Friday, 29 February 2008

Into the holy Varanasi.

22/2 - We got in 5 hours late at the more hospitable time of 8:40. The train was too long for the platform, so I clambered down, pack and all, what a hero and headed off to look for transport. A tout grabbed me, Rs50. Seemed fair to me. Then a German lad, David, befriended me. Now this was an experience. He told me to forget the Rs50, come on lets barter. He loves it, but it wore me out just watching him. We got a taxi rickshaw, holds about 10 people/sardines. It was for Rs10 until we got out at the bridge over the Ganges, then there was a bit of a caffufle. I threw in an extra 10 and all was OK. It does not seem worth it to me, it is 13p or so, but everyone is different.
This bridge is big, because the Ganges is huge, although the ghats (steps by the water) are a bit quiet, probably the wrong time of day. We wandered down the steps towards the river and here we go again. David wants a couple of rickshaws. He got one for me for Rs10, then couldn't get another because the lads were passing it down the line not to give him one, I think his hard bargaining pee'd them off. He set off walking and eventually got one for Rs10, so we are off and get lost, so it cost us Rs 20 anyway. David was a bit miffed.
We set off walking to a guest house. Varanasi is steps upon big steps, by the time we got to the Guest House, Shanti, I was well and truely knackered. I sent David on ahead to start his bargaining. He is a good lad, good company and likes to talk. I made the hotel and eventually David reappears from upstairs. Rs150 he tells me, but he is not sure. 2 quid, I am not budging, but David goes off to check out others and a better deal. It's 2 quid. This is a real backpackers place, probably the first real one I have stayed in, as it is heaving with backpackers.
I went to checkin. "Rs300" he tells me.
"I was told Rs150"
"OK". Why do they do that?
The stairs are bloody hard work and I'm on the 5th floor and when I get to the room it is still occupied. Back down I trod. It will be ready in an hour, so I trogged back up to the 6th floor where there is a restaurant, for some breakfast. The view over the rooftops to the Ganges is fantastic. Chill time until the room is ready and to be fair to the lad, he offered to carry my pack up when I went for it. It was not too bad getting it upstairs with the walking stick, but I am encouraged to throw somemore gear.
Shower and out to get my train ticket for a couple of days ahead. I took a cycle rickshaw. The bloke said Rs20. I thought cheap. We went about 300m and he stopped and pointed down an alley. I think not.
I tried to explain, no chance. At which point another bloke turns up and they want 50 to take me in the opposite direction. Sod this, I'm off. At which point the price comes down. Too late squire!
Took an autorickshaw and got my ticket painlessly and an autorickshaw back, who drops me short, so I paid him short. It must be a local custom to drop people off short. The day has been a challenge so far, so time for a chilling stroll.
One thing David has taught me is I've probably paid at least double for most things. I don't know if I have the where with all (can be arsed) to barter and look as he does, but take note you future backpackers.
I went into the backstreets/alleys of Varanasi and it is a maze and amazing. They are only 2 persons width at points. Full of cows, dogs, monkey, cowshit, dogshit and monkeyshit. There are openings in the walls about half the size of a door that are shops, tailors, workshops, all pretty neat. I don't have a clue where I went, but eventually dropped out onto a main drag. Believe it or not, next to a cake shop, so I needed an energy boost and had one, then wandered down to Dasaswanedh Ghat, or something close, this is where there is a daily dance or ceremony to the river godess. It kicks off and lasts quite a while. The music and lights are regularly interupted by short power failures, but not the dancers. To be honest, it is not that spectacular, to me. The floating tee lights on the Ganges are probably more so, especially when the streetlights fail.
Decided to leave it and wander along the top of the ghats in the direction of the guest house, I hope. It's pitch black and mostly peaceful with some other ceremony/dances going on, apart from the odd tout that is. The place lit up when I reached Manikarika ghat with funeral pyres. The touts lit up too and were determined to get me to go and watch one, but I resisted. Not my cup of tea. The streets around this ghat are full with piles of wood and large scales. The amount of wood to fully cremate the body has to be calculated and weighed and different wood has different prices, sandalwood being the most expensive. A bloke approached me and his first line was "I'm not after money" A bit of a giveaway. He was.
