Some tips for visitors to Delhi

This post has a simple purpose: to compile in one place some useful information for visitors to Delhi. This would include delegates at the upcoming RC21 Conference ‘In and beyond the city: emerging ontologies, persistent challenges and hopeful futures’ from 18-21 September 2019. Despite the plethora of travel blogs and websites these days, in the run-up to my recent trip I found it hard to sift the helpful and current information from the dated or just downright wrong advice. So these are my first-hand thoughts and experiences.

If you are flying into Delhi from abroad you will arrive at Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport (IATA: DEL). I’ll briefly cover five things which I hope you’ll find helpful:

  1. Getting cash on arrival
  2. Getting a Prepaid SIM
  3. Getting a taxi, including scams to avoid
  4. Getting around in Delhi: use Ola
  5. Getting out of Delhi: take the train
1. Getting cash at IGI Airport T3, Delhi

This is well covered elsewhere, but there were both Citibank and State Bank of India (SBI) ATMs in the arrival lobby of Terminal 3 immediately after exiting customs. I used the Citibank ATM, which charged a fee of ₹200/- and gave my cash in a mixture of ₹500 and ₹100 notes (from memory). The SBI ATM was right next to the Airtel Booth (see below). Based on subsequent withdrawals, I expect it would have been fee-free, but everyone withdrawing money there seemed to walk away with only ₹2000 notes, and smaller notes are worth their weight in gold in India.

2. Getting a SIM at IGI Airport T3, Delhi

Having a local Indian SIM makes so much difference - see Ola later in this post! There is an Airtel booth (open 24hrs) almost directly opposite the exit from the Terminal 3 baggage claim and customs, right next to the SBI ATM. I was charged ₹999/- (~£11/AUD20/USD14) for a SIM with unlimited local calls, STD calls and SMS messages and the all-important data connection (up to 1.4GB per day) for a period of 3 months. It also includes ‘roaming’, which means it’ll work on other networks operated by the same provider within India, such as other states. A few things to note:

  1. The actual recharge value was ₹495/- so there is a hefty mark-up.
  2. You need to submit a form, they photocopy your passport, and you submit a passport-style photo (alternatively, it seemed they were taking digital shots of other travellers).
  3. The SIM is not active immediately. I arrived at 1am and mine was active within a couple of hours after I called customer service to confirm details. But it wasn’t really functional until recharged, which was done by the outlet at 11:40am the next day. They promised to have it active by 3pm, so this isn’t too bad, but worth bearing in mind if your plan involves immediately getting online on your smartphone.
  4. The Airtel booth only accept cash, so withdraw cash before getting your SIM.

Airtel booth, IGI Terminal 3 arrival lobby, viewed from outside The Airtel booth in the IGI Terminal 3 arrival lobby, viewed from outside

3. Getting a taxi at IGI Airport T3, Delhi: options and scams to avoid

Ola would probably be a great option to get from the airport to your accommodation. But because your SIM is unlikely to be active, and because data roaming for overseas SIMs in India is so expensive (my carrier wanted £3/MB), options are restricted. I did a lot of reading about this. The three main suggestions seemed to be

  1. Get your hotel to send a car;
  2. Take one of the ‘Radio Taxis’ operated by Meru and Mega, which (theoretically) should use a meter and are air-conditioned; or
  3. Take a prepaid taxi booked through the Delhi Traffic Police booth (not air-conditioned).

I eliminated the first because I was sure the price would be stratospheric, and decided to try the second. I ended up taking the third. But how it played out gives a useful lesson in the plethora of scams targeting visitors arriving in DEL. Be aware and on your guard, and you’ll be fine.

Tout #1: ‘Come my friend’
Approaching the Meru taxi counter the guy behind it seemed to nod me in the direction of a man near him. This guy took me over to a four-wheel-drive labelled ‘tourist’. I got in, at which point I asked where the meter was. He said “no meter”, and proceeded to offer the ride to my hotel in the vicinity of Connaught Place for ₹2500! I laughed and said “no way” while he made all sorts of protestations about the rates, how good the car was etc. Knowing this was well above the going rate I finally just said “no” and started getting out. As I exited he offered ₹1500. I kept walking.

Tout #2: ‘Come my man’
After the experience above I decided to take one of the prepaid taxis which you book at a booth operated by Delhi Traffic Police. Approaching the booth, another tout tried to convince me to come round to his taxi parked behind. I had a quick look, realised what was going on and returned firmly to the window of the booth!

