my first day in New Delhi

There’s something special about the first days in a new city. Like first love. Your senses are highlighted, you mind alive in anticipation and your heart soaring. I just enjoyed my first two days here, full of interesting little twists and turns.

On day one, my task was to sort out my travel arrangement to Mumbai. The friend I am staying with kindly sent her driver to take me to a nearby market and she apologized that she wouldn’t be able to spare the car for the rest of the day. I told her no need to apologize as I actually preferred to go about in the cheap auto-rickshaw – then I wold feel like a real traveler. At the market, I found a travel agency which doesn’t deal with rail travel. Flight to Mumbai turned out a lot more expensive than I expected at almost 10,000 rupees ($200). So I decided to try to get a train ticket. I always hold a rather romantic notion of travelling in India by train, even though the steamers no longer exist.

I was directed to another market ‘only twenty minutes away’ for this Rail Ticket Reservation Center’. It took forty minutes. Once there, I began to ask around. Some people who have heard about the center vaguely pointed me to the other side of the market. It took ten people’s fingers to get me to the little office. Each time, people asked me where I came from. The Indians are very curious and they don’t see many independent Chinese travelers. Once at the center, I had to fill out a reservation form and then queued for twenty minutes. I asked for one first class ticket for 21 (three days away) but was told all tickets had sold out. As a foreigner, however, I could go to the tourism bureau inside the New Delhi rail station where there ought to be some tickets reserved for foreigners.

Off I went, in another auto-rickshaw. After about half an hour, the traffic became increasingly congested. The driver doesn’t know English but certainly knows his ways around. He began to head to the side street but was forced to return as they were also congested. At one junction, the whole thing almost came to a half as bus, cars, rickshaws (man-powered and auto-powered) all tangled up. The driver became increasingly agitated and talked loudly and excitedly, which, of course, didn’t mean anything to me. I asked a man (who looked urban and educated) on his motor-bike what was happening. He explained that there the some sections of the main roads were blocked due to an emergency. What should I do, I asked him. Take the metro. “Or the motor bike,” I smiled at him. “I am happy to pay you.” He moved his head, the way Indians do readily, to signal an agreement.

So I deserted the rickshaw and got on his motorbike. He told me his name, which I forgot immediately. He works as an event manager for a company in Delhi. “The way to go!” I laughed out loud as his iron horse charged ahead, driving along the pavement for a while before he could find a space to squeeze his bike on the main road. He zigzagged, dodging the heavy traffic and still managed to drive fast. It was a sunny balmy day. A gentle breeze was glowing. And I felt I was in the ninth heaven! He stopped in front of a metro station. “This is the best way,” he said. I knew he was right. “How much?” my hand reached for my purse. He shook his head violently. “I just want to be helpful.” I bowed to thank him.

The metro was crowded as one can imagine but it is one of the few things that functions well in Delhi.

At the Tourism Bureau inside the station, I found about five dozens of people queue for two counters. A lady before me said there should be fine but three had gone for semi-permanent tea breaks and it had been moving very slowly. I went to the information desk and learnt that there were only two tickets of first class tickets left (I wouldn’t consider the second class because you would have to bring your own bedding as I had learnt from my previous experience.) “Oh, no hope then?” “No, you’ll get a ticket,” the information guy informed me. “But there are all these people before me.” “They don’t go to Mumbai.” “How do you know?” The guy pointed a finger at heaven. “God tells me.” I smiled and took my leave. I am old enough to know to trust reason instead of gods. I didn’t want wasting hours there just for a slim possibility.

I didn’t achieve anything but mostly enjoyed the process, in particularly, my joy ride. All part of the Indian experience anyway.

From there, things turned out smoothly. In the early evening, I was invited to attend a lecture entitled Image of Time by one of the speakers Anaya, who I had met during my previous trips to India. One of many things I love about India is its very vibrant intellectual scene. For my next few days in Delhi, I’ll be going to some sorts of literary events every day and I shall relish it.

Afterwards, a close friend’s Indian friend came to pick me up. I had only received the email of introduction this morning. Soon he called and made the arrangement. He is a successful businessman who is mad about polo. He took me to his members-only club where I enjoyed a feast. What a good way to end a long day.

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