I eventually made it back to Shanti and up to the rooftop restaurant, thanks to the walking stick.
The food was average, but the company outstanding. The place was buzzing. I thought I'd have a quiet hour reading my book. I never opened my bag.
I picked an empty space at the end of a long table and 2 American lasses, Shamool and Myre, got talking to me. They are American Jews from Boston and New York, currently studying in Israel and they have great gangster accents. Their buddy Michael from California joins us. What 3 great people, good stories, good company. The 2 lasses are playing backgammon while talking, then I get challenged. I wont say who won. Their next stop is Nepal. I'm jealous.
Michael is currently working in China. The world is becoming a small neighbourhood.
I'm knackered now, so left them smoking a joint and hit the sack.
Another great day in India.

Off to Varanasi

21/2 - Hot shower, shave and look out world, here comes Gil, if I can catch you up.
There's a structure going up opposite the hotel about the size of a leisure centre and 95% of it is bamboo of different thickness. It is only the framework and may be temporary, but is impressive. Got a rickshaw for Rs80 and I was expecting 90, so that is a surprise, but I am not sure it will make it, there is a lot of chugging and grinding going on and the bloke is spouting something about Rs80. I gave him 90 and he smiled, so we are both happy.
Found my platform, took a chance it would not change and went down. I am loads better today after a good kip, the steps were no problem, in a Gil no problem sort of way.
The Northerners are not as friendly as the Southerners. I wont make anymore of that, I wouldn't want to upset our soft southern jessies.
Having said that, 2 lads sat next to me on the platform and we had a right chin way. They are from Ahamabad. They have been travelling around temples for a couple of weeks. Their village is Panna and they tell me it has the only diamond mine in India. Mohan, the younger one, tells me they have a part-time business in diamonds and he is in insurance too. He travels around visiting temples 3 or 4 times a year and then he tells me he is poor. It's all relative I suppose.
Mohan tells me I must visit Khujarao, absolutely must. It is the next place to his village and has magnificent temples. He offered me a tour of his village if I call there too and gave me his number. I have marked the page in the LP, so you never know. He and Sanjay were good company waiting for the train, which is late, but no surprise there. The printing on my ticket is not good, but I get the correct seat, even if it is in the wrong carriage. This is the first time I've travelled AC, I promised myself I would do it once, but so far it looks like the cockroaches prefer it too, they are everywhere, until the guard tells me I am in the wrong carriage. When I move, there are none. Fussy cockroaches, just because that carriage is less busy. Before the guard came the bloke sat with me toldme I must go to Khajarao, so I guess I must. He also gave me a tip for Agra, the Raja Swami temple. It is not finished, but he thinks it is more beautiful than the Taj Mahal. Now all I have to do is remember to go.
When I moved everyone was crashed on the seats, so there was nowhere to sit. I stowed and chained my gear and got talking to a Ghorka lad, who speaks better English than me. He is from Darjeeling and tells me it is a good job I never made it to Darjeeling. The strike is definitely indefinite. He got out because he knew there was an Army coach leaving, so he went and slept at the army place to make sure he got a place at 6.30 a.m. He is a teacher at the Varanasi University and originally from Nepal.
We'd been going about an hour and dinner turns up and the train stops and about 30 minutes later it is still stopped. If my Hindi and Bengali are anyting to go by, it is leaves on the track and the wrong type of snow.
This AC class is not much better than sleeper. 2 sheets, a blanket and a pillow are provided, but I think I'll go back to sleeper. I did get the seat by the door, outside of the carriage, all day without being disturbed. It is really interesting watching the countryside go by. Lots of hamlets with the whole family in the fields pulling up the rice. They look easy, great places to live, but I don't know how I'd take to crapping in the field everyday. Soft western jessie. Sat in the door seat, I got befriended by a couple of blokes, the chat is back to normal, it must have just been Kolkata.

The road to Darjeeling, or not.

