39. Beer and Curry

January 16th, 2011

Nepal is yet another country I've been to before but last time I was here it was all very different. In July 2001 it was the world’s only Hindu Kingdom but all that charged with the events that occurred in Kathmandu during my time here. The crown prince was extremely unhappy with the arranged marriage his father the king had set up as he loved another. So his way to deal with this was to kill every member of the royal household present and then turn the gun on himself. This caused mass riots in the county with an unknown number of dead. People here could not believe that a son could kill his father and assumed it was a government conspiracy.

Using this as an excuse the Maoist rebels started an insurgency which resulted in the death of the monarchy and the creation of a republic a couple of years ago. In 2001 I was in the middle of all this crap seeing very little of Nepal as the guesthouse I was staying in locked me in for a day "for my safety" and the airline out changed the day it was flying to get westerners out quickly! But to be fair, policemen on the my route into Kathmandu had been killed the evening I had actually travelled and people were being attacked and killed in the city streets, so maybe it was fair to lock me in! I actually remember looking at people being chased down the streets from my rooftop vantage point.

Pohara, Nepal

Crossing the border from India everything was so much more relaxed, just as it had been the first time I made this journey. It’s funny how cultures change just over a simple land border but it reminds me of a quote from the Kipling book “Kim” although this was contrasting India to Tibet. In it he states, “Those who beg in silence die in silence” making reference to the culture of begging which exists widely in India, less so in Nepal and practically non-existent in Tibet. However, because of the time taken to get here the only bus to Pokhara was now overnight which having done it before I didn't want to do it again. I was lucky enough to meet a Korean couple who were desperate to get to Pokhara that evening so I managed to barter a good price on a taxi for the 5 1/2 hour journey. Then something quite spooky happened, while talking about new year the guy went on to mention that he was born in the year of the tiger, so was I. Then I wanted to see who was older.... We were born in the same month! Then I asked he day..... same day! Although you are bound to meet people with the same birthday as you, the same year as well makes it a little more unlikely, plus the randomness of meeting at a dusty hot stinky border post on the edge of the Indian subcontinent was pretty unlikely. I didn't know whether to take this as a bad omen or not as the taxi driver clearly had bad eyesight, was driving too fast around dangerous corners and the break failure light was constantly flashing on the dashboard. I could see the news headlines "two men born on same day die together on same day in road plunge.

Pohara, Nepal

I was quite happy to have arrived in Pokhara particularly as I was still alive but also because I couldn't get to this place last time because of the problems. It is a beautiful place with a laid back attitude and a glistening lake with the backdrop on the Annapurna mountain range behind it. However I can't really go on about the place as nothing really interesting happened. I can say exactly the same for Kathmandu and the famous towns in the Kathmandu valley I visited. The old town centres are really nice with Bhaktapur the most impressive and a must see for those who visit Nepal but nothing really happened! Well apart from one little thing.....

Patan, Nepal

I was walking around the small town of Patan when a guy came up to me and started to give me information about the place I didn't want. I figured he was just another guy pretending to be a guide so I didn't take much interest. He then went on to ask me where I was from so I responded “the UK” to which he replied "So you don't want a guide then". "I didn't say that, I said I was from the UK!" I said as I assumed he’ misheard. Then came a random rant from him. "Yes I heard, all you people from Britain are the same you never want a guide, you don't help out poor people here find food." with a brief pause while he stared at me expecting a response which I was not going to provide he continued, "See, all you British are the same, you don't care about the starving, it's only 150 rupees, it's for my family my children need food. Why do you come here if, you don't need a guide, what's the point you should just leave now!" The last bit was said in quite a threatening way so I rose to it and responded with the same grace he afforded me.

Bhaktapur

I asked that if he was starving why was he wasting money on expensive Nike trainers, North Face jacket and an obviously expensive hair style which sticks out like a sore thumb here. I suggested he should spend all future hair gel money on his kids. I then added that in future he may want to change his opening gambit with people as it was quite offensive and that was probably the reason were not using his services. And regarding why I travel.... I added that this was to meet people from other countries and better understand their culture, openness and friendship afforded by them to outsiders. “I think you've told me all I know without having to pay for anything further.” I added. I wished him well and said that if he visited my country I hope my fellow countrymen would provide him with the same welcome he gave me. To ensure he would I suggested that he first visit Manchester! After this "discussion" a local guy came over and apologised about him explaining that he was Indian and was here just to make money and didn't understand the Nepalese ways. He added that there was an open door policy with India and it attracts “undesirables” which causes problems. It turned out that the "guide" also pushed drugs so I was glad I didn't use him. Although my argument still stands, he should still visit Manchester, it could be good for business!

