Most trips to any number of locales will have unintended or unforeseen complications. In our two month journey through India we experienced several hiccups. Perhaps some could have been anticipated, and I will readily admit that Chelle was prepared in ways that I was not. She did significantly more advanced prep work in the weeks leading up to our departure. My “fly by the seat of the pants” style of travel caused a few issues, which ultimately led to more expensive transportation issues than was necessary. Conversely, it was impossible to predict the currency demonetization that hampered our travels considerably.
Indians demonstrated a generosity of spirit that I have witnessed in prior trips to developing nations. To be on the receiving end of such kindness from some who have so little material wealth is epically humbling. The level of gratitude for just taking a moment to say hello, to smile, to buy a trinket or some chaat was a testimony to the enduring human spirit. The concern that regular Indians demonstrated to us by making sure we reached the right train station or bus stop. The time I needed to get a bus ticket and the entire busload of passengers glued to the window…wanting to make sure I was in the correct wicket. A family sharing samosa on the train, the young university student who explained the different train classes, the stranger who followed me for 6 blocks to give me a wad of rupees that I dropped. The co-owner of our hotel in Darjeeling that personally made us dinner when we were under the weather.
I have posted previously of the wealth of Indian being it’s people. It is with a heavy heart that we were in our last thirty-six hours of our trip. The room service at our guesthouse in Delhi was wonderful, but it was time for me to experiment. Up to this point I had been fairly rigid about the type of food I consumed – primarily sticking to food prepared at time of service. Now back in Delhi it was time to check out the street food. I was not disappointed.
I watched a young kid near me who had a wee round table with a heat source and potatoes stacked in a circular fashion. The corner that he was working seemed slow. So, he pulled the three legs of his table together and carried the whole kit and kaboodle to a busier block. It was so simple…steaming hot with a few dashes of spice. Wow, spectacular yummy goodness.
At Raj Ghat Memorial, Chelle wanted to hang out and grab a bite while I went in to wander around the grounds and view the black marble and flame honoring Ghandi. I enjoyed the opportunity to view the King’s Bank. When I returned she had a newspaper type plate piled high with a savory mix of ingredients the name of which was unknown to me. I quickly learned that simply referring to street food as “chaat” was like describing western fare as snacks. It was all simply delicious and I am truly happy that I went outside of my comfort zone and sample a small section of street food. We checked out the central market and started to consider souvenirs for friends and family.
We headed back to our guesthouse Su Shree after a long day. The staff was helpful and the day was all about food and we enjoyed another room service offering. Anticipating our last day to come Chelle and I decided to get a start on packing so we could get the most out of the last day of sightseeing. We turned in about 10pm or so. At one point Chelle got out of bed and started to pace which I don’t ever recall her doing. I waited for a few moments and asked her what was going on. “Freaking out” she replied. I sat in bed and waited a few minutes more. “If you say that you’re freaking out I really need to know why you feel that way”. Chelle sat back on the bed, looked over at me. “Our flight doesn’t leave tomorrow like we thought, it leaves tonight and we need to be at the airport in an hour”. Time stood still for a moment. “That, is worth a freak out” I responded. Another heartbeat…we both jumped out of bed. Our flight departed for Beijing at 3am and we needed to be there by midnight.
We took about five minutes to assess our options. Getting on that flight priority one. We broke down what needed to happen. I called the front desk to report our problem. “Get my bill ready, I’m coming down to pay our outstanding balance and I need a car right away.” Chelle looks at me and asks if she has time for a shower? Nope, said kindly. We were rewarded for the pre-packing done a few hours earlier. From the time Chelle identified the problem to standing in the lobby was approximately 20 minutes. I had also just enough cash to pay our tab and pay for the car which had not yet arrived…tick tock, tick tock.
Luckily for us getting to the airport in Delhi at eleven thirty at night is considerably more easy than at just about any other time. I did not intend to rely on that though. The cost of the car to the airport was about Rs300, and when the driver arrived I told him that if he got us there by midnight I would give him a sizable tip. All I can say is be careful what you wish for. Traffic was “light” by Delhi standards but there was still a decent amount of vehicles coming and going. It was clear that we got lucky again by getting a great driver who handled his car well, hanging on for dear life was a personal decision. The airport was about twelve miles from the hotel and Ajit pulled up to the terminal exactly on time. We poured out, grabbed our bags and with a smile told him he did an awesome job and that he drives like my wife and happily handed him my last bit of cash…Rs500.
We hustled into the terminal and headed to the ticket agent. Sigh, really, really big sigh. Our flight was delayed three hours…in the initial situational assessment did either of us consider checking our flight status – no time for that I suppose. The airline gave us an upgrade and a food voucher for the inconvenience and so we waited.
The unfortunate part of this particular experience was that Chelle missed out on visiting the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets. It was something that she had been looking forward to the entire trip. After Gandhi, Dr. Pathak is one of the few men who have championed sanitation and uplifting of the untouchables as a mission of their life. Chelle, an early adopter of a vegetarian lifestyle and an environmental steward for most of her life, this museum was important and I was saddened that it didn’t happen.