Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Welcome to India - 26 December 2010

Flying overseas on Christmas Day is a good value option, provided you have a friendly taxi driver living next door, as there is no public transport.

After all the snow chaos of the past week, Heathrow was looking very calm and organised. We boarded in good time, but didn't actually leave on time as we had to wait for the ground staff to compete the de-icing. However we landed in Delhi on time; swapping ice for fog.

As Kiwis, we were "privileged" to partake in an Indian 1-year trial system of getting a visa on arrival rather than posting off our passports ahead of time. Also, it was slightly cheaper – what could possibly go wrong?

We found the Visa on Arrival desk very easily, good start; and there was no queue, very positive, so we began. What a performance! We had filled out a customs arrival form on the plane and now we had another two-sided, very poorly laid out form to fill in. If they had posted this form on their website we could have been all prepared. If they had told us on the website we needed a photograph with us, we could have been all prepared. All they had said was that we needed $US60 per person; which we had duly brought. However, money man one came along and demanded $US61 per person, there being a $1 transaction fee as the money had to be converted to rupees. Why not tell us to bring rupees as none of the countries that can use this new system actually use $US?

After a little “discussion” we settled on $60 and eventually money man two came back with the rupees which we handed to money man three. Meanwhile two gentlemen behind the counter were laboriously transcribing the details from our forms into huge bound ledgers and handwriting receipts etc. The whole process took 45 minutes and we could then see the reason that they had provided seating for about 50 in the area in front of the Visa on Arrival desk. The only positive was that at the end of the procedure we were personally escorted past all the other people queuing at the immigration check-point desks. Fortunately the baggage handling was equally inefficient as the visa process so we did not hold up the rest of our party.

Out hotel was about 30 minute's drive from the airport and we had a few minutes to freshen up before we needed to leave for the tour of Delhi. The urgency was that the Jama Mosque we were to visit closed for prayers at 4pm.

Delhi traffic is everything anybody ever said about it in terms of chaos, especially once you cross from New Delhi to Old Delhi. Suddenly there are Sunday street markets and people spilling out on to the road to further impede the flow of bicycles, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, taxis, cars, trucks and buses,

We duly made it to the mosque before closing and all the women, regardless of their dress style, had to don gaudy “hospital gowns” before entering. The sole purpose of this seemed to be to embarrass the westerners as the locals were no more or less modestly dressed than our party. Although the mosque is the largest in India it is really quite disappointing compared to the Moorish mosques we have visited.

Our next stop was a large park where Gandhi was cremated in 1948. It may have looked more glorious in the past but on a foggy evening in 2010 it seemed a little tired.

Also very tired were two weary travellers and as soon as we could, after returning to the hotel, we slipped away from our group and went to bed skipping dinner as we had no desire to fall asleep with our head in a bowl of soup.

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