Day 26: Full Moon At Day Break

June 10th, 2001

Day 26. I got up early this morning so I could get to Hospet in time for the bus to Hyderabad.  As I walked down the steps to the main bazaar a young girl was happily playing with her friends.  Suddenly she crouched down, pulled her skirt over her head and did a huge poo on the stone path in front of me.  Then with a little bowl of water, she wet her left hand and wiped her bottom with it, stood up and walked off.  But wait!  A few seconds later she thought, “Ooh, there’s a bit more”, so down she crouched again and made another little pile before heading back and continuing to play with her friends as if nothing had happened.  At first I thought “that’s disgusting” but then I gradually started to understand, no one else was taking a blind bit of notice.  It wasn’t disgusting at all was it?  It was simply just a different way of thinking.  In my world something had happened, and it was shocking because I do not see it as normal behaviour.  But to everyone living here it’s all quite normal, nothing shocking took place, in fact nothing happened at all.  I think I’ve now started to understand, this is the crux of travelling and understanding the so called culture shock.  Once you understand and accept this principle, the hassles, constant attention and even the poverty appear almost normal and eventually nothing seems different.  Yes I didn’t have to accept these differences or pretend things such as poverty were not there, I just have to understand the diversity in thinking and accept another way of life.  It seems strange that seeing a young girl defecating in the street is the moment where I suddenly got India but I now realise that in this reference frame I’m the different one and everyone else is normal.  I should have realised this in Bombay when everyone was staring and chasing after me, I was the weird one with strange habits and clothes, that’s why they were looking.  Still, having said all that I still can’t understand why she couldn’t have had a crap on the grass and not on the pavement!  If our old family dog had done that he’d have got to kick up the arse!

After a short, painful, shaky, overcrowded and terrifying bus journey I was back in Hospet.  At the bus station I was told that there was a bus to Hyderabad in fifteen minutes so I stood and waited while the usual crowd gathered around me to stare at the bizarre looking foreigner.  A few kids started to beg quite aggressively, grabbing my arm, asking for money while showing their stomachs.  They also used a babe in arms covered in dirt and surrounded by a halo of flies as emotional blackmail.  That’s another aspect of India, the flies, they always go straight for the eyes.  I ignored the beggars even though they were now tugging me incessantly but I’ve learnt that if I don’t acknowledge them they will eventually give in.  Only if I made contact by looking at them or speaking would they know that they had my attention, if I did they would be almost impossible to get rid of.  This would have worked but for the policeman with his very large stick.  He had walked quietly behind the beggars and then ‘whack’, he hit them as hard as possible with his four foot stick.  I thought that this was a little different to the police back home but maybe it works here, I may suggest it to the London Metropolitan Police when I get back home.  In the meantime fifteen minutes had been and gone and no bus had come, so I asked again.  Not surprisingly the bus was still in fifteen minutes time and fifteen minutes after that it was fifteen minutes more!  As I’d been waiting for the bus for so long I asked where the toilet was and got the reply “fifteen minutes.”  Arggg, he had no idea what I was saying and answered “fifteen minutes” to everything, so to calm myself down I asked him some more questions such as “what’s the longest relationship you’ve ever had with a girl?” and “how long have you had that pencil stuck up your arse?”  As it happened the bus to Hyderabad was not for another two hours so with some advice from other passengers, rather than the bus company who seemed to know nothing, I boarded a bus to Raichur as allegedly there would be more services from there to Hyderabad.

Travelling by bus you do see so much more than on the train as you pass through little towns and villages, seeing people working the land.  The only problem is the relative remoteness of these little towns and villages means the people in them have rarely if ever seen a white face.  So every time the bus slowed or stopped, people would stop, stare, point and walk up to the window asking bizarre questions and trying to touch my arms and hands.  Definitely another interesting experience but luckily simply closing the window and turning away removed most of the hassle.  While I sat minding my own business a fat bloke sat down next to me suddenly reached across, grabbed my arm and pulled it towards him.  I was surprised and pulled my arm back as firmly and as fast as I could shouting “what the fuck do you think you are doing.”  I thought he was trying to steal my watch.  This made him jump and look extremely fearful quickly saying that he wasn’t trying to take my watch but just wanted to know the time.  Why didn’t he ask!  That’s another amazing thing about India, everyone seems to want to know the time but no one seems to own a watch.  But then again no one seems to be in any particular rush to go anywhere anyway so what’s the point!  But I suppose it’s just an excuse to speak to a stranger on a bus or a train but it has got to the point where I just give out random numbers when asked the time.