Kathmandu, Nepal

Although all that said, the only really disappointing thing for me here was the fact I no longer had Kathmandu to myself as I did in 2001, there are now thousands of tourists and the traffic and visible poverty has increased significantly. Kathmandu is not the calm after the storm of India it once was. So after barely a week and taking the short bus ride to the border with Tibet to join up my overland route (which felt a bit strange seeing the same place from the "other side") I few from Kathmandu back to Hong Kong to restart my overland adventure.

I flew the amazing Kingfisher airlines which is notable for one major reason. It's actually owned and operated by the beer company Kingfisher beer! As soon as you get on board the stewardess opens a can of kingfisher for you and then hands you a curry. It was like a Saturday night in the UK only without the hangover. Weird! It reminded me of the old advert on the TV back in he UK from Carlsberg which states "if Carlsberg did holidays then they'd be the best in the world". I've got News for them, kingfisher do and they are, but that could just be the drinking beer at altitude talking!!!!

Kngfisher...

34. A Vegetarian Intolerance

December 17th, 2010

Arriving in Jaipur the weather was miserable. Although I had two brief rain showers at the start of my trip in Estonia and Russia, it’s basically been sunny for the past 4 months so this came as a bit of a surprise. The miserable grey weather only added in a detrimental way to the sight of Jaipur that awaited us outside the train station.

Jaipur, India

Busy, smelly, noisy, dirty, headache making, lung choking, eye irritating mess. We both pretty much made the decision there and then that we were going to leave tomorrow. The “pink” medieval city as it’s called in all the tour brochures was not in fact pink but more orange, although the rain soaked walls may have had some impact on the change of colour. But an old city? I think not. It was just a disappointing dirty, busy, choking network of crisscross roads with the only highlight seemingly watching goats being slaughtered in the street as it happened to be the Muslim festival of Eid. Although we visited the “pink palace” in the rain and the famous astrology place, the beauty of the places shone through and were in complete contract to the world outside. But the rain was too much so we decided that it was time to go. At this time I was also really feeling unwell. The night before I’d eaten what I had thought to be the best Thali I’d ever had but now that belief seemed misguided.

Jaipur, India

After dosing myself up with pain killers and Imodium we both headed to the bus station where I said goodbye to Anna. She was off to a festival in Pushkar but there was no way feeling the way I did I could handle the noise and mess of an India camel fair! Getting the ticket for Pushkar was simple with no queue, however when I headed off to buy the ticket for Bundi all hell broke loose. When you go slightly off the backpacking circuit in India things do get a lot more difficult and on this occasion painful. As expected there were no signs in English anywhere to show me where to buy a ticket as tourists simply don’t take this route. After asking a couple of people to my horror the queue I needed was not a queue at all but the usual Indian mêlée of people pretending to queue while secretly trying to push to the front of each other. Travelling alone I was also unable to leave my two rucksacks anywhere so I was getting looks and comments of huge disapproval and aggression from people which you just have to smile and laugh off. People don’t seem to understand here that people do travel alone and you can’t leave your bags anyway. The crowd heaved and pushed with women squeezing as hard as possible through the crowd as they can technically get served first. But eventually after about 15 minutes I had enough trying to stay in the queue and used the technique I learned 10 years ago. I pushed as close to the front as I could get, put my hand and money through the metal grill and shouted Bundi and hey presto ticket.... This annoyed the guys around me more but just to finish them off I then had to push my way back out with my two bags. A 5 foot tall skinny Indian guy appeared to take particular offence and offered me a fight which I thought was nice. Indians can push in but I can’t? Tough! I learnt the hard way ten years ago. But just as I made the mistake of thinking that I’d won I found the bus I was meant to get.

