We spent 3 weeks in India during Christmas 2005. We are backpackers, and stayed at budget places and ate at cheaper restaurants. We got around using a train pass.
Getting tickets to go to Delhi at Christmas time was a little challenging. It is the peak season for travel to Delhi, as so many Indians living in the USA go back for the holidays. Our Indian friends in California advised us to call various Indian travel agents in the South Bay area. Ian found talking to them and getting prices out of them was frustrating and confusing. Unlike calling a regular travel agent or calling one of the airlines, the prices from these agents were not fixed price, and were not guaranteed. They offered him things like ‘waiting list’ seats at discount prices, but he wouldn’t find out if we actually had seats until closer to the flight date. They told him if he had heard a better price they might be able to beat it. It felt a little like buying a used car, and it is certainly not the way we wanted to buy airplane tickets. The discounted prices he was being offered were only $100 or so less than the prices he could get by shopping online.So, we ended up buying tickets from Continental.com. Our ticket took us through Chicago. The Chicago to Delhi direct flight clocked in at 15 hours, and is the 9th longest flight in the world. We had a TV in the back of the seat, but the controller was broken so we ended up with a very long, boring flight.
We had heard all kinds of things about Delhi International Airport but it ended up being a lot better than we feared. We had arranged (through our friend) to have his driver pick us up. It was quite a relief to see someone holding out a sign with our name when we arrived.
Safety at the airport is fairly well controlled. There is a buffer area at the exit, where taxi drivers are allowed to enter, but the general public is not. So, we could pretty much walk unimpeded until we got to our driver. The pre-paid taxi stands are also well before the public area. So arriving really wasn’t a problem.
The first thing that hit us when we got outside was the wall of smog. The air is like soup – and we were there at the best time of the year. We couldn’t walk anywhere quickly, or climb stairs quickly or we’d be out of breath. Visibility is seriously degraded no matter what time of day.
We had declined our friend’s offer of accommodation in exchange for greater independence. When we arrived at our hotel in Connaught Place, we quickly realized just how much of a mistake that was. We were staying at Central Court Hotel and paying $60 a night. The linens were so filthy we slept in our clothes. The bathroom had no hot water – we were told it was too late at night – so we got a great introduction to the Indian bucket shower systems. Basically, thehotel boiled some water for us and brought it to our room in a couple of buckets. Then we mixed this with cold water and used a scoop to pour the water over ourselves. Not exactly the most efficient way to shower, but it works Fortunately this was the only time during our whole trip that we had to resort to bucket showers.