On Wednesday the 3rd of March with tears streaming down my face and and a head full of thoughts that could wander of the edge of this earth I waved goodbye to my family and boarded a flight from London to Delhi to start a six month adventure that I knew would not only test my limits but also enrich my life in a way no other experience ever could.
I’ve never been a great traveller. I’m famous for spending entire journeys with my head in a carrier bag, but flying Emirates was a totally new experience for me. Comfortable and content my nine hour flight felt more like nine minutes. I’ll put this down to the hot towels, extra leg room, three course meal and on-tap free bar but regardless of the reason, and although my stomach somersaulted with nervous energy, I actually enjoyed the flight. Unfortunately though my new euphoric outlook would soon coming crashing right back down to earth.
Delhi’s International Airport is a sea of bodies – everyone pushing and shoving. Queuing, it seems, isn’t a concept the Indian’s like to adhere to. Battling our way through Ebola checks, customs and baggage collection, finally two hours later we made our way out front to meet our pre arranged taxi driver.
Outside was no better – the thick air clung to my nostrils and left a dusty sheen of sweat on my forehead. We searched through the many faces of men, each holding up name cards scrawled in misspelt lettering. Ours was nowhere to be seen. Up and down we walked until we were approached by a smiley looking man offering us a taxi ride. Fatigued and fed up we took him up on his offer. Three hundred rupees was agreed and within moments were in the back of a car, only with a different driver than who we had made the deal with. Undeterred we pressed on. The original man muttered something quick in his language and off we drove. Fifteen or so minutes into our journey the driver asked us what our hotel was called in confused broken English.
Bemused at his question as we had already instructed him that we were staying at the Aura Hotel, New Delhi, we once again clearly informed him and also provided the address complete with postal code. He then proceeded to drive us in circles before telling us that we couldn’t reach our hotel due to a road block and so instead he would take us to the government officials office. This office it turns out was anything but official.
Set down a dark and dingy road the brick shack sported a dirty rickety sign that read, ‘Tourist Office’. A skinny man with slicked back greasy hair met us wearing a Dr’s mask covering his mouth and nose. If alarms bells haven’t already started they sure as hell had now. It was now very clear we had been scammed. The road block we were told was due to an outbreak of Swine Flu which had killed thousands as well as an imminent tourist attack.
Delhi isn’t safe was the message but he could help us get out of the city and somewhere safe for 500 dollars. We had been well and truly had. Now lost in the middle of Delhi with no working phones, Internet or idea where to go we insisted he drop us to the airport. Bundled back into the car the fat perspiring con artist drove a few miles before stopping in the slums of Delhi, letting us out and demanding 600 rupees. We paid him the agreed 300 and just thanked God we were out of that car.
But on the streets of Delhi at 5am in the middle of a slum it wasn’t anymore comforting. Laden with all our worldly goods we walked. Towards what we didn’t know, but walking was the only choice we had. Crowds of tramps leered as we passed the piles upon piles of rubbish and human waste rotting into sodden mulch.
At every turn deserted fires burned, bellowing a stench of sour smoke that stung my eyes and made my chest tight. We were lost and scared hoping that with each new turn we would find our hotel. It was just when I could feel the tears pooling in my exhausted and frightened eyes that a tuk tuk driver pulled up alongside and asked us if we needed a ride. Desperate to get out of the slums and safe inside we offered him three times his rate if he would get us safely to our hotel.
Without another word he took our bags and offered us safe passage. Within five short minutes we saw the sign red and illuminated ‘Aura Hotel’. We paid and thanked him profusely then made our way inside.
Finally I cried. The tension draining from my body unable to hold it anymore and as we crawled into bed we told ourselves tomorrow was a new day and that from now on we would trust no one – accept maybe the tuk tuks.
Words By Sophie Maguire