Days 3 to 4: French Kissed By An Indian

May 19th, 2001

Day 3. I left the Hotel and the horrible hotel manager behind me but not before he over charged me for the taxi!  But I always get my revenge.  During breakfast I took a lump of cheese, egg and various smelly thali ‘liquids’ and then secreted them in spaces including between the walls around windows, the main stairwell aircon unit and my favourite, in the space behind the reception desk while I was checking out.  It should be a nice surprise for them when things start to go off, particularly the eggs, but for how they treated me I think they deserved it!

Eventually I arrived at Victoria train station where I headed across the road to find a hotel.  This is not as easy as it sounds if you have never experienced Indian roads.  People don’t seem to really care if they die or not which appears to be something to do with beliefs in reincarnation, this is clearly shown by their driving.  At about £7 I paid slightly more than I was planning for a goodish hotel as I wanted to slowly slide into the backpacking thing, but the room was very clean and en-suite.  It was here that I discovered the true value of the Rupee.  I thought I’d give my ‘bell boy’ a tip of 100 rupees for the next four to five days, about 20 pence a day.  I assumed this would be about right as the hotel manager at the last place said it should be 5 times more!  However, I suddenly realised that this was a big mistake as things started to get a little scary.  He started asking me if I wanted a massage while at the same time stroking and patting my arm and grabbing my knee!  Then he started to hug and kiss my hand while saying thank you, tears welling in his eyes.  This must be culture shock they talk about!  It was a very difficult situation for me, I felt like shouting “Stop!  Don’t you know I’m British!”  I tried to figure out what I’d done to deserve this attention.  I asked him where he lived and he explained in very broken English that he lived in one of the shanty towns, he was from the Dalit classes, the untouchable, the casteless, the truly persecuted people in India.  He’s actually quite lucky to even get this job.  I bet he barely earns 100 rupees in one week.

Victoria Terminal, Bombay

His actions although scary were actually extremely moving and really explained the plight of many Indians, louder than any words could.  The hotel manager from yesterday was one of the higher castes, has money and he thinks he deserves it as a birthright.  This seems to fire his greed and just as the Dalits are exploited he exploited me.  The Dalit is just happy to do his job and to earn a regular wage so his family has a simple existence, he was not trying to get more money out of me he was just being genuine.  Though I realise the tip was too high, I can’t begrudge him, well as long as he stops kissing me.  I’ve seen and received the genuine affection and the honest loving gratitude of the true India but sadly I realise that as a tourist I am not going to come into contact with many of such people even though they are the vast majority.  Most people I will come into contact with will see me as the walking cash machine I suppose I am.

Day 4. Even after the shanty town, venturing out onto the streets of central Bombay was still intimidating, however the sight of buildings, shops and people dressed for work seems to give the place a more comforting feel.  There’s an amazing and extreme contrast between the inside of the hotel where everything is quiet, calm and relaxed and just one step outside where your senses are fully loaded to dizzying levels.  The sights, smells, noise, heat, dust and humidity are disorientating, people walk into you, and you can even taste the air which is thick with pollution from car and bus exhausts.  The busses were barely battered metal boxes on wheels.  Rubbish blows around, open sewers, people defecating in the street next to which street hawkers sell sweet smelling food.  This all gives a truly indescribable olfactory sensation.  Within yards I was surrounded by beggars with bodies twisted from leprosy and polio, others would just stand and stare at me, clearly seeing a western man as a bit of a novelty.  This does surprise me as I’d expected that Indians would have had contact with the British due to the country’s history, but it seems not to be the case.  I found myself walking faster and faster to avoid the attention.  I could hear the unmistakable sound of flip-flops following me, that’s the amazing thing about this place, everyone wears those cheap seaside flip flops you get bought as a child.