20/2 - My final destination of this leg is Darjeeling. I didn't sleep too well this time on the train, so I am definitely a grumpy young man, proven by snapping at 2 persistent taxi touts. I managed to make it to the rickshaw stand and off we go. He dropped me at the bus/jeep stand for Darjeeling in Siliguri and did a quick exit stage right. The reason? Darjeeling is shut. There is a general strike and nothing is going in and nothing is coming out. Bloody hell. I was really looking forward to Darjeeling. Never mind, next time.
When I asked what was going on, a bloke told me there was a party going on. It turns out it is the political party of the Ghorkhas wanting autonomy and the strike is indefinite. This plan has gone tits up and I didn't have one.
Retired to a nearby wall for a think and decided to head to Varanasi and from there slowly wend my way to Delhi. I wont be rushed then.
A cycle rickshaw bloke has been stood next to me, so I asked him to take me to the train ticket office. I don't think he understands Geordie, but keep motioning me to get in. 2 young lads try to steal his fare for Rs20, but I stuck with him. They seem to have explained where I want to go and for how much. It should have been about 500 metres, but it wasn't. After several stops for directions we end up there. I say Rs20 and some smart arse going by says Rs100 and the driver tries to give me the "no change" dodge and keeps insisting on 100, so I gave him the "no f#$ing chance" look. I fished around in my pockets and came up with 19, there are a few lads gathering around now, so he dropped it to 50. This old man is getting grumpier. Another young lad turns up and has a chunter with him. I'm sure he said 20 is fair and the bloke has seen I wasn't stumping up anymore. He tried a while longer and gave the "We came the long way" dodge. Your fault mate. The dodge is get you in the rickshaw and sting you later. It does hack me off sometimes and this is not my last moan, so log off now.
Went into the ticket office, it's packed. Enquiries told me the best way to Varanasi, all very efficient, but it is tomorrow. I thought I had spotted a train for today, but apparently you can only get it if you go so many miles. That must have been in the ridiculous small print.
I joined the ticket queue, all very friendly, but my longest wait yet. 3 hours later I made the front. They earn their money behind the counter, it is non-stop. Anyway if you haven't logged off, here it comes. The new shift bloke behind the counter tells me sleeper class is full. "OK, what about AC?" (the next class up). Yes ,that is available, but you have sleeper on your ticket. He gave it back and I changed it, pushed it back through the window. "It is 3AC. (The cheapest AC class) you need to change your ticket." Back through the window. I change it, back through the window. Why the bloody hell didn't he change it? No wonder I have been stood here 3 hours. Then he gives me the "no change" line when I give him the dosh. I have seen thousands of rupees go across the counter. What kind of snot-nosed jobsworth is this behind the counter. Bring back the Nepalese lass on the first shift, she was bonny too.
Anyway, I'm sorted and decided to treat myself to a mid range hotel, I'm only here for the night and I'm knackered and even the cows have started to cross the road when they smell me coming. Thought I'd have an hour out before sunset. Siliguri is a busy little place and again very interesting. I can't find anywhere to have a black tea though. The market is keen, lots of veg stalls, clothes stalls, rice stalls and teas stalls, the lot really. I must have a tea obsession. I was very impressed with the tea stalls, they use the old tea chests that people used to use for moving. You young 'uns wont have any idea. Ask Mr Google, he'll tell you.
Couldn't find a tea shop or an alternative restaurant from the hotel. Decided to have an interim cake. I went into the cake shop and picked the biggest, sickliest piece of cake I could see. I must be knackered, as I have my trippers on and nearly took a dive through the door when I kicked a paving stone, but the thought of the cake kept me upright. I went and quaffed it under a statue of a footballer whilst watching Siliguri. It is a good non tourist town. The toot toot of the cars and rickshaws have been replaced by the squeak squeak of the bulb horns of all the cycle rickshaws. I'm not sure which I prefer. This town his heaving with bikes. It is like being back in the Netherlands with all the bone shakers knocking about. The lads on the cycle rickshaws must have muscle legs of steel, there are no gears on the bikes.
Back to the hotel for some average fish, I hope I am not becoming fussy, a delicious lassi and a much needed bed. I am on my chinstrap. A slight exaggeration.

