Today I got up bright and early -far too early for my liking- to go to the airport. I’ve gotten used to ordering Ubers to get around, but here I booked a taxi via my hotel: since the old city is closed to traffic, doing otherwise would have meant dragging my suitcase all through the alleys to the main road, and then securing transportation from there, too much hassle when I’d be pressed for time.
Getting to the airport took less time than on the way here, under an hour; I learned that rush hour doesn’t start until nine in the morning. Once at the airport, now that I knew to have my bag scanned beforehand, the check-in and security process was routine. I was relieved to see that there was a cafe inside the secure area, because I needed to have breakfast!
The flight to Delhi was on time and without issue, except for the fact that they sat me next to an old lady who needed a wheelchair and so I couldn’t disembark until the plane was empty. When I finally managed to get out, and into a bus that took us to the terminal, the luggage was still coming out so I guess I didn’t miss much.
So here’s the thing: it was all thought out. I had planned for two nights in Delhi, one full day, mostly as a safety measure in case I couldn’t make it back in time. I thought of booking a hotel near the airport, but strangely enough all the airport hotels seem to be in a neighborhood called Aerocity which is in fact like 3 km from the actual terminal, so you have to take the metro or book a taxi anyway… So I ended up choosing a hotel near the New Delhi Station, because it’s central but most importantly because the station is also a metro station and is connected to the Airport Express Line, which runs from New Delhi Station to the airport in just 25 min (I’d kill to have an express train to either airport in Paris!). That way I had easy access to and from the airport while still being in the city for sightseeing. It was all thought out!
The first crash against the wall of reality came when I learned that in fact the Airport Express metro only goes to terminals 2 and 3, the fancy ones, while my low-cost domestic flight dropped me off at terminal 1. This meant that I had to wait for and then board a shuttle bus that drove out into the streets and then onto the closest station, the aforementioned Aerocity. Already I wasted like 20 min in this endeavor.
The metro ride itself was great; it cost only 50 rupees (€0.62) and did the entire route in less than half an hour. When I came out, though, I discovered that the New Delhi metro station drops you off outside the railway station: across the road, in fact, and on the opposite side to Paharganj, no less, the side I needed to go to. I had to lug my bag across the road, through the throngs of tuk-tuk drivers flogging their services, into the railway station, through the concerned citizens who wanted to tell me my train was cancelled, past 16 (sixteen!) train platforms to get to the Paharganj side of the station, then out the station and into the road, through the throngs of tuk-tuk drivers flogging their services, under a bridge and finally into my hotel. On the map it really looked like they were across the road from each other; in reality it took me like another 15 min! No way I’m gonna do all that again on Saturday with my bag to get back to the airport.
The hotel is a Bloomrooms, a chain that has several hotels around Delhi and which looks bizarrely like an Ikea; I don’t mean the furniture looks similar to Ikea products, I mean the hotel itself looks like an Ikea store. Lots of bright yellow! The hotel is not bad -everything looks modern and clean- but removing the easy access to the metro its location turns into a net liability, because traffic is a nightmare all around here (it’s non-stop honking, all the time, from all directions; it’s grating even though after two weeks I already tune out most of it).
So anyway, I had to do something with my afternoon but didn’t feel like embarking on proper sightseeing, so I walked out to take a look around Paharganj, the backpacker district which is on the West side of the station.
I went into the Main Bazaar, which is a relatively wide (by Delhi standards) road flanked on both sides by rows of souvenir stalls, the typical touristy fare you can find really anywhere in India. It’s a ghastly place, really, with the smoke and the traffic, although in a way I was also relieved to walk properly outside, free of the encroaching walls of the narrow Varanasi streets.
I didn’t stop at any of the stalls (didn’t see anything worth haggling for) but I took a sharp right at some point to eat at Everest Bakery Cafe, a restaurant that came recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. It’s not spectacular, but it is cheap. I had momos, a Nepali and Tibetan specialty, which are dumplings (essentially gyoza) with different fillings. They were good enough, if a bit samey; must be better with a side of rice or noodles to mix it up.
I came out onto the other side of Paharganj, onto a multi-lane avenue gridlocked with traffic, to venture into a 24seven, Delhi’s response to 7-11, where I was able to buy supplies to have a quiet dinner in tonight.
Tomorrow I have a double bill planned for my last day in Delhi: visiting the National Museum, and then going up to Connaught Place for food, shops and ice cream!