India

New Delhi (India), 30.06.2013

Against all expectations we have had a great time in Pakistan, without exceptions. All good things come to an end though, and today it was time to move on. We hope that we will be able to come back to Pakistan soon, there is just so much more to see that our time schedule didn’t allow for on this trip. That said, in the early morning we left the hotel, and took a quick tour through the city by car, to at least get an idea by driving through what apparently is Pakistan’s cultural capital. The colourful chaos that greeted us confirmed the lively impression we had had the previous night. We drove around the fortress, one of the major sights, before fuelling up and heading towards the border on the Grand Trunk Road.

Half an hour later we parked in front of the Pakistani customs and immigration building. It was hot and almost empty inside, with just a few customers and several officials. The exit procedure with customs went smooth, although it took two guys a lot of time to fill a simple form and a line in the registration book. Then one of them went out with me to check the car. Apart from the vehicle and chassis numbers that every official checks, he showed little interest in the Evoque and its contents. “You seem good people to me, no need to control. I want to make this easy for you.” Then as we went back towards the building he pulled me aside. “How many dollars you have?” On this trip, all questions about money and the value of the car made us always stay vague in front of officials since you never know what their true intentions are. But we also learned that false declarations get you into trouble. There is always a balance to find with telling just enough to answer and not giving the complete picture. I told him roughly half the amount we have left and expected him to check our entry declaration. “OK, give me 70, 80”. “??” He pulled out a big bundle of Indian rupee bills. “I give you some Indian money, I just keep a few rupees for myself. Then the car check will be very easy. You are good people, so we are both happy.” “I don’t have that much with me, how about 20?” “60” I pulled out 30 dollars from my wallet. “Another ten.” He handed me over 1500 Indian rupees. “40 dollars is much more, that should be 3500 rupees.” I knew that 40 USD would have been around 4000 Pakistani rupees, and that in Indian rupees it would have been a little less. But 1500 was a rip off. He gave me another 200 rupees. I thought “we need some Indian money and should just get out of here”, so I agreed and we went inside again. Later I checked, and it should have been 2400 Indian rupees, so this guy stole 700 Indian rupees from us, or 11,50 USD. Nice show of corrupt border official, the first bad experience, just on the way out.

Shortly afterwards we sat in the car and left Pakistan without further issues and entered India. Registration went fine, immigration too, customs too. Everybody except the grim looking immigration officer were very friendly. Then they told us to get al our stuff through the X-ray. We looked at each other. It was at least 40 degrees outside, and the X-ray scanner was quite far away from the car. “We are not unloading the entire car in this heat. Come with us and tell us what pieces you want to scan.” At the car they told us that the bags with personal objects should be scanned and we could skip all the camping stuff, food boxes and small things. They asked us what we had in a big blue plastic bag and we explained that it was an animal horn from Tajikistan, a souvenir. The official said that this was illegal, but smiled, checked the rest of the car and didn’t raise the issue again. We took the few bags they wanted to see inside, and after the X-ray scanner I had to open each of them and they searched it. We were pretty much done, had filled out all declarations and papers and the Carnet de Passage and were about to leave when another guy in civilian clothes entered the hall and came towards us. “Do you have any animal products with you.” “What do you mean?” “Do you have any pieces of animal with you?” “A horn.” We had to bring the bloody horn inside, they unpacked it and informed us that we had just broken Indian law. But they were so kind to not press charges against us on the spot because we admitted our “crime”. How nice is that!

So this guy started enjoying his grim looking role, and after the “animal part” asked about money. We told him how much USD we had left and it was clearly under the 5.000USD threshold that the Indian policy sets. Then he asked about narcotics, weapons. Then about satellite phones. We told him we have one, and that we stated this in our customs declaration. Since we both put an X on the Yes field of the question “do you have a sat phone”, he insisted that we have two. It took us a while to convince him about the non-existence of the second phone. He confiscated our sat phone, telling us they would ship it to the border we exit the country from. So India and China are on par with regards to freedom of sat phone usage: non existent. We don’t get it, it’s just a phone. There is no danger in it, and in India the cell phone network is probably so strong that we won’t need it either. But who knows if we will ever see the phone again?

