Today was one of those days where you find yourself walking alone on a freeway overpass, looking out great landscape of landfill, inhaling the fresh aroma of trash, listening to the sweet voice of the tout who’s followed you for literally five minutes on bike…and you say to yourself, "Please, Lord, take me back to my hotel room and let me hide under my bed."
My first day in Delhi sucked. I had such a big vision: take a day trip to Agra (5:30 AM – 11:00 PM commitment) and see the Taj Mahal. That’s why I came to Delhi, after all, instead of doing software stuff in Bangalore and Hyderabad. I woke up at 5:30 AM this morning — ouch — and met an arranged taxi at 6 AM. We trekked from my hotel, which is out in concrete jungle suburbia (bad location but a good deal and quiet), to a remote train station probably built in the late 1800s.
I arrived at the train station and now know why tourists are supposed to avoid this means of tranist. Totally filthy, smelly, and like everywhere else in this country, jammed with people. I arrived at 7 AM and the train to Agra departed at 7:15 AM. I needed to buy a ticket. I went to the "ticket office" and was greeted by a total madhouse. I’m used to no queues, but this was a zoo. And the dirt and the smell! This may be wrong of me to say, but I felt like by merely breathing I was picking up some disease. After a few minutes of wondering whether I should go in and throw some elbows around like I do on the basketball floor, I figured I’d just try to board the train on my own.
Oops. The train’s been sold out for weeks. Why did I think I could buy a ticket on the same day? Maybe because Delhi was a last minute thing. The train — which looked old and terribly uncomfortable — took off without me.
Totally screwed, I searched fruitlessly for a chair to sit and ponder what I should do. My hotel gave me a "map" that actually wasn’t a map so I had no idea where I was. I knew the moment I stepped outside the station I’d be harassed by touts. I tried to delay that reality as much as possible. I flipped through my guidebook and wondered whether I should try to take an 8 AM tour at the tourist office. I decided I’d try to find a taxi to go to the tour start location.
I stepped outside and, indeed, was harassed. It’s one thing for people to shout "Taxi, sir!!" It’s another thing for people to touch you in the process. Although I’m sure many of the rickshaws and taxis were legitimate, I didn’t want to risk it, so I left the station by foot. I can’t imagine what it’d be like if I were a small guy — seriously, I bet you 50% more people would harass you. The station’s neighborhood was an impoverished shithole that offered no good walking options. Undeterred, I continued to walk. No taxis. I was trailed by a tout on bike who, every 30 seconds said, "Good hotel, 50 rupees, ok?" I literally did not say one word to him and yet he followed me. Finally I started walking on a freeway — a common sight in India — and he gave up. I walked for 20 minutes and at one point had a mirage-like vision: Was that the hotel where the city tour started? How foolish. I must be losing my mind.
At last I gave up on my "walking tour" of terrible poverty and slums. I walked up to a rickshaw and said I wanted to go the domestic airport. My thought was to go to the airport and then go to the pre-paid taxi line where I could take the pre-paid back to my hotel. That way I wouldn’t be ripped off. I bargained a rate with the driver and ultimately got back to the hotel at 10 AM. I went to bed at 11 AM – 12:30 PM — pretty astonishing that I could actually sleep at this hour, indicates how low on energy I am — and then worked the rest of the afternoon, did a workout, and had dinner. In this concrete jungle there’s only one restaurant — the one at the hotel — so I feel like best buddies with the waiters there.
At dinner I saw other hotel guests for the first time. One American guy was sitting at the "bar" holding a bear and watching cricket on TV, clearly not understanding a thing. All but one party were solo travelers. All were wondering how the fuck we ended up at the Citrus Cafe in New Delhi, India.
(NB: I grabbed two of these photos off Google Images because I couldn’t muster the energy to take photos of the poverty myself. They look exactly like what I saw on the ground.)