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Published: January 16th 2013
11-15 Jan Delhi - Sleeper train to Varanasi
Well... Following years of thinking about it, months of vague planning and weeks of saying goodbye to everyone, we are finally off on our adventure.
Emirates treated us to both ends of the spectrum for our flight. First - Their brand new(ish) Airbus 380 aka "the most advanced aircraft in the sky" - a very spacious and quiet flight. Sadly we weren't allowed to go up stairs to the first class spa, lounge and bar (we did ask of course), but nevertheless, we were like excited children the night before Christmas and didn't sleep a wink! The second leg from Dubai wasn't quite so up market - a rickety member of emirates' old fleet, cargo esque, packed to the rafters with bolt upright seats. Sadly when it was needed most sleep was not an option!
We arrived safely into Delhi and the ride into town was a little hairy. In the last couple of days we have had a real taste for life on the roads - Everything you may have heard about Indian driving is absolutely true and worse. It's survival of the biggest or bravest. Apparently sounding your horn continuously allows you to ignore red lights, randomly change lanes and even drive up roads in the wrong direction. On Sunday our cycle rickshaw driver from Old Delhi chose to play chicken on a dual carriageway with a bus in the dark. As Jo and I held on for dear life our driver calmy stated "sir, no problem no problem, very very safe"...hmmm.
Hotel Hari Pioko greeted us with open arms. The hotel was nestled away within Delhi's hustling and bustling main bazaar, and right next to New Delhi's infamous railway station. Following a quick room change due to flooding we found ourselves in a large clean room, no windows but we did have a fish tank! The hotel's version of a 'room with a view' i guess. Having not slept for over 24 hours, jo put her head down while I ventured out to get some water and somehow find a mobile phone shop. Like a deranged rabbit in the headlights, I was ripe for the picking to new delhi's main bazaar. It's amazing how many shop keepers have a brother, uncle or nephew that's also from Newcastle, London or Nottingham - wherever I say I'm from. "Come come my friend, I give you very good price..." After much stalling, polite no thank yous, I manage to bypass day one's onslaught of contraband, shawls, jewels etc and get what we need.
That evening we were invited to an embassy and expats party (0r rather a house party lash up on beer bought for 'diplomatic purposes'😉. When our host Chris had opted for a quiet getaway to Northumberland for New Year, he ended up getting more than he bargained for. Following a random encounter with another expat in Alnwick's Barter Books he found himself at the Percy Hunt on New Years Day where he bumped into Jo and I - two people who just happened to be heading to his home town the following week... He very kindly invited us out and showed us to a cracking evening and a great way to spend our first night.
Day 2 saw us venture out into Old Delhi to visit the Red Fort (or Lal Qila) - over 2kms of ramparts which was once a great palace and fort to the emperor shah jahan (the same chap responsible for the Taj Mahal) in 1638 of the Mughal Empire. But unlike the Taj, Following plunders by the Persians then the British all of the fort's great riches and jewels now rest in either Iran or the Tower of London. From here we ventured into the depths of Old Delhi in search of a famous curry house 'Karims', where we ate like kings for a less than a fiver. The chaos and energy of Old Delhi is on another level - the narrow streets swarming with people all day long, so rammed it makes queuing for the northern line at 8am feel like a breeze.
On our final day in Delhi we organised our train tickets for the next few weeks, successfully avoiding the railway touts telling us that the official counter was closed and that only their friends could organise our trip. We filled up our last few hours around Connaught Place (the commercial sector) where jo filled her boots in the cotton emporium and "fab !ndia". We then set off for our first night train to Varanasi, saying goodbye to Delhi and sadly two dead fish. Trains in India are an institution. I liken my first experience to fitting bunk beds to 'The Ultimate' roller coaster at Lightwater Valley (a northern version of alton towers or Thorpe park) - you queue up for hours, its pretty slow and unexciting but it prides itself on being the longest ride in the Country. As i write, We are currently at 19 hours and counting (running a delightful 8 hours late!). All in all its been a reasonable journey but I am doing my best to avoid the hole in the floor so fingers crossed we'll reach our destination soon!
* Unfortunately we had our first major camera malfunction today so sadly no photos to share just yet. Our memory card has died so we've just lost all our pics for Delhi, the overnight train as well as day 1 in Varanasi. Fingers crossed We can get them back in the UK! *
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