We arrived yesterday afternoon. We were all in bed, asleep by 20:00. Consequently we all woke up at 04:00 (06:30 in Perth) but all managed to fall back asleep for a few hours. In the hotel club lounge, eating assorted small portion breakfast foods (I instantly forgot watermelon juice would be the equivalent of eating salad, just like the chopped tomato last night in the bruschetta), we planned our day: take an Uber towards Connaught Place (Mum went here before, it was a tourist area and she had enjoyed it, in particular the circular colonnade) and then wander about; connect to the free wifi at the Starbucks and take an Uber back to the hotel; Uber to Anuvinda’s house for lunch. At least the first part of our plan worked.
The Utility of Uber in New Delhi
Uber has changed the way we travel. In North America I no longer sit in the back of a taxi, anxiously picking at my nails calculating and re-calculating what 10%, 20% of the fare is to add on the cost of a reasonable tip and whether I have appropriate small change cash, if at all, or if the EFTPOS machine will magically be working or not. My last trip to San Francisco I clicked on, “Uber Pool”, and enjoyed car-pooling without cash and feeling very safe, comfortable, not lost and not making as awful an impact on the environment. Uber is available in Delhi but the culture is different.
I selected pick up at the hotel right outside the front door, in the curved driveway. The Uber car was two block East. It didn’t move. The app suggested a pick up location that, on Google maps, was a further two blocks East of the car’s location. We waited. The car waited. Eventually we walked to the car’s location and the driver seemed nonchalant and let us in, and drove off. The pathway from our hotel to the central, touristy and full of beggars and pushy people, was mostly North. The instructions given by the GPS system were concise and direct. The driver did not speak English. I don’t know why he chose to have the GPS give instructions in English but I had to redirect him at two of the several roundabouts, from exiting one radius too early.
Agrasen Ki Baoli, New Delhi, India
Our first stop today was a large public well that I’d seen a photograph of, in the magazine onboard the flight from Singapore. I had not written down the name. Thank goodness for Google, the convenience of being able to write things like, “well near Connaught Place, New Delhi”, and for it to return: Agrasen ki Baoli, New Delhi, India. It was literally awesome. I have no idea how old it is, how it was made, and whether it remains functional. Birds have roosted in the doorways on the sides and it sounded like bats in the roof on one side. The bottom of the well had some stagnant water, with rubbish and probably mosquitos but this did not detract from the ambience. It made our morning.
We started walking North, towards Connaught Place, but got waylaid by a Sikh man as we crossed Tolstoy Road, “It’s all closed… I don’t want money… Don’t walk that way; people will through shit on your shoes and ask you to pay to clean it off, there are pickpockets and beggars… take the tuk-tuk to the shopping centre!” Dazed we bundled into a tuk-tuk that he hailed, protesting that he did not want money and would not go with us, just beware of Connaught Place, and we sped away North West.
Daniel and I do not like shopping malls, let alone the rabbit-warren stuffy and stacked with tourist fodder place we were taken to, very much like the Little India shops in Singapore, except without any other customers and about 5 attentive staff per room just waiting for a customer. I wanted to leave immediately, Dan about five seconds later. Mum happily wandered through the entire place, each room getting the hard sell. The woman really tried to show her all the jewellery, the main upstairs all the intricate inlaid marble (Dan and Mum both began to consider some small inlaid marble coffee table tops until they converted the price to AUD – A$1500 is a lot of money). As we entered each room staff flicked on the light switches and began to talk about the products, “These are teak, they are so strong you could drop them and they will not break.” I don’t need stuff. I don’t want trinkets. I just want to see places, eat some food, say, “Thank-you,” and go home. I came with a carry-on and I will leave with a carry-on. The lights were quickly turned off as we left each room.
The tuk-tuk driver had waited for us. We were almost out of cash. We had relied on Mum’s small wad of cash, left over from her last trip to India, to last us the week but turns out India declared almost all of it no longer legal tender back in November and Mum didn’t rush to a bank to exchange it. The deadline passed 4 weeks ago. It was now worthless. Several thousand rupees. We negotiated the driver to take us to Connaught Place, to an ATM. Mum was eager to walk around the central part of the city, and gaze at the white circular colonnades.
Either Mum and Dan pushed in front (by accident) of the man and woman waiting outside the Citibank ATM, or the woman was waiting for tourists to go in, to skim their cards. Dan withdrew the maximal daily amount of 2500 rupees (A$50).
We found the Starbucks, both Daniel and I were on high alert as the atmosphere was like Roma’s Termini, ten-fold. Mum had made eye contact and then conversation with at least three separate men, one suggesting that he was a traveller and worked at McDonalds but dressed better than us (they must make a lot of money at McDonalds in Delhi) and trying to convince us to go to the shopping centre we were explicitly told not to go by the tuk-tuk driver. When we found the free wifi at Starbucks required cell phone international roaming, which we don’t have (bloody iiNet), and Mum had no idea of Anuvinda’s address (“block D” is not an address) Dan rescued the day by finding the train station names on our paper map (TripAdvisor maps stopped loading on our iPhones), navigating to the nearest station (via a “subway” which was literally just a subway to a carpark) and then back to AIIMS, where we caught a tuk-tuk back to our hotel.
Mum’s gone on to visit Anuvinda this afternoon. Dan and I are re-charging in the hotel. We used up our adrenalin stores this morning trying to herd Mum away from people and through the metro. I feel like a helicopter parent. I don’t think I’m cut out to have kids. I wouldn’t let them outside unless they were locked in a zorb ball.