Note: Red Fort is NOT Open on Monday

21 May

April 16, 2012

We (Shelagh, Pete, J.J. and I) had a flight to catch that morning that would take us from Varanasi back to New Delhi for 1 night before we would be on a train to Amritsar (something we’ve learned since our arrival to India is that traveling around is often easiest to do from Delhi). Shortly after we got up and packed we had woven our way out of downtown Varanasi’s alleyways to the taxi that was waiting for us on the main road.

We arrived at the airport early and the preliminary baggage security check wasn’t open yet, though there were 6 uniformed airline employees standing around the scanning machine, so we took a seat and waited. Something we’ve begun to notice is that there seems to be a lot of staff for any given task but until the boss gives direction there’s a lot of standing around. It appears that employment, at least in the service industry, is very hierarchically based.

Eventually we were able to go through the preliminary baggage scan and check our bags and finally board the plane to begin our 2 hour flight to New Delhi. I slept most of the way but the landing was more than a bit shaky. Shelagh and I both felt a bit queasy (I don’t remember ever being air-sick) and the feeling intensified as the little girl behind me coughed and gagged as she threw up into the vomit bag. Needless to say, I was over-joyed once my feet touched solid ground and I was able to breathe fresh air.

We met our driver and he took us first to the Ivory Palace Hotel (much fancier sounding than it is) so that we could drop off our bags before he took us to Mr. Shafi’s office so that we could pick up our itinerary for the next part of our trip that we’d pre-arranged with him from Varanasi over the phone.

Next it was off to Café Coffee Day for a bite and some much-needed coffee. Nearly as soon as we’d sat down we met 2 Indian business men. Abdullah was 45 and we learned he was married and had 2 daughters and owned the rug and pashmina shop next door. We didn’t learn his friend’s name as he was pretty quiet, allowing Abdullah to do most of the talking.

Lunch turned in to a non-negotiable tea-time at his shop where he taught us (or rather tried to sell us) silk rugs and pashminas. While we did learn a lot about spotting the differences between real hand-crafted silk rugs and the machine manufactured ones, as well as real versus fake pashminas, we managed to escape without making any purchases.

Hours had passed and it was already time for dinner. We had plans to go to Red Fort to see the nightly sound and light show and had heard from several people that Karim’s Restaurant was a must-do before the show for both its proximity to Red Fort as well as having received top ratings from a number of newspaper reviews.

Karim’s didn’t look like much, almost like the 2-4-1 pizza place in Ottawa, but the food, from what I heard from J.J., She and Pete, was really good. (My stomach’s been a bit wonky since our arrival and I’ve been dealing with a ridiculous canker that hinders my regular healthy appetite so I can only comment on the soda water and Naan – both very good.)

After dinner we walked up the street in the direction of Red Fort, passing pedlars of any knick-knack you could imagine and the many dogs sleeping on car roofs while working hard not to become a pedestrian-hit-by-motor-vehicle statistic (dodging cars in India while crossing the street could be an Olympic sport – something to think about, London 2012). It looked to be a bit dark but we figured it was to make the sound and light show seem all the more impressive once it began. Wrong. The Red Fort sound and light show is closed 1 day a week: Monday. It was Monday.

We decided to call it a night and head back to our hotel in a tuk tuk. After negotiating a price we were on our way, our driver stopping at nearly every street corner to get directions. Yes, it took longer to get to the hotel than if he’d known the way but at least he stopped to ask for help. Nothing North American about that man, right guys?

We got up to our room and the first thing I noticed was a strong toxic chemical smell. I’ve got a stronger sense of smell than most (often times not a blessing in India) so I shook it off and went to bed, barely sleeping between the smell and a very, very upset stomach. And so Delhi Belly begins.

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