Overwhelmed in Delhi and sleeping under the stars

20 days travelling and still going strong.

11th October 2018

We naively walked over to the prepaid taxi desk outside Delhi airport, having just withdrawn 5,000 INR (in 2,000 and 500 INR notes). We were quoted 400 INR, which seemed reasonable given our hotel said it would be around 500 INR. I handed over one of the 500 INR notes and whilst I was distracted the cheeky clerk swapped it for a 100 INR. Flustered, I took it back and gave him a new 500 INR – which meant our taxi cost twice it should (almost £9 instead of £4). The crafty bugger. We really don’t have the best of luck at airports.

I don’t think we were quite prepared for how full on Delhi was going to be – it shouldn’t have been a surprise given more people live here than the entirety of Australia. It honestly made Kathmandu seem like a walk in the park and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t completely overwhelmed at first. We spent the first a day and a half camping out in our hotel, eating and relaxing – as much as one can amongst the constant barrage of horns. It sounds as though everyone uses their horn every other second, seemingly with little reason at times.

The hustle and bustle of Old Delhi
The hustle and bustle of Old Delhi

Having thought this may be the case, we booked ourselves onto a group tour. At first we were skeptical, but it quickly turned out to be the best decision we could have made. It forced us out of the comfort of our hotel and into the hustle and bustle of Delhi. We have been incredibly lucky with our group – everyone is lovely and so laid back. It seemed we weren’t alone in being completely and utterly overwhelmed.

13th October 2018

The first day of our tour saw us braving the metro and heading towards old Delhi. I was remarkably impressed – it’s clean, modern and seemed to be a pretty effective and easy way of getting around. Covered in a heavy combination of deet and sun cream we headed out, looking like a flock of flamingos shuffling our way along the pavement anxiously taking it all in. At the other end it was a short ride in a cycle rickshaw to get to our first stop. I really felt sorry for our driver, he looked exhausted by the end of it – maybe I ought to scale back on the portion sizes?

Jama Masjid is one of the largest mosques in India and it is incredibly beautiful. Made of red sandstone it sits on an enormous courtyard, rumoured to be able to sit 25 thousand people. Entry was free, but there was a 300 INR (~£3) charge per person if you wanted to take photos – which felt a little steep for what it was. At a push we maybe spent 30 minutes walking around and getting the mandatory photographs.

Jama Masjid - the red sandstone mosque
Jama Masjid – the red sandstone mosque

The next stop was a short walk away to one of the nine historical Gurdwaras in Delhi – a place of worship for Sikhs. Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib was constructed to commemorate the martyrdom site of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur. After dropping our shoes off and donning bandanas to cover our heads, we had the opportunity to sit inside and watch others pray and listen to the musicians. We then ventured off into the kitchens which are run entirely by volunteers, feeding 10,000 people daily. My wife even had a go rolling out the dough for chapatis – she seemed to be a natural.

Sleeping men in Old Delhi
Sleeping men in Old Delhi

That evening we had to catch a 19 hour overnight train from Old Delhi station, which was roughly 7km away from our hotel. We split into 3 taxis and left with plenty of time to spare – almost 3 hours. We only just made it to the station with 15 minutes until our train left, with the last mile taking almost an hour. The painful part was that we could see Old Delhi station for most of the last mile, but weren’t able to jump out and cross the road. Sadly one of the groups didn’t make it, despite running as fast as they could they arrived 5 minutes too late. I felt so sorry for our guide, as it was entirely out of his control – although he managed the situation incredibly well. After a few phone calls our tour company was kind enough to book everyone flights for the next day, letting us continue our tour without much of a hiccup.

14th October 2018

We boarded a small twin engine plane, sitting two by two and made our way to Jaisalmer. Considering its size, the 1h 45m flight was reasonably smooth and comfortable. Jaisalmer airport is part of an Indian Air Force base, which made for a pretty impressive landing. The terminal appeared to be a converted hanger and it was clear that they only accommodated a handful of flights each day. It wasn’t long before we jumped into our cars to make the 1 hour journey to the edge of the desert. Once there, we disembarked and loaded up the jeeps for the final stretch which took us to the sand dunes where we would be spending the night.

Our jeep for navigating the desert
Our jeep for navigating the desert

Whilst waiting for the sun to set, we sat on the top of sand dune drinking masala tea and eating snacks – all whilst watching a traditional Kalbelia dance. The serenity of the desert was a welcome escape from the hectic day to day life of Delhi. After admiring the sun dip below the horizon we made our way to our camp for the night. Two rows of beds with thick blankets was all that separated us from the desert and the starry skies. It was definitely a highlight and something I think everyone needs to do at least once in their life. Thankfully I didn’t need a sleeping bag, mainly as I didn’t have one, but there was an artic wind at one point during the night. At which point I wrapped myself into a little cocoon for warmth.

The enormous sun setting over the desert
The enormous sun setting over the desert

We had been warned about keeping our shoes on to avoid accidentally stepping on a scorpion. What I was prepared for was the desert dogs, as friendly as they were. It must not have been much past midnight when I was woken to a rustling noise. Slowly opening my eyes I saw the shape of a dog within reaching distance – I was instantly filled with regret about my decision to bulldoze past everyone to grab an end bed. Bugger. I shut my eyes, wishing it away.

To my horror, when I opened my eyes again the dog was standing on the bed in front of me – its tail wagging furiously. Great, all I could do now was hope it would leave on its own accord. How could I lay there and pretend that I hadn’t seen this disaster unfold and go back to sleep with a clean conscience. It didn’t take long before the woman was bolt upright, staring the dog in the face. Luckily she managed to get him off her bed without much fuss, or my intervention, and he went about his business. And back to sleep I went.

Our beds for the night
Our beds for the night

Until next time.

P.S. The amount of beetles around our camp was just unbelievable. I’m so glad they didn’t climb into our beds – or at least we didn’t realise if they did.

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