Brief encounter: A 16-hour layover in New Delhi

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I found myself with a week of meetings in London and was living in Hong Kong at the time. Not being one to wantonly overspend on airfares (even when the client was picking up the tab) I decided to book on Jet Airways which gave me a 16-hour layover in New Delhi on the way back to Hong Kong. While saving money was part of my motivation, I’d never been to India before either so it seemed like a reasonable idea to break the journey up with a few beers and a curry.

Upon arrival at Indira Gandhi International Airport the fun started. As myself and my colleague were only on a short layover they could not understand why we would want to pay the fees for a visa to visit the city, instead assuming that we’d rather go and sit in the airport bar or do a spot of shopping. The visas were only US$60 each so it wasn’t exactly a king’s ransom and we didn’t see the point in sitting around in the airport. Of course, they would only accept rupees for payment of the visa.

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Even though they were priced in USD (which we had with us) this resulted in my colleague actually being escorted through immigration to use the ATM in the arrivals hall, which we felt was a little strange. In any case, the end result was that we ended up with rupees in our pocket and visas in our passports. Then the fun began.

New Delhi
Even though India was closed we still witnessed some very creative driving

As we were both newbies in India we figured the easiest way to get out and about and see a few things was to hire a taxi for the day. So we approached the tour desk in the arrivals hall once we’d completed our immigration formalities. There was no queue and we approached the chap behind the counter and asked for a car and driver for the day. The response: “I’m very sorry sir, India is closed today.”

As it happened we had arrived on a day when there was a major transport strike on and there were quite literally no buses, taxis or any other form of transport available. After we explained that we only had one day in New Delhi he called a “cousin” and we ended up with this guy and his Toyota running us around town.

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Our first stop was the India gate which, in spite of the apparent closure of the entire country, had plenty of touts and tourists running about.

New Delhi

We wandered around and took a few happy snaps and then the hunger pangs set in. There was no way that I was going to visit India for the first time without hooking into some solid curry. As I’ve been banging around Asia eating street food for most of my life I was determined that we eat some hawker food. Our driver point blank refused (I suspect he’d had the inconvenience of a foreigner with Delhi Belly in his car previously) so we ended up at a restaurant. The food was fantastic, it got interesting when we decided to order a beer though.

The restaurant we were at was apparently not licensed to serve liquor. This meant that they sent the dish hand down the road to a convenience store and 15 minutes later he returned with two luke warm cans of 500ml Kingfisher which were wrapped tightly in tinfoil in order to hide the fact that we were drinking illegally. My first response was to start to remove the foil, this resulted in a firm rebuke from the proprietor.

New Delhi
I think this would’ve been far more entertaining transport than our Toyota. Until I saw one on its roof later in the day.

As we sat there drinking our foil covered cans of lager and eating our (quite seriously brilliant) curry a group of very official looking turban-clad gentlemen walked in carrying manila folders. It came to pass that they were the senior employees at the local prison. This explained the restaurateur’s hesitance for us to be seen drinking liquor in an unlicensed establishment. The ironic thing was that about 15 minutes after they sat down the same dish hand duly delivered them some very similar looking foil wrapped vessels.

The irony continued after lunch as we went to visit the place where Gandhi was martyred. Why was this particular location ironic? They had an art display on about the days of the British empire. As someone who’d very much grown up in the colonies I absolutely adored this particular image that was a part of exhibition:

New Delhi

Any other children of the British Empire will probably also have a chuckle at that. The balance of our day in New Delhi involved temples and Mogul tombs, not really my thing but, hey, since we were there.

All in all I found my day in New Delhi enjoyable and I’d love to go back and visit some time, perhaps next time on a day when “India is open”.

I would also like to add that, possibly in no small part due to the advice of my taxi driver, I avoided spending the six-hour flight back to Hong Kong locked in the airplane toilet.

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