Only in India

On our first day in India, having arrived and checked into our hotel with no issues whatsoever – in fact, this should be highlighted … no issues whatsoever! We arrived in Delhi at 08:25 about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. We passed through immigration with no problems at all. We collected our bags with no problems whatsoever. We were met by our driver who would transfer us to our hotel with no problems and we arrived at our hotel at 10:00 with no problems. Checkin at the hotel is not until 12:00 and, for some reason, despite sending a car to meet us at the correct time, the hotel had assumed we would not arrive until 20:00. Despite this, Poona on reception was very welcoming and said that yes, they did have a room available and yes, we could check in now and that was it … checked in and in the room by 10:15!

Our room is a nice room. We have two large double beds, plenty of furnishings to sit on and work at, a very good bathroom (although you do have to be pretty good friends to use it as it has a glass wall!) and a view over the bustling streets below. Having unpacked and familiarised ourselves, Captain Clarke took to his bed for a couple of hours. This was entirely understandable since we had both been up for 21 hours by this time. In the end I too succumbed for about an hour. We awoke, showered and went out for a short walk. I had a need to find an ATM so that I had some cash for tips and other incidental expenses when out. We discovered that the nearest Metro station IFFCO Chowk, is a mere 3 minutes walk away and that it has an ATM. We walked to the Metro and found the ATM. I put my card into the machine and went through the process of withdrawing some Rupees. All went well until it asked me whether I wanted to convert the currency locally or accept my bank rate. I chose locally and the machine said “Thank you. Transaction cancelled”.

I left the kiosk and explained this to Captain Clarke. “No matter” said he, “There is another ATM in the station”. (We have found an excellent Metro App called ‘Delhi NCR Metro’ which is 10 times better than the official app and, in addition to maps and route planners, etc., it also lists the facilities at each Metro station.) So, we made our way into the station and discovered another ATM – this time operated by the State Bank of India. I felt much more confident with this fine machine. I put my card into the slot but nothing happened. I pulled it out and put it back again but no, nothing happened. It didn’t ask me if I would like to make a cash withdrawal. In fact, it didn’t ask me anything! “It must be broken” I said to Captain Clarke, “Why don’t we walk to the next Metro station where this is another ATM and also a shopping mall that we could take a look at?”. Captain Clarke thought this an excellent idea, so off we went.

Our very good friend Sue had told us that when she spent some time living in Delhi with a close family friend, she had found all the brands she liked in the shopping malls and had bought clothes at a fraction of the cost they would be in England. This seemed like too good an opportunity to miss! So, off we went. Merrily walking along the streets, admiring the eateries and the stalls selling street food. Picking our way around the odd electricity pylon that had been placed strategically with one leg completely blocking, and in the centre of, the pavement. When we had looked on the map it had seemed that the next Metro station, MG Road, was only 0.6 of a kilometre away but it seemed like we were walking quite a bit further than that. Eventually, we found the Metro station and discovered our slight error – we had walked in the wrong direction for almost 2km and had reached the station at the end of the line at Huda City!!

Never deterred we noticed an ATM machine. We queued up to use it and when our turn came, I duly put my card into the machine. Nothing happened. Zilch! I took the card out, turned it around and tried again. Nothing. I turned it back to the way in which I had thought it should go into the machine, put it in … nothing. I took it out and, out of frustration shoved it back in and immediately took it out. “Would you like to make a cash withdrawal?” came up on the screen. Confused as my card was no longer in the machine I followed the instructions on the screen and, a few seconds later I was in possession of a bunch of 2,000 rupee notes! It turns out that you don’t leave a chip and pin card in the machine in India, you simply put it in and take it out before continuing with the transaction!

Armed with our cash we decided to have a whole new experience and get the Metro back to the station we were originally going to walk to (MG Road). The queues for tickets were unbelievable! People everywhere!! Eventually we worked out which of the 8 ticket windows we needed to go to and duly queued up to procure a ticket. When we got to the window Captain Clarke explained that we would like two tourist tickets for the day (this works out to be good value for money if you intend to use the metro more than once at about £1.50 for the day). “Ah!” said the helpful man in the window, “You need to go to Customer Care inside for that”. We thanked him and duly picked our way through the crowds into the station. Nowhere could we see Customer Care. Maybe he had said ‘other side’ and not inside we thought. This might make sense because the ticket booths were split on the outside with four to one side of the entrance and four to the other.

