My semi-luxurious flight with Emirates from Dubai to New Delhi airport proved to be a stark contrast compared to the scenes that awaited me in India’s capital.
Dubai to New Delhi
Compared to my London to Dubai flight, a vegetarian meal was readily available on the flight. With most Indians practicing vegetarianism, a plant-based meal was the most popular choice for the passengers of the 3-hour flight.
Though my meal was not strictly vegan, I avoided the paneer and any condensed milk-based dessert in favour of the simple dahl, accompanying rice dish and an odd savoury-sweet bread roll on offer. Emirates list their ingredients on the pack of each meal, thankfully. Whilst India is vegetarian haven, the prevalence of cream, paneer and ghee may make it hard to eat as strictly vegan – let’s see how I cope.
Whilst airplane food is not my usual cup of tea, being a budget-savvy traveller (and with different priorities), I spent the last of my UAE dirhams on a new mascara (which proved to be travel-friendly) and a large pack of pistachios (which lasted a couple of days, surprisingly).
Pre-paid taxi to the hostel
Upon arriving to the airport, with my OTT over wrapped luggage, I was approached by a couple of touts, but I continued to head towards the pre-paid taxi booth inside the airport. A fare of 430 rupees was requested, travelling from the airport to Asaf Ali road by Delhi Gate. However, as soon as I heard “take a black and yellow taxi by gate 6”, I may have wasted that 430 rupees after all.
Stops Hostel advised guests pre-departure to not to take black and yellow cabs as they are scammer-prone. Helpfully listing some companies to use, I headed towards gate 6. Possibly looking lost, some touts approached me. I refused and agreed to take a Meru cab.
The cab ride had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. I was in a new city, known for its scams, business, and craziness. There were a couple of times when I thought the taxi driver may well crash into someone.
As for safety, I unwillingly turned my data roaming for a couple of minutes to use Google Maps to help track our journey to my end destination. There is wi-if available in the airport, so I should have totally loaded the offline-friendly map then and there, rather than update my Snapchat story.
A further 708 rupees set me back for a 30-minute taxi ride. Meru Cabs operated using a fair fare meter (which blasts an automated message when turned on); this proved to be very helpful, assuring me that I was not being scammed (but, who knows?!). Though I directed my cab driver to my hostel, in a city I have never visited, I would use the company again. Luckily, Stops Hostel gave very useful instructions upon booking with them through HostelWorld.
The next morning: fake tourist office at the train station
After a filling breakfast at the hostel of toast, jam and some banana slices, a new Irish friend, Aidan, and I braved New Delhi’s streets to head towards the train station.
Fortunately, the staring was not as intense as I had imagined. We had a mutual agreement to stay away from the stray dogs often found littering the streets; we weren’t immunised against rabies, you see. The traffic was insane, as expected. Crossing the road proved difficult as stray dogs, cows, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and taxis populate the overcrowded streets. Lights and lanes were given little consideration by pedestrians and drivers, alike.
Google Maps led us to our destination quite easily. After receiving instructions from the front desk as to what to expect and where to find the booking office – the fact that it was inside the station was emphasised highly – we were lost amongst the poor signage systems and unclear paths marked Paharanj/exit. The train officials were not much use either – vaguely waving their hand to signal the office was upstairs, with little communication or care. Useful…. It was not.
After what felt like a lifetime of searching, we found the office. About 30 minutes later, I obtained a 2 AC ticket to Jaipur on the Rajdhani Express (thought to be one of the best trains around).
I walked out the station feeling a little smug. We beat the touts, we weren’t scammed. This was pretty good going for my first day in this chaotic city.
After registering for an Indian SIM card with Airtel and a shopping for a new pair of sandals, I ventured from my hostel to CP via a tuktuk. I visited the stunning (and free) Agrasen ki Baoli! The steps were a great alternative to leg day at the gym. The Baoli is a step well in Delhi, thought to be used as a reservoir/ a water storage system.
The Central Park was closed when I ventured out of the Baoli, giving me an opportunity to shop around the nearby shops in CP. From luxurious brands such as Longines to smaller, artisanal shops specialising in souvenirs and trinkets, it can all be found in the different blocks of CP. Again, Google Maps proved rather useful in navigating myself around.
As it is home to the financial district of Delhi, and renowned postcode-envy Hailey Road is nearby, CP made for a pleasant and stress-free walk compared to the rest of the capital.
On Delhi’s streets: as a lone female.
In the evening, I had a much-needed recuperation in the hostel and brief catch-up with family, friends and various social media networks (got to keep the Snapchat story updated).
At 8:30 p.m., I ventured out of the hostel to walk about 300 m down the street to a highly-regarded vegetarian restaurant. The mini thali I ordered (190 rupees) came with a few naans, some rice, a couple of curries, a yoghurt-based side and a saccharine treat. I specified for no paneer, but my request was neglected – leaving my plate half full.
Returning back to the hostel, I felt anxious. Homeless men start to make their beds along the pavement, drunk men stumbled out of a nearby bar and the there were less vehicles and rickshaws on the road.
I did what anyone would do in my situation… I ran all the way to the hostel. The brief walk home was certainly not an experience I’d like to recreate again anytime soon. I suddenly felt what everyone has said previously: totally alone, vulnerable, and the centre of unwanted attention.
It had been a crazy, chaotic, yet charmingly memorable day. My flip-flop-clad feet were too dusty for words; I felt sticky and sweaty throughout; and the rush hour crowds I faced were overwhelming. Welcome to India.