If the first 48 hours are any indication of what lies ahead for us in the next four months, our Great Asian Adventure is going to be nuts.
Since leaving Phnom Penh Saturday noon, we:
- Flew to Bangkok, where after checking into our hotel we realized that Gabi had grabbed the wrong backpack at the airport. This launched us into a manic three hours of heading back to the airport with a nutty Thai cab driver who insisted on babbling to us in Thai all the way though it was clear we lacked the local language skills. We worked our way through the airport bureaucracy to return the bag, pay for the transit fee to its owner and retrieve Gabi’s backpack.
- Leaving the airport, we headed to Pratunam Market in central Bangkok in search of replacement luggage. This was mostly due to Gabi’s declaration at our hotel in Phnom Penh that backpacking had lost its luster for her even though we hadn’t as much as shouldered the things. “We haven’t even started and I hate this,” she griped. So we wound up buying matching luggage, transferred our stuff and gave our backpacks to two hotel staff in Bangkok who were thrilled with their acquisitions.
- Flew to Delhi, where we were greeted at the exit gate by a driver Gabi had discovered online. He was sweet, manic and delusional, and in the course of our 20 minute cab ride he spelled out an itinerary for us covering 10 or 12 days north to Agra and into Rajistan. Fat chance. He also invited us to his home, which was either one of the nicest gestures ever or a failed ploy to earn our loyalty and make a sale for a trip that had neither been agreed upon nor discussed. (Tomorrow, when he delivers us for our flight to Leh we’re giving him the bad news that we’d prefer to see India on our own.)
- Took our wonderful AirBNB hosts’ advice and headed to the dreadful Kingdom of Dreams for dinner and an introduction to India’s culture. What we found was Epcot in India – an abomination of architectural kitsch in a bizarre concrete compound built in the middle of a field populated by a dozen restaurants offering slightly upscale dining complete with artificially cloud-pocked blue skies. It was an affront to the sensibilities unlike anything I could have imagined in India. Depressing, fake, joyless and weird. But the food was pretty good. No chance for conversation over the shouting and screaming from the three musicians on stage.
- To get there, we had our first encounters with Delhi’s fantastic metro service, which is fast, air-conditioned, cheap and clean, if you don’t count the septic system eruption which left us tip toeing through raw sewage on the way back from dinner.
Spent the next morning at the stunning Qutab Minar collection of monuments, crypts and ruins in a slight drizzle. The rain kept the heat and most other visitors away, so we were treated to a wonderful casual walk among India’s rich history – pretty much by ourselves – a quiet, glorious park in South Delhi.
- Got scammed by a taxi driver who instead of delivering us to the Delhi Haat market took us to what was likely a relative’s silk and shoe shop near the Saket Metro station. We wound up trapped by a couple of Kashmiri carpet salesmen who gave us a slick presentation on the carpet-making but failed in their efforts to make a sale. “Oh, sir, buy this carpet? Only sixteen hundred and fifty dollars, tax, shipping and delivery included to your door.” “We don’t have a home.” “You can build a home around this carpet.”
- Headed back to the Metro to seek out Chandni Chowk section of Old Delhi, complete with muddy streets packed with honking cars, yelling rickshaw operators and an occasional listless cow standing in the road, a cud-chewing stoic departure from the wackiness of urban Delhi. We bought a new watch for Gabi, found a bank to exchange dollars for rupees and met Hussein. This handsome, affable, flawless English-speaking rickshaw driver took us on a two-hour tour of inner Old Delhi. We drifted through spice markets, rode through neighborhoods of saree sellers and climbed the dark, airless stairways of a four-story building to walk halls populated by spice wholesalers. We continued to roof to snap some photos of the pulsating mass below then headed to a nearby restaurant for lunch. I paid Hussein five times what he had requested, then he asked for more. With a big smile.
- Once more on the Metro, we stopped at Hauz Kahs village, an upscale-ish and much quieter section of the city, where we found an air conditioned coffee shop playing great Indian technopop and run by wonderful staff.
- Walked the dangerously narrow streets of our neighborhood while dodging cars, bicyclists and motorbike drivers to fine our way to the Touch of Class restaurant for dinner. A staffer led us to our table, switched on the lights and background music and woke up the chef to cook for the restaurant’s sole patrons. Found our way back in the dark without injury, which was no mean feat.
- Encountered amazing locals who defied their reputation as a bunch of woman-harassing, rude, pushy and grouchy money-grabbers. They turned out to be much more than that, and in a positive way. Most of our questions were greeted with helpful willingness and loads of smiles and nods. Sideways nods, in the inimitably Indian style of conveying “yes” with a gesture that to a western looks very much like “no way.”
And then? Back to our BNB for a shower and a nap. Gotta rest up for what’s next.