Sunday, April 26, 2009

Travel Tips: Know Where You're Staying

I know it sounds obvious, but I had to learn it the hard way.

A day that started with waking up in the middle of the night to end up getting conned, surviving the most dangerous car ride of my life and seeing the Taj Mahal ended with my learning the hard way to always take a business card or at least write down the address of the place you left your luggage.
(The swastika, by the way, is very common in India and has nothing to do with Nazis.)

At four-something in the morning, when our cabbie tol
d us he would be available to pick us up at the train station at the end of the day to take us back to our hotel, we got his cell number and thought we were good. We knew we were staying at the Hotel Solitaire Plaza in the Lajpat Nagar area of New Delhi. We thought this information was more than enough to get us back home.

We were wrong.

About 20 hours later, after being on the road for most of the day, we were pulling into the traffic mess that is New Delhi, the driver who had taken us to the Taj Mahal (who wasn't our cabbie from earlier in thed day) having assured us he knew where our hotel was.

Except he didn't.

"Hotel Solitaire Plaza, in Lajpat Nagar," I said in response to his question. I expected him to say somehting like, "Oh, yeah. That one."

He didn't. I still wasn't worried. It's not like the hotel had gone anywhere. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed our cabbie's number. It was late, and he didn't answer.

I suggested we stop at a tourism office. We finally found one that was open after about 30 minutes of driving, and the man behind the counter wanted money to let me look at his poster. I told him I would pay for Internet access instead, but, for the life of me, I could not find the hotel online. I talked the guy into checking for the address, but he didn't have it.

Still not overly concerned, we got back in the car, and I dialed our cabbie again. No luck.

"Just drive to Lajpat Nagar, and we'll ask someone," I said. Believe it or not, this is the best way to get directions in India. My first hotel in Mumbai had the address listed as "Near Gateway of India, Apollo Bunder." I don't like the words "near," "sort of," "close to," or "maybe" in an address, but that's just how it is.

My plan would have worked, I'm sure, except our driver didn't know where Lajpat Nagar was.

I couldn't believe it and tried calling the cabbie again. By this time, we'd been looking for our hotel for two hours. Yes, two hours. All four of us - the driver and my two friends - just wanted it to be done.

The cabbie answered, so I handed the phone to the driver, who pulled over to talk.

In a country where running a red light is 400 rupees ($10) and speeding is 200 rupees, talking on the phone while driving is a 1,600 rupee fine.

The driver hung up, and it was like a lightbulb had come on.

"Laj Putnugger," he said. I frowned, handed him a paper, and asked him to write it. He wrote it as "Lajpat Nagar." I was too tired to argue the intricacies of pronunciation with him.

As it turned out, we were just a few minutes from our hotel.

When we stopped, our driver jumped out and gave us all big hugs, thanking one of the estimated 3,000 gods in the Hindu religion repeatedly. We tipped him and staggered up to our room which, despite its lacking in some areas (like lightbulbs, as Deon proves in the picture below), was the only place I wanted to be.

For the rest of my life, no matter how obvious the place I'm staying is, I will make sure I have the address and phone number of my hotel.

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