Big, grey, modern space, with a few colourful spots of people. You can find pieces of carboards, broken trolley in the corner, duty-free alcohol boxes. For the country, that has over 1.2 milliard people, this airport didn’t look like crowded at all.
I went to the bathroom to wash my face. When I was taking a sip of water into my mouth, I recalled all the horrible stories about water in India – how bad it is for European people, not used to Asian bacterial flora. To always use bottled water, even for brushing your teeth. “Damn it, a great beginning” I thought, spitting out the “dangerous water”, which actually tasted exactly the same as the European one. I was trying to cheer myself up by thinking, that maybe water at the airport is specially disinfected and it should be fine. Well… It wasn’t.
We’ve been travelling whole day and night from Edinburgh through Qatar to New Delhi. 12 hours in the planes and at the airports, airplane’s food, lack of sleep, change of time zones left us a little bit tired. Even the cocktails from the plane didn’t help much.
First day in India
However, all of it didn’t matter much. We were so excited! We were in India. IN INDIA!! My big dream was just coming true and I couldn’t wait to see everything, taste it and feel it. It was warm August Sunday morning and we had the whole day for sightseeing Delhi/doing shopping before going for another long trip by a night bus, which was supposed to take us to our first stop in the mountains – Manali.
We took our bags and came out of the airport, into the hot and humid air, full of different sounds and smells. The crowd standing in front of the main entrance welcomed us. “Ok, lots of people, noisy, airless. It is India, we got the right plane”, I laughed. Trying to overtake all the beggars, sellers and kids, we went straight to the “pre-paid” taxi stand. As stated by other travellers, they seemed to be the best option for the first time, because of the police taking care of them and their reasonable prices.
Small, old and weird-shaped taxi with two Indian people in the front, and us jumping on every bump in the back seat covered by a pale blanket, took us to the city centre.
During the whole way, I was watching everything carefully, fascinated by what I saw. Palm trees (I love them, they always make me think of holidays), a lot of auto rickshaws; traffic, that didn’t have any rules at all, apart from the one to honk all the time, most preferably – every 2 seconds.
For the whole stay, we were trying to figure out how all of those people can drive (and move in general, as I wouldn’t call it driving in any case ;)) safely on the streets in this chaotic way and don’t cause any accidents. But we couldn’t. It must be this honking! Of course, we also saw a lot of dirt and rubbish on the streets, many people, begging kids knocking into car’s windows, lazy cows and skinny dogs.
We got off at the train station, where, as we thought, we could leave our luggage. Sun was shining bright, we didn’t have anything to drink and our last meal was the day before. We were still going on the energy coming from the state of excitement “We are in India, we are in India!“. The crowd in front of the train station, in the train station, everywhere around was impassable. Colorful, loud mass of people around you and everyone wants something from you. A white man with the backpack is like a film star in the spotlight. We moved through the crowds to get to the train station entrance. And here is where our problems started.
One scam, please
We were trying to go through the “entrance” of the station, which was blocked by people crowding around, when, suddenly, some Indian guy approached us:
– Do you have train tickets?
– No, we just want to leave our baggage here for some time.
-You can’t, the entrance is only for people with train tickets – he said, showing us the plate with those words, hanging over a small entrance on the side. He started to explain us everything, what we should do and where to go. We didn’t know what was happening, so we followed our new “guide”, thinking that he wants to help us (foolish us).
Here comes the problem of trusting people too much and also of the cultural differences between Europe and Asia. In the similar situation in Europe, we would naturally think, that this guy is just nice and wants to help us. Automatically, we transferred this thinking to Asia, which was a huge mistake. It just happened, despite the fact, that we’ve read a lot before coming to India about scams, frauds and unfair behaviour aiming at only getting the money from tourists. Maybe it was a tiredness, lack of eating and sleep, heat, crowd and general fuss, cultural and time differences, but finally we followed the guy to rickshaw, which was supposed to take us for a “cheap price” to the tourist office, where we could presumably leave our bags.
First rickshaw ride was great! Every another as well, but it’s the first impression that you remember the best. I have no idea how those funny little yellow-green boxes are moving and not falling apart at the same time, but somehow it all works fine. Although, it has holes from one side to another and you need to keep your luggage tightly to not to lose it in the busy street, especially on the crazy curves and overtaking others.