Bombay Street

Walking down one of the streets of the old bazaar an elephant was being used to collect rubbish, it was not the most efficient way of doing this but it was truly the most Indian as it appeared to be producing more mess than it was clearing.  The street was also lined with tiffin shops, a real throw back to the days of the British Raj.  People still have tiffin, in fact there is practically a military operation in Bombay when tiffin boxes filled with goodies for lunch are sent to hard working husbands by their wives.  These are taken to them by Dabbawalas (food delivery men) using a system which amazingly gets thousands of boxes to their rightful owners, made even more amazing as there is no paper trail as many of the Dabbawalas are illiterate.  According to my guidebook the system is so efficient that only one mistake is made in one million deliveries....  But I don’t know how they can prove that without a paper trail!  After avoiding being bitten by the largest rats I’ve ever seen I eventually reached the Prince of Wales Museum.  The museum has a number of fascinating artefacts of both Hindu and Buddhist origin including much of the artwork from the elephant caves which lie on an island just off the coast here at Bombay but the heat was getting too much for me so I had to head back to the hotel to cool down.  Sadly this plan didn’t work as the room is so hot, my thermometer reads 40°c which makes sleeping difficult.  It’s too hot to use a blanket and I’ve always found it impossible to sleep without covering up at night.  Luckily I remember something my Grandfather said he learnt during his time in India during the Second World War.  Sounds odd but I’m going to place a towel over my stomach!

Day 5: Bombay To Mumbai In Fifty Years

May 20th, 2001

Day 5. Wow it worked, with the towel over my stomach I managed to nod off with no problem, weird but true.  I did have to soak it first though and put a fan on, but it was the first time I’ve felt cool since I arrived.  I just hope that I will soon get used to the heat as I have another two months.

I thought it was about time I went to one of the many famous tourist attractions Bombay, by its own admission, had to offer.  So I headed off to the ‘famous’ Hanging Gardens.  I set off on foot which was a bit of a mistake as at over 40°C and very humid I was quickly soaked in sweat.  For what seemed to be every two minutes a taxi driver would pull up and ask where I wanted to go.  They would follow me, driving alongside for quite a distance in the hope that I would change my mind and say yes.  I thought I’d discovered a way to avoid this, I simply walked on the opposite side of the road facing oncoming traffic.  I figured that no one was mad enough to reverse down an extremely busy duel carriageway in the hope to get a fare!  Well I underestimated the resolve of the Indian taxi wallah as within five minutes a taxi was reversing alongside me while motorists hooted their horns trying to avoid him.

Eventually I arrived at the Hanging Gardens where I discovered one of the many Indian idiosyncrasies.  Tourist Bombay is very confusing, not because places are hard to find but rather the trouble you have trying to figure out why they are tourist sights in the first place.  The gardens are built on top of the city’s water supply reservoirs high on a hill and each day thousands of tourists arrive by bus to take in the wondrous views of Bombay.  The problem is the gardens are surrounded by trees and are so far away from central Bombay that you can’t actually see anything.  But at least it was cool up there with a pleasant breeze and the green grass also made a pleasant change from the narrow dirty bazaars and city streets.  I found a quiet spot away from the crowds so I could cool down after the climb but within minutes I was surrounded by people.  They all wanted to have their pictures taken with the token ‘white bloke’ and what appeared to be a constant queue of people were lined up saying “hello photo?”  It felt strange but I had now become Bombay’s major tourist attraction and even considered charging.  At first the attention was extremely annoying, too much to take in, but thinking about it I could see the pleasure and excitement people got by having their picture taken with me.  It may have been a small irritation for me but for them it would have been something for them to talk about when they went through their photos.  However I did think to myself that I had another two months of this to come and do wonder whether a group of white English people doing the same to an Indian tourist in the UK would be acceptable!  Probably not.

Importantly a guy taught me something useful here, he had noticed that some kids were trying to shake my left hand and told me that I should never do this in India, always use the right.  The kids were doing this as a rude joke as it’s considered quite disgusting.  The left hand is the polluted hand and is generally used to shove up your own bum as a forerunner to toilet tissue.  I’m now thinking that toilet tissue is the world’s greatest invention with the toilet being a close second!

