Delhi by tuktuk

A bit of a whistle-stop tour today. We woke around 8am and had breakfast on the roof of the hotel. Less than 60p got me hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, a toasted bun and tea. Somewhat less than I’d be charged in London.

Our tasks for the day really amounted to getting a few passport photos for me (I had a dozen stolen when my wallet was lifted in Vietnam, and the Indian consulate lost one of my new ones so I needed more) and sorting out Bangladeshi visas. While we were wandering outside, a small guy came up to us and – as with anyone round here – asked to help us out. He had a tuktuk (or motorickshaw as they’re also known round here) and quoted us 150Rp to get to the Bangladeshi embassy, 250Rp for the round trip. We took him up on it and clambered into his “new” (i.e. less then 25% body damage) tuktuk and he cranked it up with the hand lever. Once it started, he whispered a prayer, “wai”-ed to the steering wheel and kissed it. Whether this was a “thank you” for starting or a “please don’t break down” we didn’t know and were scared to ask.

All the embassies are in one location in Delhi, and we got there in around 20 minutes. The tuktuk definitely didn’t have the “oomph” of the ones in Bangkok. There was no way this guy would be pulling wheelies. After tootling past the typically huge US Embassy, the understated Thai embassy and the very new-looking and regal Quatar embassy we got to the rather plain looking Bangladesh embassy. This was when we pointed out to the driver that we needed to go for photos first.

U-turn.

At a fairly nearby shop, I had 20 pictures printed for 250Rp (it was supposed to be 400, but our driver whispered something in Hindi and the price dropped) and we returned to the embassy worrying slightly over time. Visa application hours are between 10am and 11am each day.

At the side gate, a guard at the front of a queue handed us an application form each and then we read the list of requirements – which included photocopies of the last two pages of our passports. Back in the tuktuk to another nearby market where we got those done, along with copies of the application form (two were required, and we’d only been given one each).

Back to the embassy. Third time lucky. After queueing for a couple of minutes the guard asked us where we were from. “England and Canada”, we replied. We were directed to another gate where we were admitted into an office. While we were signing in, I was a little surprised about some of the details asked of visitors in the sign-in book: “Name, country, address, purpose” are fine but “armed”? I was glad to see that everyone before us had put “no”. Not that anyone searched us.

After a short wait, a clerk appeared and gave us a fairly friendly third degree. For some reason they were very interested in our jobs and careers. A little awkward as we both have skills but no permanent employment, so we answered as honestly as we could and were told the relevant fees (why do Canadians get cheaper visas? No fair) and to come back tomorrow afternoon around 4:30.

I’d spotted the Myanmar embassy as well, and wanted to enquire about visas as all the online information is – at best – contradictory. After 30 minutes of driving around, asking directions and completely ignoring our cries of “no – this way! We have a map!” our driver eventually stopped when we pointed at it.

It was closed. “Come back tomorrow”. Typical.

Hans has also decided to visit Bhutan at some point, and I’m tempted to join him though it could be a little expensive. We got our driver to take us to their embassy and… wow. What a building. Done out in the shape of a Bhutanese fortress and painted beautifully. It’s at the top of Sir Edmund Hillary Street and even if you’re not planning to go to the country, you have to visit the embassy. Of course, no photos allowed, which is a crying shame but those seem to be the rules around embassy buildings.

Although we weren’t allowed on the premises (you need an invitation), the staff called inside and one of the ministers sent out three very helpful tourism guidebooks on how to arrange trips.

Our next stop was the government travel agency in the Connaught Place area. We’d actually planned on visiting the Indian travel information centre, but our guide/driver decided we needed to go to this other place as it would allow us to book stuff rather than just telling us how great India is. The guy we dealt with was really knowledgeable and helpful, and after half an hour we thought “sod it” and pretty much booked our next two weeks there and then.

Tomorrow, we have a car for a day to go round Delhi. The day after, we set off on a 12-day trip with our own car and driver around Rajasthan and on to Agra. The way the dates work, we’re booked into a hotel near the Taj Mahal for the 24th and 25th. So for those worrying about me over Christmas… beat that! Sunset and sunrise over a national monument knocks your turkey and stuffing for six. And at least I’m guaranteed that the sun will work, while everyone at home puts money on a white Christmas.

I’ve updated the tour itinerary down the right with the approximate dates of our travels. These are subject to a day or so’s shifting except the two Agra dates and our return to Delhi.

