Now that we are over 5 months into our international travels, Jeff and I have had to do a lot of planning and research on the fly. Via social media it looks (hopefully), like we are living this carefree life of a never-ending holiday. Most of the time it’s like that, however there is are a lot of logistics we have to account for every time we travel to a new country. Knowing we would soon be in India, we have been following the Indian Rupee crisis closely. A girl’s got to eat!!!!
Cliff’s note’s version: the Indian government decided to print new 2000 and 500 Rupee notes, making old 1000 and 500 void in a very short time with practically zero notice. This is to crack down on corruption, which will hopefully be a good thing in the long term, but created a huge crisis currently. Realizing that we might have trouble getting usable Rupees once we landed in India, we took a tour of the Dubai Airport trying to find a currency exchange that had valid notes. As a rule, we NEVER use currency exchanges due to the large fees. We always pull cash from an ATM once we land since we don’t have any international transaction fees. As it turned out, losing $30 at the money exchange was a really good decision. We have been here for 6 days (I’m currently writing this on train ride) and have not been able to use an ATM yet! Many shops and restaurants are closed as there is no money in circulation. People have been waiting in lines for a minimum of 2 hours to get cash, if there is any left by the time it is your turn. Locals can only pull 2000 Rupees at a time (about $29), while foreigners can pull 5 times that.
Anyway, we had an uneventful flight from Dubai to New Delhi. We had decided a few months ago that we would book a tour through the Australian company, Intrepid Travel. We both weren’t comfortable with the idea of figuring out how to navigate India by ourselves, and wanted to just be able to show up and have someone show us the ropes. As a bonus, we wanted to be a part of a travel group instead of traveling by ourselves. Yay new friends to talk to! We signed up for a 23-day tour of Northern India.
A pre-arranged driver picked us up at the airport in Delhi. We walked out into an extremely polluted atmosphere. We had also been reading about the air pollution in Delhi (they closed the schools a few weeks ago because it was so bad). We had prepared by buying face masks in Dubai, and to my surprise, no one was wearing any protection once we landed in India. We were later told that we were seeing a pretty clear day compared to what it normally is. (Note: my lungs were still kind of burning.)
The ride to the hotel was a culture shock in itself. We were in a car down a 3-lane highway. There were 4 to 5 lanes of traffic on one side of the road at a time. From what I can tell there are NO RULES when it comes to driving in India. Miraculously, buses, tuk tuks, cars, motorcycles and bikes all seem to use some sort of intuitive road rules and (for the most part) people actually get where they are headed without an accident. (Accident is defined as ‘totaling the vehicle.’ Scrapes, dents and playing bumper cars doesn’t count.)
The day after arrival, we met our 7 other tour group members and our guide. Get ready for a cast of characters in the next few posts! Jeff and I have our own private hotel room for this tour, but we are not staying anywhere that we can cook for ourselves. I see lots of rice and curry in our future.
On the first day of our group tour, Shakti (our guide), took us to Old Delhi via the metro. 18.5 million people live in Delhi. It has a population density of over 29,000 people per square mile which is one of the highest in the world. There are people EVERYWHERE! The metro was no exception. We threw our personal space out the window and successfully made it (with a transfer) downtown on the metro.
From there we toured the Wedding Market street, a mosque, and Sikh Temple.
After lunch, we grabbed our luggage and headed to the train station for our first overnight train ride to Jaisalmer.
Jeff and I shared our bunk space with 6 strangers, and while it wasn’t the best nights sleep, we made it safely and on time to our destination.
P.S. I’m not sure how to describe my first impressions of India…I have never been to Asia before and I didn’t really have any preconceived ideas about this place. I did think that it would be more developed than the areas we have been in so far. Right now, the places we visited in Africa have had more infrastructure that we have seen here. Right now I'm reserving judgement- more to come soon!