Arriving in New Delhi

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Arrived in Delhi. Had booked hotel car from airport, which was good, as taking a taxi would’ve taken hours. The government has withdrawn all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, so paying for fare would have been difficult. The money exchange places at the airport had huge queues, they circled the baggage hall, round and round, full of tired people needing money.

I used the washroom at the airport. A young woman came into the cubicle with me, wiped the seat, then waited outside to turn on the tap and pass me a towel. I had no money to give her, none at all. Felt bad. I thanked her, but that won’t feed her family. Not sure how she will cope for the next few days, as even 100 rupee notes are now rare, she isn’t going to be collecting any tips for a while.

As we left carpark, I noticed a sign saying, ” No Sitting. No spitting. No cooking.” A group of men sat below it.

Delhi is noisy. All the tuktuks are green and yellow ( unlike Sri Lanka, where they were multicoloured.) Everyone honks whenever they overtake, which is often. Traffic is chaotic. We saw men in scrumpled shirts, scrubland with tents where people were living, cyclists pulling loaded carts, signs written in both Hindi and English. Street sellers walked between the cars whenever we stopped. There were old scooters with dented number plates, gated communities, and dusty trees in flower. The pollution here is severe, several people wore masks and there was a thick haze. You felt it at the back of your throat.

Arrived at hotel. The car was stopped at the entrance, and the boot and bonnet opened by guards. Then we drove up the driveway to the guards at the door. Our bags went through x-ray machines and we had to walk through metal detectors.

We checked in, and discussed the cash problem with the man at the desk. We had no small currency for tips (no one has.) He was very positive about the situation. He told us that everything in the hotel, including food and cars, could be paid for with credit cards, so it was no problem. He said everything would be sorted out in a few days, so it was no problem. He agreed that it meant no one could really shop in smaller shops, as even if we used high value notes to pay, they couldn’t give us any change, and there was now a shortage of the legal 100 rupee notes ( equivalent to £1.20 in UK money.) However, he said, it was nice for people to take a break from shopping for a few days, so really, it was good, not a problem at all. I began to feel like I was in The Exotic Marigold Hotel. Perhaps the culture here is like in Zambia, when they will always try to tell you what you want to hear ( so if you ask how far away somewhere is, you will be told ” not far”, even if it’s miles away.)

After a quick shower, we went for a walk, to try and change our worthless currency for new notes. The streets were busy, but not as chaotic as in Mumbai. We didn’t see any children beggars, and people didn’t touch us. Though they did stare. I got used to this in China, it’s not rude, it’s simply a different culture. There were lots of men hanging around. I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking around on my own (I would be tempted to wear a burka, like I did in Dubai, just to hide from their watching.) We were approached many times by people offering to help us. Where did we want to go? Did we want a tuktuk or a taxi? Could they help us find our way? It was hard to make them leave us alone. I think not many foreigners walk around – but we had been on a plane for hours and wanted to walk.

The path went through a covered walkway, which we walked through. As we left it, we realised it was the edge of a mosque. A man approached and told us we should have removed our shoes. Apologised, and explained we hadn’t realised what it was. He said if we didn’t know, that was fine, people would understand, but we should be more careful in future.

Found bank. Every bank we passed on the way had huge queues outside. We went to the Delhi branch of our own bank. We told the guards that it was our bank, and were shown to a different entrance. They needed to see passports – I didn’t have mine. They took copies of our visa and passport, and said they could exchange up to 4,000 rupees per person (£40). I waited while D changed his money – he was taken to near the front of the queue. Which was nice for us, but not really fair for the people who had waited in line for many hours. We can only exchange money once a fortnight. So we can return tomorrow and I can change some money, then we will have to wait until we’re back in UK. Hope they will exchange the old notes, have a feeling it might be difficult.

I am also concerned about what the lack of spending money means for the poor people here. At the moment, all the bank queues are peaceful. Can that continue when people run out of food?

Back to hotel (managed to avoid walking through any mosques). Dinner (spicy) and sleep.

I will tell you tomorrow what I have learned about why the money has been withdrawn so abruptly.

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Preparing for New Delhi

Today is my last chance to get everything ready. Always stressful.

I need to empty the fridge and take all the food to Mum that will be ‘off’ when we get home. I will also deliver some books, in case anywhere needs restocking. Mum is by far my best salesperson, I feel she rather missed her vocation in life, she has no fear. Some of my author friends have asked to borrow her, so I am keeping her location a secret.

When we’re in Delhi, if it’s anything like Mumbai, we will have children approach us in the street, begging. I find this very difficult. To refuse/ignore an adult, feels uncaring, but to refuse a child just feels wrong. Very wrong. However, I know that usually, the children are not begging for themselves. They are often ‘organised’ by an adult, who then removes whatever they have received. Apparently, there is now a scam where they ask you to buy them a specific product – milk, or pens for school, or bread. They have a deal with the local shop owner, so when you have left, they return the goods to the shop and then give the returned money to the adult. So, it’s difficult. I’m not very good at ignoring them. I know it’s best for the children, if I give my money to an organisation – Tearfund or Actionaid – and let them help properly. But I still find the ignoring bit difficult. I thought I would buy some sweets, something small, that an adult would have no interest in. I can give those out. This might of course, result in me being swamped by hundreds more children. Which will please husband no end. But we shall see. I will let you know.