And off I go again.

19/2 - Up, packed and still unable to coax any hot water out of the shower, so a cold one it is. I was told I can leave my luggage here and have a shower before I leave for the station. I'll leave the luggage, but I am getting used to the smell now, so I'll duck the shower. I only had a bit of a wander and decided to go to the station. I checked out Sudder Street, which is pretty cool. Not too much hassle and interesting.
Went for a taxi and found the drivers can be selective on when and where they go. The first 2 wanted double the price and the last started at 100 and came down to 50. He switched his meter on when I got in, perhaps some kind of dodge. He started to panic a bit when we were getting near the station and his meter was coming up to 50. He asked me to get out short of the station which was fair enough as the place was logjammed.
Fended off the porters and found the left luggage, then went to look for a deodorant. The mini one Kelly bought me has finally given up the ghost. I have been using it too much, it only lasted 5 weeks. No wonder nobody in Kolkata is talking to me. I found my way into the surrounding area of Sealdah, not as easy as you would think, these large stations are hectic. It is buzzing, loads of street stalls, as usual selling everything. I lost my cool a bit before, but only in a stern school teacher way. I think the noise and the begging got to me, so I snapped at a bloke who would not take no for an answer to his weed and assorted drugs. I got a blast back of some Indian dialect then "Alright, alright I understand." I have developed a look that seems to work with the stern voice. I had better be careful though. I might start thinking I'm hard.
I settled down on a barrier amongst the stalls to watch Kolkata in action. I must be over the snapping stage as all the beeping and rushing is making me smile now. A little shower with big drops came over. It was funny to watch the street clear in proportion to the heaviness of the rain. Even the traffic went quiet. I kept an eye on the remaining vehicles, they are all F1 vehicles driving on dry weather slicks. Some lady tried to shoo me under shelter, but I was enjoying myself to move and being an experienced standing in the rain idiot I knew it was only a brief shower. And I was right, said he standing here 2 hours later soaked to the skin. Only joking.
Mozzy hour approaches, so back to the station to slick up and put on some deodorant for the benefit of my fellow passengers.
I swapped my barrier for a wall and sat there watching all the comings and goings. There are loads of blokes coming out with milk churns on their heads and others with all sorts of sized packages. Blokes with trolley packed to skyscraper height, a slight exaggeration, but only slight. They batter along too. The lack of mechanisation here is keeping a lot of people in jobs. Good to see.
Some young 'uns have commandered a trolley and are ferrying each other back and forth having a good laugh. Nobody is bothered, they just let them have their fun.
A mini van comes and blocks my view, so tea time I reckon. A black tea, samosa and curry puff, the latter is not a friendly man. Found another seat for a bit more "busy doing nothing". A couple of kids are buzzing around a bloke loading up a trolley with papers, he just laughs at them. One looks only to have a sloppy joe jumper on just covering his bare arse. His mate helped push the loaded trolley, but he jumped on for the ride. I think they live in the station. That Belgian lad I met in Chennai was right, a lot of people don't have much, but they manage to smile a lot and have a good time.
As people weren't talking to me, I thought I'd strike up a conversation with a bloke who sits next to me. No joy. This must be the London of India. Now I've been joined by a masked raider, some bloke with a hanky over his mouth and nose. As Paige would say, "What's that all about?" Mind you I haven't put the deodorant on yet.
I think my stomach is fixed. I just had my first fart for 2 days and what's more it didn't follow through.
NO, that's a relief.
The train is in.
I'm on.
Good night.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Wandering in a different direction around Kolkata.

18/1 - Slept like a log until the 5 a.m. call to prayers. I decided not to go and nodded off again until the 6 a.m. bells for church. When my Dad said he was going to church he used to get a beer too, but I still wasn't tempted, but I'm awake, so had a read and pondered the day ahead. I don't know why, I never do what I ponder. Tried to coax the hot water out, but it wasn't even coming out of the tap now. It gets cold in the night in Kolkata and the water gets colder, so it was a splash it all over the essential areas only and I am definitely awake now.
