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Dangeling About

Delhi, Day One

INDIA | Sunday, 16 April 2017 | Views [500]

Miraculously rested after a long, long flight I feel rejuvenated. Perhaps appropriately for an Easter morning. We have some time to explore before the work starts. How thrilling!

Its time to wade into an intensely foreign landscape.

Time to see with more than my eyes, to stress-test every sense.

Time to wade in ... no, there is no half-stepping. We’re going on an adventure. Now.

We are bold. We are ready.

Anna and I gather up our supplies: a small ruc sack, some water, cash, our phones, and a camera that I may not even use and head outside of the hotel. We have a destination in mind and absolutely no idea how to get there.

The hotel, orderly and cool, rests at the intersection of flood and deluge. Nothing is within walking distance. We will need a car, a driver, or a teleporter (yes, please!) if we are to get anywhere.

We part the massive front doors and breath in the sweet acid aroma of smoldering tires and diesel fumes. We will surely melt in this reeking tandoor called outside.

There’s movement everywhere. Too many people. Too many cars. And we’re only in the driveway. I don’t know where to focus. Its hard to think in this torrent of sound, we’re surely dialed in to the hold-music* for a library in hell. And speaking of … it’s 107 degrees and humid. I thought I was prepared for this but I’m instantaneously and absolutely overwhelmed. Panic mode activated Level 3.

Every single nerve is on red alert. I feign calm and rely on skills perfected in other cities. Nacent cities, baby towns, low stakes rehearsals for friends and family by comparison. I fumble for my phone.

Our destination is a theme park like attraction for Hindus called Akshardham, a beautifully crafted temple complex, maybe 6 miles away as the myna bird flies but easily 50 minutes away by bumper car. I'm not about to chance an autorickshaw or Tuk Tuk on day one. So I call an Uber (a sin I will attone for once home).

I'm connected with a driver before I realize what I'm getting into. The fare is agreeable. The pick up point is ... unfortunate. Set nowhere near our steamy perch beneath the palms, the location lies somewhere beyond the secure gates and at the nexus of intersections too numerous and ill-defined to count. On the plus side, the hour long ride is all of 200 rupees - a price I'm more than willing to exchange for getting un-lost at a later date (but that is a different story).

At this moment, I'm overwhelmed. I don't know how to get there from here. Where is here? Where is anything? WHY is anything? My heart races and my willpower loses its first skirmish with fear. "Oh no freaking way" I mumble as I cancel the ride. Disgusted with myself, I plead with Anna to ask the valet to call us a cab. I really try to disguise the brewing panic attack but I'm failing. My inner critic gashes me with his Scimitar of Failure +4. I'm a terrible travel companion, a disappointment, a fraud, and a coward. The phone rings. The number is Indian, surely its the driver desperate to reclaim the sweet fare that got away.

"Hello?" I answer pathetically.

A barrage of Hindi erupts. If he's speaking English, then he's doing it through an impregnable accent generator. Someone clever should make that app. She'll make a fortune.

"Cancel please. Cancel, cancel." At 20 cents a minute I can afford to be more polite but my panic level is climbing: Level 5, tick. I'm desperate to try a new tactic. I need to not suck at travel, but I need to get out of the dark and angry ocean and back to the deep but mellow end of the excitement pool. A place neither safe nor unsafe, but at least I can swim.

Anna has arranged a cab, for which I'm grateful. I've pissed off the Uber guy (sorry Rajit) but he’ll get over it. And a black cab soon lurches up the steep driveway. OK. This I can do. I open the door for Anna and we slide across the bench seat together.

"Akshardham temple, please," I request with newfound bravado.

"Akshardham … Akshardham?! Very long way. Long way. 1400 rupee. I take you." The driver has a deep, textured voice like a bass string bowed by sandpaper played through a pool of oil and gravel.

"Woah! That's too much," Anna and I respond as one mind, in stereo.

"You go one way? ... or (something unintelligible). We go. 1400 rupee. Long way."

Anna, using her 'sweet' voice, a treat reserved for small children and simpletons says, "No. Too much. Uber said 200 ..."

"No Uber! No Uber here. I take you. One way 600 rupee. We go now yes." This guy could easily play Froggy in the New Delhi stage production of Lil' Rascals.

"500 rupee," I haggle. Poorly.

"No 500! 600 rupee. Good price. Very good price. We go now, ok." He starts to drive slowly.

I look at Anna. She wants to bail. I do some quick math. 3x the Uber rate divided by 2 for being intelligible minus 50 for not having to die simply exiting the parking lot minus another 50 because we're already moving. Hey! We're really doing this. The car is moving along now.

"Ok. 600 rupee. Yes" I say as if it was my idea in the first place.

And we're off to Akshardham.

 Official photo ... No cameras allowed



*Cacophony for Horn, Motor, and wailing soul in B-flat Minor

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