Amritsar: first impressions (night) #DelhiDisey

I have to start by saying I have never been as happy to see anyone in my life as my driver who picked me up from Amritsar airport. Firstly, I assumed he wouldn’t be there because I was bumped from my original flight and had to take a later one. And second, I didn’t want the transfer I paid for to be wasted. Third, I didn’t want to have to deal with Indian taxi drivers who rip tourists off unmercifully, or so I’ve been told.

But there he was, waiting outside, my name printed boldly in caps on the worn sign he was carrying. He was a small man, dark, with a smear of a mustache on his upper lip, and didn’t speak much English. He was keen to take me to sightseeing, but I just wanted to go to my hotel. I was sick of myself after an early start, two flights and endless hours spent waiting around in airports. I wanted a hot* shower more than just about anything.

The road from the airport to Amritsar can best be described as atrocious. That’s not because there isn’t any maintenance going on, but because there is. The bitumen has been ripped up, and nothing has replaced it except potholes and gutters and deep ditches. The lack of footpaths meant that pedestrians also competed with vehicles. In fact, how shopkeepers could get anyone into their stores baffled me. There was a drop of a foot or so from front doors to the footpath/road. The lanes were unmarked so cars and trucks and buses and motor cycles and bicycles competed for driving—and walking—space. Horns blared and tooted and beeped in warning as vehicles appeared from nowhere to pass us. Roadworks machinery sat lifeless on the side of the road, like defunct gangs.

We drove through a lively market area, dust from road competing with the night fog. Throngs of people, mostly male from what I could tell, congregated in groups and lines around food stalls and other stores. I spotted the occasional woman wearing a bright, jewel-coloured shalwar kameezwalking calmly along the side of the road by herself. That interested me very much because who hasn’t heard how unsafe it is for women in India?

As we drove up to my hotel—the Ritz Carlton—onto what is a main road, I was surprised that the road situation had not improved. Still no footpaths, and cars were parked in a way that meant pedestrians had to walk on the road. And the roads are busy. (I walked along that road the next morning, and you need your wits about you. It’s not too bad for me, because the traffic drives on the same side of the road as Australia, so I was operating out of habit. Thank you, Britain for this little legacy.)

I tipped my driver 100 rupees (about AUD$2.80) just because I was so a) thrilled he turned up at the airport and b) he got me to my hotel and I didn’t die on the way. I filled in paper work, was made to hunt for a hotel voucher that I couldn’t find (unnecessary, as my travel agent informed me by email the next day) and as I was doing so, there was a blackout. The hotel staff, who were friendly and welcoming, continued on as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, and I wondered if this was a normal part of conducting business here. Of course “normal” is a completely subjective term.

I was struck by how tired the hotel looked, although on first appearance, it seemed quite flash. The lobby was all black marble tiles and gold fixtures and fittings and big mirrors. I’m sure that it would have been quite ostentatious in its day, but it’s in desperate need of refurbishment**. I’m starting to think that India might be all about mistaken first impressions, given my airport experience.

I was escorted to up to my room on the third floor via a tiny lift that could only hold three people, so my bag was taken up separately. The lift was lined with wilted, peeling wallpaper, with patches of grime blooming in the odd spot. My escort clicked the key into the power slot, lifted my bag onto the bag spot and turned on the TV. Dinner was between 8pm and 11pm, I was advised; breakfast was at 7.30am, in the dining room, off the lobby on the ground floor. After he left, I got the feeling that I should have tipped him.

My room was spacious, with two king size single beds, pushed together, dominating the room. There was a sofa, arm chair and coffee table occupying one side the room, a writing desk with snacks tea and coffee making facilities on the other. The air conditioner hummed its white noise song over my bed.

The bathroom was also large, with the black marble tiles of the main room repeated here. The marble vanity and basin sat between the shower alcove and toilet. The shower! God, how I needed a shower. I dumped my bag, stripped off my clothes and turned on the shower. It was cold***. It eventually warmed up to tepid, so I jumped in and jumped out. Quickly. I was not expecting a lukewarm shower! Oh well, what can you do?

Exhausted and disappointed with the shower situation, I made myself some instant porridge and a cup of tea and climbed into bed. Clean, fresh, white sheets awaited me. A just-right mattress. TV. Wifi. After a long, long day travelling and disappointing shower situation, I had finally found my bliss.

* Yeah, no.

** This is an observation, not a judgement. I have stayed in much worse accommodation!

*** I have since discovered it takes a while for the shower to warm up. And by a while, I mean a good 5-10 minutes. I’ve also discovered that it’s quicker to warm up in the morning than the evening.

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