Monday, October 3, 2011


Last month I traveled to Nepal to hike the world famous Annapurna Circuit, a life intention of mine.  The flight to Kathmandu included a 13 hour layover in New Delhi, India.  Traveling with friend Rich, we decided we’d obtain tourist visas for India, so that we could have a look around New Delhi in between flights.

Sometimes you just get lucky.  As it turned out, American Airlines would not have let us board if we didn’t have visas for India, as this was the terminus for their 13.5 hour flight from Chicago to New Delhi.  Disaster averted by chance. 

To be clear—our trip would’ve ended in Seattle if we hadn’t happened to acquire the tourist visa.  Score one for hiring travel agents.  We didn’t use one, instead conducting our travel planning with CheapO Air.  Seriously—the company exists, and in fact got us the great price of $1450 for our roundtrip flight to Kathmandu.  But we never heard about the need for the extra visa--presumably a travel agent would've pointed out the need.

So…we land in New Delhi, India, half a world away.  We clear India Customs.  It is evening, and our plans are humble.  An excellent plate of chicken tandoori and chicken biryani will satisfy—we just want to eat real Indian food in India.  So, we leave the airport, bags in hand, and that’s when we meet Malik, our cab guy.

Malik is not actually a cab driver.  He claims to own nine cabs, and also claims friendship with the Traffic Police.  He says not to worry, he’ll take care of us, come along.  Things are moving fast, so we say ok.  He asks if we like to disco.  We say no—we just want to eat a good meal of Indian food.  Off we go.

Malik sits in the front seat, and directs the driver to take us somewhere in New Delhi.  The roads are absolutely crazy.  Cars cutting in front of others, pedestrians walking everywhere, the occasional sacred cow in the median.  We take it in, cracking up.

We arrive at a restaurant called Laissez Affair.  Sounds French, but Malik says it is good.  Rich and I are troubled though when we’re told we can’t take our bags inside—we’ll have to leave them outside in the cab.  We never planned on leaving our bags out of sight. I think we were both hoping more for a chance just to walk down a sidewalk, pick a restaurant, and eventually return. We didn’t anticipate middle men.

Things then get a bit more interesting when Malik insists on sitting with us at the dinner table.  He says all he wants is a Coke and white rice, but of course we offer him some of our good eats, which include some truly top notch biryani, a complex blend of lentils (dal), a bit too-dry chicken tandoori, and some interesting accompaniments, like pickled onions and lime sauce.  No real complaints about the meal—it was what we were hoping for.

Malik though turned out to be a most interesting dining companion.  He shows us pictures of his wife on his phone, and then shows us a picture of him holding his pistol, which he seems proud of.  We’re not sure what the intent is, if any, in showing us this picture. 

Afterwards, Malik wants to show us more of the city, but we’re wising up to the escalating costs.  We insist he take us back to the airport.  He tries to charge us $120 US for the cab ride.  We object, strenuously.  Finally, I say, “C’mon Malik, we fed you dinner.”  We pay him far too much, but are happy to be done with it and back at the airport.

The next seven hours are spent walking around the airport, up all night, checking out coffee options, lounge options, India television.  Costa Coffee sure looks a lot like Starbucks, est. 1971.  On the tele, we note that one Indian politician, accused of corruption, is admitted to the hospital for “feelings of uneasiness.” 

And that was India.

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