed Delhi's Mini Taj)
We walked in complete bewilderment navigating our way through the chaos of Old Delhi and Chandni Chowk
I finally felt confident enough to undertake my first shopping experience at the Sarojini Nagar Market in South Delhi
And I even tempted fate when Brian convinced me that it was a good idea to wrap a cobra around my neck (while he, once again, watched from a safe distance)
Brian and I eased our way into India in regards to food and drink and also came prepared with an entire pharmacy of meds to help fight against the imminent Delhi Belly. Thankfully, our hotel had an excellent restaurant, and we found a delicious biryani restaurant in Connaught Place called Bikkgane Biryani (by Biryani Palace) and ended one of our nights on the roof top of Lord of the Drinks (basically Brian's paradise) while taking in the Delhi nightlife by enjoying a cold Kingfisher and hookah.
I don’t know if it’s because Delhi was my first experience in India but I fell in love, and I fell hard. I thought we were going to have more time, and it broke my heart a little when I realized we wouldn’t. But, I cannot wait to come back.
PS. India is all about negotiating. Everyone…and I mean EVERYONE is trying to sell you something. We will write a more detailed post on shopping in India but wanted to quickly mention what happened to us when trying to get a local sim card.
We were in Connaught place, one of the largest shopping areas in Delhi, in search of the Airtel (similar and as hated as an AT&T in the US) store. We found a crowded Airtel booth outside of a cell phone shop and since it was in the right direction everyone was pointing us towards, we figured it must be the place. It seemed legit. They made copies of our passport and took a passport sized photo, filled in the normal paperwork, and we watched them put in the Airtel sim card. The guy was charging us 400 rupees per GB, and we purchased five of them. Finally he handed back our phone and told us that it would start working after five hours.
The five hours part seemed somewhat strange to me, so I asked, several times, what happens if it doesn’t work after five hours and he kept answering, “Sister, I promise, it will work.” Well okay we thought, there wasn’t anything left for us to do. I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, but the cell phone did not work after five hours. It didn’t work after twelve hours. It didn’t work at all. We were enjoying our first scam in India.
Long story long, we found the guy again (it took awhile) and demanded a refund and a working sim card. Communication wasn’t great, so we weren’t really getting anywhere. Then, out of nowhere, this man came and started translating everything for us. At this point, Brian and I were so fed up with everyone trying to scam us that we kept shooing this poor guy away until we realized that we may be getting somewhere with his help. In the end, we got a refund for 1500 rupees plus a working sim card. When we asked our savior why he helped us he said he was from Nepal and he has seen this happen so many times, he just thought he would help us out for good karma. This story really sums up our relationship with India. Even when its pushing you to the point of wanting to give up, something incredible happens to restore your faith in this beautiful country.