One of my biggest fears of this trip is the point of arrival in India. Most flights arrive at night (10pm) and that intimidates me; I have a preconceived idea of the airport and roads, after having conversations with friends or colleagues who were born and bred in India or have been there. These were some of the things they said: “Once you step out of the airport, there is no turning back, it’s hard to enter again, ensure you book your taxi inside…”, “Be careful, people will try to snatch your bags…”, “People will be in your face…”, “Keep your belongings close to you…”, and lots more. Can you see why I’m worried about arriving, especially when it’s at night?
The moment we arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, I was trying to compose myself. No matter what happens, I will remain calm and analyse the situation and make sound decisions. I kept running this sequence in my head, my very own mental mantra: remain calm, analyse situation, make sound decisions, remain calm, analyse situation, make sound decisions…until my eyes met with this wonderful artwork!
The queue was fast, a lot of counters were in operation, everything was efficient, passport chopped, passport checked, I AM OFFICIALLY IN INDIA Y’ALL!
I needed to get some duty-free stuff for my host (I couchsurfed, you can too!) so we went into one of the shops. One of their staff helped us with getting the stuff. A very friendly, competent and helpful guy. I forgot to ask for his name though.
What surprised me was that they only accept cards. I told the cashier I don’t have any cards, only cash. When I gave him Rs6000, (USD96/SGD122), the cashier asked for US dollar. Seriously? WTF. Agitated, I asked, “Well this is India, why would we have US dollar with us?” He shook his head (oh yes, they really do that a lot) and I don’t know if that’s a sorry, or a no, or something else. After an awkward silence, with me staring at him, he broke it with more absurd questions, “Malaysian ringgit? Singapore dollar?”
I was left with no choice but to raise my voice, “NO. WE ONLY HAVE INDIAN RUPEES. FINE. WE’RE NOT BUYING.” A voice emerged from the back, a Sikh man, in his 50s offered to pay using his card. We gave him cash. Such a lovely man.
Seriously, I don’t know if this is a scam, but…it’s really ridiculous that only Indians can use rupees to pay. Tourists, on the other hand, must use cards or their own currency. Who the hell would bring other currency but rupees to India? (Which reminds me, I need to get to the bottom of this!)
So, we got our bags, everything’s alright, though my rain cover is now missing. I anticipated that, it’s that nonadjustable rain cover, which is stupid. Sorry Jack Wolfskin, I love the design, the comfort, the durability, but not the rain cover. Not a big issue though.
My host advised for us to take certain taxis but we don’t want to haggle on the first night, especially during jet lag, and everything is foreign, blah blah blah, so we decided to get the prepaid taxi. While walking towards the booth, I glanced over my shoulder to look at the scene outside. Oh yes, there were a lot of people. Wow. I’ll deal with that later.
The man at the counter looked nice. I gave him the address, we paid and left. I prayed. I prayed hard. Please, please, don’t snatch our bags. Don’t touch us. Don’t do anything to us. Remain calm, analyse situation, make sound decisions, remain calm, analyse situation, make sound decisions.
Whoah. Nothing happened. Most were men, but…they did not do anything funny or tried to be funny with us. They weren’t yelling or anything like that. There weren’t a lot of people; I thought I saw thousands, but…there were less than 50. Phew. I was worried sick for nothing!
We boarded the taxi. After a few seconds, we learnt that the driver doesn’t speak English. Ahh…hello Challenge. The driver stopped at certain points to ask for directions, obviously we were in a little bit of trouble. The roads were dark, signboards were not helpful, etc. We went round and round. The clue? “Near American Express, opposite a golf course”. Hmm. Not so helpful when the place is dark. Thankfully my friend has a powerful eyesight. She saw American Express, and we drove towards that direction.
We arrived close to midnight. Yup, 2 hours of shopping in the duty-free shop, waiting for our backpacks and most of the time, going round and round Gurgaon. My host said that prepaid taxi drivers are uneducated, they don’t understand English. Ahh okay. We’ll try to avoid them in the future. Lying on a bed has never been better.