Thursday, July 5th, 2012.  Delhi, India.
Friday, July 6th, 2012.  Brussels, Belgium; New York, and Austin.

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Today we mostly packed and had a look around some of the local markets.  Turns out that the area where we are staying, Karol Bagh, is one of the largest markets in Asia, but mostly just for clothing. 

So we headed over to Connaught Place to check out the underground Palika bazaar and the nearby over ground Janpath bazaar where we bought some t-shirts and  a few other souvenirs.  To get there we used the Metro again, which has a lot of commuters.

We also stopped by the state emporiums.  The Indian government setup an area where each state has a fixed price shop to showcase their handicrafts.  We’d heard the quality and prices were good, although for the most part we were disappointed.  There wasn’t as much variety between the shops as I’d expected and I didn’t see a big quality difference in their goods versus the regular markets, but the prices were much higher.  Still we ended up buying a small marble box for Kelly to add to her collection. 

As an example of what to expect when buying in Delhi, Aaron was interested in some unusual padlocks, which are available at  a number of shops here, even some of the State Emporia. The starting price at regular shops can be as high as RP1,250. In the fixed price State Emporium, the price was RP1,000.  But at many of the stores they would start at something like RP700-800.  To cut a long story short, the end deal I was able to negotiate was RP580 for two, i.e at RP290 each basically 1/4 – 1/5 the highest asking price.  Similarly Ben got some t-shirts that the vendor initially wanted to charge us RP750 each.  Final price RP150. 

But not everything is like this.  Some stores and most branded goods are indeed fixed price.  As the consumer, it really is caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) and the only real price is what you and the vendor can agree on.

After a late lunch and some more market browsing, we took the Metro south to visit one last site, the Lotus Temple, which is the center of the B’hai Faith in South Asia.  The B’hais believe in trying to bring all religions together, so their temple is devoid of traditional rituals, symbols, and iconography.  Instead they have short services that feature readings and chanting from different faiths.  Quite inspiring.

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Unfortunately our timing for going to and from the Lotus Temple seemed to coincide with very busy times on the Metro, much more so than we had previously experienced and actually, quite scary.  Getting into the Metro is a bit of a cattle crush and at each stop only a few people get out and more and more push their way in until you are left standing feeling like a sardine in a can.  Then you find out that your can fits 33% more than you thought it did!

When the train reaches a terminus, it vomits out its passengers in convulsive waves in an experience that is uncomfortably close to that of a mad panic. Having traveled on the subways in major large cities including New York, London, Paris, Bangkok, Tokyo and others, I’m used to having to deal with crowds and a bit of a crush.  In Tokyo, the subway is famous for having white gloved conductors pushing people into the trains to get everyone to fit during rush hours, but even that seemed comfortable compared to the mad crush of the Delhi Metro peak travel period.

Another thing puzzled and bugged me.  When I would stand in line with Indians to get our Metro tokens invariably someone would  come along and walk up to the front of the line and just lean over and push in to buy their token.  Behavior that would cause a homicide in New York and likely elicit a “stiff word or two” in London. 

Indians do not do well with lines or waiting, whether it is the subway or walking down the street.  Pushing and shoving just seem to be considered acceptable behavior, along with spitting, coughing without covering your mouth, public urination, and any number of other behaviors we probably won’t miss on our return to the US!

After a last meal near our hotel we changed clothes then headed to Indira Ghandi International airport a little earlier than I would have chosen, but we were advised to allow plenty of time, so for an 02:35 flight, we left the hotel about 5 hours earlier, although it is only about 40 minutes or less to get there.

Once at the airport, we had to deal with a  lot of unnecessary rigmarole.  For starters, there are many well spaced doors into the modern airport.  We were dropped off between doors 1 and 2 which were labeled Jet Airways, but they would not let us in at these and sent us to doors 5 and 6 about 200 meters away.  When we got there, they wanted our documentation.  For some reason the itinerary I had printed out only listed my name on it and the door nazi guard would not let us in with this paperwork.  Ergo, I had to go back beyond door 1 to the Jet Airways counter to get another piece of paper that listed all our names, then come back so we could just get in the front door.

Next we needed to go to our check in counter.  Guess where?  Right between doors 1 and 2, so we walked back again.  Getting in line at the “All International Flights” counters, we were told that we could not check in yet because it was 4 hours before the flight, and we needed to answer the some security questions at a nearby desk. 

Once we got past check in and were rid of our bags, it was time to go through Indian Immigration departure formalities.  One nice thing about leaving the US, is that you don’t deal with US immigration, but rather have any outbound security  formalities done by the airlines as you check in.  Unfortunately in India this is an entirely separate process, somewhat similar to what you encounter when you enter the country. 

It starts by filling out a departure form which has to be presented along with your passport to an immigration officer.  I presume the principal reason for this is that the Indian government can try to catch people who may have exceeded the terms of their visas and fine them. Otherwise I can’t figure out what possible value this process could add.  Regardless, it involves standing it line for at least half an hour before you can proceed to the usual x-ray, magnetometer, and pat down.

Our departure at 2:35am on Friday translates to just after 3pm on Thursday Austin time and we should arrive home in Austin around 8:30pm, so about nearly 30 hours later after flying through Brussels, and New York.  Serious jet lag is in the forecast!

The connection in Brussels was tolerable, but not good.  For starters, after we exited the plane, the departures board did not list American Airlines’ New York flight, even though the Jet Airways flight from Delhi to Brussels was an American Airlines code share.  Fortunately we found the gate number listed on our Jet Airways issued boarding passes, but once we got to the gate, there was a line.  I asked if we had to recheck, and they said yes, because of security.  Normally when I check in for any American flight, I can do so quickly because of my priority standing with the airline, but they had no separate facility for this at American’s Brussels gate.  So we waited in line for another half hour while variously one or two agents slowly rechecked everyone and reissued the boarding passes. 

When it was our turn, in addition to the usual inane questions, the agent wanted to know why our tickets had us fly into Bombay and leave from Delhi.  Answer: “because we were traveling in India”. Then, how did we get from one city to another? “Via ground and air transportation”.  Really?  What answer would have been wrong?  We couldn’t have left the country – that would have shown up on our passports.  We didn’t teleport between the cities.  And what difference does it make how we got from Mumbai to Delhi?  Seems like a complete waste of time to me.

Oh well.  hopefully we will soon be done with all this.  At least for another year.

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