Scam #3: ‘The quick switch’
Don’t feel that because you are booking your prepaid taxi at a set rate at a booth operated by Delhi Traffic Police that you can let your guard down. There is a scam operated by the clerks there which I’ll call ‘The quick switch’. I had read about it somewhere online, but still it was a surprise when they tried it on me! So be ready for it. Here’s how it works:

  1. Weary traveller says where s/he is going, and the clerk quotes the price (₹470/- for me);
  2. Traveller gives a ₹500 or other high-denomination note/s to the clerk;
  3. Quick as lightning the clerk switches it for a ₹100 note, then says he needs ₹370 more.

Circumvent this scam by counting out the notes as you hand them over. I knew I’d given a ₹500 note, so I stood my ground, assertively saying that I had given him ₹500 and therefore he owed me ₹30 change. He kept showing me the ₹100 he’d switched out until it became clear that he wouldn’t pull the wool over my eyes, then quickly gave me my change and the trademark green and pink carbon-copy prepaid receipts and waved me in the direction of “any black cab”. Guard the green receipt carefully! That’s what the driver needs to get his money on return to the airport, and will prove useful if he tries any schemes on you on the way. Mine didn’t, we arrived at my hotel and I finally got some sleep :-)

Delhi Traffic Police Prepaid Taxi Book, Arrivals area, IGI Terminal 3 The Delhi Traffic Police Prepaid Taxi Booth at IGI Terminal 3

The prepaid taxi receipts - the top (green) one is given to the driver when you reach your destination The Prepaid taxi receipts - the top (green) one is given to the driver when you reach your destination

4. Getting around in Delhi: Use Ola

Depending on where you are going, the Delhi Metro can be very convenient (carry correct change), but most visitors will use surface transport. Of course, everyone should try their hand at bargaining with one of Delhi’s ubiquitous auto-rickshaw drivers! To give you an idea of what you should be paying, Delhi Traffic Police have a helpful fare calculator. Once you’ve done this, though, I suggest you use Ola, the home-grown Indian version of Uber (also in the city). If you like, you can use my referral code: 0E5ZYPU. I used Ola extensively, and found it was both cheap and reliable, with rides ranging from ₹120-250 depending on distance. It has at least three significant advantages for visitors:

  1. You can choose your destination using a Google Maps-based interface. You can then keep an eye on the route as you travel on either/both your phone and the driver’s to ensure he isn’t taking some detour to run up the fare.
  2. You get a break from the mental fatigue of constant bargaining/arguing with every auto or cab driver you see, who will suggest fares somewhere between the ludicrous and the insane.
  3. You will get electronic receipts emailed to you. If you are a business traveller you now don’t have to have a fight with your finance department over the fact that you don’t have receipts!

In an Ola cab In an Ola cab

5. Getting out of Delhi: Take the train

No visitor should stay in Delhi exclusively. To get out of the city and for intercity travel, I’d encourage you to use trains. They are more sustainable and more relaxing than cars, and vastly better than planes! Anyone thinking of catching a train will almost certainly have already visited The Man in Seat 61, so I won’t repeat the excellent advice there. The trains I caught in India were comfortable and cheap, just don’t expect them to be on time! The Shatabdi I took from New Delhi to Agra ran an hour late on what was scheduled as a 2hr trip; and the return train (which starts in Bhopal) was nearly 1.5hrs late by the time it arrived in Agra. Needless to say it made up little time between Agra and New Delhi!

One thing I missed on Seat61 was that in the Air-Conditioned “Chair Class” on the Shatabdi and Janshatabdi trains there are power plugs in the carriage. They aren’t at every seat, but if I’d known this this I would have taken my power adaptor for my long day-trip to Agra, during which time my phone got heavy usage, mainly taking photos and using maps. The outlets will accept a variety of plugs, including Australian and US-style plugs as well as Indian ones.

There are also waiting rooms for Chair Class passengers at many stations. I used the one at Agra, which was on Platform 1 and labelled the “Upper Class Waiting Room”. The waiting room also had power plugs. Carry some toilet paper if you’re out and about. Trains have at least one western-style toilet per carriage, but you won’t find any toilet paper. The same is true for many tourist sites.

Power points between each set of windows in the Shatabdi and Janshatabdi trains Power points are provided between each set of windows in AC Chair Class on the Shatabdi and Janshatabdi trains

Enjoy your time in India, and I hope these tips help get it off to a smooth start 🙂!

