India: In 36 Hours

Sorry this one took a while, we weren’t really sure how to go about writing this one. Both Kenny and I hate admitting defeat and feeling like we’ve failed so it was pretty hard to write this post in fact I’ve been putting it off for 2 weeks.

We left South Africa late on Thursday the 9th and started our long journey to New Delhi that took us via Dubai. About 17 hours later we arrived in Delhi eager for the next part of our adventure. We headed for passport control where we stood for well over an hour because everyone working had decided to go on a lunch break. It took forever! When we eventually got through we grabbed our bags and headed outside to find the shuttle we had pre booked that would take us to our hostel. I had pre booked a shuttle online as we’d read so many bad things about getting scammed by taxi drivers and tuktuk drivers where they would announce halfway through your journey that your hostel was closed, or full and they had cancelled your reservation and insist to take you somewhere else. So as we headed out of customs I kept my eye out for our driver, and he was nowhere to be found. We waited around 30 minutes and still no sign of him. So we accepted that he probably just wasn’t going to show. We headed over to Vodafone to get two SIM cards and at the same time booked a taxi from a desk inside the airport which cost 1800 rupees (over 4 times the cost of an uber but we had no working internet to book one). We headed outside with our taxi driver and we’re suddenly met by hundreds of staring eyes, we had read so many blogs and watched so many travel videos before we came to try and prepare ourselves for India because we knew it would be a huge culture shock but I don’t know that anything can really prepare you for the chaos that meets you when you walk out. We quickly followed the taxi driver and piled into the car. Even after booking through an agent in the airport I was worried he was just going to take us somewhere we didn’t want to go.

The drive from the airport to the hostel was an experience to say the least. The roads in New Delhi are insane! It seems like there are no rules to where you can drive, no one sticks to their lane, tuk tuks weave in and out of traffic constantly, and there is a constant sound of horns in the air. As we drove deeper into the city the sides of the road were littered with piles of trash, stray dogs, cows and more homeless people than I’ve ever seen in my whole life. After the 30 minute rollercoaster ride and only a few near misses we arrived at our hostel. We had booked to stay at Zostel which is the first chain of hostels in India and we had planned to stay at a number of them on our trip. We had booked to stay in a private room for our first few days in Delhi as we knew we’d be pretty tired after our long trip from South Africa. The hostel was great, it had a cool hippy vibe and the rooms were clean and had great aircon. By the time we had got to the room and showered we were too tired to do any adventuring so we headed up to the rooftop for dinner, dinner cost us 400 rupees for both of us which is around £5, it was really good home cooked Indian food and plenty of it (even if it was a bit spicy for me) we headed to bed for an early night and planned to get up early and go exploring the following day.

The next day the getting up early idea went out the window as we didn’t get up until around 11, we figured we’d head towards Connaught place which is pretty much the central plaza in Delhi, it has tons of shops and restaurants and we thought it would be a good place to start. We had planned to walk there but as we left the hotel we were stopped by a man who said it wasn’t safe to walk there as there were many beggars and pickpockets on the way there, he told us we should go to the government tourism office and they would be able to give us lots of information about the city as well as give us maps etc, he seemed nice enough and pretty genuine, especially when he hailed us a tuktuk which should have cost 200 rupees and got price down to 20 rupees. (Foreigners are often charged a huge amount more for everything in India). Off we went on our first tuktuk ride which again was an experience and I have to be honest the whole time I thought he was just going to drop us somewhere random and demand money. But he took us to the ‘government tourism office’ and dropped us there. There was no way this place had ever been a government tourism office (we later found out it was a scam and the tuktuk drivers get commission from anything you buy in there like trips and things) but we went in anyway because we had no idea where we were. We sat down and a guy started asking our plans for India, because we already had all our trains booked he couldn’t really offer us anything but he did say that he thought we should change some of our plans and he could help us do that. We said no and asked if they had a map of the city and then left, still not totally sure of where we were going and following the directions of the guy in the office we tried to make our way to Connaught place. The office was on a little back street so we nervously headed to the main road where we would better be able to navigate our way to the centre. We soon came to the main road and quickly found that we were just around the corner from where we wanted to be, however we had to cross the road. It took us a solid 5 minutes of staring at the chaotic road thinking there’s no way it’s possible to cross this before we realised there was a subway that you could walk through to get to the other side. We came out of the subway and we’re greeted by a starbucks! Needing to collect our thoughts and figuring out what we were doing we headed for something familiar to escape the overwhelming sensation of being surrounding by literally millions of people on the street (there are approximately 25 million people living in Delhi which is just less than half the population of the uk, it is the 3rd most populated urban place in the world). It must be something all tourists do because as we walked in there were 3 Americans doing the same thing, (it’s worth mentioning that these were the first white people we had seen since we’d got of the plane) we grabbed a coffee and sat down, not long after a couple of young Indian guys, probably the same age as us, sat at the table next to us and struck up a conversation. (I feel like in India being white is an instant conversation starter no matter where you are and it’s a bit exhausting really answering the same questions every 2 minutes) these guys were nice though, they seemed pretty genuine and asked us about our trip and gave us some tips about getting out of the touristy places and heading to villages to experience the rich culture that India has to offer, they also told us that the trains are good for trips when you have a long time to spend in India but for a short trip like ours they can be unreliable and can be easily delayed which didn’t really ease our nerves about our first train the following day. Feeling slightly less overwhelmed and having checked the map we headed back out into the streets. Our plan was to head for a restaurant I had found online that had great reviews but first we had to navigate the circular plaza and find the right street. Soon we were surrounded by people again and being stared at from every angle which is understandable when your the only white person in a crowd of hundreds of Indians. We were constantly being called to come in to restaurants and shops and one man tried to take us to the ‘transport office,’ it was just getting more and more overwhelming and then after about 5 minutes of walking Kenny said that there was someone following us so we crossed the road and headed on to a different street. So did he. This carried on for a good 15/20 minutes, every time we stopped so did he but he never approached us to ask what we wanted or to offer us something. We stopped quickly behind a pillar and he obviously didn’t notice until he was right beside us and then gestured to the restaurant next to us and asked us if we wanted to go in, we said no thanks and headed of. This time without him thankfully. We kept ducking in to shops to escape the constant barrage of attention and before long found the restaurant. We sat down thankful to be in the peace and ordered our food. We sat pretty much in silence and I think Kenny knew there was something wrong, I felt so overwhelmed I just wanted to cry there’s no other way to explain it. I just wanted to get back to the hotel and hide in the room. With Kenny feeling the same we cancelled our food and headed outside to find a tuktuk that would take us back to the hostel, another challenge because no one could understand the road name we were saying, eventually after some help from good old google maps we were on our way, still feeling on edge the whole way we were grateful to get back to the hotel with no hiccups. We headed across to the shop over the road and bought comfort food in an effort to make us feel better.

