Back to the front lines with reinforcements: Sean, Olly and Whetu.
Surprisingly the flight back to Delhi was uneventful. Unsurprisingly trying to board the plane in Leh wasn’t. Not only was a civilian plane load of military soldiers trying get through check in, but whilst we were partying it up in Ladakh there were bombings in the state of Gujarat which were in apparent retaliation to massacres in the early 2000s of many Muslims by Hindus. The Kiwis having managed to fly out the day before, and Mudassir and Fran remaining in Ladakh it was up to Sean, Olly, Whetu and I to work out how to get our hand luggage, normal luggage and beautiful selves onto that plane. If the steps outline at Delhi airport were confusing, Leh airport was a nightmare. Olly had a spit the dummy at the Deccan check in desk, we got to queue continuously for two hours in a domestic terminal and many nearly lost their cycle helmets to cargo hold luggage compression. Due to security we were barely allowed to take a cellphone or an ipod onto the plane, but they didn’t communicate that too well. Luckily we were allowed clothes.
Once ‘safely’ in Delhi we negotiated our pre-paid taxi fare and headed of to the essential Parah Ganj again. Being old hand and having been chauffeured around for the previous two weeks in Ladakh I felt right in my element. On the way our taxi got a flat tire in the middle of the road, a friendly passing policeman made our driver stop changing it in the middle of rush hour traffic and pull over to the side. We clapped after the twenty minutes it took the driver to change the tire, he didn’t seem to want or need our help. Talk about feeling like tourists, bags strewn on the side of the road next to a beaten up old taxi on a jack with ‘the driver’ frantically trying to fix it. My notions of what is ‘ethical’ are in trouble right at this moment.
Parah Ganj was Parah Ganj, still the delightful sh#t hole that I left. We checked into the Vivek Hotel and proceeded to wander around Delhi. First stop was the Vedi tailors where I was getting VS to make my beautiful suits! I had to go for a fitting and incidentally (but unsurprisingly) everyone who was there went mental buying tailor made shirts for a tenner (R1000s) each. Whetu Olly and I then rushed as fast as our little legs could carry us to the local MacDonalds at Connaught Place, the little Capitalist whores that we are. Sean protested vigorously and refused to step inside but there was no stopping us. Check our disappointment when we discovered (of course this is India) that there was no cow on the menu. Many varieties of chicken and vegetarian, they had Filet-o-Fish although Delhi is quite far from the sea… There was no Big Mac, rather a Maharaja Mac which consisted of what I think consisted of separate chickpea and chicken patties with a curry style secret Mac sauce. Thankfully I also ordered a Mc Chicken chaser which got rid of the Maharaja.
We then caught an auto-rickshaw ride with Sean’s behind hanging out of the side as in Delhi they only seat three, supposedly although we have seen at least five people not including the driver at times. On the journey a young girl deftly inserted her hand into his back pocket whilst charging through an intersection at speed. The talent, the skill, only to be thwarted by an empty pocket. The insurgents are everywhere.
The first stop was the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi which is the largest mosque in Delhi. I was suitably impressed although the fees for entrance, camera, shoe and then climbing the minaret tower for what was essentially a free religious building took the shine off. None of us at least payed the con artist at the toilets outside the mosque for their use. The view from the top of the minaret was amazing revealing Old Delhi as five storey buildings covered in dust, wires, rubbish and monkeys as far as the eye can see. Skyscrapers Delhi has very few of.
The Jama Masjid shine began to wear off, and as we were walking though the winding back streets of Old Delhi soaking up alleys of auto-parts, stationary or beads Sean and Olly decided to get a shave, and then facial massages. After waiting fourty minutes, Whetu did the sensible thing and got a massage as well. I however proceeded to swear angrily at the amount of time it was all taking and dive into a sulk. I wasn’t expecting to react in such a way, but turns out I have got quite used to travelling on my own at a pace I like. I got over it, I am sure they have too. Thankfully I became more aware of my travel sensibilities from then on. Travelling with other people is like an intense short term relationship, it involves a lot of ups, downs, stresses and compromises. Where in Ladakh Mudassir bore all of the stresses of organising things, here it was down to us kids to sort ourselves out. I think we did alright.
Our final destination, the Red Fort was shut of course, being a Monday, so we went back to Connaught Place looking for something to eat. Before finding a restaurant we stumbled across QBA, a bar that wouldn’t have been out of place in London. Its air-conditioned, leather seated goodness, half price happy hour beers until 7.30pm and Blade Runner-esque golden sundown through half closed blinds aesthetic catapulted us out of the reality that was a stairway away. Our discussions revolved initially around the incongruous and obscene when compared to the average Indians monthly salary luxury we were experiencing until the beers started flowing and then we just talked about films and crap.