The best travel stories are those you could not have predicted in a million years. I will never forget this hotel and laundry situation that occurred mid way on a trip of 56 days around the world. I only wish I had a web cam.
I arrived in Delhi on a dark, smoggy night. As our car pulled onto a narrow alley, my partner and I smile. This is our hotel?
The dingy lobby is hot—and stuffed with a lot of unhappy people.
It’s late, so we unload 3 weeks of dirty laundry and ask to see
our room. We are escorted to a tiny windowless room back behind the kitchen. The décor is prison-grey with accents from the grime-deco period that consist of two sleeping cots, two packages of cigarettes (American), and two dirty towels. I park my partner’s wheelchair in front of the door… for extra security. At six o’clock we get our wake up call of staff yelling (sounds like a fight is about to break out) and slamming doors.
No need for breakfast. We inform the manager we’re checking out, and ‘could he please return our laundry’.
After a lengthy discussion, it appears that I will be required to follow his staff “just around the corner to the laundry house to identify belongings”, while my partner waits in the lobby on bag guard.
Better than a scene from Peter Seller’s ‘The Party’, I scurry after my two hotel escorts, crossing streets of cars honking, rickshaws, speeding bikers, ox carts, barking dogs and an unbelievable number of people.
Down winding alleys, I’m ushered past garbage-filled rooms thick with haze that are family homes as well as work places. We go into a narrow concrete hallway where I’m introduced to the CEO of laundry. A large grey-haired cranky looking lady in an orange sari looks me up and down, then points at a lump in the corner.
We walk to a mini-mountain of dirty laundry (about the size of my 3-tonne rock in the front yard), and I realize that she wants me to find my stuff.
I begin sifting through several hundred pieces of smelly socks, stranger’s underwear, and t-shirts all bundled together. I feel like a prospector looking for gold nuggets. Every now and then I’d find something that belonged to me and I’d hand the gem to the woman, who would then pass the article to staff members for examination. I watched, as my underwear went from hand to hand.
When I discover my favourite blouse, I let out a “Yes!” and throw it with my other finds. The CEO is not pleased. Every few minutes, she barks and gives me a sharp jab in the back. She’s speaking in Hindi, but I catch her drift. She’s inferring that I am taking advantage and “helping” myself to this lovely cotton blouse. But one poke too many and I have had enough. I gesture to my escort to scoop up my stuff.
And away we run. Through the alleys and streets with my bras dangled from his arms.
Back at the hotel the manager pulls me into the office with Pajahabon and another fellow, insisting I sit down. I decline. Apparently, we must make a plan… eight garments are still missing and we need to do an official audit of the found items. I watch as my dirty clothes: 1 blouse, 2 panties, 1 bra, 2 pants are counted and handed from man to man.
After ten minutes of heated conversation in Hindi, they look confident. “Pajahabon will take me to the ‘big shop’ to locate the rest of the missing clothing.” I counter-offer. Find our stuff and have it delivered to us at our next stop. I need a bath.