It looks like I blew it with the greasy spoon last night, I've a bit of Delhi belly, which is out of order since I'm in Kolkata. Whacked some immodium and Dioralyte down my neck and off for some tea and toast, except nobody else has gotten up for the prayers or church either. Everywhere is shut. Eventually found Flurry's confectionary cafe. "Tea and toast please."
"Sorry sir the tea machine is broke" I thought a tea machine was a kettle.
"Coffee please"
"Sorry sir, same machine and the fruit juice is out of cartons" They don't want me in here. I have had a wash and have a clean shirt on.
I went for the lime juice. There must be a seperate kettle for that, because it came hot.
I was going to get a taxi to the train ticket office and wander back, but it is not open for another hour, so thought I'd wander to a metro station and catch it to BBD Bagh, close by the ticket office. I plodded along, I have not a clue where, but I was getting knackered and the sun had broken through. Got to a bus stand and the first 3 buses had BBD Bagh on. RESULT. Still thought I'd better check with the conductor before jumping on. I am getting India savvy.
"Does this go to BBD Bagh?"
"This is BBD Bagh." No wonder all the buses have BBD Bagh on them. DOH!
It's a nice spec though, there are some great buildings around this area. I like Kolkata. It is a bit westernised, but it is similar to Mumbai, there is always something to stumble across, such as BBD Bagh. Whereas in Chennai you try to step around the stuff you stumble across.
BBD Bagh is still city centre and there is a pond here, a few locals have setup home with the ubiquitous plastic sheet, bamboo and brick lean-to's and they are having a wash in the pond. All around the pond there are smashing building, including the Post Office where I'm headed. The buildings overpower the plastic sheet lean-to's. It can be the other way around. The Post Office building is quite magnificent, inside and out. Our Val has asked me for a ticket to join me on her birthday wherever I am, so thought I'd better post it with her card. "Bloody hell the ticket has dropped out somewhere!!" Does that sound convincing?
Went to the stamp counter. " A postcard stamp and one for this envelope please."
The lady pointed me to the "Facilitation Counter". Whatever that is. Here the lady weighs the letter and postcard, tells me how much and points me to the "Stamp Counter" Now I know what it is.
This is a game of human ping-pong. I went to the Stamp Counter where the lady does not speak good English, so I put Rs 28 on the card and Rs 15 (8 in Goa) for the postcard on the counter. She gave me back my Rs 5 bill and said something. The bloke behind me tells me it is ripped and she wont take it. I put a Rs5 coin in its place. The ladypacked up all her things and left. She doesn't want me in here.
The bloke behind me says "Typical of the service in India." I remarked it wouldn't be India otherwise which he just smiled at.
5 minutes later another lady turns up. 2 people jump in front of me, but I am cool, I'm a Mackem. I got my own back on the first lady too, I used my Rs 5 bill this time.
Went away sticking my stamps on, but the Rs15 doesn't have any sticky. The bloke who has been guiding me along sees my quizzical look and pulls out a tube of gum from his pocket. "Gum?"
"Thank you".
I set off to follow the post box signs. WAIT, it is not over yet.
I got to the post boxes. 1 for every state in India and several for Kolkata. None for general or overseas. A guard sees me struggling and points me inside another section of the POst Office. "Number 11" Sure enough there are another bunch of boxes. Number 11 it is.
I love this stuff. It's like everything is an adventure and they differ from State to State. I suppose if I was in a rush I might not be smiling so much.
I only came out for a train ticket and I have not got to the office yet. It should be the next left. When I turned the corner the street was full of hawkers, chai, coffee, fruit, fry-ups Indian style. I got 2/3rds down and tried the next street. Mistake, it was the previous one. I knew there was another office between the streets, so thought I'd look for that. When I turned the corner, the buildings are derelict and the street filled with rubbish, there are flip-flop blowouts everywhere and I'm looking for the computerised ticket office. What chance do you reckon???? I reckon less than that. Back to the 1st street Fairlie Place, but from the other end and there the building is. The Foreign Tourist Eastern Railways ticket office. Went in the wrong door. Come on, no big deal. Besides a guard pointed me in the right direction with his sub-machine gun. Filled in my form and 2 minutes later I'm at the desk. Well impressed.
