Well I guess the answer is probably yes.....
23.05.2009 - 15.06.2009 43 °C
It took me a few weeks to work out you can never really love India nor can you hate it, you just have to take it for what it is! One minute you think you have got the country figured out and the next you see something that really makes you wonder how people can live in such way during these modern times. For example I was sat on a train talking to a lovely family, they virtually force food down me, are genuinely interested in what I was doing and seem good people. Just as one of the family members throws all their rubbish straight out of the window a young boy with only one arm comes down the carriage on his 'hand' and knees cleaning it with a manky old brush, you may think this is some scheme that the Indian railways have to get disabled people working!! Not the case this is just a plain old simple beggar trying to earn a bit of cash, most people will not even acknowledge the boy mainly I guess because this is an everyday occurrence and people are numb to the atrocities they see before them. This also leaves you thinking how did this happen to the boy? Was it an accident? Was it his family so that he could make more money begging? or was it some organisation that he managed to get involved in (or his parents sold him to) that also thought by removing a limb it would make him more profitable? I am sure that there are many people with missing limbs in England, but we tend to care for the disabled and not put them on full public display. India doesn't have help like that available!
Going back to the family on the train, whilst throwing litter isn't the worst crime in the world it just goes to show you how Indians can be and this is certainly not an isolated case. Everybody, no matter their class in India litters. I recall whilst sat on a beech recently a young Indian man dropping a plastic bottle, this was a beech that I has spent some time on and whilst it was not the most beautiful beech in the world, it was my little bit of paradise for that time. I had respect for the beech and either put my rubbish in the bins provided or took it home with me. Seeing such an act of blatant disregard for the beech I gestured to the guy and pointed to a bin 10 meters away, in which his response is 'don't worry its India'. India is a very confusing place!!!
Before I came to India the very word conjured up images of a far and distant land where people eat curries and drink lots of tea. Six weeks later and what does India to me? Its a county that's full to the brim with people, it seems that every bit of space is used for homes, shops or farming. Its squat toilet with no toilet roll. Its 5 people on a old dilapidated moped, not wearing helmets. Its people carrying the un-carryable on their heads!! Its the sight of people doing the 'Indian nod', this comprises of a nod and a shake of the head at the same time in a rotation and can mean either yes or no!! Its the sight of two 'straight' men holding hands and rubbing each others stomachs, in a country that strictly forbids homosexuality. The smells of food, chai (tea) and exotic spices emanating from every street corner and not forgetting the lassi (sweet yogurt/curd type drink) in the throw away clay pots. The sight of women putting cow dung in a flat pie shape to dry out in the sun, to then later be used as fuel for fires. Cars, taxi's, bikes and buses all fighting for the same bit of road and using their horns as though the world was going to end at any moment. Animals wondering the street, anything from dogs, cats, sacred cows, goats, chickens, wild boars, in fact if you kill one of India's sacred cows its considered a worse crime than killing a human. Shrines and temples every few hundred meters that depict one of the many gods from the many religions, India seems to have more regions and variations on those religions than you can shake stick at! Its going to a tourist area and feeling like a celebrity when 100's of people stare at you or ask you to have a photo with them, you feel like saying 'god haven't you seen a white person?', the reality is thats the reason why they are probably so awe struck, because they haven't ever seen a white person.
There are obviously some the less desirable sights that will still remind me and probably haunt for many years to come, such as the number of men, women, children and babies who live on the streets. The mountains of litter on every street in every city, town, hamlet & village!!! Indian men taking photos, leering and even touching other female travellers. The constant harassment from taxis and rickshaw driver 'heeeyyy mmmisssttterrr taaaxxxxi?', you actually feel like saying 'bugger off, you have just watched me get out of a taxi, why would possibly want to get another one?'. People always on the rob and think you can afford to pay more than a Indian and not forgetting their ridiculous two tier pricing for tourist attactions.The constant harassment from shop owners and street urchins trying to get you to buy items that you will never have a use for, anything ranging from saris to bongos, I feel like saying 'How the buggery do you think I am going to get a 3 foot bongo drum home?'. People constantly clearing their throats and spitting. On a similar topic most men and some women of India chew something called Paan, this is chewed as a palate cleanser and a breath freshener and often consists of fennel seeds and chewing tobacco. You can tell someone its chewing it as they mumble when they 'speak' to you and their teeth will be all red and stained, though usually its confirmed when the person in question spits the red Paan a few feet away from you. During the long dry spell the streets are literally covered with red stains from the Paan!
My last few weeks in Indian have been great, after another long train journey to the hot city of Udaipur, Rajasthan I arrived bright eyed an bushy tailed looking forward to seeing the Palace hotel in the middle of the lake where parts of the bond movie Octypussy were filmed. As we were at the end of the dry season the lake was just about bone dry and wasn't as pleasing to the eye as I remember it been on the bond movie! That said Udaipur was a really great place to visit and some of the views from the surrounding lookout points were super, smashing, great! It also gave me the chance to play about with my new SLR camera some more!
