taxi stories

the hotel i’m staying at in delhi is very hard to find.  apparently in this sprawling city there is not only one ‘circular road’ and no one has ever heard of the international youth centre.  this makes, of course, for a few dynamic taxi stories…

1. it’s nearly midnight and i’ve just come out of the airport after two back-to-back 8+ hour flights (nyc-brussels-delhi).  i hardly know which way is up, either due to simple fatigue or to the hazy remnants of the sleeping pill i took over the atlantic somewhere.  i have managed to pick up my bag (yay for small miracles), change money, and purchse a pre-paid taxi ride to the hotel.  i am a clever traveler, even when bleary-eyed.

outside on the curb i wait for the taxi touts to do their thing.  i hold my receipt in plain view and look lost.  i’m expecting to be bombarded by overly helpful porters, but instead i’m largely ignored in the heat and hubbub of delhi at night.  finally, some service.  where are you going ma’am?  circular road.  let’s go.  and we’re off, careening through delhi streets, zipping wildly from lane to lane and around roundabouts.  i’m grateful traffic is light.  my taxi man slows at the indian equivalent of a hot-dog stand parked in the middle of a six-lane thorough-fare.  (this story might be better if i could remember what the stand was selling – surely not hot dogs.  kabobs?)  he gets out, presumably for a snack.  no, he’s asking directions.  we set off again, take a turn, slow in front of the guard-house of an embassy.  the guard suggests my driver cross the now only four-lane road to ask another guard across the street, who also doesn’t know but suggests he cross back again and we try the guards at the american embassy down the way.  by some stroke of genius, my driver is not hit by any of the cars zipping by, though he gets his fair bit of honking.

the guards at the american embassy have a lot to say about circular road.  there is a lot of hand gesturing and head wobbling.  if i am later abducted, i think, i will be happy for this stop because maybe i have made an impression on these guys.  then again maybe they are in fact discussing their plan for my eventual abduction.  either way, we are on our way again and my driver does not look hopeful.  he’s driving in fits and spurts, pondering seriously each side road.  i see a sign for the hotel and yell here! yes! this one!  it will be an uneventful night after all.

2.  i’m with roommate jenny from brooklyn, strolling through pahar ganj, a somewhat seedy strip of cheap hostels and curiosity shops near the delhi train station.  she is in search of perfume and i’m along for the ride, trying to avoid sleep in the interest of overcoming jet lag (we’re 9 1/2 hours ahead of ny).  this is my first taste of the sights, sounds, and rather pungent smells of india – cardamom, urine, patchouli, and diesel, all wafting through the sickly heat.  perfume in hand, we haggle for an auto rickshaw.  how much to circular road?  100.  you’re crazy it’s only 50.  ok 90.  we can pay 60.  ok 80 we go.  70.  pause.  ok we go.

and we’re off.  this time streets are crowded and there’s a lot of lurching and honking.  where is circular road? he asks, drifting into another lane as he looks over his shoulder.  i don’t know.  (you’re the taxi driver, why don’t you know? how did you haggle for prices with us if you didn’t?)  between us, jenny and i decide circular road is maybe straight on this road.  (does circular road just mean roundabout? if so, there must be hundreds of circular roads in this city. no wonder we are lost.)  five minutes later, our man starts scratching his head.  he shakes it.  he points his index finger up in the air like he is testing the wind (all the while careening through kamikaze traffic).  he wiggles his finger, puts it down.  shakes his head, puts it down in his hand (look at the road!) like he is bewildered, has royally screwed up, thinks his lap may have the answer.

ok, circular road, i pipe in cheerfully to avoid a melt-down.  it’s near the embassies right?  you know the road with the embassies?  what about teen murthi road?  is that nearby?  (i am not at all sure this is right but i saw the road sign somewhere recently).  our man has slowed to a stop in the middle of oncoming traffic so that he can turn to see my gestures.  i make a T with my arms – you know embassy road? – right arm out – teen murthi? – left arm across – circular road – i show a loop road connecting them.  in all honesty i have no idea where circular road is but my guess is better than wandering aimlessly through a city of 10+ million.  i am vague enough to jog his memory.  he nods sideways, smiles, puts us in gear with purpose and sure enough, we arrive at circular road.  not too shabby.

3.  for those of you who haven’t seen an auto rickshaw, it’s a little go-cart wth 3 wheels, no sides, a bench at the back and a seat for the driver at the front.  its engine sounds a bit like a lawnmower.  rickshaws can also be bicycle- or man-powered.  i find them incredibly cute and will undoubtedly come home with lots of pictures of them.  last night four of us fit in one ‘auto’ (as the motorized rickshaws are called) with three across the back bench and poor camilla tottering beside the driver in the front, holding on to the ceiling for dear life.  the style of city driving here is to weave in and out of lanes and around buses while honking to let other cars know you are coming so they can get out of your way (also relevant for people and cows).  this creates the effect of a kind of dance, a weaving honking traffic tango, choregraphed by some unknown force such that no one collides.  weak stomachs beware.

with my now expert directions we arrive at circular road in one piece.  camilla is visibly shaken, but laughing about it.  in her russian accent: i thought i was going to die! these drivers are so crazy! i thought he might go over something and i would just fly right out…  but she now has a great story to tell.

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~ by aliciawolcott on June 2, 2010.

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