Diwali in Delhi

In contrast to my experience at Madrid Airport the other week (where I made it through security in less than five minutes), it took much, much longer at Delhi Airport. The man at airport security looked me up and down several times, and asked me the same questions over and over. Even with documentation, he kept asking me, in various ways which plane I’d arrived on, where I’d be staying, and when I’d be leaving. Though I truly understand the reasons for high levels of security at Delhi Airport, I thought the whole process seemed unnecessarily time-consuming and overly bureaucratic.

It wasn’t nearly as bad getting a local SIM card. However, that also seemed to include a fair amount of paperwork that needed to be confirmed, photocopied and signed, and they also took a photograph of me for their records. Getting a local SIM card wasn’t an antidote to some kind of “internet-addiction” thing. Prior to arriving, I’d decided if I was going to head into the middle of Delhi by myself, I’d definitely need a local SIM for Google Maps (just to get around), and phone calls (in case I ran into any trouble). At less than $8 for one gigabyte of data and unlimited calls, I thought it was an absolute bargain.

Even though Sue and I had looked online at a range of short-tours I could do in the limited time I had in Delhi, in the end I concluded I’d much prefer to stay in the hotel for a while, freshen up, and then wander into the city for a bit of a “self-tour”. And besides, I had to wait a few hours for the SIM to be activated. Once that happened, I walked to the nearest public transport stop (Aerocity), and caught the metro into the middle of the city.

Though I had many pre-conceived ideas about what the centre of Delhi might be like, I wasn’t mentally prepared for the sheer number of people I would see. But there again, what else could I expect of a city that’s larger than the population of the whole of Australia?

Also, I hadn’t realised the significance of arriving last night, until a man wished me, “Happy Diwali”. As I wandered around the markets, and then in the shops, it was a useful opening phrase to have. “You know about Div]wali?”, a couple of people asked me. “Yes, and we celebrate it, too, in Australia”, I told them to their apparent surprise. It was also a terrific greeting at the airport today, prompting quite a few smiles. To co-incide with the annual celebration, there were lots and lots of coloured lights, candles and floral decorations. And everywhere there were some wonderful smells (food, flowers), as well as some not-so-wonderful smells. Tastes too (as I bought a couple of samosa like treats for dinner), and had a Birra Beer (apparently India’s most popular beer) at a bar, to rest my weary legs and to take stock of where I was. I had the wheat beer, and would highly recommend it,

I’ll admit I felt a little nervous walking around by myself. It wasn’t so much the idea of being led down a darkened ally or of being scammed, it was more the fear of a large unknown city. And so when a couple of people called out to me, urging to follow them, I kept my eyes straight foreard, and walked quietly and confidently ahead.

“Please help a poor old woman?”, a poor old woman called out to me. I was about to take a selfie. When she saw me pull out my mobile phone, she quickly retreated. I also spotted a number of people unconscious on the street. It was then the realisation hit me, I’d see more unconscous people and have more people asking me for money on an average day in Sydney, than I had in only a couple of hours walking around the centre of Delhi.

I figured it would be faster, safer and also more interesting to take a car, not the metro to head back to the airport hotel. As I’d read a fair bit about “surprise fares” and “unauthorised drivers”, I called in to a local “tourist office” where they ordered me a car, and where I was able to pre-pay.

Though the traffic seemed eratic by Australian standards, and there were moments when I thought I should close my eyes and say a quiet prayer, I soon realised the driver knew exactly what he was doing, and settled in for the ride. Honk. Honk. Left, right. Buses, cars, tuk-tuks and bicycles all together as one, and with people seemingly, randomnly, crossing the street. I’d learned the lessons of crossing these kinds of roads from when I visited Kate in Beijing a few years ago: find a group of locals and cross with them.

In stark contrast to what I’d just seen, I quickly settled back into my fairly nice hotel room. I had a bath, I had a glass of winem and I bluetoothed some music to the room’s Bose sound system. You get the picture? I could never afford this type of accommodation in Australia, but it was definitely within my price range here. In a country with such a large population, it wasn’t surprising to see so many people working at the hotel. In stark contrast to some of the indifferent customer service I know all too well from Australia, and which I’d experienced in Spain, the hotel staff were all incredibly helpful and very polite. If you’re ever headed to Delhi, I’d highly recommend the Pullman Aerocity hotel. Yes, it’s a long way from the city, but for my brief stop, its proximity to the airport, and the overall level of comfort, it was good value.

I woke early and enjoyed the fairly elaborate buffet breakfast (which included every type of meal you might imagine), ahead of re-packing my bag, and then heading to the airport. Once again, there were lengthy queues at airport security, but I made it through, with enough time to sit and relax at the “cricket bar” I called into on my last visit to Delhi.

With only a few hours to go until arriving back in Sydney, I’ve watched a couple of movies, and have enjoyed a couple of terrific meals. Though the plane is pretty full, I’m pleased it’s just me and a similarly aged Indian woman over three seats. Biss. A terrific way to end a wonderful holiday.

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