We sat in the room almost stunned into silence I suppose, I’ve never been somewhere before that I felt so out of my depth, unsafe and overwhelmed. I was gutted because I had been convinced I would love India and I was so excited so see everything we had planned but it just wasn’t going to way we had wanted. We both agreed that travelling should be enjoyable and we just couldn’t imagine enjoying ourselves here. No matter the amazing things we would see we just weren’t sure that they would make up for the way we were feeling all the time and the thought of having to get on a train the following day was terrifying. So we made a decision to leave and head for somewhere else.

I know it might sound like we were making a rash decision which I think is probably what our parents thought when we called them and told them. But we just didn’t think it was worth staying and spending money somewhere we weren’t happy when we’d worked so hard to come Travelling. We headed for dinner around 9ish after talking to both our parents and decided we would leave the following day. We headed upstairs for dinner which was again delicious and got chatting to a group of people mainly from England but also a guy from Detroit who it turns out lives close to the place we work during summer so we had loads to talk about. It was good to be able to sit and have a conversation with like minded people who seemed to be having the same overwhelming experience that we were. One woman said that whilst she had been on the metro She had been groped by an Indian man, and taken to some random mans house when she got on a tuktuk. The couple said that they had also been taken to the ‘tourism office’ and then followed by a tuktuk  driver who wouldn’t leave them alone. It did make me feel a little bit better to hear that we were all in the same boat and feeling the same. However all of the group were only going to be in India for a matter of days not weeks like we had planned. We ended up chatting until 11pm before we headed back to the room to look for flights and destinations. We did think twice after speaking to other people but then we thought about tommorow when we would be on our own going through the same thing and decided to go ahead with leaving. We quickly started going through destinations that were close to southeast aisa as our next stop after India was Cambodia. We couldn’t go to Cambodia or Vietnam because this would ruin our plans for the rest of our trip because of the visa restrictions, we thought about Bali and we’re pretty much sold until we checked the weather… tropical storm. We even thought about Australia but because we have a working visa for later in the year and going in on a tourist visa would void that working visa so that was a no. We eventually checked the visa requirements for Thailand and found we could enter more than once for a 30 day period so Thailand it was! We then spent the next few hours trying to figure out which part would be cheapest to fly to and stay in. We settled on Koh Samui and booked a hotel for the whole 2 weeks and decided we would just relax as we would be going back to Thailand later in our trip. Eventually around 4am we had our hotel sorted, bags packed and flights booked for 2pm that day. We grabbed a few hours sleep before we had to check out at 10 and grabbed a taxi to the airport where we again stood in lines for hours to check in and get through security. We arrived over 3 hours before our flight and by the time we were through security it was already boarding. We grabbed a McDonald’s on the way past as we were starving and ran for the gate. Safely in our seats we were both pretty happy to be getting out of there after a very long few days.

I’m not trying to put anyone off going to India because I’m sure some parts are amazing it just wasn’t for us at all. It sucks because we both feel like we’ve failed and we hate quitting but there’s no point continuing to do something that makes you unhappy. I think that if we had gone with an organised tour or group like an sta or intrepid trip we might have felt differently but it’s definitely something we couldn’t do on our own.

Anyways on to the next part of our trip, an unexpected trip to Koh Samui.

R x