The bus was packed with every seat was taken although I had paid for a seated ticket. Added to this, because it was raining, everyone’s luggage was going inside just as mine had to. Soon it was time for the bus to leave but I still couldn’t get on. In the end as the bus started to move I gave in and started to walk back thinking about buying a ticket to Pushkar after all as those busses were frequent and less busy. But the conductor shouted me back. At this point I had my (not so) little rucksack on my back and my massive 20kg rucksack hanging behind from one long shoulder strap. Two guys made a small place where I could put one foot fully on and one half on the bottom step while I held on to a metal post with one hand. I had nowhere to put the other hand but the two guys held me and stopped me from falling off. This was made difficult as the bus had now set off on bumpy roads and every now and again I could feel my bag behind me hitting a poor unsuspecting motorcyclist. After about 15 minutes most of my body was in the bus and 5 minutes later so was my bag. I was now crammed into the isle in-between bags and other people in such a way that I could not physically move to take the pressure of any joints or muscles as any of us would on such a long journey. The pain from my legs was becoming unbearable which added to the pain my stomach was in. As in most parts of rural India where they rarely see pink faces I was being constantly stared at and any facial expression I pulled if I was in pain was laughed at. People were also complaining again that I had two bags with me. I couldn’t take much more as we were barely 2.5 hours into a 4.5 hour journey. Then suddenly at Tonk, a place I will remember for many days to come a whole load of students got off which in itself was also painful as people just don’t move out of the way to let others off. I just had to climb over people and bags in the hope I didn’t break anything.

After these guys got off I asked the conductor why I didn’t have a seat at first when I bought a ticket. I was told that basically when the bus arrives, people jump on the bus to “reserve” a seat then send their friends to buy the ticket. If the tickets are sold out or they don’t have time to get one then they just sit there anyway as the conductor will take the money (as I’d seen him do) even though in theory he’s only allowed to do this once the bus has left the bus station. I’d actually been aware of this “problem” with Indian local busses as it happened to me the first time I was in India but thought I’d ask him anyway. He did add that he should ask them to get off but suggested that no one would. So as a single backpacker I had no hope and this is another issue backpackers who travel as a couple don’t understand. “Queuing” such as it is (or maul to be more precise) to get a ticket is difficult when you have luggage you can’t leave and you can’t get your mate to reserve the places while you battle for a ticket. He did say as he’d seen me buy a ticket he made sure I got on! Yeah! Thanks for that.

Bundi, India

Arriving in Bundi at night was definitely well worth it, even though the advertised 4 hour journey had become 6 hours, when you first round the corner and see the old palace and fort lit up on the side of the hillside it comes as a wonderful surprise. As I got off the bus the heavens really opened up. It turns out that the monsoon had been unseasonably long this year and I’d just caught the end of it. Walking up the main street a small stream of water started to form, then within not more than a couple of minutes the water was up to my knees. After such a day and with my stomach still not quite right I booked myself into an expensive £15 a night Haveli (traditional stone house) and quickly headed out to the pharmacy. I gave the guy my symptoms and explained that it happened after a Dhal Thali. “Have you ever had problems with Lentils or, chick peas before” he said. Yep, I replied as I’d been ill once in the UK eating bean-feast! “Ah, you have a vegetarian intolerance” he replied. Ermmm, “well I’ve got a good friend who’s a vegetarian who’s a fascist but I’m very tolerant of him” I replied. He looked confused but gave me some “stomach and allergy” pills anyway which have done the trick. But it’s official, I have a vegetarian intolerance. Cool! Last time I was in India I found out that I’m anaemic. Somebody somewhere is trying to tell me to eat meat!

Bundi, India

35. India Takes its Toll

December 22nd, 2010

The morning after arriving in Bundi I thought I’d take stock of what damage had been caused on the journey as my bags had been battered by passing cyclists, numerous people climbing over them and the boneshakers that are the Indian Government busses, plus the sudden drenching of course. First casualty, my big bag, it has a couple of new holes in it plus the shoulder strap partly torn off on one side. Second, the sandals I was wearing got so wet on in the monsoon that the plastic on them has turned brittle and broken. Thirdly, a “spy” camera pen I had where I could take pictures of things I was not meant to which although had a solid metal casing was bent so much it broke the electronics inside making it useless. And the final victim, my nice expensive digital SLR camera. Although the bent pen saved much of the damage by taking much of the force, the constant shaking of the bus dislodged the plastic viewfinder cover inside the camera body which protects the viewfinder mirror. This rattled about the camera and has completely scratched both mirror on the viewfinder and the reflecting mirror. I’ve bodged it back together with the aid of a paperclip and glue but it’s not good but at least it works although auto focus is not good. But this is typical in India, the damage was caused by people basically not respecting other peoples’ things, irritating but the norm here. I suppose every time I look through the viewfinder and see the scratches I will always think of Bundi, but was the journey really worth it and why was I here....