"Yes, there are plenty of seats. Passport."
"Passport?? I'm only going to Darjeeling. But no passport no ticket.
Not so impressed, but still smiling. I jumped into a taxi and he used the meter. GOBSMACKED.
We did take a detour like, but it was necessary. The one way system on Park Street was the wrong way. It changes directions at 14:00. That must be something to see.
Taxi back, Rs 10 cheaper, the one way system is the right way for the return. 15 minutes wait and I have my ticket. I thought that was enough adventures for the day. Not that I have much say in that like. Picked up a couple of bananas and tangerines/satsumas/mandarins/big orange things that peel easy and headed for a nap in Victoria Monument gardens. ZZZZzzzzzzz
The stomach seems to be settling. Had a few hours snoozing, reading and people watching in the gardens. Why not I'm on holiday. There are a lot of young couples canoodling in the park. The LP says they do more than that, but what more is there than canoodling??? Am I missing something?
I have noticed, simply in passing, that the ladies in Kolkata are broader of beam than Indian ladies in general. You ladies will be saying he means fat. Perhaps a bit of both. The saris/sarees hide a lot.
It looks like the evening wake up call has started, it is people lively instead of just traffic lively. There are families and groups of old fellas turning up at the garden for a friendly natter. It is a good place to be as the sun sets. I think I'll be heading off soon. I fancy a couple of samosas.
I don't believe it, someone is having a pee in the corner of the gardens. I would tell the police, but he is the police.
Quite a few lasses in Kolkata dress western style and very smart they look too in their nicely fitting jeans. Perhaps another western feature of Kolkata is that I have sat in the gardens for about 3 hours and only kids have approached me for the novelty factor. No adults have been over. That is a first in India.

A day wandering around Kolkata.

17/1 - Up and at 'em. The hot water had to be coaxed out of the shower, but I am less smelly and out and feeling good. A quick round of lovely golden brown toast and a cuppa and on shankses again. I headed towards the Maidan, there is something about them that I like. This one in huge, there must be about 100 cricket games going on. The posher ones have whites, helmets, sightscreens etc. and their own boundary. The more casual one where it looks like mates turn up for a game on Sunday in the Maidan are pitched anywhere, the path through the maidan seems a popular spot for the wicket, so getting through the maidan is not by following the path, but by dodging the balls. The lads turned up for knockabout on Sunday tend to use a tennis ball and are always having a laugh. The lads in whites are a bit serious about the game.
You see a bloke in the casual games completely ignore a ball going passed him, then realise he is not in the same game. The boundaries all overlap. There are ice cream, drink, food stalls, it looks a good way to spend Sunday. This is in the middle of Kolkata and there are goatherders here, complete with goats, steering them amongst the games and into shade under the huge trees here.
A bunch of lads come up and introduce themselves and shake hands. One is called Irani, which tickles them because of Ronnie Irani, the English cricketer.
There are a few bunches of Army cadets sitting being given instruction in something by their NCO. A few of them spot me coming and the heads start to turn. I told them "Face the front", but just like when I was a sergeant, they ignored me.
I made it across the Maidan, unscathed. Notice the lack of reference to maidens, well until now.
I got passed the monkey dancers, rickshaws, taxi, horse rides etc. etc. etc and into Victoria Monument. A very impressive building in very impressive gardens. It is only Rs4 to get in the gardens, so I may come back here for a sit and people watch, perhaps even a snooze. It is Rs150 to get into the building. The inside is not as spectacular as the Maharajas Palace in Mysore, but it is very interesting and worth the money. There are pictures, paintings and text giving a run through of some of India's history. We were buggers us Brits, that's my opinion anyway. There were good things done for India, but they had to pay for it. That's probably why we get bugged so much for money now. PAY BACK TIME.
Wandered back into the Maidan and spotted Eden Gardens, the international cricket ground, so headed in that direction. I get drawn to sports stadia for some reason. Don't ask me why. I spent ages at Soldier field where the Chicago Bears play. Perhaps it is dreams of what could have been.
