Oh, my gosh!! No more cosseting for us. We knew we were being beautifully, wonderfully, delightfully spoiled over the past two weeks but it was still a jolt being semi-on our own last evening.
Our Treasures of South India tour ended yesterday. Joan and I departed Mamallapuram yesterday morning at 7:30 am (for a 10:30 am flight from Chennai to Delhi). But it was our great good fortune to be flying off to Delhi (to begin our Varanasi/Khajuraho extension) with Hashmat: He who has seen to all the many daily details of our lives in south India during our stay. This meant that we were able to extend our pampered existence, insulated from the minutia of dealing with any possible complications in our travel, all the way to Delhi where we bade Hashmat farewell at the fork in the concourse directing us to Domestic Transfers and him to Baggage and home.
First tiny wrinkle, our flight to Varanasi was delayed for an hour. This was clearly no big deal; the Delhi airport is great.
We were met with garlands of flowers at the Varanasi airport by an agent of Exotic Journeys (EJ), which is overseeing this part of our trip. The ride to the hotel, the Ganges Gateway, was equal parts terror and fascination. We haven’t done much night time driving on this trip and this drive was reminiscent of drives I have experienced in China, Central Asia and Africa. Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, tuk tuks, and some vehicles that defy description weaving, seemingly randomly, over the entire roadway honking horns, flashing lights and trying to avoid all of the unilluminated bicyclists, pedestrians and cows on the edges of the highway.
As we drove, we caught glimpses inside the many little stalls and shops that lined the road; all dimly lit but all doing some sort of business even if much of it might have been social. Small wood fires threw up flame and sparks.
When we arrived at the hotel, our cohort of attendants expanded to include our guide, Rajesh, plus two more representatives from EJ. Even with three EJ folks plus Rajesh, getting our paperwork filled out for the hotel was not seamless. Confusion coupled with a very poorly copied form made for the second tiny wrinkle.
Then, after getting our marching orders for today (meet Rajesh in lobby at 6:15 am), all of the fellows departed leaving us with the porter and our bags. Up to the fourth floor and into our room, 406.
Wrinkle number three, which was not tiny: Only one bed. Once again, even a king sized bed would not induce Joan and me to share. We explained this to the porter. He explained how to use the television controls. We said we needed two beds. He said that this room was bigger and please note the safe and mini-bar. We said we had reservations for a twin room. He called the front desk. No twin room of floor four; the only twin room was on floor two. What did we care what floor the room was on?
As it turned out, we cared quite a bit. Floor two was a smoking floor. Smelly and generally not nice. We told the porter that it wouldn’t do. We had reserved a non-smoking room. He told us that the rooms were same same and pointed to a ventilation grate in the wall. We said NO! He pointed to the grate again and said if we smelled smoke we could tell somebody. We said NO!! We all went down to the lobby.
Turns out floor three is also a non-smoking floor but there were no twin rooms available. Then someone suggested putting a rollaway bed into room 406, which represented an upgrade from the superior twin we had reserved (?) to the executive level so wouldn’t we be silly not to take them up on the offer. We accepted before anyone could come up with another plan. Having done nothing all day but eat and fly, wrinkle three had completely exhausted us. We ordered room service, said another giant thank you to Hashmat for having insulated us from all this chaos, and collapsed into slumber
Welcome to Varanasi and northern India.