The alarm on my cell phone wakes us with a start at 2:00pm. The street noise is at high-pitch, and I wonder how we could have slept through all of the commotion emanating from three floors below.
We brush our teeth with bottled water and splash cold water on our faces, taking extra, fearful care not to ingest any of the non-filtered stuff. We are determined to make it through the next 10 days without having to take the precautionary antibiotics that our HMO has provided us. Siobhan has already prepared me for how to dress in northern India: even though it is warm, hot even, a woman must be modest and covered at all times. I choose a white blouse with a discreet neckline and three-quarter length sleeves. My navy culotte skirt only shows about an inch of skin above my socks. Sturdy walking shoes and a headscarf complete my not-so-fashionable-by-Western-standards touring outfit. As a man, Tim’s dress is less prescribed, but he chooses his clothes with an obvious desire not to stand out: a brown, loose fitting shirt and cargo pants.
We look at one another, take a deep breath and unlock the door. I think we are both a bit intimidated by the thought of once again facing the crowds, but as we have only this day in Delhi, it is time to set out to explore the old city.
The early-morning enterprise in the lobby has passed, and it seems that the lone person running the operation is the manager behind reception. He is greeting and registering four new European guests, backpackers who must have read the same guide book that brought us to The Grande Godwin. As we want our host to arrange for a cab-tour of Old Delhi, we take a seat and wait, a bit impatiently on my part, while the precious minutes of daylight tick away. Fifteen minutes pass and finally bell-boys are summoned to escort the new quests to their rooms. Tim approaches with our request. The manager-reception-clerk-bell-captain and concierge must put his “Ring Bell for Service” sign on the reception counter before he crosses to the concierge desk to assist us.
“And how may I help you today, Whalens?” he asks. Tim explains that we only have a short stay in Delhi and we wish to see the city with a driver who speaks English and can point out some of the important historical sites.
“I know of such an excellent driver. Are you willing to pay?”
“Within reason,” replies Tim.
“Then for six hours you will pay driver 500 rupees (about $10./USD) and you will pay me 200 rupees.”
Siobhan had also prepared us to expect to negotiate prices for everything, as we would immediately be identified as rich Americans who had lots of money. “That seems like a lot of money for a booking fee”, I counter. The smile leaves his face and he returns an icy stare. For the rest of the “negotiation” he speaks only to my husband, the man.
I am marginalized, put in my place. I pout.
We pay him 500 rupees for the driver, and 200 for his efforts.
While we wait for our cab, Tim continues to seek his help in securing train reservations for our trip to Jaipur. We want to travel the next day, on the early train that leaves Delhi’s main station at 6:30am. The concierge checks his computer, rubs his chin and pulls out his cell phone. A rapid Hindi conversation ensues, and he hangs up shaking his head.
“I am sorry, Whalens. You can be only # 34 and # 37 on the waitlist. Third class. No AC.”
“What does that mean?” I ask, forgetting my place. He glares at me and addresses Tim.
“It means you will pay me 300 rupees each for your waitlist ticket. There will also be a 200 rupee fixer’s fee for me. But you will waste your money. There will not be any seats for waitlist, especially high numbers. The train will be gone and so will your money.”
I am getting frustrated. “But why wouldn’t India Railway honor our tickets for another trip?”
“That is not the way it works here in India. You buy ticket for train. You take. It’s in contract.”
I am beginning to think that an extra hundred rupees would fix this problem, but we will not give in. “Maybe you stay here, in Delhi, for a few more days,” our friend says. “I make sure you see all sights and eat at fine restaurant establishments. I will take care of everything for you.”
“No. We must meet our daughter tomorrow,” states Tim. “Is there anything later in the day that would get us into Jaipur before nightfall?” Again, the concierge consults his computerized schedule, shakes his head and picks up his cell phone. He nods, smiles and hangs up. “OK. Here is what I can do for you. You take 10:00am train from other station and get into Jaipur at 3:00pm. AC chair car. Is nice for day trip. I can do for 500 rupees each and 300 fixer’s fee.”
I look at Tim. Frankly, this back-and-forth is giving me a headache and making me anxious and angry. I want to get into our taxi and see the sights, to leave this man to his “fixing”.
“All right.” He smiles broadly and makes a great show of pulling up the online reservation. “You all set, Whalens. I have car for you tomorrow morning at 9:00. Meet here in lobby.” And at that, he looks up to greet our driver.
“Samy. This is Whalens. They want to see Delhi history. You take. Six hours.”
“I would be honored,” replies Samy. Samy is a handsome, stockily-built Sikh. He wears the traditional red turban, and his beard is styled in the prescribed Sikh manner. He has a broad smile that reveals straight, white teeth and one gold eye-tooth. His eyes twinkle with some secret amusement; my own are glazed-over. He gives out a deep laugh as we all exit the lobby and walk to his car. “I see you have survived your dealings with Rajesh.” He laughs again.
And we are off to see Old Delhi.