Sunday, November 25, 2012

NEVER GET OUT OF THE BOAT! India 2012 part 3

Ancient staircase in the Amber Fort, Jaipur

We arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport at 12:30 AM. Thirty minutes later than anticipated. The flight getting here was insane. An elderly passenger in front me had been pounding free drinks and after like the fifth cognac (yes, I was counting) he finally threw it all up over his row of seats. I had to switch spots before his vomit seeped onto my shoes! Welcome to India!

I had scheduled a driver from the hotel to pick us up from the terminal. I was nervous because I've read horror stories where drivers simply did not show up or just decided to leave if they had to wait too long. I would have to take my chances and see once we picked up our bags and passed through customs. Worst case would be for us to hire a taxi. I read even more horrible stories about taxis and how tourists got majorly ripped off. 

I smelled smoke the second my mom and I got off the plane. At first I thought it was incense, but the smell got worse the closer we got to the exit of the airport. Finally, after an hour or so of clearing customs and obtaining our luggage we made our way to the arrival portion of the airport. There must have been 30 drivers waiting at the exit with signs, hand made and computer printed. I spotted my driver immediately. He was holding up a sheet of paper with my name on it. He was a short, thin man in his early twenties. He had red slits for eyes. My mom later said that resembled a cricket. A huge sense of relief flooded my body as he grabbed our suitcases and grunted to follow him. The smell of burning wood was thick in the night air as we followed him to the parking garage. The first thing I noticed was how similar the terrain looked like Tijuana, Mexico; the smell of burning things, half-finished buildings poking out of the landscape and old dilapidated cars farting black smoke. 

Our driver, Keshav, pulled up in a mini mini-van that looked like it was about to fall apart. It had some awesome 80's inspired graphics on the side. My mom pointed out that the other hotel vans looked slightly newer. I didn't care if he came in on horseback, we got a ride to our hotel and that was the only thing that mattered. 

Very blurry photo of our Indian greeting machine. 
We piled in our van and headed to the hotel. Keshav barreled down dusty and trash-filled streets at break neck speeds. It was in the middle of night so there were not many cars on the road. As we sped down the highway, I saw people riding horses, tractors, rickshaws and cows sleeping on the side of the road. How bizarre. There were these yellow metal police barricades in the middle of the road that our driver zipped around like some insane video game.

Below is a video I made a few minutes after we left the airport. Check out the desolate landscape. Our driver had no problem honking his way through town despite their not being anyone to really honk at. The ubiquitous Indian car horn would become a character on our trip. The theory was that drivers here honked their horn as a courtesy to let you know that they were behind you. This was in contrast to the West where honking your horn meant getting out of someone's way.   

We finally made it to our hotel after some amazingly chaotic driving. Keshav really knew his way around the town as he flew through extremely tight alleys and grim roundabouts. I was glad that our hotel, the Sunstar Heights, looked exactly like the pictures on the website. I knew we were in the right spot. 

Due to the late hour, our driver had to physically wake up the hotel clerk to check us in. His name, I later found out, was Mr. Sami. He displayed a friendly but crooked smile as he accepted our passport and welcomed us to India. After we got checked in, my mom and I walked up to our room. I saw somebody had been sleeping underneath the stairs. It was Mr Sami. I saw him creep back under as we made our way up to our room. 

Our room was a small, claustrophobic two bed affair. We had a bathroom with an attached shower. There was a bucket in the shower. We never used it other than to turn it upside down and place our soap and shampoo on top of it. We were on the third floor and had a view of the street which was empty save for a few stray dogs wandering the streets. Our hotel had wi-fi and I was able to FaceTime with my wife and son. My mom and I spread out our Hammock Bliss Sleep Sack (best purchase ever. If you have suspicions regarding the cleanliness of hotel sheets, blankets and pillows, throw one of these on your bed and you'll sleep like a baby) and went to bed. It was 3:30 AM. In just a few hours we would meet up again with Keshav for a small sight seeing tour around Delhi. Then later that evening we would meet our tour leader and our group for the first time. We had a big day ahead of us!

One of the many electrical boxes in Delhi. This one was in front of our hotel. 

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