Setting off for the long walk back into town I soon got confused, I could not see any signs for central Bombay, just signs for Mumbai city centre.  It was called Bombay not more than two hours ago on the signs on the way out.  However, it turns out that governments are never happier than when they can make changes on a global scale which constitute no actual real change but just result in confusion.  India quite rightly wants to rid itself of its old colonial past, but when visiting India there are only really two reminders of this past, the decaying Victorian buildings and people driving on the left, well sort of left!  But to rid themselves further of the colonial yoke they have changed the names of towns given by the British or other colonial powers to their ‘original’ names.  One such city is Bombay, however the problem is it never had an original name, it was a settlement founded by the British.  From what I was told by the hotel receptionist the Indian government changed the name because of pressure from Marathi colonist terrorists who had lied about their claim of the ‘original’ name saying it was derived from the temple of Mumbadevi and the Goddess Mumba.  He told me that many people did not like the change but said if they didn’t use it the authorities would get ‘upset’ whatever that meant.  So it took fifty years to change Bombay to Mumbai as a supposed symbol of independence, Madras to Chennai and Calcutta to Kolkata.  Fair enough but it makes it very confusing when you are trying to buy bus and train tickets!  I wonder if the Indian restaurants back home will change the names of certain dishes.  Chicken Madras; should it become Chicken Chennai?  I’ve got to admit it has a nice ring to it, but it does sound like the latest car from Citroen!  Then again Mullywood, I think I’ll stick with Bollywood!

Day 6: A Baby Or A Biscuit

May 21st, 2001

Day 6. Heading out to a tourist attraction I’d actually heard of I walked to the Gateway to India.  Ironically the gates of the ‘Gateway to India’ were locked which I hoped would not be a metaphor for the way in which I would be treated.  However it’s a good photo opportunity, not so much for me but the locals as I had to pose for lots of pictures.  It was also a good place to test my newly obtained skills for detecting and deterring beggars and confidence tricksters.  This time the villain was a women and her weapon of choice, a baby.  I was probably targeted as I was a lone male but I had noticed they also targeted groups of females.  The lady walked over to me and started to ask polite questions including the important, “is this your first time in India.”  She then went on to try and convince me that she was not a beggar as she was a Christian and Christians don’t beg!  Finally she went on to hold up her baby stating that she only needed milk powder which I could buy from a shop for her.  Most people are taken in by this because there is a baby involved and what’s the problem with buying food as you are not giving her money, what’s the catch?  Luckily the money I gave the bell boy was coming into its own.  He had explained some of the tricks and I’m now starting to believe the 100 rupees I’d given him is the best money I’ve ever spent.  After brushing the lady off I saw her go over to two European looking girls.  Everything seemed to keep to the script I’d been given.  She took the girls into the shop which sold the milk powder, they handed it over and the beggar showed her gratitude thanking and praising them.  However, after they walked away the beggar went back into the shop and came out without the milk.  The shop owner and the lady had an agreement, the victims go into the shop where they are charged maybe double for the milk powder, the lady gives the shop owner his product back which he can sell again and she gets some of the profit.  Sadly there is only one real winner and one loser.  The winner, the shop owner, he gets most of the money, the loser, the baby, branded around like a toy and doesn’t even get the milk.  Actually shop owners here con you anyway but I’ve found one way to avoid this by looking for the MRP ‘maximum retail price’ on the side of any packet I buy.  I figure I’ll be happy if I get within 5% of this.

Gateway to India, Bombay

At the gateway I decided to take in the fresh sea air, however this was slightly more fresh than I was expecting.  Bombay seems to have just one sewage treatment works and it’s called the sea which is fed by an extensive network of polluted rivers.  The stench is something very special, the closest description I can give is probably the worst gent’s public toilet in the world but magnified a thousand times.  The litter, of which the vast majority seemed to be plastic bottles, covered the sea like a blanket.  It’s a scary thought but as sewage is washed directly into the sea that means, let’s say, over three quarters of a billion live close to the sea or river in India.  On average each person has two bowel movements a day (neglecting food poisoning), so the sea around India has potentially one and a half billion jobbies a day floating around it.  Not to mention about half a billion litres of urine!  I think I’ll keep off the fish while in India.  I was planning on taking a boat trip to Elephant Island just off the coast but the smell of the water was just too much.  If the boat sank, which looked highly probable, the thought of trying to swim in the water was just too much.  Maybe they provide suicide pills instead of life jackets.