Raichur looked like quite a nice town with a hilltop fort over looking it, I even considered stopping but I was told that a bus would be leaving for Hyderabad within the hour.  Finally after sixteen hours and three buses I was in a rainy Hyderabad.  At the bus station I got a rickshaw to take me to the town centre where I was going to find my own hotel.  As I got out of the rickshaw the ‘guard’ who had jumped in the front as we set off tried to charge me more because of the time, he said it was after eleven but it wasn’t.  I got into heated argument with both him and the driver as I had set the price before setting off.  I didn’t know what to do, I was on my own in the middle of a city I don’t know at nearly 11pm, they knew that they had the upper hand.  I’d been stressing about arriving so late all day so was a bit tense and decided that I wasn’t going to let them win, I just reached across grabbed my rucksack nearly pulling the rickshaw over with the sniggering driver in it; this shook him up a little.  I threw some money on the wet floor in front of him, not as much as he wanted but more than we had initially agreed, and walked off.

I looked around for hotels but everywhere I tried seemed to be fully booked.  I was at rock bottom at this point.  After the happiness of the previous days I was so demoralised after all of the hassle getting to this place.  Eventually as I was walking around a man walked up to me and asked me where I was going.  He knew that I needed a hotel and he also knew that if he took me to one then the hotel manager would give him a little cash for his trouble.  But as it was nearing midnight I was more than happy for him to do this as it would benefit both of us.  He took me to a hotel near the train station which luckily had one room left.  I was saved it’s now gone midnight I have a room which is quite nice and has a TV.  The rickshaw incident has left me feeling a little down but looking back, it was all over just 50p, but 50p can buy an awful lot here, in fact it could buy me a meal, so it’s the principle at stake.  It’s a shame because rickshaw drivers can be extremely useful, especially when looking for a hotel.  They will go out of their way to find places for you because they will get commission from the hotel for taking you there.  You just make sure it is a place you want to stay.

It appears that the rickshaw incident ripped the padding on my rucksack which has really upset me, disproportionately so.  I think this is because when you’re backpacking your rucksack becomes your home, it contains everything you own, it is my security and it’s damaged.  Backpacking in India is most definitely an emotional rollercoaster, but I’m tired, drained and deflated, but at least I still have my health don’t I?

Day 27: Bad Food And Shit-Slops

June 11th, 2001

Day 27. I woke up in a new frame of mind, I was not going to let irritating rickshaw drivers get to me, in fact I was just going to ignore the buggers!  I felt the only way from here was up so I set off walking to the Birla Mandir temple on Naubat Pahar hill.  While walking in the streets around the temple I discovered a new phenomenon and one which I was surprised to see so blatantly advertised.  On posters hanging from lampposts were banners advertising brides and bridegrooms available with either a BSc, MSc, BA, PhD, etc all for a price!  It’s arranged marriages at their most extreme.  Basically you can not only choose which country you want to live in but also the expected income of the person you choose to marry.  I was almost tempted to phone myself!  Further down the street was a whole series of government signs bizarrely encouraging people not to have too many kids stating that “Frequent births are not advisable.”  I was hoping for another poster which would explain why but I couldn’t find one.

Hyderabad Marriage Poster, India.

Maybe because the temple was qute new I found it a bit disappointing, a feeling exacerbated by the overzealous guard trying to get money out of me for looking after my shoes.  There were some good views over the city and it was quite relaxing until people started taking photos of me rather than the temple.  I headed back down the hill and had lunch at a Lonely Planet recommended Punjab Restaurant.  The food was the most disgustingly vile and ridiculously hot I’ve eaten so far.  In fact, almost as soon as I started to eat it I started to feel ill.  I think I’ve got food poisoning as the effects happened within a few hours.  Walking through the old town I had to sit down as I had a series of painful stomach cramps, then with a good hours walk ahead of me the monsoon season suddenly started with a vengeance.

Sign in Hyderabad, India.