Extract text, join lines, and enclose in quotes on a Mac

My work involves a lot of reading and note-taking, and I regularly extract key quotes from papers I’m reading to store with the reference in my reference manager (most recently, Zotero). Academic papers are often multi-column PDFs, which means if you copy a key quotation you can waste a lot of time formatting, particularly manually removing line breaks, then enclosing the quote in “quotation marks”. So for a long time I’ve used TextWrangler to semi-automate this process. It’s a simple AppleScript which takes the content of the clipboard, pastes it into TextWranger, replaces line breaks with spaces, encloses the text in quotation marks, then cuts it back to the clipboard:

tell application "TextWrangler"
	replace "\\n" using " " searching in text 1 of window 1 options {search mode:grep, starting at top:true, wrap around:false, backwards:false, case sensitive:false, match words:false, extend selection:false}
	replace "(.*)" using "\\“\\1\\”" searching in text 1 of window 1 options {search mode:grep, starting at top:true, wrap around:false, backwards:false, case sensitive:false, match words:false, extend selection:false}
	select text 1 of window 1
	cut selection
 end tell

This did the job, but it required that I (a) have TextWrangler open, (b) do a CMD + C, (c) switch to TextWrangler, (d) run the script (using a keyboard shortcut, of course!) and then (e) switch to my reference manager and paste the text block. I always thought there must be a faster and better way. It turns out there is, using just a few commands in the terminal! The basis for this was this excellent tutorial on using the command line to manipulate the clipboard. Following the principles set out by Dave Kerr, I built a string of commands which I got working in Terminal:

pbpaste | tr "\r" " " | tr "\n" " " | sed -e 's/^/“/' -e 's/$/”/' | pbcopy

That was great, but I still needed to copy the text from my PDF, then switch to terminal and run the command, then switch to Zotero and paste it. Could I do it more efficiently? It turns out I could, with the help of this discussion on StackExchange: How to get the selected text into an AppleScript, without copying the text to the clipboard? For simplicity, I used the basic (slower) code to grab the selected text:

-- Copy selected text to clipboard:
tell application "System Events" to keystroke "c" using {command down}
delay 1 -- Without this, the clipboard may have stale data.

I then combined the two using an Automator workflow, mapped as a global service so I could call it from any application (Adobe Reader, Safari, Mail etc). But there was something wrong! For some reason, my nice curly quotes which worked fine in Terminal were being spat out of bash as ‚Äú rather than “…”. I spent ages trying to figure out what was causing it. I had a hunch it must be down to character encoding, but couldn’t find a solution anywhere. That is, until I stumbled across this forum page where someone was having a similar problem in Alfred. All credit to deanishe for the solution, which in the end was the simple need to specify that Bash should use Unicode encoding. In my case, that meant adding the following line to the top of my bash script:

export LANG=en_GB.UTF-8

Hey presto, a one-keyboard shortcut script to merge lines, add nice curly quotes, and place the output on the clipboard for me to paste wherever it needed to go :-)

Here’s the complete Automator Service, with the code snippets below:

Automator Screenshot

Service receives no input in any application [this ensures the service is always available]

Run AppleScript

on run {input, parameters}
	set the clipboard to ""
	-- Copy selected text to clipboard:
	tell application "System Events" to keystroke "c" using {command down}
	delay 0.2 -- Without this, the clipboard may have stale data.
	return input
end run

Run Shell Script

export LANG=en_GB.UTF-8
pbpaste | tr "\r" " " | tr "\n" " " | sed -e 's/^/“/' -e 's/$/”/' | pbcopy

A Polanyi Snippet

“The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that man’s economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets. He values material goods only in so far as they serve this end.”

Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 1944
(p. 48 in the 2001 Beacon Books edition)

International Climate Justice Conference, Edinburgh

On Wednesday I attended the ‘International Climate Justice Conference’ hosted by the Scottish Government at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. The dress code was listed as ‘business’, which for some reason amused me. The event was attended by around 150 delegates, drawn from the public, private and third sectors. Headlining the conference were Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and the Former President of Ireland and now climate justice advocate Mary Robinson.

Alex Salmond didn’t actually manage to attend despite receiving prominent billing on the programme – he was instead in Windsor at the invitation of the Queen launching the Baton Relay for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games – but in a video message used the event as a platform to announce that Scotland would double the funding of its Climate Justice Fund from £3M to £6M. But Mary Robinson was there, and used her keynote address at the start of the day’s proceedings to argue that “the time for radical leadership on climate change is now”. “Transformative leadership is needed, not business as usual”, she said.

