Wednesday, 26 February 2014

OTN Yathra 2014 - Start of the Journey - Not my Best

I was planning to go to the Philippines on vacation and would join the tour at the 2nd stop Noida (near Delhi) on the 19th February, however when Murali said we would have a trip to the Taj Mahal on that day I changed my mind and flew into Delhi a day early.

In the Philippines I was reminded of my hatred of bad traffic and the journey to the airport for the return leg to Singapore had been a nightmare, but that is a relative term, once I experienced Delhi traffic it paled into insignificance! But lets go back a bit, I have family in Singapore so was using this as my base, I flew from there to my holiday and then spent just long enough there to swap my luggage and head off for the 5 hour flight to Delhi. Murali gave us great instructions, about what taxi company to use, how much to expect to pay and what the journey time would be, I felt quite relaxed. You may laugh but it you have ever read the travel warnings provided by corporate travel agents you would never travel anywhere and I am a nervous traveller on the road at anytime. (And a even worse driver, ask Cary Millsap).

I collected my luggage and went to find the appointed taxi company, and told them where I wanted to go, at this point a man appeared who said come with me, I looked at the taxi co-ordinator man and he nodded his head in agreement, so I let him take my suitcase and followed him at break neck speed through a series of underpasses towards long term parking. then his mobile phone rang, he answered it, let go off my suitcase and ran up a ramp. I tried to follow but he said stay there, I will be back. I guessed it was to do with getting a better signal, so just waited........and waited then after 15 minutes, I walked back to the taxi stand, and very assertively (which may be the tone for the tour), I pointed out that I was using their company because I was told they could be trusted, and their man had abandoned me in the middle of Delhi Airport! At this point the guy says, he was not their man and that he had called out my name to stop me going but I had ignored him. again, assertively i pointed out he did not know my name and I suggested we stopped the charade and start again.

Having got into an official taxi with a driver in uniform, a meter turned on and what appeared to be a receipt printer machine with a lit light, I settled down for what I knew to be a 2 hour drive. Murali warned me the first 90 minutes would be bumper to bumper, and in my naivety I thought that meant rush hour type traffic. It is amazing how the mind suppresses images of motorcycles, oxen, taxis , cars and lorries synonymous with Indian folklore, and you will laugh when I say it came as a surprise to find anything I had heard was simply the tip of the iceberg. 90 minutes later, 90 minutes I will never get back and probably took 90 days off my life expectancy; we cleared the Delhi traffic and I relaxed for the last and furthest part of the journey on a relatively empty highway.
One thing I did like about the traffic was Delhi number plates start DL and I quite liked this one which I would have taken as a personalised plate for myself (not that I would ever drive here).
Murali who knows what a nervous passenger I am (he was on the Columbian Boat trip), had said not to worry about speed the car's computer would tell the driver to slow down. I forgot to mention the computer, when I got in the car, it asked me to fasten my seat belt, but the driver simply told me there weren't any! So why was I surprised he then ignored it when it told him to slow down.........every time, every time. I was sick of her voice by the time we stopped at a gas station, she should learn to be more assertive. The gas station was also unnerving as I was told I had to get out of the car whilst they filled up with LPG, I wasn't too sure this wasn't another scam but it turned out to be true. What I did forget to mention was the first time he stopped, in Delhi traffic and simply took his jumper off. I was very nervous then as I had had experiences with taxi drivers abandoning me in Beijing!

Eventually we arrived at the hotel, in one piece a had a great nights sleep.

At breakfast the next day I met Hans Forbarch who I have done several tours with and he told me about his taxi experience. Apparently the same happened to him but he got into a taxi with the 'wrong man' and ended up paying almost double. So mine was not a one off and I guess the taxi co-ordinator was on some sort of a commission back hander. Seems I had a lucky escape.
Hans, Murali and I were to be joined by Tim Hall and Raj Mattamal, who had done the first leg of the tour, but you can read about their unbelievable taxi journey in Tim's blog; Tim needed sleep so badly he skipped the trip.  

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