Just as I set off walking back to the hotel a beggar came up to me as asked for some money for food.  As I had some biscuits on me I thought I’d give them to him but when I handed them over he took one look and threw them on the floor while saying, “What do you expect me to do with them.”  “Erm, eat them.”  Clearly not that starving then!  Then again, biscuits over here have a unique taste.  It doesn't matter where or when you buy them or even how in date they are, they always taste stale and a bit like cardboard!  But Bombay is full of such contradictions, such as the break in a line of expensive shops on the main shopping street which contained a small.  Next to these people living in squalor was a ‘United Colors of Benetton’ shop and a coffee shop, there’s something not quite right about this, it was almost like one of Benetton’s freaky ad campaigns.  A little further on another beggar came up to me.  This time it was a little shoe shine boy who tried to befriend me and who as usual wanted money but this time to buy a shoe shine box.  Clearly not a very good shoe shine boy if he didn’t have a shoeshine box but as I was talking to him I noticed the little arse take my sunglasses which were hanging out of my pocket.  I saw him take them but I couldn’t be bothered trying to chase him.  He ran across the main road, far too dangerous for me particularly for a £5 pair of Camden Market sunglasses.  At this point I decided to leave Mumbai while I still had my health and one last pair of sunglasses.  The constant begging is too much, and although Bombay will leave a lasting impression on my mind I don’t want it to leave a lasting impression on my body!

Day 7: In Which Part Of America Is England

May 22nd, 2001

Day 7. I spent most of today just sat around Victoria train station being stared at.  I decided not to go and visit anywhere else in Bombay as I’m pretty fed up with the heat and hassle but having said that it was just as bad in the station, particularly as people have absolutely no idea of personal space.  Young men would walk up to me, stand eyeball to eyeball literally just a few centimetres away just looking at me, it was quite intimidating.  This started to irritate me slightly so I’d move away, but the buggers would just follow me.  There’s another weird thing I’ve started to notice, the men here hold each other’s hands!  They walk around like a ‘loved up’ couple on a date; they’d better not try that with me!

While sat down pretending that the entire train station was not staring at me I noticed a group of porters dressed in red carrying a solid metal tray like stretcher.  As they rushed towards me I saw something on top, an old man dressed in nothing more than a dirty white shroud wrapped around his waist.  As they ran past a lifeless arm slid off the stretcher which a porter just pushed back on.  From the porters actions I guessed that the old man was dead, died somewhere in the train station, alone, a Dalit.  Where he was being taken I don’t know, but no one else here looked surprised such is the accepted circle of life.  Hopefully if Hinduism is right, his next life would be far better than the one he had just left.  Just after this I felt something tug at my leg.  I immediately turned to see the smallest skinniest looking boy trying to pull my bag.  This however was an impossible task as I had the bag strap wrapped around my leg, it was a bit like looking at a small dog trying to drag a large log.  At one point the kid actually looked up at me but continued as if I’d not seen him!  Next, a young girl walked up to me and asked, “Where are you from?”, “England” I replied.  She turned to her father and asked “which part of America is England in?”  Great, I thought it was about time to get the train before a second person was found dead in the train station!

Walking to get my train I suddenly felt a tug on my shoulder as someone tried to grab my daypack, I easily held onto the bag but the bugger twisted my arm which I’ve now got bandaged as it’s sprained.  I told the train guard what had happened and he said “You can’t be right sir, there’s no robbery in Bombay!”  I said, “That maybe so, but it happens in Mumbai,” git!  But I was now heading 400km north east at break neck speeds of almost 30miles per hour on the overnight “express” train to Aurangabad.  On hearing terrible stories about train travel in India I decided this first trip would be on a class 2A coach, one of the many confusing categories on the Indian Railways.  It was surprisingly comfortable, air-conditioned with two tier bunk beds in four bed compartments.  The Sikh train staff showed me to my bed and the slow rhythmic motion of the train induced me to sleep and sweet dreams.  Ahh, relaxing at last……….