Bundi, India

I know it’s considered very un-PC but I’ve always liked the work of Rudyard Kipling of which everyone knows had a very close association with India. Whether PC or not there was one book considered his masterpiece, ‘Kim’ and it was here in Bundi where he wrote it. I think it’s an acquired taste but if you ever wish to read the book it provides a thorough portrait of India, the culture, its people, the sights and sounds on the streets and importantly the many religions of India. Amazingly, other than the introduction of the motor car, all of the mess, noise mayhem and what we may find, bizarre beliefs, all remain strangely familiar to anyone travelling here today. In a letter Kipling wrote of Bundi:

“Jeypore Palace may be called the Versailles of India; Udaipur's House of State is dwarfed by the hills round it and the spread of the Pichola Lake; Jodhpur's House of strife, gray towers on red rock, is the work of giants, but the Palace of Bundi, even in broad daylight, is such a palace as men build for themselves in uneasy dreams-- the work of goblins rather than of men."

Bundi, India

So I was here to see his muse, the inspiration behind his work and I have to say that I was not disappointed. Apart from being a beautiful palace, with an air of decay that always seems to make most old buildings more attractive, the scenery around it is stunning. This is particularly so if you venture up to the fort on top of the hill which seems to be protected by baboons and very vociferous macaques. To wander around the fort I filled my pockets with stones and found a hefty wooden stick. When the macaques came to attack, which is really intimidating as these could easily kill, I would wave them away with a stick and when one was too cocky, I would have to throw a stone at them. Sounds vicious but luckily it does show why we split from the monkey evolution line...... we developed the use of tools to hunt and defend ourselves, but having said that, baboons will throw shit at you and pee on you from the tree tops so maybe they actually invented chemical warfare! But the views of the lake where Kipling hid himself are stunning.

Bundi, India

The town itself does not feel like India at all. It was calm and relaxing with people simply saying “Namaste” when you walked past. There was no hassle, no begging, very little noise, very little smell but sadly no booze as it’s a dry town as many are in this State. So why was everybody so happy and peaceful with some almost looking intoxicated? Well, to put it simply, everyone is smashed of their tits on bhang. Bhang is basically legal cannabis in India. And why is it legal, well it’s associated with Hinduism and the Lord Shiva and so lots of people use it. You even have “official” government shops everywhere selling it and most restaurants aimed at backpackers load it in to food and drink all with the prefix of “special”. This was something I didn’t realise the first time I came to India so got stoned a few times while thinking it was mild food poisoning! Even those following Islam here take it, so yep, you can’t have booze but you can get stoned. Even including the image of the “bhang” this place is still pretty much the India of the Kipling books and if anything the India tourist board (well minus the bhang for the latter) and I hope the place remains the same. Just stopping here made me feel better and I soon forgot about my vegetarian intolerance.

Chittaurgarh, India

From here I travelled to Chittorgarth and Udaipur, the former being a stunning and massive hilltop fort and the latter where the James Bond Octopussy film was based. Again arriving at night in Udaipur was spectacular with the two palaces lit up in the centre of a massive centuries old manmade lake. It was another place completely removed from the hassles of India, relaxed and calm. I’m almost becoming annoyed that I am no longer having any hassle. What’s happened to India no one’s trying to rob me and there nothing happening to scare me to death, surely is can’t last........

36. Playing the Great Game and the Towering Inferno

December 28th, 2010

After walking around the main royal palace in Udaipur I suddenly realised that I did not have my guide book with me. I remembered that I had it at breakfast and had left it on the table in the hotel when I was taking a picture from the rooftop. Luckily I was the last person there and was sure it would still be there. Of course when I got there it was gone so I assumed the manager would have it so I asked him. “No, there was nothing left maybe you left it somewhere else?” My memory is not usually too bad but he continued to put so much doubt in my mind that I retraced my steps from breakfast. I went even went back to the palace where the amazingly helpful security guy, dressed in old military uniform and old fashioned Indian handle barred moustache took me back around the palace to see if it was there. They were so apologetic about it being “stolen” which was in complete contrast to the hotel manager whom I was more convinced that ever had stolen it.

Udaipur, India

I went back to the hotel and asked again but still go the reply that they hadn’t found it so I decided to play the great Indian game of bluff and counter bluff. I went outside the hotel, far enough to make him think that I was trying to do something, but close enough for him to overhear. I said, “hi, is that the tourist police....... PAUSE........Yeah, right, I had a guide book in the Lakeside Hotel and it’s been stolen, unfortunately I’d hidden my credit card between the pages so need to report it stolen from the hotel.” From the corner of my eye I could see the hotel manager get up quickly from his lounging position on the sofa, run to the stair and shout something. He then came out and beckoned me in. Amazingly his son came down with my guidebook in his hand, he then went on to blame his son for not telling him he’d taken it. I find it quite sad that I had to do this, but I wouldn’t have got it back without pushing him, but you can’t kid a kidder. I was not going to lose my guide book which here in India more than anywhere I’ve been is a godsend. He would have got about £15 for the book, two nights’ accommodation, as that’s the 2nd hand price in the shops here, and left me in a position where travelling, although obviously not impossible, would have been made unnecessarily difficult. The selfish rich hotelier arse.

