Day 66: Rishikesh to Delhi
I wake from the sound of my own blubbering, face mashed into a pillow soggy with snot and tears. The little sleep I had was full of fitful nightmares; I dreamt that my sister met her demise choking on airplane food on her flight to Delhi and thus, uncoincidentally, the Earth crumbled away into a black hole. Meet my snoozing alter ego: Morbid Matilda.
I wipe the sobs from my face and start packing, trying to shake the awful dreamy leftovers. Today I’m picking up my sister Marnie from the Delhi Airport, and damned if she’d ever let a piddling airplane meal get the best of her.
The reception boys are asleep on the benches next to the front desk, and I have no choice but to wake them to check out. A rickshaw drops me at the transit station, and I shovel in some road-side curry before jumping on a bus to Delhi. It’s a day thing: six and a half hour drive, metro metro metro, walk walk. I realize I’ve spent way too much on this expensive backpack; it pinches my back muscles anyway. My bladder whines for porcelain. I waddle through the familiar neighbourhood of Main Bazaar and find a hotel in an alley.
After haggling with the front desk, they show me a room with wooden blinds and clean sheets and a Western style toilet. My bladder does a little ditty. But the wi-fi isn’t working. I haven’t been in touch with my sister since yesterday morning and her plane lands in Delhi tonight. It’ll be fine, though. All I have to do is show up at Arrivals at 10pm!
I take time to savour the peaceful solitude of my own room before venturing to the Delhi streets on a food hunt.
I slaughter a veg thali and then it’s back to the transit game: airport metro.
In all my eagerness, I arrive three hours early with my phone on the brink of death, but there’s a scuzzy corner with an outlet by a fire hose reel. I curl up next to it on the floor; fanny pack doubling as a pillow. Sleep never comes, and eventually the chill of the floor gets me up for a cup of hot tea. Marnie’s flight is finally up on the board: Delayed. Traveling is thy great teacher of patience, whether you care to learn it or not.
But finally, after crawling through the mob at International Arrivals, I spend the better portion of 45 minutes on my tippy toes in search of a white brunette girl until I feel two arms attack me from behind and turn to see my sister’s face; massive brown eyes like infinite pools of mud. She could hypnotize a pen of pigs with those things. Even after a full day of travel, her face is illuminated with excitement; she is more radiant than a greased up roid-monkey tanning in a tin foil tent on Venice Beach. We fall through the crowd in a vice-like hug and speak in tones so high it could surely only be detected by dogs.
The metro is closed, so we take the local bus back to New Delhi. Laughing all the way to our stop, we jump off and make towards the footbridge over the railway station back to our neighbourhood. A man stops us half way over. He asks for a ticket.
“We don’t have one. We’re not taking a train; we’re just walking through.”
He explains that we must go back to Connaught Place, to the tourism office, and get a ticket for permission to enter this part of the city. I squint at him, suspicious. After fending off scamming touts everyday, it’s difficult to tell who’s a-truthin’ and who’s a-lyin’.
I’m short with him, cutting him off with questions, but Marnie has more patience and waits while he writes down the name of the tourism office. We walk back down the stairs and hail a rickshaw. Before leaving, the driver explains that due to recent terrorist action, we must get permission to enter certain parts of the city as there are police blocks everywhere. There were several bombings and shootings over the past three days, he says, during which the Punjabs killed 35 people, 5 of which were Indian officials.
At the tourism office, the staff tells us there is no way to enter Main Bazaar.
“But I already have a hotel room,” I say.
They call the hotel. On the other end, reception says they are closed now for “security reasons”. The guy behind the desk hands me the phone. I tell reception over the line that I’ve already checked in to a room there and am just on the way back. He says okay, and to use the room key as a “pass”; whatever that means. Our rickshaw drives through deserted streets, inhabited only by cops standing around with guns slung from their shoulders. We don’t even garner a side glance from them.
It’s 2am when we reach our hotel, still laughing. A warm welcome to India, sis! Oh, Delhi, you wild, mysterious beast, you.
We crawl into bed, gabbing,