Our original plan for this trip was to fly from Istanbul to Pakistan. However by the time we had realised that we could only apply for a tourist visa from our home country (as opposed to doing it from the consulate in Istanbul for example) it was too late to give our passports up for 6 weeks, so we decided to skip Pakistan and go straight to India. It will still be there to be done another time..!
Our flight to Delhi was on Friday night so we spent all of Thursday taking the bikes apart, boxing them up and packing up the rest of our gear into plane-ready luggage. Airport transport was booked for midday on Friday as Sue and Phil had warned us that the security at Ataturk airport is very intense, so we wanted to give ourselves as much time and keep it as stress-free as possible. Our AirBnB host and his staff did a great job of helping us get everything into the people-carrier in the pouring rain and we were off…..more apprehensive and nervous than I excited at this stage I would say.
As expected it was total and utter mayhem at the airport..even getting in through the front door to queue for the scanners to let us into the check-in area was crazy…
… but we have gotten more used to fighting to hold our places in queues, so we managed it and even got everything through the scanners with no questions asked – major achievement!
We had a few hours to kill before check-in as we were way too early, but that process was also relatively easy and pain-free and although we had to pay €320in excess baggage, the lady on the check in desk definitely gave us a nice reduction by letting some of our extra weight go through for free (that might have been partly because Nigel kept pressing the smiley button on the “rate our service today” machine on the check-in desk in front of her!). Bag and bike-free for the first time in 8 months we opted to hang out in one of the lounges to relax for a few hours, as membership is free with my American Express credit card. Our last European cake stop and then we were off!
Five and a half hours later we landed in Delhi at 5am local time.
Passport control wasn’t as horrendous as we expected and even our luggage arrived intact – so all was well…for the time being at least. We had booked transport to pick us up but there was no sign of the driver when we came through arrivals. But we were early so no panic and we decided to use our time wisely and get ourselves sorted with local SIM cards. And that’s where things unravelled a bit…
There is an inside and outside part to international arrivals and taxi drivers wait at both – so while I was queuing for the SIM Nigel decided to go outside to see if our driver was there. He wasn’t – and when Nigel tried to get into the building again he couldn’t…security wouldn’t let him in! He was told to go to another door and buy a visitors pass to get in…but as I had the money he couldn’t do that either, so he was locked out and I was inside with 2 very full trolleys of luggage and no appearance of our driver. Not the best start to our arrival on top of the fact that we were totally sleep deprived as it was 3.30am Istanbul time!!
The nice man at the mobile phone counter offered to take one luggage trolley outside to Nigel, so that was one small problem taken care of, but the next 2 hours involved us communicating through windows and open doors while I tried to get hold of our driver…and when I did he didn’t speak English….KFC was the only thing I understood and I couldn’t see one anywhere near me!! Finally I saw Nigel almost doing star jumps outside the window to tell me he had located the driver and we could go….only 4 hours after we had landed!
We had heard that the roads and drivers here are crazy, but our drive from the airport to our accommodation wasn’t as nerve-wrecking as we had been expecting …..maybe Istanbul was exactly the experience we needed to toughen us up as the traffic didn’t completely freak us out. And there are so many cyclists on the roads as well, which is kind of reassuring, and many of them cycling against the traffic, so it didn’t look too scary …..but time will tell I guess. When we arrived at our AirBnB we then had to wait 3 hours to check-in as they had guests from the night before, but finally we were in and could have a few hours kip before feeling brave enough to explore the delights of Delhi.
And what a culture-shock Delhi is – the noise, smells, chaos and busy-ness…nothing quite like we have seen before….with a few random cows and monkeys hanging around the streets! And that’s just in the area we are staying, which is apparently the “eductional area” where there are lots of pre-university extra tuition teaching centres and students. We won’t document everything we do during our time here, but so far have travelled the very crowded metro system….(this was the queue to get in!)
…taken a tuk-tuk the wrong way down a one-way street, (great fun!), visited a 15th century step-well near Connaught Place, which has only become famous in the last year because it was used as a location for a famous Bollywood film…
…we are already oozing with curry because we have eaten so much of it, visited a bazaar to purchase more suitable clothing for me, and as most sights in Delhi are closed on a Monda, we visited the Taj Mahal – a 500km round trip and a 2.30am rise, but absolutely worth it!! Not bad for our first 48 hours.
One major thing that we have noticed, which I am sure is the same for all westerners who come here, is that we seem to draw a lot of attention and people just stare at us. Nigel being red-haired and having blue eyes is probably a factor, but I even had a guy beside me on the metro pretend to take a selfie when actually he was taking a photo of me beside him. Very bizarre! Am sure it’s something we will have to get used to, but it’s all very weird at the moment. Let the Indian adventure begin….!