Day 132: Goodbye blue sky
New Delhi Travel Blog› entry 178 of 260 › view all entries
The next day was Independence Day, which means that museums and other sights, as well as most shops, were closed. On top of that, this was the middle of the monsoon season, so it rained. Not much point in exploring the city now. Better to work out the plan for my trip with Ed as well as the upcoming four days.
For the last few days Ed and I had been trying to book train tickets online, but each time we failed when it came to paying for the tickets. Although the website accepted credit cards, it seemed as if our credit card issuers did not accept the website and declined the payment. Not sure if I should be happy or annoyed by this security.
There was a small travel agency desk at my hotel (most hotels in Paharganj have this) who could help with the reservation of trains. Or well, help. The guy wasn't particularly helpful.
I went to an internet café and checked the Indian Raiways website. Shit! He was right! All trains heading east were full! Agra wasn't an issue, but the first option Ed and I would have to leave for our next destination, Varanasi, would be a week later! Damn, now what?
I had a little more luck with my trip to Amritsar. While it was not possible to travel the way I wanted to (go there on Monday morning, back on Tuesday evening), I did manage to find a combination of trains which would give me a full day in Amritsar and still be back in Delhi on time to pick up Ed from the airport on Wednesday.
I went back to the travel desk at my hotel and asked the guy to book me the trains I had found. He wanted 150 rupees per ticket for his 'service'. Wow, wait, what service? I just found these bloody trains myself? Only after threatening to walk to the train station (which was nearby) myself and buy the tickets there did he settle for a more reasonable 100 rupees for the two tickets. It was the last he ever spoke to me though.
I spoke to Ed via Skype to discuss our next options, now that plan B (or are we on plan C already?) had fallen through. It wasn't the end of the world, since the weather in Sikkim seemed to be just as dreadful as everywhere else in India. The only region that is remotely acceptable to visit during the monsoon is Rajasthan, the state I had wanted to visit after my trip with Ed.
After a week of various futile attempts at creating an itinerary Ed wasn't all that eager to be travelling around independently though. He had found an organised roundtrip through Rajasthan with a Dutch tour operator for a price that would be pretty hard to match if we'd be organising everything ourselves. I could see where he was coming from. He only had a three-week holiday and wasn't looking forward to spending half his time in Internet cafés trying to book trains and the likes. And to be honest, the idea of having our entire trip organised appealed to me. Though it is not how I usually like to travel, I had been shocked at how difficult travel in India can be. This is a country which sees about a hundred times as many tourists per year as Iran, and perhaps a thousand times more than Turkmenistan or Tajikistan, yet independent travel in those countries had proven to be far easier.
In the morning I had come across a travel agent which seemed reputable. A quick check on the Internet showed that they were getting good reports by travellers and are even working together with several UK and US tour operators. So not wanting to book this through a Dutch tour operator, I went over to this Merrygo Travels to discuss our options and see if I could arrange a similar itinerary for a similar price.
A few hours later I had whipped up a nice itinerary together with Mahinder, one of the managers at Merrygo, using the itinerary Ed had found as a basis and adding some personal choices (I was eager to have a go at spotting tigers in one of the national parks, to do a trekking somewhere now that our Himalayas trek was cancelled and add a side-trip to Mumbai, the financial capital of India.
And that was the day pretty much gone. As said, there wasn't a whole lot to do. The Independence Day festivities happen mostly indoors, with the only (visible) outdoor tradition being the flying of kites. Everywhere you looked you saw colourful kites flying high across the not-so-colourful sky. The next day newspapers reported the kites had caused numerous power cuts where kit strings had cut electric wires. At least five people had been electrocuted while flying kites. All part of the game, I guess. The next day as I was sitting on the train I saw numerous crashed kites dangling from electrical wires.
I had dinner in a small restaurant in Paharganj, where I tried a quintessential Indian dish: Tali.
It confirmed my suspicions: food might well be the highlight of the whole India experience!