Paul and Rita - India and About, 2005/6

New Delhi


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Delhi - not one of our favourite places in India, but it was the most convenient entry point for getting to Ladakh, so here we are!  Its pretty hot this time of year, and to make matters worse, they say the monsoons have failed this year.  Tell that to the people of Mumbai and the surrounding areas!  Actually, they meant the monsoons were below expectations in the Delhi area, and like a lot of capital cities, all they're concerned about is the capital, everywhere else is insignificant. We only have one day here before we catch our flight to Leh, so not too much to bare.  

Exchange rate on arrival - 80 Rupees = £1


Thu 8th September - Fly to New Delhi
Fri 9th September - New Delhi
Sat 10th September - New Delhi to Leh, Ladakh


New Delhi - 8th September, 2005

We flew with British Airways from Heathrow.  We were a little worried about the strike by Gate Gourmet workers might flair up again and delay our departure, but luck was on our side and there were no disruptions.  We used the Express check-in machine, where we stuck in the credit card we had bought the tickets with, and the machine asked us what seats we wanted and printed out our boarding tickets. Simple. All we had to do then was take our check-in luggage to the fast drop off, where there was no queue, unlike the normal check-in counters. 

The plane was not full, and we had a spare seat next to us, always an advantage.  As we had hoped for, we also had the personal video screens on the back of the seat in front, meaning we could watch the films of our choice.  The only problem with this was that the system broke down shortly after take off, and had to be re-started.  Must have been running a Microsoft operating system, I assumed.  We were served with plenty of wine and beer, and, unusually, quite a bit of water.  That's one of my main gripes about beverages on airplanes, they tell you to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated, then they normally only give you a couple of small glasses of water!  Today we were served by the bottle, and we could get as much as we wanted. At last, somebody has seen sense.  Lunch was a very acceptable chicken casserole and a chocolate sweet accompanied by the usual bread roll, butter and side salad.  Things seem to be improving on the airline food front. 

The eight hour flight passed quickly, particularly with a choice of 12 films to watch.  Landed at Delhi International at just after 11pm local time, four and a half (yes, and a half!) hours ahead of British Summer Time. The queue at immigration was long, but moving surprisingly quickly.  The queue for Indian nationals moved on a lot quicker so we joined that one, along with a few other tourists, and were through to baggage collection before midnight.  We waited by the appropriate carousel for quite some time before we discovered that some kind, helpful person had removed our bags and placed them with many others in a big heap on the other side of the carousel.  Thanks for that, whoever you are.  The trolleys here are a lot narrower than any we've seen previously, we particularly noticed because our bikes, in their bags, kept falling off.  This is quite a surprise, considering the amount of luggage that Indians normally travel with, most of their household contents, it seems sometimes.

In the arrivals hall, we booked and paid 200 Rupees for a pre-paid taxi, to take us to the Tara Inn, a medium priced hotel near the airport. Getting a pre-paid taxi is something we would recommend to everyone.  I'll tell you what happened the last time we flew in to Delhi.  We had intended on catching the Ex-servicemen's Bus, a cheap service that takes you right into Connaught Place, the big circle at the centre of New Delhi, but we were persuaded by an unscrupulous taxi driver that it was no longer running, and besides, he would take us to Connaught Place for only 120 Rupees.  We hadn't booked a hotel, but told him we ha a reservation at the Jucaso, a hotel Rita had stayed in before, but on the way he stopped off at a tourist agency, apparently to ask directions.  What taxi driver in Delhi doesn't know where Connaught Place is?  The guy in the agency then pretended to phone the Jucaso, and, surprise surprise, found out it was fully booked, but he could offer us a room at an excellent hotel nearby.  We refused, politely but firmly, and got back in the taxi, saying please take us to Connaught Place, like he had agreed to in the first place.  But then, of course, he said he didn't know where it was, and it was a big place.  After he had stopped at another two hotels and tried to persuade us they were the ideal place for us to stay, we got fed up with his antics, paid him the 120 rupees and got out and walked the 3 km to Connaught Place.   This is apparently a very common experience, so be warned.

Back to our current visit. We had already decided that we would not put our bikes through two more flights, to Leh and back, so we checked them into the left luggage facility, hidden a short distance from the arrivals hall on the other side of the car park, and said we'd be back in three weeks to pick them up.  Hopefully they will still be there, it didn't look like the most secure left luggage facility I've ever seen, but we got a receipt and I live in hope.