Udaipur, India

I decided to leave the hotel the next day but this time uses a slightly more civilised private bus to get to Jodhpur, a place famed for ridiculously baggy trousers. The roads between Udaipur and Jodhpur were very bendy and extremely bumpy which had the effect of again making all the Indians who were not used to travelling vomit everywhere down the side of bus with a fair number of them missing the window and drenching themselves. Although I’d got the bus again after my last experience, I went private and it was actually quite comfortable and no hassle, amazing.

Jodhpur, India

Arriving in Jodhpur, I walked through the maze of the old town to the guesthouse I wanted. I ended up getting completely lost and got dragged into a guesthouse “just to look.” The guy showed me the room and said “how much do you want to pay?” This really annoys me, so I said I’m not paying that game and added that I wouldn’t give you more than 250 Rupees (£3.40).” He feigned being shocked and said “this is an excellent room and it should be 800 rupees, what is your best offer?” At which point he closed the room door and blocked my exit. This made me a little annoyed so I said “200 Rupees, and if you don’t mind moving.” I pushed past him and started to walk down the stairs. He shouted 200 is too little, 700” I kept on walking. “600” still walking, “500” still walking,”250” still walking, “OK then 200.” I stopped, turned around and said “do you think I’m going to take the room now, you lied to me, you said it was 800 Rupees and then offer me a rate at a quarter of the price,” then I kept on walking with a smile. In truth I didn’t want to stop there as there were no other backpackers there or in fact anyone else for that matter but in end I found a guesthouse which although wasn’t the one I wanted (I got lost again and couldn’t find it), was one where there were four other backpackers sat in the roof top restaurant.

Jodhpur, India

Apart from the annoying British guy who seemed to spend his time deliberately annoying people with his “it’s ok to be ripped off here in India, see it as a redistribution of wealth”, tosser! “So it’s alright being robbed in London as you have money and they don’t” .... “No, that’s different” he replied. How was it different, is that not a redistribution of wealth? He really was a cock! The people here with wealth were the ones ripping me off not those without, that’s not a redistribution of wealth, that’s just a “reallocation of riches.... to the rich.” Luckily the other three guys were cool, a normal and funny British guy, you meet so few backpacking! And two Swedes, Lisa and Jonathan, who refreshingly had what I would call a normal outlook on the whole Indian experience. We spent most of the next couple of days seeing the sights and talking about everything and nothing late into the evenings. After one such night I headed to be at about 11:25pm and went through my ritual packing of my rucksack.

Jodhpur, India

It’s an irritating habit I have developed over my many years of backpacking but on the last night anywhere I always unpack my bag and the repack it. At a little after midnight I had everything spread out on the bed which included my numerous cameras, electronics and computer (yes I have a laptop with me to make my luggage even heavier!), when I heard lots of shouting outside. I opened up the shutters on the window to see what the commotion was and saw flaming debris falling from the rooftop and the night sky filled with the orange glow of fire sprinkled with bright orange sparks of burning ask spiralling their way up to the heavens. Bang.... as flaming hot piece of wood hit the plastic mosquito net covering the window and it started to melt. I use the word window but hole maybe a better description as in this part of the world you don’t have glass, just the net. So I quickly closed the shutters and rushed to the door. Another feature of buildings in this part of the world is an atrium running the full height of the building and open to the sky. In hot weather this cools the building dramatically but here it simply let flaming embers fall from top to bottom potentially igniting anything in its path. I pulled down the curtain covering my door to make sure that didn’t burn, shouted to everyone on my floor to get out and ran out of the building.

Outside we could see the whole rooftop on fire, every now and again large lumps of debris crashed to the ground. The people working in the hotel had not once banged on doors to get people out but were simply just running with buckets of water the six floors from top to bottom. I thought this was ridiculous and a very dangerous and thoughtless act. I quickly looked to see if the route to my room was clear which it still was and I rushed back in, I threw all my luggage onto the bed, grabbed the four corners of the bed sheet, pulled them together and rushed out like a burglar taking his swag. This took no more than one minute to do although I realised it was probably against UK fire safety advice! Outside the fire was still raging with backpackers still walking out of the guesthouse wondering what all the noise was about. Eventually, the many buckets of water helped put the fire out, but I think the true reason was the fact that there was nothing left to burn. Amidst all this the fire brigade had come and to my annoyance the manager had sent them away as “they were dealing with it.” The truth being of course that you have to pay here for call outs and he didn’t want to pay! Typical India, people would prefer to lose everything than pay a little money. But for me this was the final straw, he was prepared to risk his guests’ lives rather than pay!