Not having been in a monsoon before I had thought that the rain in Goa was it, but I was wrong.  The rain was so heavy and fast that it actually hurt and water in the streets rose immediately to ankle height giving me no time to take shelter.  There are drains but they’re pretty inadequate, nothing could cope with this torrent.  I can’t really describe some of the things floating in the water as I’m not too sure of the biological names for the innards of dead animals and whether or not different types of poo have different names.  Chickens’ feet and heads floated past in water which had a silvery sheen on top from petrol off the road.  I was glad that I was wearing my shoe as these were quite literally filtering out all of the crap.  The national footwear of India seems to be the cheap nasty seaside resort flip-flops which are generally a soundtrack to all Indian cities.  However, from what I could see of people’s feet everyone in flip-flops was now pretty much wearing turds and sloppy animal innards, more shit-slops than flip-flops.  When I eventually arrived back at the hotel the manager stopped what he was doing, looked at me standing there dripping wet and asked, “Is it raining?”  Unfortunately, other than saying, “no I’m sweating,” I couldn’t think of a quick reply so rushed upstairs to empty the contents of my bowels and load myself up with Imodium.

Day 28: Fare Dodger

June 12th, 2001

Day 28. I didn’t want to waste a day just sitting (and shitting!) around the hotel so I dosed up with Paracetamol and Imodium, dragged myself out of bed and headed out to get the bus to Golconda fort.  While standing at the side of the road trying to guess which bus would take me there, which I have to say is particularly difficult as all of the bus numbers were in the local language ‘Telugu’, a man started to speak to me.  Quite surprisingly he was not asking for any money, he just wanted a chat and to know what I thought of India.  I genuinely couldn’t tell him what I thought at this point as my answer wouldn’t have been constructive or conducive to sustaining conversation.  While I was stuck with this guy who was now talking about the world’s problems and how he would solve them, I could see a frantic middle aged lady rushing up and down asking people questions, eventually she came up to me.  Juliet was a perpetually happy French lady, a misnomer many would think, who’s been travelling around India on and off for some thirty years.  I’m amazed she’s still alive however she did come across as being slightly mad so I guess India hasn’t left her entirely scar free.  The bus fare to Golconda fort was 5 rupees which I happily paid but then came Juliet’s turn and this is when the problems started.  A previous bus conductor had given her an old tatty five rupee note as change which she now passed on to the new conductor but he said that he couldn’t accept it as it was ripped.  I thought this remarkable considering the look of some of the notes I’d used in the last month.  It was a little torn but it was still clearly a five rupee note.  Generally it seems that in India it is impossible to get rid of a note which is torn in any way whatsoever, it can be as dirty as anything and worn thinner than tracing paper but not torn!  The argument went on and on but she was an old hand and kept on at the conductor all of the way to Golconda.  It got to the point where they kept throwing the five rupee note at each other, really bizarre, why would he not take the money.  In the end she technically won as she kept the note and got a free ride as he would not take the money even after the journey had ended.  But she did walk quite fast from the bus station as a conductor headed for the nearest policeman.

While walking to the fort gates she confided that “I wouldn’t normally do that but because you are here I knew you would protect me.”  Yeah right, of course I would, it’s well worth dying over seven pence!  One thing you learn about French backpackers is that they are unbelievably tight.  After the bus trip this was again confirmed when we arrived at fort gates.  It was $5us to get in and although I was sure that it wasn’t worth it I decided to go in as I’d made the effort to get there, however and rather predictably there was no way Juliet was going to pay.  When it was her turn to pay out popped a press card from her pocket followed by the demand that she was “the press so she didn’t have to pay.”  The man read the card and said “no”, she demanded again and again until he gave in.  Generally, I get the impression that men in India cannot handle western women who answer back and dominate the conversation and boy was she bossy.  To get rid of his problem he sent her to the main office which was in the main fort area.  So in we wandered and did we head for the main office, “mai non”, we ‘accidentally’ walked the wrong way, however a security guard with a whistle, the usual form of authority here, saw this and stopped us.  I showed my ticket so I was fine, then she showed the press card again.  She said that she was press and that the man on the main gate had said it was OK for her to go in!  I think the guard saw through this as he told us to go to another office so we duly headed off but when we were out of sight we legged it up to the main gateway of the fort.  I wouldn’t have minded but I found myself hiding from the security guards even though I’d actually bought a ticket!

