Friday, December 18, 2009

Dilly-Dallying in Delhi

We arrived at Indira Gandhi International after two long but reasonably comfortable flights full of Indian families - 19 hours in all - and a smooth transfer at Newark.  The flawless logistics continued with the prompt and intact arrival of our two bike boxes
on the carousel (they'd better be intact: they cost us US$100 apiece), the cursory wave-through at Immigration and Customs, and the appearance of a driver with our names on a placard and an appropriately-sized SUV to ferry us and the bikes to the G-49 Guesthouse in the Nizamuddin West neighbourhood.  

Our planned 4 nights in Delhi - nominally sufficient time to get our feet on the ground and dial in the logistical details - has now stretched to 8 nights.  We eventually ran out of availability at G-49 and had to shift over to the Eleven B&B in Nizamuddin East, hosted by the affable Anand, who when he ran out of room then found us yet another place at Amaaya Guesthouse run by the lovely and gracious Rooma.

All manner of circumstances have arisen to delay our departure, but we probably could have jammed out of here a few days earlier - it definitely wasn't Delhi's charms that have captured us.  The bald truth is that, just like our procrastination crossing the border from Ceuta into Morocco two years ago, we are still somewhat freaked-out about the road conditions here and to a certain degree are inventing reasons to hang around this grimy, noisy and congested city.  (At least in Ceuta we could contemplate our imminent demise over beer and jamon tapas.) 

We do have the built-in excuses that we're both suffering respiratory ailments  that manifest in sore throats and violent hacking accompanied by a panoply of phlegmatic by-products.  Even our squeezable Neti bottle doesn't ameliorate the symptoms.  These ailments are no doubt attributable to the abominable air quality here, which was immediately evident from the humid and hazy miasma that had even invaded the arrival concourse at the airport.  

We figured out on the first day, after a 3 km trek on foot from Nizamuddin to Conaught Circle, that Delhi definitely is not a walking city.  After that experience, we learned to dicker for tuk-tuk shuttles and now manage to maintain a distinctly fatalistic serenity while careening around the chaotic streets of Delhi.  The change in Kate's attitude is especially striking, since she normally death-grips the handrest whenever a nearby semi-truck changes lanes on I-25; here we both imagine that the expert manoeuvring of our (typically) Sikh driver has invested the 3-wheeled, CNG-powered tin can on which we're perched with Escalade-class crash-worthiness.

But even though we've been assured that Delhi traffic is the Worst of the Worst and that it's a bit more sane in the countryside, the Delhi Traffic Experience has infected even our dreamlife, resulting in nightly 4AM wake-up terrors.  So I think that mostly explains why we're still here, even though it has taken longer than expected to see the sights, take care of shopping and logistics, including obtaining unlock codes for our mobiles from AT&T via Skype and new Airtel SIM cards from the local barbershop-cum-cell phone store.

Our Delhi sightseeing was pretty much limited to Humayun's Tomb, Gandhi's Samadhi (funeral pyre), the Baha'i Lotus Temple, India Gate, the Raj Path and Connaught Circle, where we got scammed for exorbitant taxi fare by a couple of trust-worthy looking middle-aged guys.  Our shopping expeditions through the Khan and Lajpat Nagar markets netted a phone headset, a replacement for a lost bike computer and more maps, including the excellent Eicher 1:750,000 Road Atlas of India which we found on the amazing bookshelf at the Turtle Cafe.  I even managed to fit in a project fabricating a transparent map holder (OK, I forgot to bring the one I had at home) which was executed by the sewing wallah stationed on the sidewalk with his Singer just outside the neighbourhood Hindu temple.

The last piece of logistics was to arrange for a rush-hour shuttle down the Mathura Rd to get us and the bikes beyond the Delhi Traffic Experience death-radius.  Everyone we talked to agreed this would be money well spent (even at 2500 Rs, which appears to include a cut for Anand, who has handled all the details.)  So tomorrow morning at 9AM we'll launch ourselves into "the actual biking portion" of this cycle tour, with our next major stop after two days days being Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.  Hopefully the quick payoff of visiting an iconic global monument so soon in our trip will help motivate the riding on other, less landmark-worthy days.