My decision to go to India on vacation was based on a deeply held personal belief: if you are going to use your frequent flyers miles, choose a destination that would otherwise be blasted expensive. Ticketing agents tend to be somewhat taken aback by this level of flexibility. Apparently, other travelers generally call airline ticket agents with a preferred destination in mind. A willingness to be shipped off to whatever country happens to be the most expensive and/or remote to fly to is not the goal of the average tourist. On the other hand, I get food poisoning more often than the average tourist.
Everyone agrees that air travel today gives the traveler a wide selection of service options. These most often range from the merely lackluster to the aggressively apathetic. Things are going badly south in an industry when you start thinking about Peoples Express and Aeroflot with the kind of affection you had for that ugly puppy your neighbors had when you were a kid. Therefore, the trip there was without much adventure, unless you include the anti-malarial medication I was given that also proved to be a miracle weight-loss pill in the bargain.
What to expect when arriving in India
Think of this and the next few entries as a simple guide for the first time visitor to India. I had a great time, had many instructional misadventures, I met wonderfully kind and funny people, and saw things you’ll never see in the states, which is of course why I went. Rule 1: you are not on vacation. I don’t care how many colorful pictures you have seen of the garlands of flowers and the majesty of the Taj Mahal, you are not going to relax while you are here. Sure, maybe down on the beaches of Goa between lashings of Kingfisher beer you may get the odd 3 or 4 minutes rest between touts, but that is about it. “Touts” is a word you will hear a lot during your time in India. Touts are the people that pop up from nowhere and offer everything from sweets for sale to an opportunity to visit their good friend that will make you the best deal on anything from leather goods to a small warship. Touts are not thieves; they do not steal from you. They get a commission on getting you to go to a particular hotel, shop or use a particular taxi service. If you get something via a tout, you will be paying at least 4 times the going rate for the goods or service. You will meet your first touts as soon as you arrive at the airport. These are the “taxis” that will take you to your hotel… maybe. The more likely is that they will tell you that your hotel burned down (this is not authors license on my part, this is a common thing to say). But, being the honest sort, they will take you to a fine hotel that will cost you as much as a hotel in the states that is both awful, yet overpriced. Fortunately, I made arrangements with the hotel (Hotel Relax, Nehru Bazar) in advance to send a car to pick me up at the airport. This is the best course of action unless, as happened to me, the car does not show up. Nothing screams “TOURIST” like a 43 year old man with a backpack wandering aimless around the New Delhi airport obviously looking for a lift. As luck has it, the tourist board of India has a counter to help travelers find their hotels, get reliable taxis and such. I went to the counter and asked them to call my hotel. The first question I was asked was “Did you send the hotel a deposit?”, I replied in the affirmative and received a heavy sigh in response. “Oh, I am so sorry to tell you sir. I know this hotel well, it burned down last week, there is nothing left. However, my nephew has a taxi and I am sure we can help you find a better accommodation.”
An thus, the India Tourist Board and I bid you welcome to India. The next four entries chronicle the adventures of a man who has yet to grasp the seriousness of the situation.