Chaotic Arrival in Hindustan

[February 2016]

It’s approximately five, maybe six in the morning when Kyndall, my usual-partner-in-crime, and I arrived at the New Delhi airport and went through passport control with our e-visas [which we didn’t realize we needed until about a week and a half before we boarded the plane]. Samantha (Sam, Sammy), one of my very best friends since the fourth grade, was scheduled to arrive approximately two hours prior. I told her to meet us on the other side of the arrival doors after baggage claim.

Kyndall and I walked through and couldn’t find Samantha. After pacing back and forth a bit, I left Kyndall with my bag at the Meeting Point and went to search for her myself. No point in dragging Kyndall around. She didn’t know who she was looking for, afterall.

I noticed more people were standing outside, so I stepped out thinking I would find Sam one door beyond where I had told her to meet us. The moment I was no longer in the airport, my vision seemed cloudy, a sensation I remembered from the pollution in Cairo, Egypt.

Still, no Samantha, so I decided to go back inside to form Plan B with Kyndall.

The guards by the Arrivals doors wouldn’t let me back in. They told me to go to the visitor’s door. “Visitor’s door? I’m not a visitor. I just arrived. My friend is sitting right there and that’s my red bag. I just stepped outside to try to find my other friend…” I tried to explain my situation, but he insisted that I go to the visitor’s door. Once there, they wouldn’t let me into the airport without a ticket. Again, I tried to explain the situation. I showed them my boarding pass and my passport that had just been stamped. They refused. I tried to get in at the Departure’s door. I was given the same instructions.

I returned to the visitor’s door once more. I said, “I just arrived. Why should I pay to collect my friend and my bag? I would tell her to meet me out here if my phone worked, but it doesn’t.” They didn’t care. Not one bit. I stepped outside, paid for the visitor’s ticket, let the security lady frisk me down (the first of many on this trip) and stomped inside.

It didn’t cost much. It was like $1.50. But still. I’m notably cheap and that was an airport first. NO ONE goes in without a boarding pass or a visitor’s ticket? NO ONE?

After trying to laugh it off with Kyndall, she figured out that she could get online with her US sim card. The airport wifi wasn’t working for us. She sent Sam a message and she replied right away. Sam had waited by the baggage claim for our flight, but since we didn’t check our bags, we didn’t see her. Moments later, we were all together and made our way to the metro.

There is an express line from Terminal 3 to the New Delhi railway station where we needed to catch our train to Agra. It cost 60 INR each and took under 30 minutes. We thought it was interesting that we had to go through security to get on the metro, but we later discovered that they do that at EVERY metro station. Fascinating. I can’t imagine the chaos in Istanbul…

There is always a separate security line for males and females. The male lines at all the metros and tourist sites were longer, so had we been traveling with gentlemen, that could have been a real bother.

When we arrived at the New Delhi railway station, we took our first step outside. Samantha said, “This is as loud as New York,” to which a stranger replied, “No. It’s louder.” Tuk-tuks were everywhere, again, reminding Kyndall and I of our time in Egypt. By first impression, it looked like Egypt. It smelled like Egypt [which smells like rotten eggs, by the way].

The railway station didn’t look too difficult to manage, but we had not purchased our tickets in advance and we missed the train to Agra we had planned to take. One window man told us that there were no more trains to Agra. He directed us to another window where someone else directed us to a black and yellow taxi that would take us to a travel agency and then to another station where a train would depart. Our heads were spinning, but we followed instructions.

“Black and yellow taxi,” I thought… “I feel like I’m supposed to remember that for some reason…” Later, I reread an e-mail from the Smyle Inn that we stayed at in Delhi specifically stating not to use the black and yellow taxis as they are scams.

“100 rupees. He’ll take you to the agency and wait for you then to the next station.”

“Wow, is everyone that nice and helpful in India?” Kyndall asked.

At the travel agency, the agent told us that all the trains to Agra had been cancelled. He explained there were protests going on in India.

**Life lesson: Read up on the news before going somewhere, if nothing else, just to be aware.**

“There’s nothing? Not even one where we can stand?” I was concerned because we had already booked our hotels and hostels for the week.

He explained that many of the railway lines had been blocked, as had the roads.

“So no buses?”

Long story short, he basically told us that our only option was to hire a taxi because it could take a route that the buses couldn’t. If we stayed in Delhi for the night, there’d be no gauruntee that the trains would run the next day. And no refunds. When we asked how much the taxi to Agra would be, which would be about a 3-4 hour drive, he said “according to the government website… 20,000 INR.”

“No way.”

I suggested we go to the hostel we had booked to see if they had any day trips to Agra planned.

Once outside, we told our driver where we needed to go and he said we had to take a tuk-tuk because of the narrow roads there. He still wanted 100 INR. We gave him 50 and agreed to 60 for the next driver. We didn’t get far before explaining what we had been told when the driver pulled over and stated that the office we had been to was “fake” and that we could hire a driver for much cheaper for the entire week.

So there, in a tuk-tuk, on the side of the road in New Delhi, we hired a driver for the five days/four nights at a fraction of the price the agency wanted from us to go one way to Agra. The price seemed fair, but I had no knowledge to go off of other than what we had just been told. I didn’t get to compare companies or anything.

We paid about half up front and were told to pay the rest in each city. I’ll admit, I was hesitant. I think we all were. We were nervous about them taking our money and leaving us somewhere. We were nervous about being ripped off. We were nervous we had just been lied to again and again.

But in the end, we really were taken care of and on many occasions, we were so thankful to have a driver. No, it wasn’t the train experience we had anticipated and heard so much about, but sometimes things happen while you travel and you just have to be flexible.

Once we arrived in Agra and our driver picked us up again the next morning, we felt more at ease about our choice. Throughout our travels, we met several others that were traveling on a tight schedule like us who were missing things like the Taj Mahal because their trains had been cancelled multiple days in a row or their bus had turned around due to road blockage.

So what did it cost?

Total: 16,500 INR / 3 people = 5,500 INR each. That’s roughly $75-80 each for five days with a driver getting us to all the sites, all our hotels, restaurants, etc.

At the end of our trip, another agent in our hostel asked us how we had booked our driver. We told him and he said, “Oh, what a scam.” We confidently answered that we felt it was fair. He asked what we paid, and before I answered, I asked, “How much would you charge for a five-day trip?” He said 50 British pounds each, which is about $75. We felt validated.

Our ONLY complaints:

Once our driver took us to a place that was similar to one we had asked to go to, but not the same, probably because of a commission he would receive. More on that later. Not a huge deal.

Part of our agreement was a day sightseeing with him in Delhi, but he took another driving assignment. Again, not a huge deal, because we enjoyed navigating a city on our own for a change, and once we figured out the metro, it was easy to manage.

Our arrangement also included transfer to the airport. He didn’t come get us. Again, more on that later.

Those complaints, however, do not outweigh the benefits and comfort of having a driver. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but hopefully with better planning next time.

If you’ve had a similar experience arriving in Delhi, please share!

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