Generally speaking, giving yourself 2 full hours at the airport ends up being more than sufficient. Having done this in over a dozen countries, you begin to ease through the formalities with grace. And then you fly out of Delhi, India. And you’re like what the eff just happened?
You have an 8:45pm flight. You get to the airport by 6:30. To simply enter the door of the airport, you have to provide a printed itinerary. [Failure #1]. Then to print an itinerary you have to wait for 20 minutes for your airline desk to get through the five other procedural formality failures in front of you. When you finally check in, it’s already 7:30. What you don’t realize is that this is when the madness is really going to begin. You fly though immigration (despite the questioning and scowls) because thank goodness! you require “Special Assistance” due to the children who are following behind you. Then you wait for 30 minutes in the security line only to wait for another 20 to just go from the point you put your stuff on the conveyer belt to putting your boots back on (note, not your shoes – apparently boots can conceal things but shoes are totally safe). What you aren’t told ends up biting you in the ass multiple times over. 1) After being told to put your phone in your bag, it turns out that actually, you must take ALL electronics OUT of your bag. [Failure #2]. 2) There are separate lines for men and women to be frisked but after being ushered to a totally different area (and confused as all hell), you’re made to wait for an eternity because for every 2 “gents” frisking lines, there is only 1 “ladies” and apparently the “ladies” frisker is on break. [Failure #3]. And 3) it turns out that the nice little bag tags given to you at check-in aren’t optional, if each bag doesn’t get stamped through security, you ain’t getting through security. [Failure #4].
After being frisked, corralled like a sheep, given misinformation, being separated from your family, and asked for your passport/boarding pass 3 times, you begin to wonder if someone is going to tell you that you have to do a one-handed cartwheel while rubbing your stomach in order to pass the test (which, would have been [Failure #5]).
As you walk away from security, nearly high-fiving the other passengers who just went through the same madness you did, you pass by a man who says, way to keep it together Mom and Dad, to which I smile and internally reply, if you could hear my thoughts, you wouldn’t be congratulating me right now.
All said and done, it’s 8:30 and FINAL CALL is flashing when you go check the board to confirm your gate number. So you run. And then you realize that gate 14 is at the VERY end of the terminal. And the terminal is like a mile long. Not even the 10 people movers inside could get you to your gate on time. But they do, barely making your flight. And now you’re extremely sweaty. And ready for the beer they so kindly deliver (no water, no juice, just beer is offered).
On a fun note, the bathroom gender signage at Delhi International Airport is simply fantastic. Shown below is one example, where a striking Indian woman is luring in her guests by seductively biting her veil. As the Mister pointed out, aren’t these signs a bit confusing – if you were a man, which room would you choose to enter???
As we boarded our plane bound for India, I kept getting little shocks of excitement when I thought about the fact that after only 5.5 hours on the plane, we’d be in India…INDIA! While India has most definitely always been on the “to-do” list , save a day-dream or two of disappearing into an ashram and meditating my life away, it hasn’t been all that high up. But for some reason, upon embarking on our journey, I couldn’t help but feel pure excitement about our day in Delhi.
We arrived on a late night flight, which is kind of my favorite way to arrive into a new destination – you get a little taste of it in the darkness, but then as the new day begins, it is revealed to you, fresh and new. We had to be back to the airport by 6:45pm (or so we thought, I’ll get to that part later), which meant that we had about 6 hours to explore the second largest city in the world after nap-time and dinner were taken into account.
Before I go on, I need to mention how difficult it is to obtain an India Visa. Not only was it the most in-depth visa application I’ve come across yet AND the most expensive, but the whole damn ordeal was full of formalities and procedures. Good on you, India, for being super stringent about who gets to visit you and while I do understand that history has shown you that this is necessary, hot damn! – you’re not the easiest place to visit. What we didn’t realize was that the visa application was just the beginning of the procedural madness, which like I said, I’ll get to later.
Despite what I just said, immigrating into India was quite easy and groups with kids are allowed to use the “Special Assistance” line, which means that you get to basically cut in front of the 200 hundred people in front of you (not all countries allow this).
Okay, about our day in Delhi. We had ambitious aspirations, hopes that we could have realized had it not been for the fact that our ONE day in India coincided with their national Republic Day. We thus had to narrow down our sights and cut out the Red Fort, Connaught Place, and Chandni Chowk Bazaar because of celebrations going on near Old Delhi which had cut off street access. Our plan was to return for one more day on the other end of our trip, so we weren’t left too disappointed [had we known then that a flight delay would ruin this plan, which by the way, really did happen, I probably would have pushed our sight seeing more].