The Maidan is about 3Km long. There are private cricket, tennis, etc clubs for the magistrates, police etc along the side. These are fenced off and have refreshment bars, nice gardens, all very high brow. It is more British than Britain. It must be a hang over from the old days.
Eden Gardens looks a good place to play cricket, I wouldn't mind watching England play here. Something to consider for the future.
There are government buildings after Eden Gardens, a lot hidden behind fences and a lot of greenery. One on the streets, which I think is the Treasury Building, has people lying on the streets infront of it, but it is siesta time. The ground floor arches do look like they may be home to some people. There are quite a few food stalls cooking fayre too. A bunch of lads have set up their stumps between 2 buildings on the white lines in the middle of the road. I love the way cricket is played anywhere and it always looks like they are having a great time.
Headed for the Strand, which runs alongside the Hooghey river. Thought I'd check the river out, another feature that draws me like the sports stadia. Anyway, I'm not supposed to look at the river, some sod has erected a bloody big wall between it and the Strand. I can't see bugger all. I was just about to turn around and head back to town, not that I am out of it, when I spotted people getting through, so in I went, across the trainlines. It is all gardens with admission charges. I suppose it stops the river being used as a refuse dump, for this part anyway. There were home setup at the end of the Government buildings, from plastic sheets and bamboo. Travelling around India, these contrasts are everywhere. Posh, then rundown next to each other.
I snook/sneaked into a ferry loading area for a peek at the river. It is wide and fast and very brown. I'm sure I saw a snake too, but one it went below the surface, there was no chance of seeing it. I was going into the gardens, but I think it is Gil's siesta time, I'm knackered, so thought I'd treat myself to a taxi. I reckoned on Rs40. 1st one Rs100, 2nd Rs90, perhaps I have it wrong. 3rd one Rs50. That'll do nicely. He switched the meter off, so perhaps it was 40. I have never seen a meter used yet.
Power nap and a wash. I couldn't coax any hot water out of the shower, only the taps, so it was a splash it all over job. Off out to find a trough. All the joints around here are posh, people all togged up and place settings. There are even queues outside some of them. I'm sure my Quiness T-shirt and jeans would be OK, but they are not what I am looking for. I found a greasy spoon that does the local delicacy "rolls". Not like a bap, balm, batch or bread roll, depending on which part of the UK you live, but like a savoury pancake wrap. I had a mutton one and a chicken one with vegetable and chilli fillings. Very tasty and a wake up call for the mouth. Murphy's law came into play again, as soon as I walked around the corner there was a restaurant.
This area is Sudder St, popular with backpackers and between the flash Park St and poorer areas. I must have my dope head on, I've been offered weed a couple of time.
Stop off for a couple of cups of Darjeeling and a piece of walnut and date cake and I'm off for my football fix. Kolkata still has the man pulled rickshaws, but I don't think I would feel good about some old fellow trogging along the streets pulling me.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Fleeing Chennai

16/1 - Up early to meet the checkout time, walked down the steps out of the hotel and straight into a rickshaw driver. I reckon I was his first customer, I disturbed a swarm of mozzies in the back. I have a plan I'm afraid. Worked out the price for the rickshaw, which is what the driver asked for anyway, go to Kennet Lane, bit of breakfast, blog and to the station. We got to Kennet Lane, "Drop me here please?"
"No Boss, I know a great hotel just down here"
"Drop me here please, I don't want a room."
"No boss......"
About 100m down the road he got the idea that I didn't want a room, so I got out and wandered back for some breakfast. The rest of the plan went pretty well. Until the station. Because I am flying, I packed my stick. Bloody steps. There was a bannister after the first few, so managed OK from there, well in my eyes I did. I was a bit slow and it was funny listening to the locals behind me chuntering. They are always in a rush when travelling. I got to the top after a few scowls, but to be fair, when I smiled at them the smile was returned and when I asked a bloke at the top which platform it was for the airport, he insisted on walking me along to it. He wanted to hold my hand, but I managed to avoid this. I don't know whether it is a gay thing or an Indian male thing, a lot hold hands and walk with their arms around shoulders. I will have to check it out with my mates. Mandy and Mick, check out your resources.
