Coming to India was the part of my trip that I was most excited about but this also came with worries. Would I catch Delhi belly? How would I adjust to such a different culture? What about my security and could I overcome language barriers? People say that coming to India can be a real shock when you first visit. So to alleviate these concerns I am here on an organised tour to the “Golden Triangle” run by G Adventures.
On arrival at Delhi Airport I was met by a young Indian guy as part of the pre-booked transfer. He was a splendid chap who was studying at university in Delhi and earning some extra income by undertaking airport transfers. He didn’t drive the taxi but helped the driver navigate the way to the hotel. It was Sunday afternoon and so the traffic was much lighter than normal. I saw a game of cricket in progress on a patch of rough ground on the way.
After around half an hour I arrived at the hotel in the Karol Bagh area of the city. The Hotel Grand Park Inn was tucked away on a busy side street. It was immediately apparent that this hotel was different from others that I had stayed in whilst I have been away. I was asked to complete details within a very grand and big registration book that seemed to have been in use forever. No sign of the usual computerisation that you would generally see. A number of guys milling around in the reception area were very keen to help with my luggage. My twin room was clean but basic. It was apparent from what the guy who showed me to my room said that hot water was not always available. I arrived around 2pm and there was to be a group welcome meeting at 6pm. I decided not to venture out of the hotel in the meantime. I headed up to the rooftop terrace to see what lunch may be available. I ordered a butter chicken, naan and rice to be washed down by a kingfisher beer. It turned out that beer was not on the drinks menu but was procured and paid for separately directly to one of the guys I saw in reception earlier. I think he had a little sideline in profiting from selling alcohol in the hotel. The butter chicken was delicious. I was soon joined by Tor-Bjorn who was another member of the tour group. Tor-Bjorn, a Swedish speaker, came from a small Finnish Island and had worked for the Birka cruise line for over 20 years. Tor-Bjorn is a lovely guy and I enjoyed his company throughout the course of the week. After lunch I chilled in my room and watched tv. After expressing interest in a game of cricket showing on the tv in reception, one of the hotel guys came up and found it for me on my room tv. I was amused to see the hotel rules displayed on the door of my room and I took particular note of rule number 6 (see below).
At 6pm I met the rest of the group and our Indian CEO (Chief Experience Officer) Yash. There were 12 in our group altogether. As well as Tor-Bjorn and I, there were 4 English girls Amy, Amy, Vicky and Holly. 3 Aussie girls from Adelaide – Prue, Susie and Carrie. A couple from Derbyshire, Dave and Emilie. Last but not least was Paulette who is originally from Belgium but now lives in Canada. I was delighted that over half the group consisted of women in their 20’s!
Yash did an introduction and spoke about the plans for the rest of the week. He talked about India and some of the differences from what we may be used to. Some of the things that stuck with me were:-
– although India may appear chaotic. – it is “organised chaos”
– there is very much a tipping culture – so tips are expected for helping with bags, tour guides, drivers, in addition to bills for meals etc. I realised at this point that I had totally failed to appreciate this and had not tipped the car transfer man, the bag helper or the tv tuner!
– G Adventures believed in sustainable tourism so we would be using local companies rather than multinationals. Eg locally owned hotels.
– the best advice that Yash provided was how it was best to adjust expectations about some of the ways that things work in India in comparison to what you may be used to. eg standards in hotels. He reiterated that all the hotels that we stayed in would be clean, and they were, but perhaps some of the things you take for granted may not be there. That explained the hot water issue earlier. This advice was really useful and really helped me during the week.
With introductions and welcomes out of the way we headed out of the hotel for dinner. Yash led us through the bustling streets of Karol Bagh for around 15 minutes until we found the tranquil oasis of a restaurant and we enjoyed an excellent meal.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel and retired to our rooms. The noise outside was something else and the main contributor was car horns. Indian drivers love to use them. Normally a “watch out” warning for other drivers. The noise abated at around 10pm and I managed a decent nights sleep feeling excited about what was to lay in store for the rest of the week.