Here is a Baba that I found in Udaipur, Baba's are basically people that leave their families to a life of celibacy and are legally allowed to smoke drugs.
Next stop Ahmedabad, I arrived early in the morning after not having very much sleep at all. The first thing I had to contend with was an auto rickshaw driver who after driving for 5 minutes stopped to tell me that where I wanted to go was closed and that he would take me to another hotel which I could only assume would be far more expensive and where he would obviously receive a commission!! I was not in the mood for this and eventually reluctantly agreed for him to take me to a hotel that he mentioned, as this hotel was virtually opposite the hotel I wanted to go to and I had seen it on my Lonely Planet map. When we arrived I threw him the money (I wish I hadn't have even done that now) that we had agreed and promptly walked over to the original hotel that I wanted to go to and checked in, guess the moral of the story is that you cannot kid a kidda!!! I was now in an even worse mood and just wanted to sleep, the hostel I had chosen was filthy, smelly and expensive to boot. I didn't have the energy to go anywhere else so I just crashed out!! When I eventually got up and went for a walk round, the city didn't seem to do anything for me (after speaking to others they also hated the place so I don't feel so bad). I have never been a lover of the Indian breakfast, cannot deal with deep fried stodge that early in a morning. Indian food for lunch and dinner I can handle and usually enjoy but for breakfast I like simple things like cornflakes, toast, eggs... It took me nearly an hour to find somewhere that sold toast and to put it bluntly by this time I had already had my fill of Ahmedabad, I found the nearest internet cafe and cancelled my ticket for the following evening and booked a train for that evening, two sleeper trains on the trot!! Still better than staying in that hell hole! I spent the rest of the day getting books to read whilst I relaxed on the beech on my next stop Diu!
It was a non teary good bye to Ahmedabad and hello to the Portuguese settlement of Diu island at the bottom of Gujarat, but I had a train and a couple of buses to catch before I could sit in a deck chair sipping sex on on the beach. The train arrived in Veraval on time at 6:30am, a couple on the train persuaded me get a auto rickshaw up to Somnath Temple with them, they seemed OK and I think they just liked the fact that they had a westerner and all his luggage squeezed in with them!! I had a quick world wind visit to the temple, Somnath is a major pligrimage site for many Hindus and today the temple was jam packed, men on one side of a mental fence and women on the other. With drums beating, cymbals crashing and bells belling (if that is such a word)! I was pushed to the front of the temple where people were given a few seconds in front of the Shiva God and then whisked away for the next person. People were clapping and had their eyes closed and it all felt very spiritual, I couldn't help feel why the hell would people travel thousands of miles purely to see a slight glimpse of Shiva God and then to be rushed away?, I guess religion has this effect on people!! I would have more photos of the event but cameras were not allowed anywhere near the temple, though I did get one sly one from outside.
The couple who I had got the rickshaw up with paid for it and I actually never saw them again! I got the same guy back to the bus station which was basically the same fare as the journey up to the temple. When I got to the bus station I asked how much it was knowing full well that the Indian guy only paid him 50 rupees (which also seemed to be about right distance wise), he said 150 rupees!!! The way back was downhill for most of the way so I was thinking it would possibly cheaper, I threw him 50 rupees and told him what I thought of him! After breakfast in one if the dirtiest bus station cafes I have ever been in, it made Cleckheaton bus station cafe look like Harvey Nicols I found myself on a two hour bus journey to Uma, I was now almost spitting distance from Diu and what I was hoping was going to be my Indian paradise.
Waiting for my next bus in Uma I was desperate for the toilet, I looked over and lets just say the toilet block didn't look the cleanest, I didn't really want to take my backpack in with me so I edged my bets and asked a young Diu born boy that I had been talking to earlier to watch my bag, after all he wouldn't have got very far without a car with the size of the thing. I was just about done and I hear 'mister, mister, bus here quickly', I made a run for it right past where I should have left a couple of rupees to pay for the cleaning of the toilet facilities (I honestly don't know how they had the cheek), picked up my bag and jumped on the bus to Diu, once again renewing my faith in the honesty of the Indian folk, but certainly not converting me to concept of a squat toilet!
One hour later the bus drives over the bridge linking Diu with mainland India and rocks up into the bus station. A short taxi drive and I am booking into the Beach Resort at Sunset Point and putting my bags into a basic chalet overlooking the beech and ocean, that costs about £3 per night. Whilst it wasn't the biggest nor prettiest beach I had ever been to, it certainly was welcoming sight to a pasty looking, travelled out Jamie. Not many people make it Diu as its quite out of the way and as by the middle of June the monsoon will arrive I envisaged the place to be deserted. I also thought it would be an oasis to read, relax, have a couple cheap beers (Diu beer is tax free) and loose my translucent colour.
