The flight itself is uneventful, and 10 hours later we land in Delhi in the middle of the night. Now, for anyone who has not had the pleasure of arriving in India in the middle of the night, here’s a rundown of how it goes. Step one is the mass stampede from the plane, followed quickly by the crush to collect the baggage from the luggage carousel. Usually you end up finding that someone else has heaved your piece off into some dark corner when you weren’t looking. This flurry of activity and shouting is followed by a lengthy wait at immigration. The Indians have perfected the art of the bureaucratic shuffle (it would make a grand hit as a Broadway comedy!). I have gotten to the front of the line, when the "official" has decided to head off and hunt for tea, I then change lines and am told as I reach the front that this line is only for diplomats, to finally be granted an audience with a very tired-looking gent. This process then involves the "Indian stare", followed by a plethora of grunts and head movements, a flurry of stamping, and scribbling of initials, all interspersed with head scratching, tie straightening and general personal hygenics. I have always been rather amused at this process, which is simply one of many methods to let the foreigner know (once again) who is boss. Traveling with two children who are included on their parent’s passports takes this process to new heights. It matters not that the visas for every person (signed by the Indian Consulate) are in order, there are only two passports and four people...I must be a mathematical idiot to not understand the discrepancies! The time is now 3 a.m. and I feel I was only lucky enough to be granted the final stamp, nod, initial and dismissing wave of the hand due to the end of a shift. We’re in India! (Well, the airport at least).
Onwards to the next inevitable steps in India airport arrival survival: the taxicab ride and hotel hunt. We manage to wake up the phone attendant and place a call to a hotel in our guidebook, and wonder of wonders, someone answers and confirms that there is a room available and they are open all night. Stepping into the night we have that tired, haunted look of people who need a bed, not to mention the two pale little people tagging after us. This look has the ability to immediately attract every cab driver within at least 10 miles, shouting for the privilege of taking our rupees. We strike a deal with the fellow who seems the most awake and head off into the blackness. The wonders of driving in India, which I will cover later, are only further enhanced by the fact that there are few streetlights and no headlights...I find it helps overcome sleepiness.
Driving to a hotel (which the driver has assured us he knows) is, in most countries a non-event, but this is not most countries. The driver suddenly becomes disoriented and cannot find his way, and in mock despair announces that the hotel must have moved. No, it does not matter that less than 30 minutes ago someone answered the phone at his locale, it has simply vanished! All is not lost, he happens to know where there is a 24-hour "Tourist Office" (I see a long-lost uncle and baksheesh). The feeling of helplessness moves to one of apathy as I glance at the two sleeping heads beside me and agree to give it a whirl. The office does have a phone, a final try to our hotel goes suspiciously unanswered, and we are defeatedly led off to the "Crystal Palace". We all tumble into one bed, leaving the light on to discourage the creatures and settle in to our 4-hour nap.
We awake fairly refreshed and head out for a pre-breakfast stroll. Within one block we witness a dog getting run over and a family of street people bathing on the sidewalk before a pleasant man walks up and beamingly wishes us welcome to India while patting the children’s heads. The contrasts in this country are immense. Back at "The Palace" (hmm) we are met by a representative from our midnight "Tourist Office", who invites us to a free breakfast and "information session". We decline (about six times) and leave him looking dejectedly at his feet in the lobby as we decide room service is in order. One lovely thing about India is that with the inexhaustible availability of cheap labor, you can arrange to have anything delivered to you at any time of the day, for a few pennies. Our stomachs full we grab a cab and head to PaharGanj.