As the fire died down the manager tried to beckon people back into the hotel saying that it was ok and safe now. I pointed out in clear terms that fires of this magnitude just don’t go out within 1 hour but you have burning residue. These may have been in places he didn’t know as he had not checked the building and he had sent the fire brigade away. I also said that I was not convinced if the fire did reignite any staff would wake us up as they didn’t the first time. He just said “no problem, the fire is out” at which point masses of water came crashing to the floor. The fire had melted the water containers on the roof which had released their load in one massive burst. So fire not completely out then! I’m a great believer in the phrase, “if there’s doubt, then there’s no doubt” so myself, J and L found a room down the road and stayed there and talked about the madness of the situation.

All in all it was quite a stressful night, but at least it makes things interesting. Things always happen in India so at least I have stories! The next day we went to the rooftop to survey the damage. Wow, nothing left, even the tiles on the floor have been destroyed such was the heat. The guys who had decided to stay all smelled of smoke and were complaining that there was no water or electricity in the building! Were they oblivious to what had happened? Being very British, I still settled my bill with the hotel for everything I had used before the fire although many others had used it as an excuse not to pay. A little of me can’t blame them as I still think these guys were playing with our lives.

Jodhpur, India

37. Polishing a Turd

January 2nd, 2011

Jaisalmer is an extremely picturesque town with a beautiful desert sandstone coloured fort rising almost seamlessly from the top of a rocky outcrop. The thing to do here is a camel ride into the desert any everyone hassles you to go on one. The guesthouse was the worst, they had arranged pick-up form the train station and given me a ridiculously cheap price of 100 rupees a night as they wanted to charge me a ridiculous price for a camel safari. They said it would cost twice the price of the guys in town but little did he know that I had no intension of booking any Camel ride. I spent weeks stuck in the desert in Central Asia so really did not want to see anymore, moreover I’ve been on Camels in China, Ethiopia and Egypt and they all have one thing in common. They stink, don’t move when you want them to and most importantly hurt your “man bits.” They have the most uncomfortable way of walking known to man. So I took advantage of the guy, paid the 100 rupees for the night and legged it. I won one!!!!! I wish I could have stopped longer here particularly as I’d found a bakery which did a fantastic apple crumble, sadly no custard though! But I must move else I’ll be stuck in limbo over Christmas as getting visa’s for China and Vietnam will be difficult during Christmas week. So quicker than I would have liked I was on the night train the Delhi.

Jaisalmer, India

I’d almost forgotten about the poverty in India. In the small towns of Rajasthan you see very little extreme poverty but now as I was pulling into Delhi it hit me again. Drawing past Delhi Cantt station, the mass of impoverished humanity started. People dressed in scraps of cloths picking through the litter on which they built their houses. Every now and again there was a spark of colour from a “house” painted bright blue or yellow from those clearly proud of what they’d built and where they lived, it was almost showing a beacon of hope for the community and the pride they have. Although, going past on a train does feel like you are on a ride at a theme park, looking how “people used to live” but here it’s very real, India has tried to hide these images from the city streets, particularly during the commonwealth games, but it’s still here hidden in the suburbs and the least visited parts of the city.

Old Delhi, India

To get from Old Delhi to New Delhi I thought I’d venture onto the new metro they’ve built in the city, this was a major mistake. Firstly, there is always going to be a problem in suddenly exposing a developing country to modern technology. In the west we have been lucky to grow up with changing technology and we have adapted the world around us to suit. As a result, here, the simplest task can be quite complicated, first, buying the tickets. There are practically no ticket machines (of those there were none worked) as people simply get intimidated by them, even if they did work the lack of coins circulation (due to their lack of need) makes it hard to buy tickets (the biggest coin is about 7 pence). I queued 20 minutes to get a ticket which would usually be no problem, but Indians are only just getting used to queuing as it’s enforced here. So when they queue they will not leave a gap of an inch as they are paranoid that someone else will squeeze their way in as they would in the usual mêlée. Sadly this paranoia is not unfounded as I left a “European” sized gap and suddenly someone tried to push in. He soon left though with the help of a firm push! But trust me 20 minutes with a 5ft stinky guy behind me with bad halitosis, and with his crotch constantly rubbing on my leg like a dog on heat, was not pleasant!

