Even though we have travelled to quite a few places in Asia before such as Vietnam, Philippines and Sri Lanka, nothing could prepare us for the area of Paharganj, New Delhi.
Arrival at the Aiport in New Delhi
After we had landed we first had to stand in line for a good 30 minutes to get our e-visas checked. When we finally arrived at the luggage belt, it had already stopped running and someone had taken off our luggage and put it aside. It took us a few attempts and a few ATM’s at the airport before we could successfully take out some cash to book a taxi.
The ATM that gave us success was unfortunately about 10 metres outside of the airport. We found out that in Delhi this means you have to walk all the way to the other side and go up to the second floor, to later come down again. We were not allowed back in through the doors we exited through. When a policeman with an AK 47 is standing there telling you not to do so, you better listen.
While we enquired for the price of a prepaid taxi at one of the desks, the neighbouring desk was showing us a price on a calculator which was about 7% cheaper. Competition in India for business is fierce. And since we are Dutch, we, of course, went for the 7% cheaper cab.
The Ride to the Hotel
Even though the distance wasn’t too long, about 14 kilometres the ride took us about one hour. Straight away we were facing the heavy Delhi traffic. The heavy pollution in the air also did not take too long to settle in our lungs. Still, it felt great. Exciting things to see, hear and smell everywhere. An assault on all our senses.
A lot of policemen and soldiers were on the streets due to the arrival of Donald Trump for a state visit. We drove past the hotel in which he was staying and could see at least 40 policemen gathered outside.
When we finally arrived at the area of Paharganj, where we would spend the night, we had a little bit of a culture shock. The way the cars manoeuvred through everything including pedestrians, the way the buildings looked, dusty, ill-maintained and the smells of fruits, Indian cuisine, but also rotting waste and sewage.
At the Hotel and in Paharganj
While we came into the hotel we were received by quite a dew friendly men. We had to give our passports and sign a pretty big book. Apparently every hotel needs to ask you how long you will stay for and where you will be going next.
Since we barely slept in the plane we decided to take a long nap. When we woke up it was dinner time and already dark on the streets. Paharganj really comes to life after sunset. Market stalls and vendors are setting up everywhere selling everything from fruits, vegetable and snacks to make-up, jewellery and cookware.
As soon as we left the hotel everybody seemed to want to know where we were going and they all could recommend some good places. These people were referred to as trouts by a guy we met later in Jaisalmer. They will try to talk you into a restaurant or shop so that they can claim a commission.
I have to say that most of them get very creative. One guy told me I should not walk with my phone in my hand and look at google maps for walking instructions. “someone will come right by on a motorbike and snap it out of your hands”. As some big coincidence around the corner, he knew a tourist information centre that handed out free maps and coincidently also they were focused in particular on selling clothes.
All these people constantly talking to you and wanting things from you can be a bit overwhelming. It gave me the feeling I had to be alert and aware. Finally, we found a nice restaurant which we liked.
We decided to eat as safely as possible the first night, so we only ordered vegetarian meals and drank cola. The restaurant did not serve beers. Not all restaurants serve alcohol.
After we finished our meals we took an uber back to the hotel. There we played some games and had a beer on the rooftop terrace. While playing the games we heard, what seemed like gunshots, several times. We did not know what to think. We called it a day and went to sleep.