Three hundred trains come and go every day at the New Delhi station. Fortunately, I hadn’t read any of these comments before I left for the station this morning. Equally fortunate, I imagine, is the fact that I hadn’t read the India Times piece on the latest incident involving a woman tourist.
So when traffic stalled (as in Dead. Stop.) at 5 this morning, and I realized people were emerging from cars carrying their luggage, I wondered how far the station was,and how long we’d be stalled. When I queried the driver, he said, “The problem, Madame, is that we have no police.” A shrug (from him), and I was gone, climbing unceremoniously out of the taxi with my bags.
I know a little about street condition here (wide cracks, missing chunks of cement), and about street hygiene, and I know that stall owners sleep on the sidewalks at their work stations. I was prepared for the walk to the station. What I’d forgotten were the stories I’d heard about the touts at the station: “What train are you taking? It is foggy, so your train is late, Madame. It is cancelled, maybe, Madame. I will drive you where you want to go.” and “Madame, I will take your bags, they are very heavy for you.” At one point I stopped for a nanosecond, looked towards the young man, and shrieked, “LOOK, I know what I’m doing. I don’t need you.” He backed off, and I kept going, laughing at my stupidity and mendacity.
No photos, because a.) it was dark; b.) I was lugging 2 small suitcases & a large purse; c.) I was late.
I put my luggage through “Security,” a slow-moving, conveyor belt, and I ignored the “40rps/large bag” and “20rps/sm bag” signs and saw everybody else ignoring them, too. I’m not sure what Delhi’s new anti-corruption leader, Avind Kejriwal, would say, but We are in this together, everybody at the conveyor belt seemed to be saying.
Platform 2 was two flights up and two flights down. Ahead of me was an older man carrying 2 large pieces of luggage for a young couple who appeared oblivious, both of him, and of the fact that he carried their bags - on his head – until he asked for money, at which point they began to haggle.
Six hours and 3 breakfasts later, I arrived! My driver was there holding a sign I recognized as ME, and we drove through what appears, at first glance another world from the cities I’ve already visited on the subcontinent. It bustles just as much, but there is also the muezzin‘s Call to Prayer, and the architecture’s minarets, reminding me of the large Muslim Rajasthani population, at least it seems it here in Jaipur, the capital city. We’ll see.
It’s pretty amazing that I am here, because last night when I called to confirm my reservation, I learned that I had the right hotel, but in the wrong city (don’t ask). A trip to my New Delhi hotel’s booking office (don’t ask), an arm, a leg (you definitely don’t want to ask), and I am here – chilly, but not even close to the Polar Vortex described last week in The Hindu. For now, it’s a matter of switching from my flip-flops to my Tom’s, a diaphanous dupatta to a thin wool pashmina.
I had lunch outside here at the hotel, a haveli, which as far as I can tell means enclosed and full of verandas. Tonight I ate indoors, but found this fire when I walked out into the courtyard: