…so far. This should get some reaction from my India readership, for, yes, I'm really disappointed at my treatment going through customs. Please comment on how I might more easily pass through the next time. SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT LEAVING YOUR COUNTRY???
The flight from Bangkok was enjoyable. The plane lands on time, I pick up my bags and get sent to another baggage check area, where they find my computer. I am asked, how much is this worth? I say $2000. The customs officer says, I need to pay duty. No sense continuing this discussion, for the drill is that they find something to charge you extra, so I coolly give him the equivalent of $100 (surreptitiously, under the table….really!), for that is just the price of a typical dinner on this trip. He offers me tea, I say no thanks, and he ooshes me on, but as I’m about to exit the customs area, another officer notices that I have $5000 of cash indicated on the form, which he says has to be taxed. Without argument I pass on another $20 and move on. I suspect $20 would have sufficed for the first guy. This is reminiscent of Cairo, another nightmare, found in Chapter 6 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth.
But I’m smarter this time. I find the booth to pre-pay the taxi company. Don't even think about just getting any old taxi. Just $5 to get to my hotel. I find my way to the taxi stand, show the slip, and they say, go to the other side and catch a black and yellow cab. I stand in line again. No air conditioning (DON’T COME DURING THE SUMMER, FOR INDIA JUST HAD IT’S HOTTEST SUMMER ON RECORD IN 2009, and this is February 7) and a really crummy vehicle. The driver asks, where? I say, the Le Meridien. He says, huh? I show him my taxi receipt and hotel reservation. He seems puzzled. We drive on. I notice that the plumeria tree leaves are not green, but either tannish or grayish, depending on the dust in the area. In fact, everyone and everything is tannish or grayish. Just like Cairo.
I went through one of the most exciting rides of my life, almost exactly like a video game, for the cab has his horn tooting almost constantly, cutting in front and being aced out every few seconds. The lines on the road are meaningless. The larger the vehicle, the higher the priority, apparently. Some roads are closed for no reason whatsoever.
At some point when we are in gridlock, he asks again, what is the address. Yes, he speaks English. I remember that my hotel reservation had a sheet with a map. I show him the Le Meridien. He nods and smiles. He really did not know where we were going. We arrive, and he goes to the wrong entrance. Finally…finally, I have my bags back and I give him a 40 cent tip (not percentage, cents)…20 rupees. I don’t look to see how happy or angry he might be.
The Le Meridien is an OASIS. While almost a quarter century old, the whole place was given a total make-over two years ago. My kind of hotel. Shiny, large flat screen TV, great service.
First things first, and I joined a tour to Agra and the Taj Mahal for what I think is $50 (2400 rupees). Pick up at 6:15AM tomorrow and return at 10:15PM. I think, because a hotel car with driver was to have cost me $200.
I decided to walk around the hotel, got practically mugged, but pleasantly, by a couple of taxi drivers, who insisted that their tuk-tuk (they have the human kind as in Hanoi and the same two-cycle engine system of Bangkok) for less than a dollar could take me virtually anywhere, and that crossing the street was a problem. They were right, for Delhi has these traffic circles (photo from my room above), and you can’t see vehicles careening into you. Theoretically, it is a 10 minute walk to Connaught Place and 10 minutes the other way to India Gate. I chicken out and go back to the hotel and sign up for a city tour in two days. I leave for Barcelona in three days.
I’m having a Highland Park scotch, see (in a manner of speaking, for the atmosphere is reminiscent of Los Angeles, circa 1958) India Gate from my room and am cranking out this blog. The room came with a complimentary bottle of Bordeaux, but I’ll save that for another day. Yes, the Meridien is an oasis.