We left Glasgow in glorious sunshine at 2.15 yesterday afternoon, feeling like we’d been up and ready for hours. A three hour check in gives us time to see more of the airport than any of us feel is strictly necessary. The flight time to Dubai is just over seven hours and it passes, though some British men travelling to Bahrain for work are making the most of their last free booze for a while. It wouldn’t be so bad if they could actually sing…. Plenty of time to explore the in-flight entertainment to the full – Dad would love the forward and downward-facing pilot’s view cameras, which operate even during landing.
The four hours at Dubai airport are tedious, though more enthusiastic shoppers might enjoy it. We are all ready to sleep now but the arm rests on the airport seats are obviously designed to make it difficult to stretch out and the few reclining seats are snapped up as soon as the incumbent moves. The flight to Delhi is just under three hours and passes more quickly – I, at least, manage a couple of hours sleep, serenaded by Leonard Cohen. Breakfast arrives just an hour into the flight and, though it is tasty, seems to coincide with most people drifting off to sleep. It is 4.30 am Dubai time when we leave, but 6 am Delhi time, so I suppose it is breakfast time really despite our body clocks thinking it’s the middle of the night!
Getting through immigration and customs at Delhi would have been very smooth and quick were it not for the fact we have to fill in a detailed contact form for Ebola control purposes. The poor woman single-handedly responsible for stamping the forms could have done with some help. Once we got through, though, it was great to see the smiling representative from Indus waiting. He showed us how to use the ATM in the airport to get our first rupees. Unfortunately this wasn’t quite idiot-proof in our tired state and Helen and I didn’t realise till we reached the hotel that we’d each managed to withdraw £5 instead of £500! It is less than half an hour’s drive from the airport to New Dehli, though we are told this is only because it’s a Sunday.
First impressions are very favourable – lots of green around. Nice for me to think that, for once, I can spend as much time as I like looking at plants and no-one can complain because it’s work! Hotel Royal Plaza is rather grander than any of us are used to, with liveried doormen who look aghast when we try to take our own cases from the boot. The reception area is marble floored with ceiling frescoes a la Sistine Chapel and the staircase looks like something from Gone with the Wind.
John and Helen’s room is on the 10th floor, whilst I get a room with a view on the 16th. We share a cuppa, watching the black kites circling below us, then all try and catch a little sleep before heading out into town for the afternoon. I know I’m tired when I spend a long time trying to work out which adaptor to use in the socket, only to realise it fits a standard UK three pin plug perfectly. Our first foray into Delhi proves a bit stressful. We pick up a city map from reception and make the mistake of opening it up to plan our route where the tuk-tuk drivers are hanging around. It’s difficult to persuade them we really want to walk and, even once we do, we quickly end up with a ‘friend’ who just happens to be walking the same direction as us. We soon end up in his tourist emporium near Connaught Place. The place sells everything from beautiful fabrics, carpets, scarves and saris to a life size bronze tiger we are rather taken with. They promise free shipping anywhere, but I suspect the tiger wouldn’t qualify! When we escape, we are quickly picked up by the next member of the unofficial relay, who just happens to be going past the tourist information bureau, which sounds useful but turns out to be a travel agent who wants to book us on a whistle-stop tour of Delhi. Failing that, he wants to send us to his friend’s craft market. It is very warm and humid and we are desperate for a cold drink by this stage and manage to shake off the ‘nephew’ sent to accompany us – hope he doesn’t get into trouble for this – and find a bar where we enjoy a very welcome pint of Kingfisher.
The opportunity to look at the map in peace and quiet is equally welcome and we feel much more confident about where we are heading when we leave. Although Connaught Place is busy, it is full of Indians doing their Sunday afternoon shopping and much less interested in us, as a result. We find a more direct way back to the hotel and spot a promising looking South Indian vegetarian restaurant for dinner en route. One of the mango trees lining the road is hosting a family of hungry monkeys, including mum with a baby on her back. Hotel Saravana Bhavan has a queue of locals outside mid afternoon and, it turns out later, has branches in East Ham and Illford! To get into the restaurant we have to give our names to the lady on the door, who adds us to her list and calls us when a table is free. Dinner proves as good as expected – for a princely 780 rupees we share two delicious tali plates and a paneer dosai in a noisy fast-food eaterie full of families out for their Sunday evening treat.
Our three nightcap Kingfisher beers back in the hotel bar cost considerably more! We head to bed early as we have a 3 am start for our flight to Leh tomorrow.