After you queue again to get your bags x-rayed, there’s the escalators, many people in India have not used these before. Old people would avoid them completely trying to carry large heavy bags up and down the stairs. Others would pause before the top, creating large queues while they tested the moving step with their toe as if at the beach and testing the temperature of the water. They would then ride it as if it was a rollercoaster, some even falling over as they came to the end, unable to compensate their movement with the stationary ground in front of them. The finally the train itself, what can I say. The system is dangerously overcrowded and one day soon there is going to be a major accident particularly in a country where deaths for stampedes are quite high. The train entered the station crowded but no one moved out of the way to let people off, so transfixed they are in getting themselves on, not caring for those crushed inside. A lady screamed, “let me off, your hurting” but to no avail, a mass of humanity pushed as hard as it could to get on crushing those inside. The doors then shut firmly cutting the group in half like cutting a block of cheese with cheese wire....... Needless to say it took quite a while to get on the train and with my luggage it was a most unpleasant journey. Are the people here rude for not letting people off and crushing others? In our world yes, but here not, it’s normal. I have to believe that otherwise I’d go mad!

Old Delhi, India

Walking down the main backpacking road opposite the main train station little had changed in the 9 years since I’d been here although disappointingly the nice old railway building had been knocked down and a new ugly bland metal facade built. Seeing this made an old expression spring to mind... “You can’t polish a turd!” I’ve never really liked Delhi the first time I was here and now it was less so. They have tried polishing it and yes New Delhi looks nice with a new lick of paint but it always did, it looks like any other new town built in the UK in the 1920’s but other areas have been turned into a “Bladerunner-esque” vision of the future with new metro lines and flyovers built above the ground, towering over poor suburbs. These suburbs left to decay in the darkness the shadows the flyovers produce, killing the limited trade there once was while those with money can afford to pass by above them, oblivious to what is below.

New Delhi, India

I’d come back to the black hole of Delhi for one reason alone, to buy a ticket from Kathmandu to Hong Kong from the Nepal Airlines office here as they don’t do internet booking. To my great annoyance the conversation went something like this.

“Can I buy a ticket from Kathmandu to Hong Kong”,

“No sir”,

“Why”,

“You have to pay in Nepalese Rupees”,

“I have Nepalese rupees, can I buy a ticket?”

“No because you are not in Kathmandu”

“So what you are saying is that I can’t buy a ticket to Hong Kong from you?”

“No, you can buy a ticket from Delhi to Hong Kong, do you want this”

“I didn’t know you had a flight from Delhi to Hong Kong”

“We do not sir, you fly to Kathmandu and change planes”

“erm, ok, can’t I just buy the second ‘Kathmandu to Hong Kong’ leg here?”

“No sir, you are currently not in Kathmandu”

“I know that because my shoes are covered in cow shit and I’m surrounded by pointless bureaucracy! Thanks for your lack of help.”


So with that I left immediately (well, with a diversion to see the spot Ghandi was assassinated) to Amritsar to connect with the Pakistan border and my original overland plan. First impressions of Amritsar.... “Turd in need of polish!”

New Delhi, India

38. One Last Challenge

January 6th, 2011

Amritsar is a bizarre place, it's another place in India suffering from a massive and speedy over development. When you arrive you can see the facade of the old Victorian train station in the process of being covered up by a faceless concrete and steel shield, new flyovers being built through and around the old centre with desolate, dusty, dark and dangerous streets below. Hundreds of shops in these streets are closed either earmarked for destruction or closed as the building work has removed the passing trade. Then in complete contrast you have the famous Sikh place of worship, the famous golden temple. As soon as you pass through the arch of the main clock-tower entrance the peace and cleanliness of the site hits you, and of course the beauty of the temple. Sikhs come here from all over the world to pay homage to the guy (Guru Nanak) who created Sikhism in the 15th Century, unhappy with the way in which people of low cast were treated and bringing equality to all under the blanket of the new faith. A faith which has more links with Christianity than many ancient religions known to the Indian subcontinent but can be seen as a link between the two. For those who do not know, Sikhs share the same “one” god as Christians and many of the same beliefs. There are no bright orange monkeys or eight armed blue elephants in this religion.

