#1 3 Days in Delhi

Sent: Sunday, September 09, 2001 6:24 PM

You might want to free up 10 minutes if you want to read it all!

Version 3 of the packing fitted everything in. Version 17of the, what have we forgotten - it's now or never' panic proved slightly more tolerable than the 16 preceding versions featuring only stomach ulcers without including the nausea of its' forerunners.

We got to Heathrow at 4pm for a 6pm Check In, a safety margin that Bret Could be proud of.

The last 3 days prior to departure at Mummy and Daddy Sausage's have been great fun. Despite their difficulties in selling the shop they remain as silly and as loving as ever, with an extra layer of poignancy added by our imminent disappearance for a year.

We parked up at Heathrow and who came running across the car park? Cluckus! Bless her, she'd taken the day off work and driven all the way from Chippenham to see us off. She has such a big heart, one day her self-confidence will catch up and then the world better watch out!

Saying goodbye was difficult. Claire Cluckus found it easiest to wish us well, Mummy Sausage gave the biggest hug and Dennis told me to look after Sausage "and no buggering about." As travelling advice goes it is only outdone by Nickeli Dye's Mum who asked him to tell us " to have a fantastic time, and no talking to strangers."

The flight to Copenhagen was fine and we made our connection to Delhi without problems. For the flight to Delhi we found ourselves on a brand new Airbus A340. This meant lots of gadgets including seatback monitors, but no extra legroom of course. Sausage had a terrible journey. She was sat on the aisle. On the opposite side of the aisle sat a guy in his 40's. When he got on he smelled like a distillery, rather, he didn't smell so much as he oozed a strong aroma. This proved to be only the apperetif. He fell asleep, so drank no more. A good thing you might think. No, it simply allowed the most fetid halitosis I have ever experienced to push through the alcohol. As he slept he tossed and turned and when he turned toward Sausage and expelled a loud harummmmphiiiiing breathe all in one movement it was all each of us could do to hold back from vomiting.

Added to Mr Stench sat directly behind Sausage was Mr Very-Lanky a textile purchaser for Ikea. Once he had settled in he took his shoes and socks off and extended his right leg into the aisle and proceeded to kick Sausage's leg and hand repeatedly through the night as well as playing one of the games on offer using the touch screen on the headrest of Sausage's seat. The woman behind me played the same game and it was like an irritatingly random woodpecker tapping away on your skull.

Miracle of miracles: our luggaage made the same journey as us and was waiting for us on the baggage reclaim at Delhi. We did as recommended and pre-paid inside the terminal for the taxi that would take us to our reserved room at the YMCA. What followed felt like a ,Welcome to India' initiation ceremony. But what particularly impressed was the slow burning nature of the scam and the lengthy cast list. The cab contains the driver and his mate in addition to Sausage and I. After 20 minutes driving the mate asks us where our hotel is. We establish that it is on the Jai Singh Road and are told that this is a very long road - we must stop to ask directions. Mate goes and buys some fags from the roadside whilst ostensibly asking directions. It's no good we must go to the Tourist Information to find out the address of the hotel. Mate goes in to find out the address but returns, they need to see me. I enter the office and am greeted by a very nice man who wants to help me. He points at the phone. It is a ,Freephone' and he is happy to call the YMCA to confirm our reservations for us. What a nice man he is. He shouts to his colleague who comes into the office carrying their little personal phone books. Tragically they can't find the number for the YMCA, but worry not, for we can reach them via ,the operator.'

He makes his most obvious mistake. Just like in the movies when suitcases are always obviously empty and phone calls connect and are answered too quickly, so it is today 45 minutes after we arrive in India. Too quickly the call is connected and the phone passed to me. I am informed by the man on the other end that the YMCA is full and there are no rooms available today. I thank him for the information and tell him that I'll be with him shortly so that he can tell me to my face. I am surrounded by crestfallen faces.

2 minutes later we have miraculously found the YMCA, the taxi driver has complained about his minscule tip and the receptionist at the Y is ticking our name off her computer print-out. And to complete the happy ending 2 tired Sausages, who have slept no more than 2 of the last 24 hours can go straight to their room even though it is only 10.45am in the morning.

We've treated ourselves, purely for reasons of acclimatisation you understand, to a comfortable room with air-con. And what's more it isn't noisy, old, aircraft taking off air-con. It is efficient, low level hum air-con which aids rather than hinders our 3 hour kip.

