The India Gate war memorial at the heart of New Delhi

I’d been flying across great swathes of India for about £30 a pop, so booking a flight last week for the mere hour-long hop from Leh to Delhi for a whopping £100 had caused me some consternation at the time. That was with some shopping around, too; there were far more pricey fares at more civilised times than my early morning flight. But having experienced the arduous journey over the Himalayas by road, the cost was suddenly put into perspective, and it became the best £100 I ever spent. I made it my vow to enjoy every last minute of that flight as we took off and I peered out over the snowy peaks of the Himalayas from above, fully appreciating the fact that it meant I didn’t have to sit in a chicken bus for two days at stupid altitudes in order to get back to the capital.
It felt wonderful to be back in Delhi as I exited the plane and crossed the tarmac, taking a deep breath of the polluted and oven-like yet wonderfully oxygenated air. My love affair with the Indian capital lasted a whole ten minutes, ending abruptly at the prepaid taxi stand, where yet again the person behind the counter tried to pull the old 500-rupee-note-for-100 switcheroo on me. Welcome back to Scam City! It made me gain a deeper appreciation of the entirely hassle-free time I’d had in Leh. I gave the guy a mild rebuke, and received a guilty ear-to-ear grin back from him for my efforts.
Two months in India is enough to test the patience of anyone, and mine had been running on fumes for a while now. It ran out for good when I was approached by a “friendly” Indian man the following morning near Connaught Place. We went through the usual motions of establishing my nationality, my length of stay in India and my next destination, informing the chap I was off to Agra.
“I’m going there by train.”
Pre-empting the next question, I quickly added “I’ll book my ticket online.”
With a sympathetic grimace, he delivered me the bad news.
“Not possible.”
I snapped at hearing this barefaced lie, giving the unfortunate scammer both barrels of pent-up Indian frustration: one for each month.
“It *is* possible. I’ve booked trains online many times. Why are you lying to me? You bring shame on your country, and shame on your family too.”
I may have inserted a few choice swearwords into my rant.
It’s rare for me to lose my cool and get so agitated, but in my defence I hadn’t had a very good month, and it wasn’t getting any better. My Macbook power supply had just blown up, meaning a trek across Delhi to a computer market to search for another (quotes ranged from £25 to a whopping £85 for a replacement). The next day I had to go all the way back there, as the one they had given me was faulty. And to top it all off, having booked my Agra train ticket (online, Mr Indian Scammer), I woke up on the day of travel feeling as if I’d been hit with a sledgehammer.
I was running a fever, and I seriously considered cancelling my journey, but I managed to soldier on through thanks to the inviting prospect of a four-star hotel waiting the other end for me; I’d grabbed a bargain last minute. On arrival in Agra I was swamped by the taxi mafia, but thankfully I knew the deal: it was a fixed price to any hotel, albeit an inflated one. On the way the friendly driver gave me the not-so-soft-sell for his transport and city guide services, but I truthfully told him that the only plans I had in mind were to get better as soon as possible.
Nausea, fever, general malaise and the squirts meant only one thing to me: tropical blighters had invaded my body again. Luckily I had held back two antibiotic tablets from my time in Mcleod Ganj for just such a “special occasion”, and with the rehydration drink close to hand, the airconditioning cranked down to icy cold, BBC World News on the box and the path to the toilet cleared of any obstacles, I wallowed in bed feeling sorry for myself, thinking how unlucky I had been with illness in the second month of my trip.
This wasn’t in the tourist brochures.