We went outside but to no avail. Not to be put off, I pointed out a set of stairs that went to the first floor of the station where the platforms were. Captain Clarke pointed out that people going to get trains inside the station appeared to be going through security and that there didn’t appear to be any on these stairs. True, but let’s give it a go anyway. We went up and found a whole load of exit barriers and, behind them … Customer Care! Cracked it, we thought. Now, how to get in. We looked and eventually spotted a security man. We went and explained that we wanted to go to Customer Care and he helpfully pointed at a sign that said ‘No entry. Entry only from the Ground Floor’. Ah! We thought. Therein lies a problem. It appears that the only way to enter from the ground floor is if you are in possession of a ticket.

Back to the ground floor we went and, once inside, we found … guess what … a ticket machine! We queued up for the machine to buy a token or a ticket or whatever we could to get on the metro. It had now become somewhat of a challenge! When we got to the machine we discovered that we could, indeed, buy a token to MG Road … but not with a 2,000 rupee note! The maximum value of note was 500 rupees!!! As we resigned ourselves to a long walk back to the hotel I turned and noticed a sign that said ‘O2’ and underneath it in very small writing ‘Customer Care’! We queued up to get to this window for a few minutes and, when we finally reached it, Captain Clarke said to the man in the window with a slight air of desperation in his voice, “Can we buy two tourist tickets for today please?”. The response came back “Certainly Sir, that will be 400 rupees including the deposit for the card” Yes!!! We paid over our 400 rupees and were given two cards which we can top up each day that we want to use them and then, when we’ve finished, we can return them for a deposit refund. A genuine feeling of euphoria came over us! We had got cash and we had finally cracked the metro system! Only in India!!

Tickets in our sweaty little hands we used the escalator to get to the platform and discovered we were just missing one. Hardly a problem, it turned out, they run every 3 minutes! The next metro came in and we entered a clean, air conditioned, carriage and took a seat for our journey. A couple of stops later we alighted from the metro and wandered down to find the mall. The mall was a bit disappointing with shops selling sarees for ladies and a couple of shoe shops all adjacent to a large homeware store. No matter, we had been there. Now all we had to do was get back to the hotel. A quick consultation of the maps app and we discovered we were less than 5 minutes walk from our hotel! We wandered back to the hotel taking in the sights, sounds, smells (not always that great but not always bad either!) and general atmosphere of being back in India again.

Happy and, by now, very tired. We decided to take advantage of our ‘Club Room’ (I booked a Club Room because I knew of the advantages it brings and it only cost about an additional £30 for the week!) and go to the ‘Executive Lounge’ where we could enjoy free drinks and hors d’oeuvres from 6-9pm. The hors d’oeuvres transpired to be a range of cold meats, salads and desserts that, frankly, most people would treat as a meal. We can quite understand why Great Uncle Bulgaria and Madam Cholet live on these when they are away! One of the options for the hors d’oeuvres was to ‘Go Local’. That was an option not to be missed. So we both ordered ‘Chaat Papri’ which is a popular vegetarian street food in India (we learned) that has numerous variations. We asked the chef to prepare two different versions to his own choice. This, he did, and they were absolutely delicious! So, one large ‘Black Dog’ (local whiskey and my personal favourite!) and a couple of glasses of wine later, we retired to bed. Cost of dinner and drinks … zero!

That said, we want to use this week to really understand Delhi and what makes it tick, so we won’t be eating in the hotel every night but it was a fantastic welcome back to one of our favourite countries in the world! So, we retired to a very comfortable bed and were soon falling into a wonderful sleep listening to the sound of horns, traffic and general mayhem that is life in India. Just before retiring I watch the street below as buses did U-turns in the road, tractors, tuk tuks, taxis, cars and bicycles all jostled for position and their bit of space on the road whilst the odd person just casually wandered between them all, crossing the road as if everything that was happening was normal – which of course, here it is! Only in India!!!

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