Season 1, Episode 2

New Delhi

It was a flight that made me feel that I’ll grow old by the time it ends. I’m the sort of person who feels hungry the moment I step inside a vehicle for a long journey. When I was a kid, I used to depend on Pushti or Horlicks biscuits. But this was a plane! A budget carrier. I had paid just 2k. What could I expect them to provide me? I had to control my spending. I had to manage the whole trip with just 20k cash including my 5 nights of hotel stay. I settled for an espresso and a sandwich. It’s an open fact – airline food sucks!

I landed in New Delhi‘s IGI at 11 PM. I expected it to be the swanky T-3 where I had been earlier, but was shocked to see that it wasn’t. I had landed in Terminal-D and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get anything to eat. I was hungry. But then I also had to get to New Delhi Railway Station (NDLS). After watching movies like 99, I had reservations about taxis in Delhi. I had already had a bad experience during my first visit there when I was charged 600 bucks for a trip that a Delhiite would pay just around 300 bucks. And I was scared of getting kidnapped too! It’s Delhi and it’s close to midnight. And it’s an easy 25km travel through shady roads. They can strip me off my belongings and throw me off the car without much hassles!

So as soon as I came out of the terminal, I hailed a taxi, made myself comfortable with speaking to a Delhi taxi driver in his own language, got in, made a fake call to a fake friend living in Delhi asking him to be at the railway station. The cops noted my name, destination and the vehicle registration number down. But I didn’t feel any better.

On the way to the railway station, we encountered minor traffic jams, lonely traffic signals and some 10-odd circles that looked exactly the same. I couldn’t help it. I remembered the scene from 99 where Cyrus Broacha and Kunal Khemu are taken for a ride in broad daylight. It’s only after they see the same circle the third time that they realize they are being fooled. On questioning the driver of that taxi calmly says “Delhi mein to saare circle ek jaise hain sir..“. That was daylight. This wasn’t. I was anxious.

As I saw signboards pointing to NDLS, the taxi driver asked me which train I was taking. I replied. He said it would come on Platform-1 but he cannot drop me there due to some construction activities and that I had to get down at the new entrance, which is near Platform-10. I tried arguing with him, but there was no point doing that. He dropped me off at “Platform 10 wala” entrance. It was 12am. I was hungry!

I looked around to find a place where I can eat something. There wasn’t any. I cursed the city. There’s nothing around the railway station to eat! Blah! I picked the rucksack, took the foot over-bridge and reached Platform-1. I headed to the waiting to find a lady in her fifties sitting in her chair, snoring. I walked to the table in front of her and opened the register. I picked the pen and was about to write my name when she woke up and asked for the ticket. I flashed the ticket on my phone. She didn’t understand. She asked “Kaun sa train?” (Which Train?). I answered. “Wo to paanch baje ko aati hai. Abhi to 12 hai.. Waiting room 2 ghante pehle tak hai.. 3 baje aao.” (That train is at 5. And it’s just 12 now. Waiting room can be used only two hours prior to the arrival. Come at 3am). I was furious! But there was little that I could do.

I stepped out to the platform, took the over-bridge again and reached Platform-10 hoping to find a waiting room with a much more lenient attendant. I didn’t find one. However, my eyes fell on an attractive glass door with the IRCTC logo on it. It was the executive lounge and it charged 350 bucks for 3 hours. 3 hours.. That means I’ll still have to wait till 2. “Better than waiting till 3am to enter that lady’s castle“, I said to myself and headed back to Platform-1, found an empty bench and placed my bag there. I must have already walked 2 kms shuttling between the two platforms.

There were few people sleeping on the platform. The station was mostly silent apart from the noise of an idling engine and that of people coughing. It was getting cold. Temperatures that I’m unused to. The platform was quite foggy and even dogs were sneezing. Half an hour later I decided to move out of this place. I walked out of the station to find a “chaiwala” for some hot tea and some side dishes. To my amazement, as I came out of the station, I saw hundreds of shops lined up. It was a different world altogether. Extremely opposite to what I had seen on the other side of the railway station. That was “New” Delhi. This was the “Old” one. Bustling with life!

I picked the first inviting shop and the first empty table. I ordered “chaar tandoori roti, ek dal fry“. Roti and dal at 2 AM (I can’t even dream about it in Bangalore). I was happy. For someone who’s hungry, the place was paradise. The best part about the place was that it was extremely small yet clean. The dal was of good quality and tasted good. The rotis felt like rotis and not papads.

Now that I had satisfied my tummy with what it asked for, I picked up a pack of Navy Cut, dragged a few puffs and prepared myself for a chilly night. I had decided to wait on the platform till 5 just to take revenge on that lady. I also thought that paying 350 bucks for a lounge doesn’t make any sense. So Navy Cut was absolutely necessary. It gave me “The Wills Power“.

5 minutes on the platform bench was enough to bring my morale down. It was getting colder and colder. I walked back to Platform-10 and into the IRCTC lounge. After the formalities, I chose a comfortable corner, placed my luggage, took a hot shower.

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The IRCTC lounge was a pleasant experience handled by professionals from the hospitality industry. The staff there were humble and friendly. And at such early hours in the morning, you can find hot sandwiches, cookies and hot beverages ready to be consumed. There are recliner sofas where you can sleep, couches to sit and relax, a good collection of newspapers and magazines, a small stationery-cum-gift shop, well maintained restrooms with hot water available 24 x 7. This wasn’t India. It was someplace else!

I bought a pen and a dairy notebook so that I can jot down my travel experiences in it. The story in that dairy started somewhere in 2011 when I had met her. Two pages down, I still hadn’t covered our first meeting. I got bored and stashed the book inside the bag. I sat in the lounge’s internet café and browsed for the next few hours.

When I look back today, I’m happy that I wasn’t able to write that day. If I had, this blog wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

My train chugged into Platform-1 at 4.55 am.

To be continued..

Click to read what happened before I landed in New Delhi..