I arrived in Delhi at the airport and had arranged for a private driver to pick me up. For the convenience of not having to deal with touts, I paid the steep price of about $10 USD for the half hour journey into the city (metro would have cost less than a dollar). I nearly died in that taxi. The drivers in India are crazy to put it mildly. Cars, rickshaws, motorcycles, bikes, and cows all share the road and of course no one is patient or uses the lanes. They drive wherever there is an opening honking basically continuously. It’s a terrifying experience and my first introduction to what I’ve gotten myself into entering this crazy, chaotic country.
I get to the hotel that had received decent ratings on the booking website. Clearly those statistics were being manipulated by the owners. It’s very scary and dirty for so many reasons (see pic to left)… The owner immediately jumps at the opportunity to make some commissions for himself or his friends when I (so stupidly) say that I don’t have trains to get around the rest of the country booked yet. He claims that its too hard for me to book anything myself online and I must use his cousin because he’ll “give me a good deal”. Thinking possibly it would be easier to just pay someone a small fee to do everything for me, I go to the travel agency and hear the guy out. Instead of just giving me prices for trains, he goes through a whole story about how much better and safer it is to hire a private driver. I tell him that I have no interest in paying for that, especially after my experience in the taxi from the airport, politely at the first one. I had hired a private rickshaw driver to take me around Delhi to see the main sites because its huge and my preferred method of walking wasn’t an option. But the rickshaw driver left me no choice to go to multiple of these agencies that all had the same sales pitch. It reminded me of time-share presentations… By the fourth one I was no longer polite to the travel agent or the rickshaw driver who insisted on dropping me off at these places. I went to my hotel and booked everything online without any trouble on my own using third party websites and paying less than 40 cent commission for each train ride.
And then I got sick… On day seven of my illness I bravely ventured out to the Taj Mahal because that is something that I obviously couldn’t skip. It was really pretty, as expected. It was highly suggested to get up early and go when the gates open at 7am to avoid the masses of tour groups that emerge about two hours later. What they fail to mention is that while you avoid the crowds, you also deal with the combination of fog and pollution that hasn’t cleared that early. I think the weirdest part of that whole visit though was an Indian guy asking me to take a picture with him while shaking hands. Is this some famous picture he was trying to recreate??
Finally, on day eight I felt much closer to normal and was able to make my train to Jaipur. The train system in India is pretty much the only infrastructure that works reliably in India, leftover from British rule. (Other public works projects don’t usually function properly, roads, electricity, internet, and even water service goes out on a regular basis). Trains are cheap, even in the luxury classes. Despite the warnings that Indian train stations are a daunting challenge for even seasoned travelers, once you wait for the departure boards to switch to English (from Hindi which is obviously unreadable for me), they function the same as in Europe or Asia, though as expected are much dirtier and more crowded. I didn’t see anyone hanging off the sides or on top of trains. For an extra $5, I booked higher class tickets to lessen the chance that my luggage would go missing. One of my trains was delayed by four hours, so I bought a “general” ticket for the train leaving immediately and mixed with the locals for that two hour train ride. A much more interesting experience than the A/C classes… Two transvestites came through trying to drum up prostitution business, or at least that’s what I gathered; no one around me spoke English to explain it to me.
Jaipur is the “Pink City” because of all of the pink buildings. I ventured to the typical sites of the City Palace, the Water Palace, and the Hawa Majal. But probably the most interesting thing I did was view the craft demonstrations of block printing, embroidery, and jewel cutting of the Mughal People (pronounced like the Harry Potter verson of muggle). I also wanted to see what all the buzz was surrounding Bollywood movie industry. I went to the famous Raj Mandir theater, which looks like a giant pink cake on the outside. The inside is a pretty opulent with chandeliers and velvety couches in the lounges. Though it was built a long time ago and hasn’t been up kept very well, it was cool to see a Hindi film from the balcony, though I had absolutely no idea what in the world the movie was about. The best I could tell the big prisoner-looking white guy was the villain…
In Ranthambore National Park I went on a Tiger safari. In this cooler weather, they claim that there is only a 25% chance of spotting a tiger because they don’t hang around the watering holes as often, but I saw one! I was hoping this park would be similar to my experience in African game parks that you see a bunch of the “cool animals” (in Africa this means lions, elephants, rhino, leopard, cheetah, etc.), but other than the one lone tiger, it was only lame deer or monkeys. I’ve been spoiled apparently and don’t feel the need to take pictures of what appears to be the same deer that hunters in Michigan look for, or unfortunate drivers hit in their cars…
If that’s the Hotel New King i would hate to see the Old King. What did the description say: Has electricity, walls made of garage doors held together with rope.