TRAVEL ALERT No. 1: sketchiness + time = comedy

Believe me when I say we are trying to help you!

by Leslie Anthony

Outside Indira Ghandi International Airport in New Delhi, five guys have one hand each on my bags, six on photographer Paul Morrison’s and still we can’t get a cab.

Everyone is screaming. Bakalakala! The police come. They survey our baggage. You cannot get all this in one cab, they say. But the guy we paid inside said we could—can’t they tie some of this stuff on the roof rack? No. Bakalakala! You must take three cabs. Or take the bus, it is free. But for the bus you must have a ticket from inside the terminal. OK, we say, but the guys with the guns won’t let us back in the terminal. Yes, this is a problem, says the bus driver, leaning out through the door to interrupt, expertly flicking his cigarette between our heads, but most unfortunate for you.

Bakalakala! At least twenty guys are holding our bags now. They all want to be paid. But since we’ve gone exactly nowhere I don’t feel like dispensing any rupees. Heat. Dust. Garbage. Diesel. Desperation. Frustration. Bakalakala! This is almost certainly why they have 12-hour layovers in India, I say. No, says Morrison, this is almost certainly why they invented yoga and meditation. He has the better point.

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Seems reasonable enough.

Eventually the river of humanity flows us into the city, where we sleep fitfully before catching a cab to Delhi’s domestic airport on the opposite side of the city. It takes a while and the running of several more gauntlet’s but we finally get in a plane and fly northwest to Srinigar, the capital of Kashmir. As we approach, every window fills with the glory of the Himalayas. As we land, every window fills with bomb craters, guns, and other military hardware.

We’re halfway to Gulmarg, almost drunk at the prospect of skiing’s freedom and deliverance from all this bureaucracy when we hit a new wall in Tulamarg. We’ve already surrendered names, addresses, passport, and tourist visa numbers in half-dozen military and civilian checkpoints over the 40 km drive from the airport. Essentially we’ve left an identity trail that only a blind man could miss. Security-plus. Now this.

“We are Tourist Police—you understand?—we are helping the tourists,” yells the latest sentry, a meticulously uniformed fellow with a strangely vacant stare pushing a clipboard more-or-less in our direction through a jeep window. “And now you are writing your informations down… please—I am blind.”