As I ate some lunch in the restaurant I noticed that the beech was pretty dead except for what looked like two girls sunbathing, I had read that this sort of behaviour attracts lots of unwanted attention from drunk Indians and thought maybe they were locals? But Indian people think the paler you are the better so I doubted that would be the case! That meant they must be westerns of some sort, had I struck gold and had god sent me a couple of hot angels to keep me company whilst I was doing my time in Diu? I eventually went and spoke to them and sure enough whilst I don't think they were angels they were a couple of little hotties called Rosie and Samira from Brighton and basically were pretty much doing the same as me, a bit of time in Diu and then Mumbai for a few days then home! There and then was born the Diu gang, seems like I would not be getting as much peace and quiet as I anticipated! Over the next few days a few more people turned up and we ended up with the original three plus Haf, Phil and Jack, who I would come to spend almost the next 2 weeks with. Though the day we would go to the beech and then on a evening we would go to the carpark and eat cheap, good food from the street sellers, 7 rupees (10p) for fish butty! Or possibly treat ourselves to a good curry at a restaurant! Obviously with the beer been so cheap a 650ml bottle of Kingfisher for about 60p we managed to have a 'couple' of beers most nights, either in the men filled Diu pubs or on the roof of the church, museum come guest house in the centre of town that I had moved to for my last week!
I don't really consider travelling a holiday because you are always on the go and at times its very hard work, but Diu was my time to let my hair down and I can honestly say that it was a really nice no hassle place and I made some good life long friends. The only thing that really lets Diu down is the drunk Indians on the beech taking photos of the girls and generally been pests, makes a nice change for the shoe to be on the other foot :-)
During my time at Diu a few other people made an appearance for a couple of nights, two German girls, an American called guy Kris, an odd Canadian guy called Jimi and a guy from Perth, Oz and his missus from Japan called Nathan & Aki. Nathan and Aki were a great couple and they had driven some 40,000 km from Perth via most of Asia on a 110cc Honda bike, they had some good tales to tell and is quite a feat in itself, guess it reminded me of old Bertha! If people are interested in their epic journey they also have a blog at http://faster-than-walking.com.
I decided to treat myself to a flight from Diu to Mumbai, saving the 26 hours of trains and buses! We had already said good bye to the girls (for the moment) and a few of us had a final curry together as we were staying an extra day. The next morning Phil and Jack went up North and I got my flight to my final destination in India, Mumbai.
As the 60 seater propeller jet lands into Mumbai it passes over slums that go on for as far as the eye can see, I have generally not taken to the bigger cities I have visited in India, as I see the slums below me I cannot help think that Mumbai will be no different! Thankfully I was wrong and loved Mumbai, whilst it does have its seedy red light districts and a population of something like 5 million people living in the cities slums it actually has a really good vibe about it and some really nice places. We spent a pleasant hour at the gateway of India and posing for our last few photo shoots for other Indians! We also managed to find the time to go and see a Bollywood film Kal Kissne Dekha, whist the majority of it was in Hindi it was a really good movie which you could still understand and the 2 hours went in a flash!
Most of Mumbai's washing is done at the massive washing ghats, here you can see 3000 or so people doing the cities washing by hand!! Looking at the methods they employ you can easily see why your clobber comes back with the odd hole! We also visited the Crawford markets and whilst they do actually sell things that would make good presents I still have a way to go and my bag is already jam packed!
Mumbai also has a couple of good bars and whilst the beer is far more expensive than in Diu we did manage to sink a couple of cold ones in the famous Leopolds and maybe a few other bars....
Whist I have travelled in India I have had loads of curries, some better than others. On our final evening together we had one of the better ones at one of Mumbai's curry houses the Delhi Harbour!. A good note to leave on that's for sure!
The girls have have now left to go back home and I have got a day to kill before my flight to South Africa, as per usual when I leave a foreign country I am down to my last few bits of shrapnel! My next flight is in about 11 hours and I only have 200 rupees (£3.50) to my name, whilst I won't be dining at one of Mumbai's flash restaurants I certainly won't be starving, thats the beauty of India!
India truly is an amazing place and I could probably write pages about my experiences and show you 100's of great photo's, but these blogs take me long enough as it is and I am conscious of boring the crap out of you all with my stories! In summary, I am glad I have been to India? Yes, most definitely I eaten some great food, met some nice people, seen amazing and diverse cultures and sights! Would I come again? Yes, I probably would, there is loads more places to see, but saying that I am happy with what I have seen of India on this trip and the world is a big place!
Next stop Johannesburg, South Africa!