Our cab driver appeared to be lost as we drove circles around Paharganj. We were looking for the Vivek Hotel in the Main Bazaar, but after several phone calls and stopping a few people on the side of the road, our driver was essentially clueless. We continued making windy turns down dirt roads that weren’t meant for driving and stopped when a local knocked on the window and told our driver that cars couldn’t drive down this particular road. It seemed odd since we’d driven down every other dirt road in the area, lost for 40 minutes.
And with that, we paid the man, put our packs on our backs and started walking. We walked by the huge ditch that halted our taxi and continued on past a half-asleep homeless man throwing up on the side of the dirt. It was when we walked by the free-roaming cows that I stared getting nervous.
Lost at midnight in a place Lonely Planet described as having ‘a seedy reputation for drugs and dodgy characters’ wasn’t exactly how I’d planned on meeting India. We stopped inside a brightly lit guest house and asked a friendly gentleman where Vivek Hotel was and he told us we were close. I started silently praying to the cows who were eating a discarded piece of luggage as we rounded a corner and saw the sign. Some typical dread-haired backpackers were walking out of the hotel door and I knew we were home.
Or that’s what I thought until the front desk man told us we wouldn’t have a room here, but at his other hotel. Which was named ‘Avatar’ or something and was not in our trusty guidebook. But we have no choice, and he says he’ll help us get there. Fair enough.
Getting there turned into a 30 minute galavant around the dirt roads outside of Vivek with three men trying to find us a bike-rickshaw that would carry us to the next hotel. We got in one, and out, and in another, and out until a finger-wagging fight broke out amongst all parties involved. One man finally said ‘come!’ and we started walking. Down the same dirt road, past the holy cows and the barfing man and the taxi-stealing ditch. Then down another street past men burning fires out of coal and plastic bags creating a smell that was supposedly a recognizable smell in Delhi. Which I interpreted as, ‘Delhi smells like burning flesh.’
We finally entered Avtar Hotel, which wasn’t nearly as welcoming, and were given the keys to check out our room. There was no one else around, no familiar looking hippies, except two Indian men sitting on the lobby couches watching Bollywood. We lugged ourselves upstairs and opened the door to a dingy room with a double bed, an AC unit and a bathroom. The sheets probably hadn’t been washed in years and the AC unit was attached to the wall that separated the room from the hallway. There were cracks that let us catch sight of anyone who walked by. Budget accommodation at its finest. I looked over at Daniel and he could tell.
We walked back downstairs when the front desk phone rang, and the man who answered handed it to us. Confused, I grabbed the phone and said hello. It was the man from Vivek Hotel, telling us how sorry he was that he didn’t’ have the room we reserved at his highly rated and supposedly cleaner Vivek Hotel, but that we should stay at this Avatar place and it would be free of charge.
I told Daniel the news, he shrugged, and we gave the front desk man our passports, preparing ourselves for our first night in Delhi.