We then followed our allotted taxi driver through the car park and outside to a side street.  Apparently it would cost an extra hundred Rupees if he parked within the airport boundaries.  Although we had booked to go to the Tara Inn, and the driver said he knew where it was, a short while after we set off, he started asking us the name of the hotel and where was it!  Here we go again, I thought.  He took us to a number of hotels, some with vaguely similar names, but some with a name not even remotely similar and tried to persuade us this is the hotel we had asked for.  Eventually, more by accident than design, we found the Tara Hotel, as it had now been renamed.  Negotiated a small discount for a fairly nice en-suite room for 650 Rupees, with a satellite TV and air con and a ceiling fan as well.

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9th September, 2005  Delhi

Slept in until 11am, takes a while to adjust to the local time.  Hotel manager told us how to get into city centre, go down to the main road, jump over (I presume he meant cross to the other side) and flag down a auto-rickshaw.  This turned out to be easier said than done. We found the main easily enough, but the central reservation was a mass of road building works, and we could see no way of getting through to the other side, and it was certainly too big to jump!  So we flagged down a rickshaw on our side, thinking, surely it wont take too long for it to turn around and go back into the city. How wrong could we be!  It was a good 15 minutes of fairly fast motoring around numerous corners before we passed by our starting point, but on the other side of the road.  That explains why he refused to take less than 120 rupees for the trip when the manager had said pay no more than 100.

The rickshaw driver was very friendly, as we usually found them to be, and pointed out a few sights on the way, such as Gandhi and he eleven wise men.  Once in Connaught Place, we headed straight for a restaurant for our first meal of the day, a little late to call it breakfast at 3pm, so we'll call it a late brunch.  The United Tea Rooms is a popular place, frequented by foreigners and well to do Indians.   I opted for the Murg Changezi, described as tandoori chicken  cooked in tomato gravy, cream, chillies and choicest herbs.  Rita's fancy was taken by the Thai Green Curry, and we both partook of a pitcher of draught Kingfisher lager.  After the meal, we sat and chatted about what we needed to do in Delhi before our flight to Leh tomorrow, so we had a couple of bottles of Kingfisher to help the mind flow.  It was oly when we asked for the bill that we discovered it was happy hour on Kingfisher, buy 2 get 1 free, and they wouldn't let us take the bottle with us, so we were forced (okay, not physically) to stay and consume a third.

Shopping list - malaria tablets - we didn't need any for Ladakh but we need them for the rest of India;  power cord for my laptop - I don't like carrying around power leads with UK style plugs and using adaptors, they take up too much space, better to buy a power lead with the local plug on it; rechargeable batteries - meant to get these in UK but forgot.  Found all we wanted in and around Connaught Place within an hour or so.

Just about to get a rickshaw back to our hotel when we spotted a South Indian restaurant serving masala dosas, one of our favourite Indian meals.  We just had to have ne.  They are like large pancakes but made with a rice batter, and normally filled with a green potato curry.  Not the best we have ad, but we knew we couldn't expect to get any in Ladakh, so beggars cant be choosers.

Rickshaw back to our hotel cost 100 Rupees, taking about 40 minutes through the evening traffic.  Back at the hotel we caught up with the news on BBC World, after all its been so long since we left England, anything could have happened, like England winning at cricket.  Strike me down, they got off to a good start to final test in the Ashes.

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Saturday 10th September, 2005 New Delhi to Leh

Up at 3:45am to get ready for 6:05am flight to Leh.  Had managed to get a little sleep, but our body clocks are still prettymuch on UK time, so it felt just about the right time to start going to sleep when we got up!

Taxi to the domestic terminal, quickly dropped us off and disappeared before .we realised we needed to be at the other domestic terminal, a short distance away.  Even though it was 4:30am it was very warm, so instead of walking the several hundred metres to the other terminal, we opted for another taxi.  Bartered the fare down from 160 rupees to a more realistic 50, and were soon entering the Air India domestic terminal.  We were very surprised to find how quiet the terminal was, even at this hour, and we were through the security checks, check-in and into the departure lounge within 15 minutes.  Must be a record, especially in India.

Our flight was delayed for unexplained reasons, but we were aloft by 6:30.  We thought it was only going to be an hour and a half flight, so we didn't expect too much on the food front, but were surprised by a breakfast of mixed fruit salad, mango yoghurt, doughnuts with curry sauce (this is India!) served with a couscous like substance, and a croissant with butter and jam.  Stuffed.  We didn't realise there was an intermediate stop at Jammu, so when we landed there we were a little confused by the green fields surrounding the airport, as were a good many of our foreign traveling companions. I though Ladakh was dry and arid and sandy?  We were soon corrected by an air steward who asked us to remain in our seats and we would soon be taking off for Leh.  Phew, we hadn't got on the wrong plane in Delhi after all. 

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