After which we gird our loins and venture out. The taxi scam probably did us a favour, showing the lengths to which people will go. So we feel edgily prepared for our first foray. It is exactly the assault of hawkers, beggars and scallies we have been told to expect. The only thing missing is a ,shit on your shoe' merchant. Sausage watches as a guy follows her and he has his hand on her rucksack as she takes it off and straps it to her front. Within 5 minutes we look exactly like the slightly scared twitchy tourists you see so often around Leicester Square.

We survive unscathed. That's what it feels like we achieved. We are Conscious of the gap between these feelings and our taking some enjoyment from our surroundings. We knew before we came that this would be the challenge. After an hour chilling we feel uplifted rather than dispirited and in a couple of days, though we don't know it now, we will feel so much more at our ease.

New Delhi has the same relationship to Delhis as the Extention has to Barcelona. Each has an old town of cramped, bustling, haphazard streets cheek by jowl with a rigidly structured extension comprising wide boulevards and green spaces planned, in the case of New Delhi, by Luytens. Unfortunately the New Delhi scheme is based around a central hub (Connaught Place) closely surrounded by 3 concentric circular roads cut by numerous radial avenues. All of which creates a network of intersections which are, for some reason, far more confusing than rectilinear blocks.

All of which is an apologia for our getting horribly lost for 40 minutes before we gave up and jumped in a auto-rickshaw which took us to Main Bazaar in Paharganj. After the spacious chaos of Connaught Place this was chaos cubed.

A long thin street, shops and restaurants on either side, their owners determined to lure you in by shouting, waving, tapping your arm. The street itself teeming with humanity, traffic and wildlife. The crowding reminds me of the scene outside Anfield on match day when I was a kid with the added complications of mechanical traffic making its way through. Cycle rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, bikes, scooters all fight for space with the people, dogs and cows. The Main Bazaar leads up to New Delhi station and is the main area where backpackers stay. We listen to the cacophony and congratulate ourselves on our expensive acclimatisation at the YMCA.

We track down a restaurant out of the Rough Guide and eat well for 100 rupees. Afterwards we walk the mile and a half back to the hotel through the gloaming and the strange shapes and shadows thrown by the lights of the passing traffic on the unlit streets.

We have survivied Day 1!

I sleep like a log, albeit a slightly moist log. Sausage sleeps terribly spending hour upon hour plagued by thoughts and memories of what she has left behind and what she has come to. Part culture shock, part homesickness, part malaria tablet madness her unpleasant night ends abruptly as a muscle in her shoulder grinds and knots as she first sits up in bed yanking her from sleep to consciousness in the time it takes to yelp like a stuck pig.

Time for our first big monument - the Red Fort. The differential pricing we have heard is in place at the Taj Mahal has been extended to a number of other sites. I've heard some people grumble but I can't really see the cause for complaint, the rest of life here is so cheap that fees approaching Western levels for a few major sites remains a small price to pay.

Strong powers of imagination are required to enjoy the Fort. Within the huge sandstone walls the palaces lie empty, dusty and closed off to the visiting public.

The majority of the Palaces consist of collonaded halls, open on all sides, with apartments at their corners. There is much to admire in the architecture and the detailing which makes much use of semi-precious stones. But it's in your imagination that it comes to life, the collonaded halls further sub-divided by vivid silk hangings which are also used overhead to give shade. The gardens are laid out in a formal style, their square lawns divided by small canals which , like the buildings, are empty.

We arrived early and the Fort was more or less empty as we explored. On our way out we mingled with the arriving crowds and made our way down a long, paved path. The clamour of the city provided nothing more than a faint background hum and in the relative silence we were surrounded by a bizarre round of applause as hundreds of sandals gently pitter-patted the pavement around us.

Next we tackled the multi-sensory assault course that is Chandni Chowk, a main thoroughfare similar to Main Bazaar with the added benfit of a dual carriageway running up the middle of it.

We passed by New Delhi Station on our way back to the hotel and it proved failry simple to buy our tickets in the Foreign Tourist Ticket Office. As ever the difficulty was in finding the bleeding place in the first place. In London you might be misdirected by someone too embarrassed to admit they didn't know the way. Here people will forthrightly look you in the eye and tell you over and over again that the office you are looking for is now permanently closed and instead you just need to pop over the road, up four flights of stairs, knock three times and ask for ,Mr Singh.' > On the walk back to the hotel a guy fell in step beside us and started Talking to me. I gave him the full package of body language and glares but he persisted and, wonder of wonders, he just wanted to chat. How good it was to meet someone without an agenda and it served as a health warning against my inbuilt ability to stereotype.

