As we flew in and out of Delhi we were able to spend a few days at each end of our trip in the city.
We flew into Delhi at night which was really cool - the streets were dimly lit by street lights and headlights of millions of vehicles zipped around - and daunting at the same time. A foreign country, jet lag, and the dark of night make for a insane thrown-in-the-deep-end backpacking experience. Because we were arriving at night, and because the time difference meant that for us it'd be even later, and we'd have been traveling all day, we booked accommodation before we left. This meant that once we'd gone through immigration, baggage claim, and found the exit, there was a man waiting for us with our miss-spelt names of a piece of paper. The air was cool and crisp with the smell of night and I was jet lagged, but I couldn't keep a smile off my face. We experienced our first only-in-India moment when the man suddenly ran off to the booths where you pay for parking and started jostling to get to the front of the line, because if he paid a couple of minutes earlier he'd save R20 and get to keep that for himself. Fair enough, we thought. We then jumped into his 'taxi' and I instinctively put the seat belt on. No, no, no, he said, jumping out of the drivers seat, opening my door and unbuckling the seat belt. Seatbelt only for boss, he said, smiling, and getting back into the drivers seat. I looked over at my travel buddy who looked as nervous, confused, and amused as I felt, and he raised his eyebrows, smiled, and I couldn't help but smile - we were in India and about to spend three months exploring this incredble, chaotic, vibrant country.
As jetlagged as we were, we didn't get to sleep quickly that night. We sat in bed listening to the sounds of India - dogs barking, men yelling, cars honking, and pinching ourselves (mostly me) to check that it wasn't a dream.
I woke up in the middle of the night and was surprised to hear nothing - not a honk, bark, or whisper. I look around the room, confuse that I was next to a wall, and the door wasn't where it usually was, an then remember that I was in India, and went back to sleep with a smile on my face. After a couple of hours sleep we woke up to barking, honking, and yelling, jumped out of bed and peeked out of the tiny window in our room. We couldn't see much (not a surprise!) and headed up to the rooftop restaurant for breakfast. We opted for plain nann and chapati which, thinking back, would have looked incredibly weird to the guys working at the restaurant. We weren't brave enough to try anything else that morning. To the side of the restaurant was a stone staircase, and feeling brave, I decided to wander up it and snap a picture of the view. Amazing. Rooftops, tiny windows, and washing lines as far as the eye can see.
After breakfast we headed out of the comfort of our hotel and into the streets of Paharaganj. It was overwhelming - the sights, sounds, and smells of India hit you as soon as you step onto the street, and follow you as you step carefully around the rubbish and try to navigate the footpaths. And then you've got to navigate New Delhi's mess of tiny alleys, some no wider than a person, many of which aren't on the map. After a couple of hours of walking, consulting two maps and asking a couple of locals we found ourselves at The Red Fort. After an afternoon wandering around we were exhausted, and headed onto the street to hop into a rickshaw back to our hotel. I'd never done the bargain-for-the-fare thing before, so let my travel buddy do the talking, and we hopped into a cycle rickshaw. The driver gave us the usual tourist spiel - the shops he could take us to, the local spice markets, the silver mines, the jewelers, and promised us the best prices - and it wasn't until we started to get out that he agreed to just take us to our hotel. He was clearly annoyed at us, because he wasn't going to be able to take us to any shops and get a commission. After a while he stopped at a hotel, not our hotel, just a hotel on the street. We looked at him and he looked at us. We told him this wasn't our hotel, and he'd agreed to take us to the addressed that we showed him (always grab a business card from the hotel lobby to show drivers!) but he didn't understand a word we were saying, and we didn't understand a word he was saying. After a little while we told him that we weren't going to pay him until he took us to the place we agreed, and go out. By this time we'd attracted a bit of attention - the rickshaw was blocking traffic, and a group of young Indian men standing nearby asked us if we were okay. We explained the situation to them, and they translated for us, and managed to convince the driver to take us to the hotel. We got close, but when we got to the flyover (over the train tracks) he stopped again and started pointing at his legs - I think he was telling us that his legs were tired and he didn't want to pedal over the bridge. We admitted defeat, paid, and walked the rest of the way. It was a rude awakening to how we were going to be treated as tourists in India, and we made sure we were on our guard for the rest of our trip. To local people, you are a wealthy white person with a backpack full of money, and as horrible as I feel saying it, it's true. Keep your wits about you, bargain hard, stick up for yourself and you'll be treated with respect.
When we arrived in Delhi at the end of our trip we had a better idea of what to expect, how things work, and how to handle the chaos that is New Delhi. Those last few days were spent wandering the bazaar for souvenirs, eating at Maltholta - our favorite restaurant in Paharaganj - and watching the traffic on DB Gupta road from our hotel room.
We got up early on Sunday morning, packed the last of our things into our backpacks, triple checked we had our passports, and headed out into New Delhi Railway Station to catch the airport express. Our adventure had come to an end, and as challenging, frustrating, annoying, and confusing as India was, it was incredible.