I removed all my valuables from my pockets, as I suspected this would be a sardine affair and it was, but not unpleasantly. Loads of lads were giving me advice where to get off, but some of them looked like they could be Walters mates, spaced out. I'd been offered weed twice in the 100 metres to the train station.
I got off at the correct stop, but there was no sign of the airport and no signs, so I asked. "Right then left" in a Chennaian accent. Went right, still no sign and getting a sweat on. Went right and a sign, but no terminal, getting more of a sweat on and then, ah ha, the terminal and look some inconsiderate person has used a trolley and just left it by the side of the road. "Thank heaven for inconsiderate people" said the not so grumpy old man.
I'm here and saved my self Rs344, I am chuffed. Sweaty and knackered, but chuffed.
Not so knackered actually. I deserve a treat, well I am having one anyway. One of my Western indulgences in India, an Ethiopian coffee at the Coffee Day string and a bonus of a piece of Black Forest gateaux. Not as good as the gateaux back home Jim.
A bit of people watching, catching up with the log and checkin time, through security and all very painless, plus they never threw out the essential deodorant Kelly bought me. The passengers around me will be pleased.
Time to board and the locals have been out-queue jumped, not by Germans either, they look like Yanks going by the stainless steel case and stars and striped emblazened on one of the T-shirts. Mind you there was an Indian family close on their heels. An old lady sneaked passed me, although there was not much sneaking, she is a big old dear.
I could tell you something sexist, but............ OK I will then. The Indian ladies are stunning in their sarees, but they know how to fill out a uniform too, if the Air Deccan ladies are anything to go by. Very nice. Only sexist in the nicest possible way????
I was going to make a plan for my arrival in Kolkata, but forgot to get my book out of my bag. Lucky break ay?
I forgot also, to tell you the name of the hotel I stayed in Chennai, The Whitehouse, a definite spelling mistake.
I was right to have doubts about the river, we passed it in the rickshaw, it was part of the local refuse tip, full of rubbish.
From the air, Chennai looks like an American city, laid out in a grid and quite smart. It was not the impression I got from what I saw.
There is an old bloke on the plane who looks like a monk, well he had a long white beard and orange gown. As I walked passed him, he was sorting out his MP3 player. It made me chuckle, but he probably wasn't listening to Led Zeppelin or Kaiser Chiefs, but what do I know.
Descending, the pilot tells us it is 26 degrees and 3 Km visibility, so the rush hour must be over with that good a visibility.
It is the normal rush, like back home, to get off the plane. Even the monk is up and ready, but in a more orangely, serene sort of way.
The baggage reclaim is a shambles and I saw my first case of "Baggage reclaim rage", perhaps the next killing rage to hit the world. Some young lass lost it with some blokes. Women aren't given the courtesy here they get in Europe.
I played it cool. Got my bag, sat down, picked out a few guest houses from LP, phoned them, booked one and jumped into a taxi. All of a sudden I am transported to Alton Towers on a death ride. How he never killed anyone I don't know. I understand now what a red traffic light means in India. Sound your horn louder and put your foot down. Nobody passed us until we hit town and then we went from "bat out of hell" to "gently gently" mode. I think it was something to do with the clunking coming from the gearbox and he didn't know where we were going.
Although the ride was breakneck, it was interesting. We went through lots of different areas. Some very westernised and lit up, some very old fashioned India and if I am honest more preferable. Stalls everywhere, selling all sorts. It's like India gets a wake up call at 18:00, then it is 100 mph for the night. Still not fast enough to catch this driver. I thought the crazy taxi driver stories were a myth. WRONG. The drives are just not commonplace.
My digs, the Sunflower Guest house, is setback off a dingy back street and on the fifth floor, BUT it has a lift. Bonus. The lift is as smooth and quiet as a Rolls Royce and older than Henry Ford.
The lad on the door is helpful and the room has a telly, so I can have a Saturday night football fix. I'm going nowhere, I'm a tadge sleepy.
Kolkata is a lot cooler than Chennai and although I feel a bit guilty for not giving Chennai another day, I am glad to be here. A good move.