They say that jetlag is worse flying West and certainly it is taking us a number of days to adapt. We have, naughtily, been allowing ourselves Afternoon naps and consequently struggling to get off to sleep at night. Last night, due to a combination of jetlag, finding My Left Foot on the telly and Sausage being in agony with her shoulder, we were late getting off to sleep and awoke to find that we had missed breakfast.

So I set off on a hunter-gatherer mission. I emerged into a very Different Delhi. Being Sunday virtually all the shops are shut and the throng has singularly dematerialsised leaving empty streets.

Breakfast found I return to the YMCA. As I enter the cloistered courtyard a man is walking ahead of me at approximately 90% of my pace. I dawdle briefly behind him and then decide to overtake. I pull out of his slipstream and accelerate to 110% of normal walking pace. I hear a bang and everything goes momentarily black.

I have accelerated into the metal corner of an air-conditioning unit Sticking out of the wall at a height that allows clearance to most Indians but not to tall Westerners in sunhats. I scream abuse at the air-conditioning machine and climb the flight of stairs to our room. As I knock on the door a large drip of blood runs off the bottom of my forehead and splats on the floor at my feet.

Thorough my sunhat, which remains miraculously untorn, I have excavated a corner shaped hole in my head, just above the hairline at the front. That is to say a triangular hole about 0.5cm across with 3 further splits in the skin, one emerging from each corner, from bottom to top maybe 3cm in total. We clean it up and reflect that we are now 2 old knackers, Sausage with her sore shoulder and me with my head.

We go down to the lobby for 11am where we are due to meet Indira a family friend of Raj back in Tooting. Indira finally reaches us at 12noon at which point I am still bleeding. Reluctantly I agree that we should get the cut looked at so Indira undertakes her first bout of protracted negotiations and we hop into an auto-rickshaw to take us to hospital.

Despite our preparations during which we read the warnings about healthcare in India we take what we are offered and I am flat on my back being stitched before my befuddled brain thinks about issues such as sterilisation of equipment. To be fair, though the building was on the antiquated side of old, the care taken in treating me did seem to be of a good standard. I guess I'll know in the next week or so if my head is going to turn green and fall off.

I don't think I've ever had a stitch in my whole life before. The first doctor decides a stich is required and sends me to ,Room 12 - Surgical Assessment' where I am asked all the same questions, the decision is verified and I am despatched to ,Room 10 - Surgical Dressing.' > In the ante-room to Room 10 I tell my story again and am invited to enter Room 10 but only after having been admonished to remove my shoes for hygiene reasons. Barefoot I enter and navigate around a 6" roundabout of blood and tissue on the floor. I lie down on an operating table that Hugh Scully would enthuse over on the Antiques Roadshow and gaze up at what looks like the bottom of a large oil-drum but is, in fact, a surgical light that may well pre-date e-lec-trickery.

The female doctor establishes that Sausage is my wife and asks if Indira is my mother! She proceeds to stick a needle in my head twice, in the name of local anaesthesia and then puts in a stitch during which she pulls so hard on the opposing sides of the wound that I am convinced she is actually giving me a ,forhead lift' which will eliminate wrinkles above my eyebrows for the next 35 years.

I feel the sweet tasting warmth of nausea rising inside me as my body reacts to the intrusion. 10 minutes later I'm sat in the shade outside and starting to feel human again.

I write this wearing a fetching dressing-bandage combo that, were it patterned, and I Puerto-Rican, would surely indicate affiliation to a notorious street gang.

Indira is really sweet and her assistance made the whole hospital experience far more straightforward and, remarkably, the only cash that changed hands (66 rupees! Less than a pound) was for the anti-biotics I must take for the next 5 days.

Indira takes us to lunch and I fail to comply with her recommendations of tomato soup, chicken and fruit juice for the poorly old knacker.

By 3pm we're back in the hotel room where I now sit writing this with Sausage raining Pudsey Bear themed abuse down on my punctured head. Can we call this a proper adventure now? > Tomorrow, Agra for the Taj Mahal. We are optimistic that I may get in at Indian rates due to my fetching half-turban.

Squeak soon

Lots of Love Jon and Sausage Xxx Xx x

ps - we really are ok Mum and Dad - honest!! Love Sarah xx