Arriving back in Fort Kochi brings the joy of the familiar – a rare event when travelling. There is one last night out with the group, at a restaurant on the very edge of the river. It’s sad to say goodbye to new friends, but four of the current crew will be joining me on the northern trip (or I will be joining them, they leave Kochi at 6am).
We are a diminished group at breakfast – I’m going to miss the South Indian breakfasts! – and soon it is time to board the taxi for the hour-long journey to the airport. I’m flying via Hyderabad, though connecting passengers don’t leave the plane so I can’t tell you much about it. I was expecting delays on past experience, but the plane arrives in Delhi exactly on time, and I have already purchased a voucher from the pre-paid taxi booth by the time my pack appears on the conveyor belt.
The driver is a bit bemused when I insist on holding onto the voucher – he doesn’t get paid without it, so holding it until the end of the trip is some small security that you’ll actually get to the right destination – but in these security-conscious days, there is now an inspection gate with armed security guards checking every taxi on exit, and I have to hand it over for a few minutes at least, so that we can leave the airport!
The streets are wide and the traffic doesn’t seem too bad until we get closer to Karol Bagh, where a familiar chaos resumes. At Karol Bagh metro I call the hotel and one of the porters comes to meet us and give directions to the taxi driver. I am just in time for the orientation meeting, and dinner at a local (fairly average) restaurant. It’s a full house of twelve again, but this time more people travelling in pairs (three of us from the South trip the only exceptions) and slightly skewed towards an older age-group. The guide is a much more gentle personality this time too – he is Jain, non-smoking, non-drinking and vegetarian. Comparisons are odious, as my grandmother has been known to say, but the first part of the trip has been so much fun that I wonder if the second half stands a chance…