At 16:00 we finally left the border, sweating in the heat. My white T-shirt looked like I just came from a construction site, since I had had to take the tyre off the rooftop rack to have it checked. We were in quite a hurry, since Delhi was 500 km ahead and we knew the roads wouldn’t be too good. We wanted to avoid driving in the dark. The first hours led us through a flat and uninteresting landscape. Much more interesting was to see the people. I once had a friend who described India, as opposed to Pakistan, as poorer, dirtier, more colourful and funnier. We can confirm the first three points, the last one is tbc. On the way we passed a “Lovely Professional University” and where not quite sure about the subjects taught there. Also the “Divine Public School” raised questions. But other then that, as long as there was daylight we moved on without further issues. There were a lot of interruptions on the highway, always in towns, leading the traffic through the villages and making us loose a lot of time. It got darker and darker, and driving became painful. On Indian roads some things are particularly strange and uncomfortable. While driving, I came up with this list of all things European motorways have that you won’t find on Indian ones:

– Cars have rear mirrors, on both sides, unfolded, mostly used by the driver

– No cows or other animals suddenly cross or just sit on the street

– No people lie sleeping between the two sides of the road

– No tractors, bicycles, scooters drive there

– There are barely wheel breaking potholes

– Whenever needed or in a critical situation, there is light on the motorway or at least the road signs

– Separations of the two sides of a highway exist to avoid disturbance of light from other side’s cars

– U-turns are not allowed

– You don’t drive slalom between cars

– Also trucks have lights

– Cars don’t move on to the constant tune of their horn and using the “dipper” all the time (although in Italy this might be a bit different)

– The majority of drivers are aware of some code of conduct on the streets, many respect it

– Everybody drives on one side, and unless you are overtaking you generally stick to that side

– Driving is an easy task and not a life threatening operation that keeps you in a constant state of stress

– Absence of dead donkeys on the road

– No people crossing or otherwise running around on the motorway

– No constant traffic on your lane in the opposite direction by all kinds of vehicles, with or without light or motor

– No cars entering suddenly onto the road from other, smaller roads (also here Italy might be an exception…)

– Also foreigners have to pay highway tolls

Somehow we survived the GT Road and reached the Delhi metro area. Traffic got more intense, with more trucks on the roads and more reckless driving. We knew we reached the city from the moment we saw people sleeping on the road, and the more we drove on, the more we saw. Hundreds, thousands of slim, dark skinned bodies lying on the borders of the motorway, on the small lawns between the two directions of the road, on the concrete blocks separating lanes. People with and without feet, clothes. We noticed nobody was fat. Bikes, Tuktuks and Rikshas were parked right beside the sleeping men, not one woman. The extent of poverty and dirt was unlike anything we have seen so far on this trip.

Suddenly we entered a different, residential area, and drove along gated communities, parks, broad roads with light. The sleeping people disappeared. And then we finally reached our hotel. We admit that we went for one of the best in town, since we wanted to see how pampering works around here. The Imperial Hotel was the first 5* hotel to open in Delhi in 1931 and has retained its splendour since then. In contrast to the Serena in Islamabad there was no massive security, just a check of the trunk. We were greeted by impeccably uniformed personnel, welcoming us in utmost friendliness. Inside the lobby, the temperature dropped by at least 10 degrees and the light, the decoration, the wealth and opulence overwhelmed us. Half an hour ago we drove through bitter poverty and now we were here, in this beacon of luxury. With my shorts and dirty shirt I felt quite miserable and in urgent need of a shower. Once in the room we noticed that since our breakfast this morning we didn’t have a chance to eat something. Two Imperial burgers saved us. And then we found the mini bar, with alcoholic beverages in it, and not “mini” at all…

IMG_0099

Trip data for the day

– Km driven: 566

– Hrs on the road: 12h

– Diesel l/100km: 10,2

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