Day 8: Rickshaw Cowboy

May 23rd, 2001

Day 8. ......Suddenly my legs were grabbed by someone shouting “Aurangabad, Aurangabad.”  It was 4:30am and I had reached my destination which was a relief as at first I thought someone was trying to steal my shoes while I was still wearing them.  Slightly dazed I headed outside of the train station only to be jumped on by loads of rickshaw drivers but as it was still early I decided to avoid them and walk slowly to the hostel.  There is something extremely pleasant about walking through a small Indian town in the early hours.  In the cool air peace reigns supreme, shepherds herd their flocks while the odd cyclist makes their way to work.  At the roadside a Hindu preacher was chanting, preparing his temple for the day’s visitors.  Eventually I found the youth hostel, I could of course gone to a hotel as many rooms cost less than £5 but I’m desperate to meet fellow travellers as I’ve been travelling for a week and the only people I’ve met were either asking me for money or confusing me for an American.  The sign outside the hostel said, “opens at 8am” so as it was still just a little after 5am I sat on a wall watching the world go by.  At 6am the tranquillity was broken and all hell broke loose, horns sounded, the wind picked up blowing dust and the rising sun highlighted the rubbish littering the streets.  To my amazement across the road a guy was hand paining a huge Coca Cola billboard.  He must have been swinging at least 50 feet off the ground while painting the teeth of a male Bollywood film star holding a fizzing bottle.  It was truly a work of art with the portrait looking practically like a photograph, it’s almost impossible to believe it was not an image printed on paper and posted there.  Eventually at 8am a man came out of the hostel and said, “I’ve seen you waiting out here since 5 o’clock, why didn’t you jump over the wall and come in?”  It took all my strength not to lamp him!  He’d seen me waiting for three hours and hadn’t thought to come out to tell me!

I think I’ll have two abiding memories of this place when I leave.  Firstly the price, with my YHA card it is 30 rupees for the first night then 20 for the next three which is basically £1.40 for four nights.  The second is the amazing hybrid toilet, a cross between a Western and Asian toilet.  Basically it consists of a western basin but with foot plates on either side so you can stand perched on top, a bit like a parrot in a cage, and squat!  I guess you need a good sense of balance and no fear of heights!  It does however explain the mess I’d seen on the plane, it was caused by people trying to perch on top of the toilet seat during turbulence, that’s both air and stomach!  I think I have a lot to learn about India but balancing precariously on a toilet seat is not one of those things.  But at least my plan has worked, I’ve met some fellow travellers for the first time on my trip.  I’m still very wet behind the ears regarding travelling in a place like India whereas Andy had travelled a lot, this came in helpful with our encounter with a Rickshaw cowboy.

I knew that you were meant to set a fare in a taxi or rickshaw before setting off as it’s almost impossible for a non-Indian to be allowed to use a meter.  So we set a fare of 150 rupees for a 10km trip to and back from the Aurangabad caves with waiting time included.  Everything was going fine until we reached the hill up to the caves.  At this point the rickshaw could not take the weight of driver, his mate, who was along for a chat, and two European guys so for the last half a mile we had to get out and walk even helping push the rickshaw part of the way.  At the caves we got our second surprise as the sign said that to enter the caves we had to pay the equivalent of $5US to get in while the locals only paid 5 rupees!  At fifty times more it seems a little unreasonable and at the very least slightly racist but the charges appear new as both our guidebooks state 5 rupees for everyone.  The caves were interesting but sadly I cannot say that they were worth seeing and definitely not worth the price tag.

On the way back the Rickshaw freewheeled down the hill until we reached the Bibi-ka-Maqbara mausoleum where we decided to stop and have a look.  At this point the driver said that the trip would now cost 250 rupees!  I would have conceded but Andy argued with them and a new price was set and we went to see the mausoleum.  Arriving at the gate we quickly decided not to go in as they were asking for $10US with Indians again being charged fifty times less at 10 rupees which seemed to amuse the locals.  Arriving back at the hostel the driver said that the price we settled earlier was the price for each person and that the money we had given them was not enough!  Again I would have paid but Andy stood his ground, mainly because we had to push the bloomin thing up hill and freewheeled back down!  They only wanted the equivalent of 50 pence more but I’ve learned that you should not give in to these guys otherwise they will see all backpackers as easy targets.  In the end we pushed the money into their hands and walked off but they chased after us and threw the money on the floor in disgust saying that they were going to call the police.  We said fine and continued walking.  Not surprisingly the police were not called and we never saw them again.  It’s been a baptism of fire regarding the rickshaw cowboys and I know it won’t be my last showdown.

