An early morning flight to Delhi meant a very early wake-up at 4:10AM. Our driver was there at 5:00 for the long drive to the airport, and then a long wait for the airport to completely wake up. To board a plane in India, you must first show your ticket or an e-ticket before being allowed to enter the airport. Then your checked-in baggage goes through screening and is sealed. Next, you check yourself and your bags in at the airline counter, and then go through personal security, with ladies in a screened booth for modesty, with a female screener who uses a wand. There are not very many ladies, so it goes fast. The security is very tight - they want to see everything in your pockets. Your carry-ons get a stamped ticket which is checked before boarding. A long, long wait ensues before you are allowed to board, which means getting on a bus and being driven out to the plane for domestic flights. This time we were on Indian Airlines, state-run, and a little less well-funded, and therefore less well-maintained (just cosmetically, we hope) and a bit grungy. The flight was late departing, and later arriving in Delhi, making a 3-hour flight even longer - it is about 1,000 miles from Cochin to Delhi. Our bags showed up fairly quickly, and to our great joy, there was a man in the crowd outside holding up a Classic Journeys sign. How wonderful to see him and be escorted to a more comfortable and air-conditioned vehicle for the 45-minute drive to our hotel. This was not our actual trip guide with a driver, but he gave us the usual pointers about drinking water, no street food, and how to ignore beggars and hawkers.
The drive to the hotel showed that, at least for this part of the area, New Delhi looks pretty prosperous and the streets were the best we had seen in India - broad, multi-laned, and stoplights. Kids come up to the windows at stoplights to try to sell you all sorts of stuff, but you just ignore them. (Why aren't they in school - it was the middle of a school day? And school is compulsory, we were told. Public school is free - perhaps there are hidden expenses - they do wear uniforms which must cost something, but do the parents or someone else exploit them? There is a lot of child labor in India.)
Our hotel, the Oberoi, is extremely posh - celebrities stay here. The staff bows (not genuflect as the guidebook said), the car is bomb-sniffed, and we went through another airport security screening gate just inside including X-ray of of hand-carried things. Security is very tight - there is an underlying threat of terrorism, usually Indian in origin, not Al-Qaida.
We entered an elevator with our concierge and another couple, from San Diego, and as soon as it started, the elevator got stuck between floors. The poor woman from San Diego had a bad case of claustrophobia, and her husband was very caring for her. The three of us carried on a conversation about where we were from, who we were touring with, where we had been, etc. in a deliberate effort to distract her. After the concierge used the elevator phone to call, there were several false starts, but finally in a few minutes, we got back to the lobby, were met with profuse apologies and were put on a different elevator. We are on the fourth floor with a view of a large green area and the city skyline in the distance. The room even has a "butler" button to press for assistance of any sort.
We had a good lunch (sandwiches) and a good dinner (pizza for Anne and roast chicken for Tom). The beds are very comfortable, although with a big comforter over a sheet, it is either too hot or not quite warm enough with just the sheet.
During the night, Anne got up for a drink of water, and noticed a light on in a closet. She tried to turn it off, and got an electric shock! We thought that might happen back at the Global Volunteers guest house, but not at the posh Oberoi Hotel. Nothing is up to any code like at home here.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
This morning we met the group and our guide. Everyone is great, and we are all having a good time. D.P., the guide, has excellent English, had worked closely with Classic Journeys to plan the first India trip last February, and has made some minor revisions based on that experience. We feel very pampered and taken care of now.
We left together at 9:15 and boarded our bus - bigger than a van, but smaller than one of those big tour buses. There are 12 in the group, so we need a bit more space than on other such trips. There is also a driver and his helper who does all the chores like passing out bottles of drinking water and making sure we get on and off the bus without falling down. The bus is air-conditioned and very comfortable.
We stopped first at a monument for World War I soldiers which involved a short walk, and then on to Old Delhi for a walking tour. The traffic is very congested, but the streets are broad, plenty of stoplights, no hills, and it is much better than in Chennai. It seems cleaner than Chennai, but then we aren't touring the slums either. Delhi is a city full of government bureaucrats as well as other companies and businesses. A drive to almost anywhere takes a long time.
Old Delhi still has the feel of an Indian city, with a maze of streets and alleys and shops. We enjoyed the walk very much. Later we went to a big mosque, removing our shoes. One lady in our group was deemed to have sleeves that showed too much shoulder, so a muu-muu gown was put over her head. Afterward, we had a good Indian lunch - not too spicy - in a restaurant patterned after the thieves' market, meaning nothing matched on the table. We then went on to a large memorial park to Mahatma Ghandi, and then toured the magnificent tomb of the second Moghal emperor, Humayun. it was huge and architecturally beautiful. We looked at the government complex, thankfully from the outside. Then we finally arrived back at the hotel and found that security was very tight because the Queen of Belgium was staying there - and her motorcade came in as we walked up to the door. She got out with her entourage and security - an ordinary-looking blonde, middle-aged woman in a bright pink sleeveless shirt!
Later, we were driven across the city again at 6:30 for a lovely dinner at the home of General Uban and his wife. He has been retired for a few years, having left the army instead of becoming the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because he did not want to have to violate his conscience - whatever that means, and we don't want to know! He and his wife are highly sophisticated and very enjoyable to talk with, as well as well traveled. Tom had a long conversation with Rano, the General's wife, telling her where we lived and pinpointing our location with the city of Toronto (everyone seems to know where this Canadian City is located). She asked if it was difficult to cross the border to Canada from the US and Tom told her of the rather easy crossing that takes place without passports and that many Americans don't even have passports. She was appalled with this fact and even more so that the VP candidate (Sarah Palin) didn't have a passport until a year ago!
General Uban was posted to Hawaii as a liaison to the American armed forces for awhile, and he said he was impressed with their professionalism - gosh, we hope so! They served drinks (quite a liquor cabinet!) and then dinner. We felt that we were being royally entertained by some incredible people! We then went back to our hotel in half the time it took to get there with less traffic, and had a good night's sleep.