Rough and Tough
Well it’s the middle of the night and I’m sitting in the Chennai airport waiting on a delayed flight so I thought I’d try type a little (or a lot) while my memory is still fresh and I’ve got nothing else to do. I always keep a little notebook with me when I travel and write down a few words to jog my memory of a particular incident I want to recall later on. My little notebook is chock full of notes from the last few days. As of right now my trip to India is about over and this time tomorrow I should be home. I’ve been here two weeks but wish I had two more. I went to say goodbye to Sudha tonight but before I could say anything she just hugged me and nodded her head back and forth in a “don’t say anything or I’m gonna cry” gesture. Kumar came and got me today and we went to Domino’s for lunch. We had a nice long talk about how the caste system really works and he brought me the giant photo album from his wedding to look at. He put my number in his phone as “Madam Andrea W” and said he’d text me a photo of his baby when it was born.
Ok. Now I get to talk about New Delhi. This is where I get writers overload and start typing as fast as I can think.
Friday evening Jeremy and I flew from Chennai to New Delhi. When our driver dropped us off at the airport in Chennai his last words were, “Be careful. New Delhi people rough and tough.“
The plan was to spend the night there and leave on the train for Agra the next morning at 6:15. The train was a 2 hour express and we’d be at the Taj Mahal by 9 a.m. I had planned this whole weekend out from home via internet. We get New Delhi at about 11 p.m. I had booked a cheap hotel close to the train station and they had a driver waiting to pick us up from the airport. That’s when I had the “Todo, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” moment. The only way I can explain New Delhi (at night anyway) is like a bombed-out Baghdad meets a touch of Vegas. That’s a hard mental image to grasp I know. There were just rows and rows of people sleeping on the sidewalks and the city had dogs roaming everywhere; bigger dogs than in Chennai. It was so surreal I felt like we were on a movie set. Fronts of hotels missing. Fronts of everything missing. Piles and piles of rubble and skinny black legs hanging over the sides of rickshaws in the streets. And, yes, our hotel was in the middle of all this. For as rough as it looked the hotel staff were friendly and accommodating. We didn’t check in til close to midnight and had to leave for the train station at 5 a.m. so it was a short night.
We had a taxi bring us to the train station the next morning and that’s when it all started to come unraveled. It was still dark when we arrived at the station and if you don’t mind me making another movie reference I felt like Scarlett O’Hara when she goes looking for Dr. Meade at the train station cause Melly is having her baby “and you’ve just got to come with ME!” she says. Remember when she walks into the empty field and sees the sea of dead and wounded and lifts her skirt to climb over the bodies to find the doctor? Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but in the dark it felt like it. No one’s dead but the flies are hovering like they were. We step over sleeping people and navigate our way to the gate where we’re greeted by an unofficial looking man who grabs the tickets from hand and says, “These tickets no good. No good!” Whatever, I think. He says we need to go to the travel agent and change our tickets cause these were not valid. He tries to get us to follow him to a taxi to take us to some travel agent. I’m not budging. Another unofficial looking man comes and grabs the tickets from my hand and says, “Bad ticket! You need change!” Good grief, you don’t have to yell at me! By the time the third man yelled at me about my “bad ticket” I start thinking….maybe these really ARE bad tickets. So we take a taxi to the “travel agent” to see what the problem is with our tickets. A minor panic is setting in cause its pushing 5:30 and this train leaves in 45 minutes. We get to this small travel agency and are directed up a tight set of stairs to a small corner office where the man there says, “You not get on this train! You foreigner and this ticket not for you.” He tries explaining that the ticket I booked had to be “reconfirmed” at least six hours prior to departure if purchased outside India or they’re automatically cancelled.
How could I mess this up? I thought I’d read all the fine print. I can clearly see we’re not going on this train. “Ok, when is the NEXT train then?” I ask. “No more train til tonight.” That’s when the reality of my situation sinks in. No more trains til tonight? Then we may as well not even go cause we just have one night in Agra and have to leave the next morning. But that’s why I came to India, to see the Taj Mahal. Doesn’t this guy care I’ve dreamt about this since I was twelve? No. Cause he’s from New Delhi and he’s rough and tough.
Jeremy is dead silent throughout the whole situation. I just wanted to crawl out of my skin and wring my own neck. I can’t even look at him cause I know this is all my fault and this is like worst case scenario happening.
But that’s when the die hard traveler in me kicks into high gear. First I offer to pay “extra” to get on the train and all I get is “No! No seat for you!” He does suggest we take a bus. Normally I’m all for roughing it but who knows how long a bus ride could be not to mention miserable on 4 hours of sleep. I ask Mr. Rough and Tough if it was possible to hire a private driver to take us there. He pauses for a moment and says, “Yes, that is possible.” Of course its possible–I just had to ask the right questions. He makes a couple phone calls and says it will cost Rs10,000 which is the equivalent of about $200 which I’m sure is a total rip off but its either that or not see the Taj Mahal. We go get the money from an ATM and our driver is at the travel agency ready to go by 6:15–ironically enough the same time our train was to leave. Jeremy sits up front and I stretch out in the back seat and go in and out of sleep all the way to Agra. I wake up once to find a monkey hanging on the window and people selling trinkets banging on the windows. It took 5 hours, but we reached Agra by about 11 a.m. and were actually well rested.
I got to see the Taj Mahal at last and it did not disappoint.
Signing off for now.