As it happened and as predicted the fort was not one of the most magnificent fortresses in India unless the others are crap, the Lonely Planet had as usual over exaggerated the place almost as if they were on commission.  It’s ok but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it again unless I was passing and had a spare $5us, but why the hell would I be passing this place again anyway, I’d been blacklisted by the bus drivers!  In the fort most of the buildings which survived seemed to be used as toilets and windows as bins all accompanied with the predictable smells.  As we both sat at the top we again became a tourist attraction but I observed something interesting here and something I hadn’t noticed before.  People who were obviously from the lower castes would come up and ask to have their photo taken with us, they would be really quite shy in asking and would hold their hands together bowing slightly as they asked.  The people who were clearly of higher castes judging by their designer clothes and sun glasses, would walk up and on two occasions their entire family sat all around us without asking while someone took a picture.  This was done in such a way as to pretend that we just happened to be in their photo, this was extremely rude.  Then they would all just walk off, this makes you feel like an object rather than a person, like being in a zoo.  Then again I am casteless so am a Dalit and maybe they were treating me as such.

Charminar, Hyderabad, India.

Eventually leaving the fort behind we headed back into Hyderabad’s old town on the bus where Juliet thankfully paid using a different note.  Walking down the road towards the old bazaar a couple of motor Rickshaw drivers and motor bike riders deliberately swerved into our path to try and scare the white guys.  When I asked Juliet what she thought the reason for them doing this was, an Indian guy cycling past overheard and said “it’s because they’re bastards”, which had us in hysterics.  Eventually the massive Charminar came into view, this is a triumphal arch built in 1591 said to commemorate the end of the plague in Hyderabad but showed us that we’d arrived in the old town.  The old Laad Bazaar and markets were two places which like the trains seem to epitomize India.  The markets are crowded, smelly, noisy, sticky but somehow great.  The smells are all around, such as the reek of blood dripping from raw meat hanging up on a hot summer’s day mixing with the stench of rotting vegetables and maturing fish, the senses occasionally appeased with the smell of freshly cut lemons, pineapples and ground spices.  The floor was a mixture of rotting vegetables, fish heads, chicken feet, faeces and water from the monsoon.  On top of a large pile of this waste a calf and goat were fighting for space to eat what was beneath their feet.  As we walked by people would stop what they were doing and the noise would decrease as they saw these two different looking people walking past the stalls but I suppose this place was a little off the tourist trail.

Back on the main streets, jewellers would try to beckon us into their shops to buy poorly and in some cases quite hideously designed jewellery.  They would even switch the lights on especially for us so we could really examine the freaky stuff, something they would not do for the locals.  Surprisingly walking around the old town district and bazaar has been bizarrely one of my better experiences in India and Hyderabad.  It was while stepping on tiptoes through putrid matter I realised that I’d probably found the true India, a bit smelly and hard to get off your shoes, but the people here were genuinely happy, these people were all in the same boat, just getting on with their daily lives and not really hassling us.

Day 29: Wednesday ‘Mourning’

June 13th, 2001

Day 29. Today is the day I started my longest train journey so far, supposedly 24 hours of sheer hell was waiting for me.  I had little sleep during the night due to the torrential rain storms which batted the window so wearily I headed out to the train station.  Just up a side street from the hotel I noticed a large number of people gathered around at massive pile of rubbish.  I was confused as to what was happening as there was screaming and people throwing stones.  As I walked closer I could see small bundles of clean white cloth lined up against a wall.  On top of the rubble a man was shouting while others gathered around throwing rocks off the top.  A limp body was carried out covered in dust but with clean streaks on the skin where water had streamed down.  Then came the sickening gut wrenching cries of a man who was sat next to the white bundles, tears pouring down his face hitting his head with his hands.  The little bundles were his family and the rubbish pile was his home.

Newspaper article Hyderabad

Later I found out that the monsoon rain had saturated the masonry of the house which been badly and illegally built, moments after the man had left for work the house collapsed killing nine members of his family including his wife and children.

Being here I felt that I was interfering and invading in an extremely private moment, he did not need a random tourist looking at his torture as if he were a tourist attraction, he needed to be away from prying eyes.  As I moved on others fought for space to see what was happening but I couldn’t see the man suffer any more as with each body discovered, he seemed to be dying a little more.