The tourist office(s)
When we arrived to the destination, we came inside and were sat in the room with the old, dirty desk, and the Indian man sitting on the other side of it. From the first sight, it didn’t look quite right for me, so I was explaining, that we just need to leave the bags, and there is no need for us to sit down. The guy insisted, and we end up discussing with him, that we don’t want to buy expensive tickets for the last part of our trip, that he was trying to sell to us. His explanation involved lying and saying that there are no other tickets left, and it is the only option for us to buy them. For the best price, of course. After some time, we decided that it is pointless and we left the office, still with our heavy bags.
We were standing, disheartened, in front of the office, not knowing what to do, when our previous rickshaw driver came to us. He saw, that we were upset, asked why and told us about another tourist office, which should help. We didn’t have any other thing to do, so we believed it again (I think we must have left our brains in the airport 😉), and shuffled to the so-called office.
On the way, we met some old guy who wanted to help us, when he saw us confused on the street. He called a rickshaw driver, who took us to another office, finally allowing us to buy water on the way. After reaching the point, we realized the situation is the same as previous one. No option for leaving our bags, only people trying to sell us some trip packages. Moreover, workers of the “office”, who were two Indian guys wearing flip-flops and dirty T-shirts, laying on the plastic chairs in the small hut with the coach, were trying to convince us, that our planned trip to Manali can’t be done this evening.
– There were landslides on the way, blocking the road. You can’t go there, you need to take another way, and another way is better – they said.
– Oh, really? But we wanted to go that way and we already have tickets…
– We can get you other tickets. The other way is better. Buy those tickets!
“Yeah, sure, I was just waiting for that” I was thinking. Annoyed by this whole situation, and disappointed that our first day in the country, that I always wanted to go to, looks like this, I asked them to show me the proof for their words. I’ve been led to the room with the only one, old computer.
The “old news”
Following some time of waiting for the machine to work, I saw the post on a local forum about landslides. From 2006. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. I told the office workers what I thought about all of it – not receiving any answer.
We left the place, deciding that we should come back to the train station. It was too far to walk there, therefore we used rickshaw again, going with our previous driver, who took us to this office. It turned out that he was the only good person for us that day. He left us not exactly at the station, but not far from it, as there was police on the way, but didn’t let us pay anything, after hearing our story.
Back to the start
After all, tired, hungry, without energy, lost time and just a bit of money (it’s good, that rickshaws are that cheap there), we ended up at the same place where we started – in front of the entrance to the train station. But this time, we were determined and we went straight inside unhesitatingly, not paying attention to anyone trying to stop us. It turned out, that the sign, that we saw before, was only for a small entrance, where people could scan their baggage. Funny thing – when we took a train the other day we didn’t have to scan anything anyway.
Finding the “cloak room”, which was located at the very opposite corner of the big train station, with signposts in Hindi, followed by talking to people, that didn’t speak English, filling in strange forms to finally leave our bags, weren’t easy and again took a lot of time. We just needed to get used to it – things in this country take much more time than anywhere else. However, finally we were free, without heavy bags on our backs and we could easily (“easily”) move through the crowds.
You must be thinking “How could you go into a situation like this and not to realize what’s going on?”. Maybe, for the first time life taught me a lesson for trusting people too much. However, it is easy to judge from the distance, but when you are in the situation like this – many things depends on the circumstances. The most important is that we learn from our mistakes and every next day of our stay in India was much easier as we knew what to expect.
We still had some time for doing shopping at the local bazaar before going to the mountains and for tasting real Indian cuisine. In the evening we went to our bus stop, from where we soon left for our 16 hours trip on the winding mountain roads, overlooking the cliffs, slowly getting closer and closer to the mighty Himalayas.
What comes next is better!
The first day in India – an enormous, diverse country, wasn’t the best for us. On the other hand, it was a day in New Delhi – a big city, which, together with its agglomeration, is inhabited by 22 millions of people. The place, where you can see the wealth of the rich and poverty of the poor (about the city itself I will tell you a bit more later) and which is totally different from the other places in the mountainous part of the country. We didn’t know it yet, but each day was supposed to be better than this one, however, still with adventures.
And now, we were travelling in the comfortable bus with folded chairs (!) in the direction of the highest mountains in the world. That’s the only thing that mattered.