We landed in New Dehli after 20+ hours of travel. Our plane was about an hour late and we worried that the taxi our AirBnB host sent for us would no longer be there.
Around 1:30 AM, we exited the airport to be met with our first wave of the heat and humidity, followed by the overwhelming noise of honking, yelling and constant chatter of people trying to offer rides. Our delirium and exhaustion gave way to worry as could not find our driver. We were quickly approached by quite a few offers to take us anywhere we wanted to go and after searching around and deciding our driver had probably left since we were late, we took one of the offers.
This kickstarted a scam we got taken on by what we were told later was probably the mafia who look for tired foreigners at the airport to try to up sale them on the sites around Dehli.
A quick summary of the story: our driver told us it was Shiva festival and the city was very crowded. He drove us to what he said was our AirBnB, but in fact was a road that was shut down and impassable. We were told because it was Shiva festival, a lot of the roads were blocked. We were taken to his friend, a travel agent, who called our AirBnB host for us (after speaking to him in Hindi first) and our host talked to my husband on the phone to tell him he had to cancel because of Shiva festival. We then went through a prolonged back and forth of trying to sell us a trip to Agra, Jaipur, rent a car, book a super expensive hotel, etc. Around 3:30 AM, we had enough. We were tired and hot and said we would walk the streets and figure it out on our own. Our taxi driver tracked us down and said he may know of a place. He took us to a dirty hotel that we paid way too much for, but we needed a shower and a bit of sleep. Around 5:00 AM, my husband gets a call from our actual AirBnB host who confirmed that was absolutely NOT him on the phone that was called and we did still in fact have a reservation. He sent a car for us immediately and around 6:00 AM, we were finally settled in to the AirBnB we had booked.
The whole confusion stemmed from this. When emailing our host, my husband said we would arrive in Delhi at 12:05 AM. However, India is on the 24 hour clock, so our host understood that to mean 12 in the afternoon, when he in fact, had a car planned to meet us at the airport. We should have typed 0:05 AM. Big lesson learned.
That was our introduction to Delhi. People scamming and people helping. It’s a big, chaotic, overwhelming city and you never quite know who to believe, but there is always someone willing to help you around every corner and things always seemed to work themselves out.
Our first day in Delhi was spent learning how to walk on the streets without dying, adjusting to the insane heat and humidity, discovering our neighborhood, shopping for clothes and finding food.
The food was pretty amazing and super easy to find vegetarian options, most already vegan or easy enough to modify. Some of my favorite dishes were from street stands. Our favorite stand was close to the train station, down the street from where we were staying. My favorite dish was aloo matar (peas and potatoes) in a spicy sauce. My favorite drink was fresh pineapple and lime juice.
Our next few days in Delhi we set off to explore the various sites. I do not have as many pictures to share of India as I had hoped. The pictures I will be posting are all from my phone because somewhere in our packing and unpacking at different AirBnBs, we lost our camera card for India. I will admit to being a wee bit devastated about this, but am also trying to practice non-attachment to those pictures and give gratitude that I still have quite a bit from my phone. The camera card from Nepal is still in tact and there will be more pictures to share from that portion of the trip.
The first site we visited was The Red Fort, where the Mughal emperors lived from the 1600-1800s. The walk to The Red Fort was interesting. The neighborhood just outside this sprawling palace was extremely poor and drug use was prevalent. We wanted an early start to beat the worst of the heat, and even at 7 AM, I saw pipes in the mouths of people ranging from older ladies to young kids. It was pretty shocking to see a boy who looked my step-son’s age smoking and I realized he lived a life that my privilege could not even fathom. India is such an amazing place where the horrendous and beautiful co-exist so closely together.
The Red Fort is a work of art. The architecture was so unique and intricate. Curved archways, sprawling gardens and green space prevailed throughout the grounds.
The next day we took a train into Agra, to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The train ride into Agra was also extremely eye opening and challenging. We passed so many slums along the way and got a very filtered, ignorant and small glimpse of the conditions that others live in day to day. It was early in the morning, so many people were using the restroom right near the train tracks. I saw many people’s butts that day and then some. The train station was pretty overwhelming with people sleeping, begging, and congregating all over. We had many, many offers for a guide, a ride, a trinket, etc. Vendors are everywhere.
A word about guides. Normally, when we travel, we do not hire a guide. We enjoy to explore a city without a tour group and generally do not feel the need to have much assistance with sight seeing, purchases or just general getting around. Part of the adventure of traveling is figuring that out along the way, with the mistakes, miscommunications and lost alley ways along the way. However, in India, it was hard to turn down a guide. We were bombarded with offers and when you finally have one, everyone else leaves you alone. They are pretty affordable, knowledgeable and incredibly helpful. We met some amazing guides throughout our trip and I truly admire how hard they work.
We did end up hiring a guide and a car to take us from the station to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was just as opulent as you would imagine. It literally sparkles. It is an impressive display of love, devotion and extravagance.
Next, we visited The Agra Fort, another palace inhabited by the Mughal dynasty. It was later in the day and the heat was building. However the arch ways are brilliantly constructed to create a wind tunnel and provide a nice breeze. Our guide was wonderful to make sure we did Taj Mahal first, then Agra Fort when the day was hotter. The Agra Fort has a beautiful view of the Taj Mahal and the grounds are gorgeously maintained. We spent a lot of time standing in marvel and imagining what the palace must have felt like when it was packed with royalty, when the dry moats contained lions and the water moats contained alligators, how it must have looked when there was a market occurring in the gardens and when the court was being held and decrees being made.
The rest of our time in Delhi was spent exploring bazaars, dodging cow poop, stopping Dylan from petting cows when they were eating and trying not to get hit by cars. By the end of our time in Delhi, we were much more knowledgeable about how to walk through the insane traffic.
Delhi was a crash course in India. I am glad I visited. I saw so much beauty and so much horror. I loved it all, but was ready to move on to the next city. I finally found my place in India when we landed in Varanasi…