Subdued I sat on my bench on the train.  I managed to get to get a 2A sleeper class carriage so it’s peaceful, quiet and relaxing as in this class no matter what time of day it is people sleep and more importantly have room to sleep.  People also ask very few questions as these are the ‘better’ people and don’t really want to talk to me.  It’s good in a way as it gives me time to think about all of the things I’ve seen in the past month or so and what I’m going to do next.  Thinking about things does make me realise how lucky I am to have been born and raised in the UK and how much I take for granted in my everyday life, here there’s not much that can be taken for granted other than, it appears, death.

There is something which has amused me on this journey though.  Reading through the Times of India, Hyderabad edition I found an article about Anne Frank and the diary she wrote while in hiding in Amsterdam.  As most people know the diary was found after her death in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  The article read, “Frank, seen in the image behind, survived the Holocaust and recorded her experiences in a diary.”  I don’t think journalism is what it should be in India!

Anne Frank Lives!

Days 30 to 32: Temple Torture

June 16th, 2001

Day 30. I arrived in Bhubaneswar at 6am, pretty much the only place worth visiting on the east coast according to my guidebook.  I managed to get a reasonable guesthouse which provided a TV in the room so as I was tired from the very long journey and still not feeling 100% I just spent the day watching BBC news 24.  However, this seemed just to concentrate of the usual Indian/Pakistan crisis so I watched old films instead.  I’m trying to figure out why HBO is constantly showing Titanic but more importantly why the hell did I watch it four times expecting the ending to change in the hope that Kate Winslet’s character would also go down with the ship!

Day 31. I eventually ventured out of bed and headed to the train station to book my onward ticket to Calcutta.  Irritatingly the only train available doesn’t leave until really late and arrives really early in the morning.  Back in town I found a Hare Krishna restaurant run by the religious group itself and thought it may be a good place to get some good safe food, made more so since it was obviously vegetarian.  The restaurant was fantastic, it had aircon, it was clean and well decorated like a top end restaurant back in the UK.  Waiters were dressed in uniform and I even got a clean napkin, infinitely better than all the other places I’ve been so far.  The food was absolutely amazing and was possibly one of the best Indian meals I’ve ever had, definitely the best since arriving in India.  The Kashmiri naan was the best I’ve ever tasted containing cashew nuts, almonds, pieces of cherry and cherry paste, I’m still salivating just thinking about it.  After this fantastic meal I had a little wander around the centre of town and took in a few of the temples but it started to rain so rushed back to the hotel to watch Titanic; fingers crossed!

Day 32. Today was a truly momentous day, it was my first solid poo in five days!  This gave me the added confidence to actually venture out further into town and explore the temples of this self-proclaimed temple city.  The town itself seems to be full of loonies who all believe that they are priests and have all revised the same set of questions, “what is your country?”  “What is your name?”  “Why are you here?”  “Are you married?”  “Do you have a coin from your country?”  “Do you have a pen?”  The first four questions seem to be asked out of politeness but it was the latter two which they were really interested in.  As I’d previously been offered British coins for Indian notes it was clear that they collect coins not because they want them but so they will eventually have enough to offer another tourist from that country the money in exchange for local currency.  It’s a form of ‘covert’ begging which makes the tourist think that the person isn’t asking for money but a gift.  I was also being offered pens to buy so I guess this was the same, you give them a pen and they will sell it to another tourist.  I should have guessed this when I asked a kid if he wanted it for school and he told me that he couldn’t actually write!

However, the priests are really annoying, surprisingly they constantly beg for money or ask to be your guide for a ‘fair price’.  Others will, when I take a picture of a temple, run over and ask for money as it’s their temple.  What makes it worse is that practically everyone in this town claims to be a priest so the hassle is constant.  I’ve quickly developed the art of discreetly and swiftly getting my camera out, taking a picture and walking off before getting stopped but there is always one fella who spots you.  Here it was an old man with very few teeth and very little English who constantly asked where I was going.  I would tell him and then he would say come with me.  I kept telling him that I knew where I was going however, he kept following me telling me which way to go.  This got annoying to the point where I just sat down next to the town’s main tank (manmade lake) Bindu Sagar, where people come to wash away their sins.  I waited for him to tire and go.  He was now even more adamant and said, “No come with me I will show you.”  “Show me what?”  I continued to say no and said I wanted to eat my lunch and rest.  But after half an hour he was still waiting for me and I was still waiting for him to bugger off so I decided to play a game.  I stood up said “OK” then walked off in the opposite direction to where he thought I was going and where the temples are.  The look on his face was amazing I should have taken a picture.  I then doubled back and continued on my way hassle free.  Just a little victory but it makes you feel better.