Amritsar, India

As usual I became one of the main tourist attractions with many wanting a photo with me, probably because I looked like a bit of a freak having to cover my head with a triangular bandage. Later I joined in one of the main cultural events of the temple and went to be fed while sat cross-legged on the floor in the massive food hall. Here hundreds of people volunteer to cook, clean and wash-up after thousands of people each day who come here for a free feed. It's all part of the Sikh believe in inclusion sharing and charity. This is why the next site in Amritsar was particularly hard to visit being British. Back in 1919 a pompous, arrogant arse called Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer decided to open fire on a group of majority Sikh peaceful protesters taking part in the Ghandi non-cooperation protests. As a result of his actions somewhere between 400 and 1000 were killed depending which side you believe, 120 drowned and were killed under the weight of others fleeing down a large well. This was a turning point in the fight for independence as previously there was just a call for self government within the empire but this changed the call to full independence. Even the British in India condemned the action, pretty much unheard of at that time.

Amritsar, India

Leaving this sad reflection of empire behind me I headed off on the night train to Lucknow. Another famous place and a location involved in the 1st Indian mutiny (battle for independence). The train journey here was typical with the couple across from me on the train constantly and irritatingly cracking nuts with their teeth and throwing the inedible husks on the floor. As people just drop litter and waste matter all over the place you often find rats and mice wondering he trains here. And if you don't believe me there's a video below if you want to see. (click the play button)


Lucknow was a lot busier and dirtier than I remember from 2001. But I was here again to take a few pictures of places I couldn't last time as I was ill. I bartered for a rickshaw to get to the old British residency which was under siege in 1857 during the mutiny. As happens most times it seems acceptable for the driver to get locals to jump into your rickshaw or taxi for a free ride even though as a tourist you are paying over the odds even after bartering. This time i had enough and said i was not going to pay him but he said "it is ok to do, we do this in India". "I don't do this in India" I replied and took my bag out of the rickshaw. For me it proves a point to him that his greed of trying to get a few rupees more on top of my money has resulted in him getting much less. Basically I'm trying to change the whole of India by doing a "Pavlov’s Dog" experiment. Not sure it will work! But just imagine me doing the same at Heathrow airport. Next time I'm there I'm going to find an Indian family getting into a taxi and just as it's about to leave I'll jump in the passenger seat and say "you don't mind do you, your going my way anyway" and then just give he taxi driver 40 pence while the family have to pay £40! Don't think I'd get away with it but that's what happens here.

Lucknow, India

Anyway, I eventually arrived at the Residency, a place where 2500 or so Europeans died, a significant number were women and children but the residency managed to hold out for about 5 months before final relief came. All over India thousands of Europeans were killed during this time with no mercy given to gender or age and even some of those who surrendered peacefully tied to the front of cannon which were the fired tearing them apart (If interested do a search for “Cawnpore”). Something which is not taught over here during Indian history lessons, but why would it be. We are not taught that the British invented concentration camps but we did. Granted, not the deliberate elimination of a race but simply for keeping captured families of those fighting the British during the Boer war as a bargaining chip. However disease spread fast and the effect was very much the same as those on Germany.

Lucknow, India

Anyway, history lesson aside, it was nice to see that the area is still kept in the same state it was at final relief, a reminder of that time and to honour and respect the graves of those who died. Leaving here I took one last look at the grave of the governor (Sir Henry Lawrence) who died here during the siege whose epitaph reads simply "died trying to do his duty." For me it's a little like a school report stating, must try harder!

Lucknow, India

Arriving in Gorakhpur I quickly found a jeep going to the Nepal border and fixed the price at 100 rupees. The journey was done at the usual breakneck speed and the jeep designed to carry 8 now had 13 crammed inside, luggage perched precariously on the roof, flying off every now and again as we rounded a corner. At the half way point the driver decided to ask for the fare. "150 rupees" he said. I responded that we agreed 100 rupees before we set off. He just said that the fare was 150 rupees which was followed up by one of his small friends at the restaurant adding that "yes it's 150 rupees.". I explained politely that he should keep his nose out which he kindly did! So I calmly walked around to the front of the jeep, took a picture of the number plate before heading back to the driver and handing him the money. Not to my complete surprise he refused to take the money saying that he had no change and that 100 rupees was enough. I added "no please take it, I can see you have 50 rupees change." "no problem, let's go" he said, although I offered him the 150 again. I was now playing with him a bit as part of the great game. I learnt to do something like take a picture of a number plate or person years ago as this intimidates them into thinking that you are going to report them to either their boss or the police. In fact I would no neither as that would cause more trouble than its worth but here it worked. And what about my argument of not winning just losing by less.... It is almost impossible to win here in India and some may think I won this little battle but I didn't. I fought and paid what we agreed, I just broke even! You can never win!

Gorakhpur