The start of our five month trip was a disaster, we both messed up our packing and I had a mini meltdown when we boarded the plane (you can read about it here). I thought things might improve. However, when we landed the fun continued and we were feeling hot and bothered!
Feeling Hot Part 1 – The Screening
In 2009, swine flu swept the world, dominating headlines and leaving the public paranoid after every sniff they heard. Hand sanitiser was installed at the Harrod’s staff entrance and immigration departments stepped up their screening processes.
I have a weird forehead, it likes to radiate heat when I haven’t had enough sleep. After a night trying to de-stress and sleep sitting upright on an 8 hour economy flight, I was definitely overtired. Waiting in the immigration queue we saw two guards coming up the line with a strange gun shaped contraption. They were holding it to people’s foreheads and it was measuring their temperature. Panic set in. My head was on fire! We had to cool it down or our adventure would be over before it began. We flapped our hands and entry cards at my face and I even wet my forehead in a very unhygienic spit slick. It must have worked as they passed me by and I literally breezed through immigration.
Feeling Hot Part 2 – The Scam
“Take a government taxi into town, they are fixed rate and the only official transport”.
With this advice fixed in our minds, we made arrangements in the airport to take an official taxi. The car was air-conditioned and we let jet lag take our thoughts elsewhere. I pressed my head against the cool glass and gazed at the traffic. People had told me that India was crazy, but this road between Delhi and the airport seemed like any other. I started to nod off just as the taxi driver began to talk to us. He asked if we wanted to stop at an official government tourist agency and get a room booked in comfort rather than run the gauntlet of touts. This sounded, to our befuddled brains, like a super idea.
We took a seat behind the desk and enjoyed the air-conditioning. The travel agent took a seat on the other side and began a lengthy monologue about the festival that was taking place in Delhi. All the rooms were booked and we were really going to struggle finding a vacancy…or so he said. He used his phone to call a couple of hotels that confirmed they were full. This whole thing took about an hour. I was just letting it all wash over me.
He then started talking about a tour we could take up to a beautiful looking lake for a few days. He pulled out a huge folder full of people’s enthusiastic testimonials saying what a lovely time they had. It also had receipts in showing the transactions that they had put through. Large numbers shock Karl and I think seeing these jogged him awake properly. These people had paid some huge sums to take this trip and we realised we had to get out of there. I pulled out the Rough Guide and with literally one more page turn we saw the whole scam written out in a handy grey box.
Our British etiquette stood in the way of freedom and we didn’t really know how to tell him that we wanted to leave. We didn’t even know where we were so we couldn’t just walk out. We sat there and got super embarrassed. Our cheeks flushed and we were feeling hot all over again, despite the lovely cool air in the office. After fifteen minutes of awkward conversation, we eventually managed to say that we were going to get back in the taxi, and go to our original destination.
Looking back we know that he was calling the guy in the small room next door, who pretended to be the hotel receptionists. We know the taxi driver just wanted his commission and we know that we should never have stepped out of that taxi. Honestly, we were incredibly stupid and somehow we wasted two hours on being that stupid. It’s quite embarrassing really, but India really was a baptism of fire for a girl who had never stepped out of Europe or the USA.
Feeling Hot Part 3 – The Hotel
Exhausted we clambered out of the taxi at the bottom end of Paharganj. This muddy street is the centre of the backpacking world in Delhi with guesthouses, hostels and hotel galore.
We staggered zombie-like two minutes up the road. In the blazing midday heat we were already close to throwing our packs on the floor. Our bags were far too heavy and we were still wearing the clothes we had boarded the plane in, clothes more suited to autumn in the UK. Feeling hot doesn’t quite describe it. We were felt like we were heavy lifting in a sauna. By this point, you could have shown us a clear space on the floor where we could could strip off and sleep and we would have paid you for it.
Touts came at us from every direction and surrounded us like bees on sweaty, pollen laden flowers. One tout showed a picture of a clean, quite fancy room with air-conditioning. Despite our budget being tight, we were ready to pay anything for a decent shower and so we obediently trekked after him. It was far too expensive and we didn’t even try and haggle. We just dumped our bags, rinsed the plane off ourselves and slept for three glorious hours. I’m 90% sure it was the Star Plaza Hotel.
Feeling Hot Part 4 – Our First Curry
Here at home, curry is a comfort food, savoured on a cold night. For me, having an Indian takeaway means we both order more food than two people should eat, scoff the lot and settle down for a pleasantly gassy evening in front of the TV. In India however, this is not the case.
We dragged ourselves out of our lovely fancy bed and went out for dinner. The Rough Guide recommended somewhere about five minutes walk up the road. The heat had calmed down, but it was still not cool enough for anything like a second layer over a t-shirt. We climbed the stairs to a small second floor place and gazed at the menu. I ordered a spicy paneer dish and a butter naan. Karl began his long, and mostly hopeless, quest to find a korma like he gets at home.
I worked my way through my small curry. The heat from the spice, combined with the heat of the evening, left me in a slightly sweaty mess yet again. The butter naan was a thing of beauty, and I used it to cool my burning tongue. Perspiring gently and with my right hand covered in buttery grease, we went back to the room for another shower and several hours of jet-lagged half sleep
What we learnt
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that we learnt some very harsh lessons, very quickly on our first day in Delhi.
- Don’t let a taxi driver do anything other than take you where you want to go.
- Don’t believe someone who has a lot to gain financially from changing your mind about something.
- Have your first night’s accommodation booked in a strange new place.
- Change into temperature appropriate clothing when you get your luggage back.
- Naan bread is SO much better in India than in the UK!
The next morning we checked out of the budget-busting hotel, and with our brains functioning normally again, the trip began in earnest.