I had a brief look at the Lingaraj Mandir, the most important temple in Bhubaneswar, it had to be a brief look as I’m a non Hindu and not allowed in.  In fact I had to see it from a viewing platform which was built in the days of the British Raj.  I’ve always hated these rules as not only am I almost certain that if I looked Indian I could walk in, but by closing religious sites to others it makes people feel suspicious about what’s happening inside which in turn can lead to fear and a lack of understanding.  Hopefully one day all religions will be open and accessible to all.

Bhubaneswar, cricket in front of a temple, India.

Walking around one of the many other temples a young boy came over to me and said “Hello Maharaja” or so I thought.  I thought that was a bit formal and ‘Sir’ would have been fine, but a little later it happened again.  I eventually figured out that they were actually saying hello marijuana!  I declined and moved onto another temple.  By this point I’d seen about forty five temples and was now becoming seriously bored of them.  It’s becoming a bit of a temple torture and after a month of travelling I must have seen hundreds and most probably thousands.  There are only so many carvings of elephants, monkeys and very well endowed young women you can take. well maybe not the latter.  The final temple I visited was possibly the most relaxing.  I sat in the temple grounds while a small group of children played cricket which I thought perfectly summed up the paradox of the modern India; the juxtaposition of the ancient, mystical and sometimes chaotic practices of the Hindu temples and the more modern, clear rules of an ordered typically British Sport.  India is ordered chaos.  The kids asked me whether I wanted a game of cricket to which I happily agreed.  They were clearly a lot better than me but it was fun all the same, but more importantly it was never a thin edge, it was my sodding kneecap!

Day 33: Taxidermy For Toddlers

June 17th, 2001

Day 33. I woke at 7am not because I wanted to but because I had to.  The hotels in India seem to have a bizarre 24 hour check-in rule which means if you check in at 8am you have to check out by 8am on the day you want to leave.  So I had ten hours to kill until my train left at 6pm and there was no way I was going to see any more temples.  Finding ways of amusing yourself for ten hours in a provincial Indian town can be quite hard, especially as Indian towns are not generally known for their entertainment.  After leaving my luggage at the train station I headed to the state museum of Orissa, or to be more precise, I went to a museum in Orissa which was in a state.

The displays were often tens of years out of date, with parts either lost or stolen or in one case with a sign attached stating, ‘temporarily removed for exhibition 9/10/1967’.  Now that’s what I call temporary.  But through all the layers of dust and grime by far the most interesting display can be found in the natural history section.  This is one of those places which will live in the memory for many years.  The look of terror on the stuffed animals’ faces was unbelievable with most having eyes popping out of their heads and mouths wide open.  It was as if the animals had been stuffed by a group of toddlers in nursery school but no one had told them that the animals had to be dead before they started.  The look of terror on the animals’ faces could only have been instilled by a small child trying to force cotton wool up the bum of these ex-creatures.  There’s definitely no dignity in death here.  One display within this section I would recommend for pure comedy value, and would possibly recommend it as a reason for visiting India, are the flying squirrels.  As far as I could see these were not flying squirrels at all, they were simply normal squirrels, road killed and nailed to a branch.  It reminded me of a certain dead parrot Monty Python sketch.

Eventually my trance and surprise was broken by a continuous and quite odd slapping sound.  A large family group had walked in and as usual they were all wearing the customary flip-flops.  This was accompanied by the sight of them touching statues of Buddha, Shiva, Vishnu or some other deity as they walked past giving a little chant, and there were thousands of these statues in the museum!  So after two hours of trying to time waste I had to leave before I flipped but I still had eight hours to go.

While walking back to the train station a cycle rickshaw guy followed me constantly saying, “hello rickshaw… hello rickshaw.”  It was one mile which I walked slowly because of the heat but he kept following me, this was comical and annoying but it shows how desperate he was for my money.  Even outside the train station he asked again so I asked how much it would be to the train station as a joke but he replied in all seriousness “50 rupees.”  I couldn’t do anything else but laugh.  He then went quickly back to his “hello rickshaw” so I decided to have an argument with him saying, “look, my name is not Rick Shaw, it’s Darren Cutts, hello Darren Cutts OK!”  So for few minutes he would say “hello rickshaw” and I would reply no “hello Darren Cutts.”  But finally he started to say “hello Dar-ren cut.”  After doing this I suddenly thought, what if he now thinks that the English for rickshaw is ‘Darren Cutts’, would he say this to the next westerner that visited Bhubaneswar and completely throw them by saying “hello Darren Cutts.”  Oops!