We hopped into a cab from our hotel, in search of the Ba’hai Lotus Temple. What started as our cab driver, turned into our tour guide for the day. For about $30 (not cheap, but totally worth it), he drove us around Delhi, suggesting places as we went.
I had been told about the prolific presence of poverty in Delhi and that first ride through the streets reaffirmed those sentiments. Everywhere we drove that morning, people were huddled around fires to keep warm (which greatly contributes to truly terrible air quality) and large swaths of the roadside was developed by makeshift tin shanty towns.
We had, of course, seen stunning photos of the Lotus Temple with glorious blue skies, but seeing as though the day we were there the sky was mostly hazy, I worried that our experience would be equally lackluster. A short stroll through the gardens surrounding the temple and I realized that even on a hazy day, the temple was impressive.
After depositing our shoes in an underground shoe cave, we made the ascent up to the temple, not sure of what to expect. This is when we realized that people in India were, if it was possible, even more intrigued by our light haired children than people in China. EVERYONE and their mother wanted to snap a shot with them. And the kids were surprisingly agreeable – though that one day pretty much ruined anyone else’s chance for the next two weeks, especially with the 3 year old with the mind of a mule who, after our day in Delhi, would say, “I don’t want to take a picture” when someone would invade his space. [This may or may not have been my fault for giving him those words].
We were given a brief introduction to the Ba’hai faith and Lotus Temple, the basis for which is just lovely. Basically, people of all faiths are encouraged to come and pray/meditate inside in the name of world peace and harmony. As with most modern religions (and ancient ones for that matter), it’s not quite so beautifully simple through and through. Despite, upon entering the temple, my heart sighed. Even though we had two young kids in tow, the peace of the temple calmed my spirit. The idea that people of all faiths were inside, united as humans searching for the same basic need, love, filled my heart.
And do you know the most miraculous part? A certain 3 and a certain almost 5 year old sat there in total and complete silence for over 5 minutes. Now THAT is glorious. Leaving the temple, we took in the magnificently symmetric architecture, posed for a few dozen more photos and met our cab driver turned tour guide to be whisked away to our next destination.
Our next stop was the Qutb Minar and Qutb Complex. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, Qutb Minar is the worlds tallest brick minaret. It was built in 1192 AD and marked the beginning of Muslim rule in India. The surrounding complex is a mix of Islamic, Hindu and Jain temple ruins and has been constructed and deconstructed many times.
An unexpected and cherry-on-the-top surprise were the resident parrots that flew hither and thither around the complex, which, clearly, were the highlight for the little explorers traveling with us. Oh, and the chipmunks. As long as there are animals, our kids are happy as clams. And ruins provide a lot of good things to jump off (no, we did not deface any ancient property), which is a win-win for child and parent.
The complex is quite large and took us quite some time to get around. Once again, we all posed for a handful of photos (until I gave the little guy the words he would use time and time again over the next few weeks, “I don’t want to take picture” – so much for empowering him). The intricate Islamic inscription and ornate detail on the Qutb Minar and its surrounding buildings is just astounding.
Our last stop was going to be Humayun’s Tomb, a replica of the Taj Mahal, but alas, it too was closed for the national holiday, so our tour guide instead brought us to a wholesale mall where we were scammed into buying beautiful Indian made goods for far too much money – sigh. As a consolation, we were also given a lesson on how Kashmir Rugs are crafted, which actually did help justify the whole experience.
Okay, so, the littlest explorer still desperately needed a nap (we had another late night flight to catch), which barely gave us enough time to grab some bomb-ass pakora and other Indian delights at our hotel and set off for the airport – where we would experience the most hilarious airport procedures of our lives. And by hilarious I mean that I had fumes coming out of my ears and the Mister was laughing. But that story will have to wait for the next post.
I definitely left India wanting more (though, we continued to get our fill of Indian food while in Nepal) and was super disappointed when my dreams of another day were crushed by a failed navigation system aboard our Jet Airways flight out of Kathmandu 16 days later.
Four surprising things about Delhi:
1) The traffic isn’t that bad.
2) The amount of security everywhere is a bit nerve-racking.
3) The difficulty of getting through the airport was NUTS.
4) The amount of historical and cultural sites abound (and the architecture thereof is awe-inspiring).