As the day progressed this thought kept occupying me: where will this “transformative leadership” come from? The evidence from the UNFCCC negotiations suggests that it won’t come from the so-called ‘Global North’ who have frequently been called on to stand up because their current prosperity is most clearly linked to the exploitation of fossil fuels. There is certainly evidence that the EU is standing up for some leadership responsibility, but is it really “transformative”? The look it when compared with the global laggards, perhaps, but in real terms the consensus seems to be building that the EU has actually dealt itself an easy hand. The question of the role of nuclear energy in decarbonization must also be considered, particularly if we’re concerned with the inter-generational aspects of climate justice. The Scottish Government is clearly attempting to position itself as a leader, but will need to do more than host a conference and commit £6M to climate justice-badged development projects to earn its stripes.

So if not the governments of the Global North, could business step in with “transformative leadership”, particularly given that it has been the beneficiary of years of liberalization policy around the world? Ian Marchant, the Chairman of Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group and former CEO of SSE, the UK’s 2nd largest energy supplier, argued that “business can be a force for good” – and I wouldn’t disagree – but as the day went on it seemed clear that business will operate only within the constraints imposed on it by governments. ‘Give us a tough target to meet, and we know how to aim for it’, one business rep explained. That’s great, but it still isn’t “transformative”. Paul Westbury told us that his engineering consultancy firm Buro Happold were seeking to provide leadership, but the cost was half the profit of their competitors, and that you’d be hard pressed to find many in business willing to make that sacrifice. So he said there is a need to change the economic model driving business from one geared towards individual wealth creation to one geared towards collective wealth creation.

That leaves the NGOs, dozens of which were represented at the conference and who were the loudest voices on Twitter throughout the day. The term ‘climate justice’ emerged from this community, as Dorothy-Grace Guerrero from Focus on the Global South pointed out, and their voices grow louder every day. Arguably, they set the agenda with the 2002 Bali Principles of Climate Justice. So where are they taking the idea? I am currently working on a research project which seeks to cast light on this question among others.

As it was, the last word on the day (aside from the closing address by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth) was given to Lady Susan Rice, the Managing Director of Lloyds Banking Group Scotland, who summarized the proceedings of an event on Tuesday night where Alex Salmond and Mary Robinson discussed climate justice with some 20 hand-picked representatives of the business community under Chatham House rules. Now wouldn’t it have been interesting to be a fly on the wall at that event?

Multidisciplinary Workshop on Climate Ethics

Last week I was fortunate to be able to attend the Multidisciplinary Workshop on Climate Ethics at Villa del Grumello at Lake Como. Organized by Marco Grasso (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca) and Ezra Markowitz (Princeton University), the workshop examined the ethical dimensions of climate change policy from a range of disciplinary perspectives. It was fascinating to see how scholars from disciplines including philosophy, economics, psychology, law, political science and geography are engaging with the many complex ethical questions that climate change poses. A steady supply of espresso was certainly required to maintain focus over two full but very stimulating days, which concluded with a Skype presentation from Benjamin Hale (University of Colorado, Boulder) on how to bring the normative dimensions of climate change to a wider audience. I’d encourage everyone to check out his project, called The Shifting Frontier, which aims to introduce a general audience to some of the tricky ethical questions climate change raises through a series of 12 short video episodes.

I found the workshop really interesting - it’s great to break out of disciplinary silos to have some real conversation, even if it means some ‘robust discussions’. I found out a lot more about geoengineering, which I knew very little about prior to the workshop but which clearly requires sustained attention from an ethical perspective given that the so-called genie is out of the bottle with its mention in the summary from Working Group One (which assesses the physical science of climate change) of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report (see this Guardian story for more details).

However, the workshop also reinforced my perception that climate ethics is primarily framed through a liberal, western epistemology, and the focus remains on questions of international and inter-generational distributive justice. Don’t misinterpret me, these are both complex and important questions, but I have two lingering concerns. Firstly – as Paul Harris argued in his 2010 paper in the journal Ethics, Place and Environment – scale matters when examining distributive justice, and there are many reasons to reconsider the appropriateness of the nation-state as the basic building block of ethical analysis. Secondly – as Iris Marion Young’s work on the politics of difference or Nancy Fraser’s work on justice as recognition shows – getting the distribution right is only part of the puzzle of justice. From my perspective, we need a conception of climate justice which is both ethically defensible and politically possible, and to develop this we need a much a clearer understanding of how ethical imperatives are embedded in and filtered through the actual politics of climate change at a variety of scales.