After a brief encounter with two English blokes at the station who were suffering more culture shock than I’d had, partly caused by the attention they were getting from their weird hairstyles and what they were wearing, which were spiky and very little respectively, I eventually boarded a remarkably peaceful train.  As I was walking towards my bunk I saw a man spill his curry on it followed by his inaction in clearing it up, so I’ve now got a wet curry stained bunk.  But hey, this is India, my mess is your mess.  So I dumped on his bunk!  OK, I wish.

I’ve also just had my first real experience of what I can only call Indian logic.  As the train was late in setting off I asked the conductor what time he thought the train would arrive into Calcutta, he replied, “the train is on schedule Sir, it will reach Calcutta at 6:30 in the morning one hour later than it is written!”  I said, “So it’s going to be an hour late?” to which he just shook his head in neither a yes or no motion but just side to side.  What the hell does that mean!

Day 34: What Black Hole?

June 18th, 2001

Day 34. A bloke woke me up on the train using the never fail scare-the-crap-out of-you by grabbing-your-legs technique….. again!  Although the train left Bhubaneswar over an hour late we arrived in Calcutta an hour early.  Indian railways really do have to sort their timetables out.  I didn’t know what to do as it was 4:30 in the morning and my guidebook clearly states don’t hang around the train station in Calcutta late at night or early in the morning and don’t use taxis while it’s still dark.  So a bit of a catch 22 really, couldn’t stay in couldn’t go out.  I ended up hiding up a flight of stairs near some official looking people as being alone in the massive busy noisy train station in the early hours was a little intimidating.  The only thing in the station to waste time on were the countless weighing machines, these are quite bizarre looking things, like something out of a 1960’s fairground with bright colours and flashing lights.  Using these things seems to be a bit of a national sport.  While waiting I used my emergency mobile to leave an answer phone message for my dad as it was fathers’ day yesterday and I figured that with the time difference I should have just made it in time.  Amazed to get a signal as it’s the first time on the trip!

Eventually the sun rose making it feel safe enough to set off into the centre in a share taxi.  Amazingly this is the first place I’ve not been screwed for a taxi journey, as the fare had been set by my fellow passengers.  As we drove towards the backpacker centre of Sudder Street I was surprised at what I saw.  I was led to believe that Calcutta was a complete mess, run down, dirty and disgusting, the worst place to visit in India.  But maybe I’ve got used to India so I don’t really see these things anymore and although I found it to be run down, there were very few people sleeping in the street or living in the gutter.  Although the slums around Howrah train station were massive, even they didn’t seem as bad as what I’d seen on arrival in Bombay.  For the first time in a big city the peoples’ faces were filled more with pleasure than pain, people smiled as I went by rather than the pained expression of the child beggar.  I’m happy not just for this but for the first time in India I have found a ‘backpackers’ area, Sudder Street, granted there are no backpackers in it but I’m here.  Internet, cheap telephone calls, edible food, ahhhhh.

Calcutta tram, India.

Walking around I can see that the poverty is actually greater here than in Bombay with hand pulled rickshaws, people walking around the streets looking for food but the difference appeared to be simple dignity, generally street kids don’t hassle for money.  Instead of just begging they’ll ask “I will get you a taxi, I will give you directions, I will clean your shoes” and take money for providing a service.  Further on there was a huge puddle of water at the side of the road which had been made by a broken fire hydrant.  In the middle of the pool was a naked guy having a wash with a bar of soap seemingly oblivious to the hundreds of people and cars passing by.  But no one gave a second glance, not even the motorists passing within inches of him.  He was simply making use of something which was available and not wasting it, the ultimate in recycling and power saving!  To my surprise I like Calcutta.  Even the trams are unique, in fact they are barely trams, they look like metal bins running on tracks.  I guess they are extremely old and have been repaired to varying degrees, many times, but this adds to the character of the place.  I feel Calcutta isn’t a black hole at all.