This evening we met up with a small eclectic group of backpackers from the hostel and went out for ice cream from a safe supply at Baskins-Robbins.  It’s my first meeting with a long term traveller and quite frankly it freaked me out.  Bob from Canada has been travelling for over a year and thinks everything was “Like awesome”, and “Like really spaced.”  The worrying part of the evening was the description, “It’s like really cool, you can climb on top of a gigantic silver phoenix then fly through the heavens like a god, then when you finally come back down to earth everything is new, new surroundings, new culture.”  “New disease?” I added.  I’ve never heard air travel being described quite that way before.  I’m worried, will travelling turn me into this guy who is clearly still flying high on his silver phoenix and has never actually come back down to earth.  He spent the next fifteen minutes staring into his tub of ice-cream watching it slowly melt while giggling.  Also on the list of misfits was a Spanish bloke who thinks everything is “crazy” and “mega” but it soon became clear that this was basically the full extent of his English, he was raised on Ibiza and by the sounds of it learnt his English from tourists.  The final group members are two Japanese girls who just kept taking pictures of us all eating ice cream.  On the walk back to the hostel we six became quite a sight with groups kids running up to us in the street shouting hello and trying to shake hands, although with the left one, cheeky buggers.

Day 9: He Marched Them All To The Top Of The Hill

May 24th, 2001

Day 9. A new dawn broke with the chorus of car horns, but today it was with less dread than before as I had people to talk to and travel with.  Today was the reason for visiting Aurangabad, I was to visit the nearby “world famous” (as the guidebook said) Ellora Caves.  At the bus station we got rickshaw cowboy’s brother, minibus cowboy.  The nice gentleman tried to convince us that we should pay 200 rupees each for the trip to the caves as the bus would take us a long way from the cave entrance.  With my new bartering and bullshit deflecting skills I stood my ground even though he played all the tricks, lying about the time the bus would leave, the price and going on to say his family would starve if we didn’t go with him!  Eventually the bus came on time and cost an amazing 13 rupees which after thirty minutes actually dropped us off at the gate to the caves.  The bus trip was another uniquely bizarre Indian experience with everyone on it just sat staring at us and even turning around 180 degrees on their seat just to look.  Some would touch my arm but would then pretend it was an accident, it seemed as if they just wanted to see if white skin felt the same.  Then there was a bus itself, how does the bus actually work is the first question.  The noise, the smells, the seats, the rubbish, the driving all add to the experience.  People crammed inside with six people on a seat meant for three with leg room barely enough for kids.  People clambered on top while others hung off the sides, this all makes for an experience which is something quite unique, quite special, and more importantly quite painful.  And that’s without mentioning the goats and chickens which somehow make their way onto the bus and under the seats.

Compared to this experience the caves, although impressive, seemed disappointing as I was still mesmerised by the bus journey.  But it could also have been the high temperatures which evaporated any initial enthusiasm, that and the costs had increased significantly again.  The one cave really worth seeing was the Kailasa Temple which must be one of the most amazing rock-cut temples in India.  The temple had been created by cutting down into the rock producing a massive main temple with little pavilions, courtyards, bridges and elaborate carvings from people dancing to elephants jumping.  While sat down exhausted from the heat I discovered one thing here, kids are really easy to barter with.  A child not much more than seven years old tried to sell me ten postcards for 100 rupees.  This was very expensive, so I said “50” he replied “OK.”  I thought that was easy so I said “no I’m not sure, 10” and he said “OK” again! I think I could have got him down further but I’m sure his father would have killed him!  Also at 1½ pence for a postcard it wasn’t too bad.

