We roam around the New Delhi Airport tired, confused and internet-less for a good hour and a half before agreeing to get in a taxi on the street in which, not just one, but two men get in, one to drive and one to tell us how we should give them a tip if we like the ride. After driving for 20 minutes, we realize we’ve been going in the wrong direction, at which point we voice our concerns and the haggler-now-turned-navigator starts googling our hotel. After a disturbing conversation with the supposed hotel owner (hearing what we thought sounded suspiciously like gunshots in the background) we are told that the area is closed due to the protests and we can’t stay there because it’s dangerous. Now our haggler/navigator “friend” says he’ll take us to a tourist information office where we can get help. Note that we had been conveniently driving in that direction the entire time! We get out of the car and pay him but he’s not happy with the 20% tip and proceeds to haggle for more. “We’ve had a long day, we’re not even at our hotel yet and we’ve already paid you more than what you asked for so can you just take this and leave us be?” tired and irritated me snaps at him. “Okay okay okay” he shakes our hands and leaves.
Now we’re sitting around a desk with all of our bags and the tourist information guy is explaining how all cheap hostels are in the “dangerous” areas and how the only hotel he managed to find for the people before us was some Plaza at a rate of $450. Per night. An abrupt laugh escapes my lips. I think of what I must look like right at that moment, after over 20 hours of traveling, sleeping in the same clothes for 2 days and no access to a toothbrush or a hairbrush, and laugh again at his conviction that I look like someone willing to pay $450 for a night in a hotel. After going back and forth between options and talking about music and Sufism with his colleague, we end up receiving an invitation to stay at their house instead. At this point it’s past 2am and one of them takes us to an indian 7/11 type store for food, cause we “must be starving”, not allowing us to pay for the momos, brownies and muffins we gorge down. We talk about politics, religion, travel and how tired we are. We go back to the tourist office and they lead us to a room upstairs with a mattress and some blankets on the floor, that happens to also be the surveillance room for the tourist office, a bunch of camera angles on a computer screen staring down at us. Apparently Abdul, the “master of disaster” was sleeping there but we are guests so he doesn’t mind lending us his bed. We snuggle next to each other in numerous layers to protect us from the cold and the questionable blankets. “We totally got scammed, didn’t we?” We both agree as we reflect on the night and feel sorry for the hotel owner waiting for us to arrive till the early hours of the morning. We manage to catch a few winks before it’s morning again and we’re being invited for our first Indian breakfast. And what a breakfast that was! The most scrumptious parathas I have ever tasted, made even better by the room full of generous and only a little sketchy Indian men, all competing with one another for the next handful of oily bread and onions and asking us over and over if we like it. “We love it” we say. We love India, we think. Sometime between breakfast and tea we even get offered paid work with them if we stay in Delhi, helping them revamp a house and turn it into a hostel. Tempting, but we kindly decline. “We have places to be, people are waiting for us” we say. “But don’t you think destiny brought you here?” they insist. I’m pretty sure it was a sketchy taxi driver but call it as you wish.
The rest of the morning is spent planning our next move after deciding we don’t want to spend another night with our hosts due to a comment on one’s side that he’d never slept with a Bulgarian woman, he doesn’t know what it’s like. “Me neither,” I awkwardly said and inched away from him. Why did it have to go down that road? We actually thought we’d found friends in them… Later that day we expertly avoid scammers as we buy a local SIM card (we’re too experienced to fall victim to that kind of thing again), graciously maybe accept an offer to go to a freestyle dancer’s mom’s house in the Himalayas for food and weed, make a decision between the two free rides we end up being offered to Agra and after a rather hasty goodbye we leave the crazy and polluted mess that Delhi is for the comfort and warmth of an Indian family’s home near the Taj Mahal. Fast forward a few hours: we’re in an old dirty bus, it’s pouring outside, we’re freezing and we’ve barely slept but we are happy. Our adventure has just began and we can’t wait to see where the next day takes us.