We’re flying overnight, so I will arrive exhausted and with a headache. Always difficult to know what to wear: cold drive to airport, chilly aeroplane air-conditioning, followed by sweaty heat when you arrive and sort taxis, drive to hotel. I tend to go for layers and scarves, which double as blankets on the flight and sun shades when we’re there. If I’m honest, it doesn’t work very well. The layers tend to ride up when I shuffle, so I have bulky lumps of clothing all flight, then when it’s hot, I have too many shed layers to carry.Everyone else seems to look immaculate in the arrivals hall – I am the sweaty woman with black rings where her eye make-up has smudged carrying a sack full of jumble. Lucky I’m not a celebrity.

We have just learned that the Indian government has today cancelled all notes equivalent in value to £5 and £10 (so the small  £1 equivalent are fine). No warning given, they are now worthless. Of course, ALL our Indian money, bought in advance for our flight tomorrow is £5 and £10. Am thinking having zero cash could be a problem (not even thinking about how much money we have lost if there’s no way to be reimbursed.) Also slightly worried this might result in civil unrest. For us to lose the money is bad, for a street vendor in India it might be their life savings. Literally. Wiped out in a day, with no notice given. Not sure this is fair, nor likely to have a good result. Oh yes, and they have shut all the cashpoints for two days. Trip now taken on a rather unsafe feel…Do hope to be writing again in a couple of days.

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Hospitals, packing and flight…

Have you ever met a squeamish nurse? I went for my MRI this week (an annual treat) and it was at a new centre – the NHS are obviously outsourcing some of their patients. Went to a very nice surgery in a posh part of London and filled out the usual “I don’t have any metal parts” questionnaire prior to the scan. Except of course, I do, as they rebuilt my skull with a metal plate. So I was explaining this to the nurse, saying that whatever it is that causes MRI machines to explode is not in my head, as I’ve had MRIs since surgery, etc. She was clearly worried about this (I’m wondering if she was new) and she wanted to know how big it was. Well, I have no idea. I was asleep at the time of rebuilding. I told her I didn’t know, but it didn’t feel very big. She then put out a hand, felt the lumps and bumps and dips in my head, shuddered, gave a squeal and moved away quickly. Unexpected.

I’m guessing she was a nurse, because she wore a short blue tunic, and up until this point had behaved like a nurse. Perhaps she wasn’t. Perhaps she was a student or a technician, or someone who had come to mend the photocopier and was filling in because they were short staffed. Whoever she was, I’m sure she’s not meant to react like that with patients. It was actually rather funny, so I giggled and told her she wasn’t meant to do that. Certainly was a change from the normal experience in hospitals.

It has been a busy week because we’re going to India for a few days. Husband is involved with a charity which does lots of work there,  so we are going to New Delhi to look at their work in the slums. Probably you are not meant to call them ‘the slums’ – certainly in Brazil we were told to call them some other name which I now forget. Not sure of the Indian equivalent, but I’ll let you know. It will be interesting to see how the organisation works. I know they do lots of work encouraging people to claim their rights (their rights being things like not being abused, and having clean water to drink.)

First on the list was to put ‘outside cat’ who has been recovering from cut foot, back outside. I anticipated problems. She has loved being inside, sleeping with the dog, purring round our feet in the kitchen, scratching up the carpet…So, I unblocked the cat-flap and put her in the garden, and waited for her to bounce back inside. Nope. Not even a visit. She ran straight back to her family in the workshop, and has ignored me ever since. I rather miss her.

Next I visited the health food shop. I read online that if you take probiotics prior to travel, it helps to build up all the good bacteria in your gut, which improves resistance when the bad ones invade. Not sure if that’s bunk, but figured it was worth a try. I also bought charcoal tablets because also read that IF bad bacteria invade (and India is kinda known for bad bellies) then charcoal caries it out of your system. Again, might be myth, but am hoping I won’t need to test the theory.

It has been rather lovely to dig out my summer clothes again. Weather here has passed the ‘bright pretty autumn’ stage and is mainly cold and wet. Ahhh, for a little sunshine again. Quite hard to know what to take though (packing is never easy.) I need clothes for the slums – so shit proof (sorry mother, but I can’t think of a better word.) I also need smart clothes for the hotel. Plus, when walking around, I need to cover legs and shoulders if I’m not going to attract attention. I do actually have some trousers and a tunic that I bought when in Mumbai, so I’ll take those. And silk scarves rather than sun-hats. Am thinking suitcase is too small…

I will write some extra posts while I’m away, so you can read about what we see. (If they stop suddenly, we might have been kidnapped, so please send help. Or perhaps will be not managing to leave washroom, so perhaps sending more charcoal would be best…)

Take care,
Anne x

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