So… picking up where we left off, we spent our last night in Delhi before flying on to Paris (talk about culture shock!). Since our flight was at 2am, we decided to check out of our hotel in the morning and spend the day sightseeing before heading to the airport. Our driver, Sanjay, took us to see some of Delhi’s popular tourist spots like the impressive Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque (circa 1656) and the Ghandi Memorial.
However, after 10 days of sightseeing we were a little sick of forts and temples, so we decided to pass on the Red Fort and the rest of the sights and go to the zoo (kid’s choice).
We were pleasantly surprised by the New Delhi zoo which had a wide variety of animals, just like North American zoos. We were especially impressed with the indigenous animals like the majestic white tigers and the enormous Himalayan bear that looked like it could smack down a grizzly in a rumble.
Thanks to the scorching heat, we pretty much had the place to ourselves as we enjoyed our private walking safari. When the heat finally drove us out of the zoo, it was only 3PM and we still had almost 12 hours to kill before our flight. Our driver, Sanjay, came to our rescue when he suggested that he drop us off at a water park for the rest of the afternoon. The kids were ecstatic since the last time they had seen waterslides was in Bali (Waterbom).
Upon arrival, we quickly discovered that, like a lot of other things in New Delhi, it was a very “Indian” version of a North American phenomenon. When we purchased our entry tickets we were asked if we wanted to rent bathing suits (eeww!). Apparently very few locals actually own a bathing suit as swimming is not a common leisure activity. Fortunately, considering cultural sensitivity, I had already decided to forgo the bikini and had brought my lycra running shorts and t-shirt. I was especially relieved when I saw the selection of fashions available to rent. The men were all wearing multi-coloured striped swim trunks that looked like they were made from a recycled circus tent while the women’s suits looked like they were designed in the 1930’s; most had sleeves and a skirt and hung off the wearer like a garbage bag. The park itself was a faded replica of a 1980’s North American water park with worn Astroturf and peeling paint. However, the slides seemed sturdy enough and the kids were happy, so what did we care. I got my kicks watching a group of well-heeled 20-something Indian guys and girls cavorting in the wading pool (in their rented bathing suits) under a raining mushroom while singing Hindi pop songs at the top of their lungs. I guess some things are universal.
Finally, at 7PM it was closing time and Sanjay met us in the parking lot to deliver us to the airport. Seasoned travelers that we were, we decided that, since our 10 hour flight to Paris wasn’t leaving until 2AM, it would be a good idea to arrive at the airport ahead of the crowds, check in early and get settled at the gate. That way we could find a quiet spot to make temporary beds for the kids so that they could watch a movie on the laptop and catch a few hours sleep before the flight. Smart, eh? Well, as usual, Indian government officials had other plans for us. After saying goodbye to Sanjay in front of the departure gates we gathered up our bags (considerably more than we were used to since we were carrying all the souvenirs we had purchased in India, including 3 tablecloths, 2 bedspreads and several large wall-hangings) and tried to enter the terminal. We were promptly stopped at the door by an armed guard who demanded to see our tickets. After examining them closely, he declared that we were not allowed in the terminal because our flight was not until tomorrow! Despite my protests that our flight was, in fact at 2AM tomorrow, he insisted that we were not permitted to enter the terminal until 3 hours before our flight. Great! I gritted my teeth while Claude explained to him that we were stranded at the airport with two small children and no transportation and asked where exactly where we were supposed to go. The guard waved vaguely in the direction of a building across the street and said we had to wait in the Passenger Departure Lounge. So, once again, we gathered up our bags, grabbed the kids’ hands and, with our hearts in our mouths, staggered across six busy lanes of traffic. At the door of the departure lounge was, yet another armed guard who, again, demanded to see our tickets (like we would come there just to hang out for the fun of it!). He informed us that, since we were there more than five hours before our flight (45 minutes over) we would have to pay 60 rupees each (about $2 Cdn) for the privilege of using the facilities. By this time, I was so riled up that I was ready to camp out beside his table for 45 minutes just to tick him off. However, Claude’s cooler head prevailed and he paid the man so we could finally go sit down in what looked like a Greyhound bus terminal.
So much for well-laid plans – at 11PM we shook our groggy kids awake and dragged them back across six lanes of traffic in the dark only to discover that there was now a twenty minute wait just to get into the terminal (apparently most flights take off late at night in Delhi). Ditto at check-in and immigration – after what seemed like our 20th security check, we finally arrived at the gate well after midnight. To their credit, our intrepid kids took it all in stride and, despite almost falling asleep standing up, complained very little and went straight to sleep when we finally reached the gate.
Claude and I, on the other hand, were cranky and frazzled after battling through so many line-ups so late at night. You see, in South Asia, people have a very different perspective on line-up etiquette and personal space than in the West. As on the roads, it is useless to delineate lanes as people move to fill space as soon as it is vacated. On the highways, the general rule of thumb is to add two lanes to the number that are actually marked. For instance, a two-lane highway will accommodate four lanes and you’ll typically find six vehicles abreast on a four-lane highway. The same applies in line-ups as the “first come first served” rule is replaced by “every man, woman and child for himself.” People will unabashedly move directly in front of you in line if given the slightest window of opportunity (i.e. enough room to get by). At one point, as we waited in line to have our bags scanned, a man pushed past us with his baggage cart and parked himself directly in front of us. Over the next few minutes he was joined by his entire extended family (about 12 people). When Claude loudly cleared his throat and asked if there was some sort of emergency, they stared at us placidly as if they had done nothing rude whatsoever. After that, we endeavoured to take up as much space as possible by positioning our carts at odd angles and keeping our elbows jutted out to discourage illegal passing. I got good at subtly sliding my backpack in the way when I spotted someone sidling up beside us. It was also unnerving to have people literally breathing down our necks, staring curiously at us and patting the children on the head, even when we were going through the immigration counter. I guess, as the token Westerners, we were a curiosity in a country of a billion people where personal space is a luxury that most cannot afford.
I guess I should have expected that our departure from this country would be as eventful as our entry. To see more of our photos from India, check out our web album:
Tags: airport, Delhi, India, reflection, water park, zoo