Coming to you from our room in Jaipur at the end of day 3 here in India.
Our time in India so far has been nothing less than an enormous exercise in patience. We pretty much knew this would be the case, as it is with most of the traveling we do. However, this has been something else entirely and it seems that every time we try to do something someone tells us it’s not possible or its twice as much money as we expected. Nevertheless, we have survived and are making the most of each challenge and crazy situation. Anyway, let me finish telling you about getting into India…
We landed around 6pm and decided to wait at the airport for Emily. Her plane was supposed to land at 11. Our plan was to use the wifi to book a cab to the guest house we had contacted, but since India refuses to join the 21st century, there was no wifi. We walked around the arrivals area and Ethan was able to get a signal in one spot, but then it was gone and we couldn’t get it back. We decided we would have to take the train or just get an airport taxi. We waited and waited and waited. After a few hours we decided to head to the baggae area where we planned to meet up.
We waited there for what seemed like too long. Ethan checked with information and they told him that Emily’s flight had been delayed due to weather. We had no idea for how long, but at least we knew it was still coming. After another hour her flight finally landed and Ethan met her at her baggage carousel. We headed out of the airport toward the signs for the metro. As we got to the entrance a man told us it was closed. Closed? How could a train from the airport be closed? We kept walking and looked down the hall toward the train. It was completely dark. Guess the guy was right. Another guy had followed us and confirmed that the train was closed and that it closes at 6pm. Which is dumb, but whatever. He asked if we wanted a taxi and we were completely out of options given that there was no wifi for us to check on anything else.
We followed him to the taxi area and hopped in. The driver didn’t speak English so another person came with us to translate. We told them where we wanted to go and showed them on the map. All seemed well, but we had no idea the chaos that was about ensue. It was about 30 minutes into Delhi and we were all dreaming about beds, air conditioning and a good nights sleep thinking that was what we were headed for. We wound our way through the city and after a while the translator checked the map again. He seemed confident that he knew where to go. Eventually we got to a road that was completely baracaded by the police. There weren’t any police there, but the car definitely wasn’t going through. The translator and driver talked to a man on the street who told them it was closed for a festival. But there were no people. Which was really strange. We pleaded with him to find a way around but he insisted that this was the only way.
At this point we all were panicking big time. We asked if we could get out and walk and he said it was too dangerous. That was terrifying and we really did not want to risk it, but we had no idea what else to do. We have the Lonely Planet guide book which has the locations and phone numbers of some guest houses, but with no way to call or email them, we were really stuck and we didn’t want to pay the taxi to keep driving around. We asked him what he thought we should do. He said he would take us to the tourist information center and they would help. We all agreed that seemed like a harmless possible solution.
We went inside and sat down with some guy who had a phone and a computer. Surely he would help us. We told him our situation and he talked with the taxi driver and confirmed that the road was truly closed. He suggested we call the guesthouse and maybe they would pick us up. He dialed and Ethan talked to the guesthouse. They told him that yes the road was closed and yes they have rooms but there was no way for us to get there and to call back in 5 minutes. While we waited (not sure what for) the info guy looked up another guesthouse. No rooms. He looked up train tickets. No trains. It seemed that we truly had no where to go for the night. We tried the guesthouse back and they were no help.
After more debating, we decided to have the taxi take us to the train station and we would wait until morning to try to book trains tickets, which was pretty much our plan all along. We got back in the taxi and headed toward the station. But the road to the train station was also closed. Again, we pleaded for him to find another way. No dice. This was starting to get scary and we were all distraught and feeling helpless. How could there only be one road to the train station? How could it be closed? How do the people who live there get there? We then decided we would go back to the airport and maybe they would let us wait until morning there. By this time it was about 2am. The taxi refused to take us back to the airport because we didn’t have tickets. It took everything in me not to scream and have a panick attack. I’ve never felt so trapped. Back to the tourist info center we went.
Turns out, the info center is actually a travel booking agency and when we came back in the guy started pushing us to get a private car to drive us around to all our destinations. It sounded like a good idea until he told us the price. It was way more than we were planning to spend entirely in India, so we scratched that idea. We debated more on what to do and asked him more questions about how to get places and how much it cost. Everything he told us made the private car sound better… Which was clearly by design, but we were also out of options and didn’t want to spend the next 3hrs in the dark on the streets of Delhi with all our money and electronics. We also didn’t know if we would even be able to book train tickets given that all the options we wanted he told us were booked for the next 3 days to a week. We were getting backed into a corner with only one way out and as the night drew on, that way started to look like the best, most reasonable option.
It was a really awful feeling being so helpless and feeling like the people you expected to help you were all conspiring to take your money one way or another. We knew that people did hire private cars and that it was a legitimate operation, but it wasn’t at all how we had planned to spend our time in India. After more debating the guy sent us to another tourist information center which he called the “public office”. Another booking agency. We talked to a guy that spoke really good English and he told us about his travels in the US. We pleaded with him to help us find a place to stay that night. Again, everything was booked. His only advice was to go to Agra, where there would be more options. And the cheapest way to get there was by hiring a private car. We asked a ton more questions and tried to get him to be honest with us. We really could have used a good nights sleep to think it over, but that wasn’t going to happen.
We took a few minutes to think it over outside. Ethan wanted to wait until morning and try to get to the train station. Emily and I had decided that the car would actually be a decent option given that it’s 100+ degrees everyday and it would be nice to have an air conditioned ride wherever we wanted to go. At this point it was 4am and we were all exhausted, hungry and angry. We didn’t want to give in to what was likely an organized scheme to get us to take the private car, but we also thought it was a good alternative to what we planned and not knowing if we would even be able to get train tickets, it seemed like the safer bet. After haggling with the guy we were able to get the price to almost half of what we were originally quoted. Ethan reluctantly agreed and we went inside to do all the paperwork.
We would have the same driver for the next 16 days and he would take us wherever we wanted to go. The costs included lodging and breakfast at each place and included our one night stay in the desert. We could stay in each place for 1 night or several and each place was promised to have a/c and wifi. After we had all the paperwork we needed our driver showed up and we hopped in. I looked back at the guy we had been dealing with and hoped that he hadn’t steered us wrong. I was quickly losing my faith in humanity that night/morning. I think we all were.
We headed to Agra finally at 5am having no idea what we just got ourselves into. We learned that our driver is Khan and he’s an older guy who has been driving people around Rajasthan province for 35 years. He speaks decent English and had lots to tell us about India and its people. At this point we have passed beyond the point of the sleeping and are wide awake with adrenaline, excitement and a host of other emotions from our insane arrival into India. As the sun rises we try to prepare for what will surely be an interesting time in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal!