India: Taxi adventures in Delhi

By Jim Eagles

Jim Eagles finds himself taken for a white-knuckle ride.

Indira Gandhi Airport was listed as the third worst airport in the world, having previously occupied the bottom spot. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Rameshng
Indira Gandhi Airport was listed as the third worst airport in the world, having previously occupied the bottom spot. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Rameshng

It's midnight and I'm sitting nervously in the back seat of a battered Indian taxi which has stopped in the fast-lane of a busy motorway, while behind me the taxi driver and a friend are having a punch-up with the occupants of another car.

The driver knows only a few words of English and I'm pretty sure he doesn't know where to find my hotel.

I was en route to Nepal and a trek in the magical Himalayas, and I hadn't intended leaving the airport here in Delhi, but the folks organising my trip insisted.

The manager, who had recently worked in Delhi, simply refused to allow me to spend the 10 hours between flights at Indira Gandhi Airport. It wasn't a good idea. I wouldn't be safe.

As it happens, I had spent several hours at the airport a few years before and while it certainly wasn't luxurious I didn't recall it being that bad. But when I looked up Indira Gandhi Airport on sleepinginairports.net (which rates airports as places to spend the night) it was listed as the third worst airport in the world, having previously occupied the bottom spot.

And the travel company manager was so concerned about safety he offered to pay for a hotel where I could spend the night.

So, on arrival in Delhi I collected my backpack, went through passport control and headed for the pre-paid taxi office to organise a ride to my hotel.

All went smoothly until a few kilometres down the road we passed a cluster of hotels on the opposite side of the motorway.

Gesticulating enthusiastically towards the distant neon signs offering accommodation, he shouted "hotel, hotel", swerved through a gap in the motorway barrier and started to drive across the median strip to the promised land on the other side. Unfortunately the strip was undergoing massive earthworks and so we quickly became stuck. It took some impressive pushing on the part of his sidekick to get us free and back on to the motorway.

A few minutes later we came to another gap in the barrier. This time he slowed down to survey conditions on the other side ... whereupon a massive jolt and a crash indicated that a following car had driven into the back of the taxi.

Both drivers leaped out of their vehicles - mine accompanied by his mate - and much shouting and shoving ensued. The other driver was much smaller, so he was soon being pushed back towards his car, whereupon the rear door of his car opened and a giant of a man emerged to join the contest. It was my driver's turn to be pushed back towards his taxi.

This seemed to curb his aggression, eventually pushing turned to arguing. Some sort of agreement was reached, hands were shaken and our journey continued.

The experience obviously hadn't altered his determination to cross the median strip because soon afterwards we surged through yet another gap in the barrier and this time, thanks to a rough track presumably worn by other drivers keen to change sides, we made it.

Enthused by this success the driver headed for the first hotel on offer, jumped out, opened my door and proudly announced, "Hotel." It was not, however, the hotel I was booked into.

An argument followed which mainly consisted of him repeating "hotel" and pointing at the front entrance, from which staff were emerging to carry off my bag, and me shouting "Not this hotel" and poking my finger at the name of my hotel which was written on the pre-paid taxi voucher.

I'm not sure how this would have ended, were it not for the fact that I happened to look up and saw, not far down the road, a neon sign bearing the name of the hotel I was booked into. I pointed, shouted "that hotel" and finally, reluctantly, he took me there.

I was so relieved to have arrived against the odds in one piece that I sprung out of the car door, grabbed my bag and almost sprinted for the hotel entrance. But the driver was ahead of me, blocking the way, his hand outstretched, demanding, "Pay."

I waved the pre-paid voucher in his face and reminded him that I had already paid. The hand dropped briefly, then re-emerged, as he smilingly suggested, "Tip?"

"What? You get me stuck in roadworks, have an accident, get into a fight, try to take me to the wrong hotel, ask to be paid twice and then expect a tip? No, no, no, no, no. No tip." And I stamped off into the hotel.

The journey back to the airport in the hotel's own van was incident-free and the trekking in Nepal was brilliant.

But even though I've been back to Delhi since and enjoyed the city's bustling dynamism, delightful markets, magnificent mughal monuments, colourful temples and lovely parks, I still haven't got over that stopover.

I see from the sleepinginairports website that the latest upgrade at Indira Gandhi Airport has succeeded only in improving its rating to sixth worst.

Nevertheless, if I should once again find myself going there with a few hours to kill between flights, I won't be taking a taxi to a hotel, I'll stay put.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a4 at 01 Sep 2014 23:31:47 Processing Time: 1085ms