Ellora Caves with Bandaged Arm

On the way back we stopped off at Daulatabad, a deserted hilltop fortress.  This quite picturesque place has an interesting history.  In the fourteenth century the sultan of Delhi decided to round up the entire population of Delhi and march them over 650 miles to build a new capital here.  Not surprisingly many died on the exhausting journey and not more than seventeen years later he decided it was quite a bad idea and marched everyone back again.  It’s a bit like an Indian version of the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ only with dysentery and malaria.

Days 10 to 11: The Rain Man

May 26th, 2001

Day 10. Back in the hostel I had a new roommate who was quite an odd fellow, old’ish, weedy stature with the world’s most annoying habits.  It appeared that he would have to do everything at least four times otherwise he was not happy.  He had a blue plastic 1970’s suitcase, the kind your parents buy you when you are a child going on your first holiday.  He had to loudly click each lock open, open and close the case then lock it again......  repeated four times!  He would then move the case slightly, scraping it on the table, and then the whole routine would start all over again..... four times.  But even then he hadn’t finished.  He would then produce a leather briefcase out of the blue suitcase, hold it up in the air and then brush it with his hand as if he were trying to say, “Hey, look everyone, I have a leather briefcase aren’t I rich.”  But then he would put the briefcase back into the blue suitcase and the comedy routine would start again all accompanied by loud grunting noises.  But there was more, he would then fold his towels, taking up to five minutes to make sure they were folded correctly, then after completing this complex task he would then flick open the towel and start again!  He did a similar thing with his handkerchief but would finish his act by tying knots in the corners and then placing it on his head like Monty python’s Gumby!  I couldn’t believe he was doing all of this, it was completely freaky.  He had us all mesmerised so much so we christened him the ‘Rain Man’ due to his unusual compulsive behaviour.  Later in the evening someone had left a news paper on his bed, when he noticed he went ballistic until the owner of the newspaper was found.  The Rain Man then spent 15 minutes wafting his towel over his bed to remove any evil paper contamination.  As we were going out for the evening we decided to place every newspaper we could find on his bed, covering it like a small mountain.  Unfortunately we were not here to see his face but we guess the shock must have put him in hospital as when we came back he was no longer here!

Day 11. After spending the last few days taking it easy and recovering from a chronic cold I thought I’d try to figure out the Indian train booking system.  The Indian train ticket system has got to be the most confusing in the world and one I am never really going to understand, particularly the queuing system.  There was a queue for ladies, a queue for men, a queue for VIPs, and finally one joint queue for tourists and freedom fighters!  Strange, was this a bizarre Indian method of capturing freedom fighters?  Would they inadvertently join the Freedom Fighter queue forgetting where they were and then get arrested by the police!  Sadly not.  It’s taken me a while to figure out who the freedom fighters are but it appears to refer to those who fought for independence from Britain and have nothing to do with Kashmir as I believed.  Sad thing is, they fought for freedom but were now behind me, a British guy, in the queue!  Irony anyone?

After about two hours and a lot of pushing I eventually got to the front of the “queue,” well I say queue but this is India, let’s say maul.  The annoying thing is, even when it is your turn someone will push their hand and their booking card through the little gap in the plastic screen and shout for a ticket.  It is extremely chaotic and based purely on the principle that the most pushy gets to the front.  It took a while because it’s completely out of character for me but I started to push back and eventually got my turn.  I tried to book a train to Goa for tomorrow as I need to go somewhere where I can chill and relax after all the hassle but I was told that everything was full.  It was difficult to know what to do as there were no printed timetables in the railway station to show me where each train service stopped and where to go next, just a train name and the final destination, you are expected to somehow know the rest.  But with help from some nosey locals I’ve figured out that if I get a train to a place called Manmad I should be able to get a direct train to Goa from there.  Walking back to the hostel a young boy ran up to me and slapped me quite hard for absolutely no reason.  Luckily his father could see that I was really annoyed and gave him a proper clip around his ear and apologised.  If only parents did that to cheeky kids back home.  Interesting game though, hit the big western guy and see if you live!  Just as I’m starting to like India, little things like this make me realise that to most I’m nothing more than a freak show.