It was lunchtime by now, and we’d discovered that Delhi actually did have a KFC. Well, I’d decided to have one in every country I visited so best to get it out of the way. We also decided to hold onto our driver for the rest of the day and see a couple of the touristy things in the afternoon. We gave him 50Rp to sort himself some lunch and parking, and headed for the chicken place. Just to be vaguely Indian, I had a hot wing with veg and rice plus some chips. It came to 140Rp, even cheaper than Malaysia.

Outside, we met up with our driver again and he told us where he’d take us. We’d wanted to go to the Red Fort but, in a whisper, he informed us “it is a bad area. It is Muslim area.” He looked over our shoulders as if the thought police might jump out at any moment. “You know Muslims?”

Hans has recently spent 6 months in Kandahar. Believe me, he knows Muslims.

It was obvious that the driver wasn’t too keen on going there, and he did explain one reason was the pickpocketing as it’s busy there in the afternoon. We deferred to this and asked him just to take us where he wanted until around 4:30, which he duly did.

We visited the India Gate, a large archway. Here we bought postcards (on their way soon) and paid 100Rp to watch a cobra “dance” out of a basket. And then another 100Rp to take our pictures with it wrapped round our shoulders. Yes. A cobra. I’m just glad nobody told it that I ate three of its relatives in Vietnam.

Next up were the parliament buildings. All very nice and pillared with the expected security all over. The main building is fenced off and our driver wasn’t allowed to park. So he drove around in circles while we snapped pictures.

The final touristy place was the Lakshmi Narayan Temple (also called Birla Mandir). Decorated primarily in reds and whites with the usual beautiful carvings you get in places like this, we had a nice wander round for twenty minutes or so. No photos from inside, I’m afraid. The gods don’t like it, unless you’re doing it to put into a guidebook that the locals can try (far too insistently) to push on travellers in the streets outside. While we were in the temple, one of the security guards asked us to follow him and he showed us round the back of the main altar for around two minutes. As we went to walk off, he asked “My tip?” Cheeky. We asked how much we should give him and he just held out a hand. I dug in my pocket for loose change (they don’t really “do” coins here, so I know they’re low denomination) and between the two of us we came up with 9Rp. The guard gave us a really sour look and walked off. Fair enough.

Last call of the day was a “shopping village”. By now, our guide knew we were backpackers and simply weren’t interested in carpets, statues or an entire new wardrobe. Regardless, we reckon he’s on a retainer just to take people there, so we spent 15 minutes looking at some admittedly wonderful tat before jumping back into our autorickshaw and being dropped off near our hotel.

Then the fun began. We’d tried to get a price out of the guy earlier in the day but he continually just gave us spiel about helping his children and “you decide”. Hans asked someone in KFC how much a tuktuk driver probably earned and they reckoned 200-300Rp on a good day, above the 300Rp he has to pay to “hire” his tuktuk. He’d been good, though gotten lost once or twice, so we thought 500Rp in total would be fair.

So he asked for more. I’d just have been apologetic and said I couldn’t afford it. Hans just told him he’d been fine to ask once, but not to go on about it so much as he’d be pushing his luck. We think the guy understood. Either way, he didn’t yell after us or anything so we reckon we got it about right.

After a sit down, a chat, some more planning and wading through some mp3s we popped out for dinner. Undecided, as ever, as to what to go for, we located two restaurants recommended by Lonely Planet… and then settled on one they don’t mention which is immediately next to the hotel. Good choice, actually. The place was crowded so we shared a table with a girl from the US of Sri Lankan origin and had a good chat while we ordered Sonu Special Masalla Dosa each – at the waiter’s insistence. All the other meals required 20 minutes plus to make, apparently, while these would be ready quickly.

“Quickly” turned out to be less than ten minutes and they would have been worth three times the wait. It turns out a dosa is a big, savoury pancake and these were filled with a vegetarian mixture. Delicious. And quite large. Though not large enough to prevent me ordering a banana and chocolate dosa for desert. Grand total: 120Rp including a bottle of Coke.

While we were eating, a marching brass band strode past, followed by some drummers and a dozen or so people carrying huge lit decorations – and by “lit”, I’m talking with standard 100W lightbulbs. At the end of the parade was one man pulling a petrol-powered generator on a trolley. As it happens, we did hear a band at an earlier hour the previous evening but couldn’t see it as the restaurant we were in wasn’t open-fronted. We still have no idea what it was about.

An hour-long assault on the email followed before we were thrown out of the interwebnet place and some snacks were purchased on the walk “home”.

I think after tomorrow’s whistle-stop car tour around Delhi, we’ll have seen enough to be glad we’re moving on. Nice place, cheap, but I’m sure India has a lot more to offer.

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