16th March 2006
India is a very big country. If i’d realised just how big it is i wouldn’t have tried to see the whole country in 2 and a half months. I decided to spend my last few pounds and stretch them to the limit somewhere hot and cheap. After many recommendations and eager persuasions, I flew to delhi.
When I arrived at 11.30pm on New Years Eve the cold hit me hard in the face, fingers and toes, especially the toes as i was only wearing flip flops. If id bothered to look on a map I would have noticed that Delhi is along the same latitude as the Himalayas. Anyway, my flip flops led me through the crowded roads of Delhi to Agra and the magestic Taj Mahal, the littered eerie alleys of Varanasi (the dirtiest holy city ive ever seen) and finally the polluted lung choking streets of Calcutta where they died from too much pollution. Unfortunately they decided to have their last moments in the middle of the city far away from any shoe shops. After walking barefoot through Calcutta and recieving many strange looks my feet looked as though i had waded through tar. I later discovered that this condition is called ‘India feet’. I finally found another pair and they subsequently broke two weks later in a city littered with cow pats.
So I finally beat the cold and after a very stressful couple of weeks of trying to buy a ferry ticket I landed on the Emerald islands;The Andamans. The stress all began when we arrived in Calcutta with the idea that we’d go and buy tickets for the 3 day ferry crossing and worst possible scenario we’d have to wait a week as there is a crossing every week. (we really didnt want to be stuck in calcutta for too long). At the ticket office we discovered that the next crossing was in 11 days and we couldnt buy tickets until a weeks time. In a weeks time we went back and were told that only government officials could buy on this day and to come back in 2 days. In two days we went back and again we were sent away. we knew we were being given wrong information but there was nothing we could do about it. So we went back the last day of ticket sales and queued for 9 hours and didnt get a ticket cos they’d actually sold out days before.
That was the short version- I think id have serious blood pressure issues if I started to write out details of conversations etc of the whole ordeal. It was my first big taste of indian logic. I asked the manager of the Shipping Corporation to explain the ticket buying procedure and he said ‘Madam, it would take me two and a half hours to explain only the basics to you and it would make no sense.’ very honest man.
After we took a 33 hour train south to another port and arrived on the islands 2 weeks later than planned we discovered that buying inter-island ferry tickets was just as fun. Sometimes you have to buy the day before, sometimes the same day and sometimes actually on the boat and its different for every ferry and no one tells you which is which! we spent many hours, in fact days, waiting in these queues. An experience not to be missed.
And it led us to some of the best beaches in the world apparently. They were very beautiful with bombay saffire waters and palm trees galore. We spent a couple of weeks truly relaxing on the beach and swimming in the sea.
My favourite part of india was sitting on the trains watching the landscapes flash buy. The geography of India is so diverse that in one 12 hour train journey you get to see mountains, rivers, desert, city and forests. You also get topped up with chai- the national drink of india- constantly as chai wallahs bombard the train at every station yelling as loud as they can ‘chai chai chai chai chai’ even at 5am. You never go thirtsy.
My least favourite part of india was the ripoff rickshaw drivers! apart from trying to rip you off they also try and run you over. in most asian countries its difficult to cross the road but if you just walk out the drivers will go round you. In india, you are risking you’re life. If you just walk out they are likely to drive straight through you. Numerous times I found myself stuck in the middle of the road after finding an empty space, beginning to cross and then being blocked by a rickshaw driver who wants me to get in his cab. By the time I get rid of him the road isn’t clear anymore and the longer i stand there the more rickshaws block my way.
India is like another world and as many people come to realise you really do have to expect the unexpected. I found the whole country fascinating and exhausting. The colours and the culture and the sheer volume of people amazed me. I dont know of I’ll find another country that has so much diversity. Where else can you bump into camels, elephants, cows and goats on the streets? One day I’ll go back but I wont be trying to live on 3 pounds a day and I wont be taking that many 33 hour trains again.I think I’ll just pick one state and stay there.
I read your Indian experience. You are quite right on lots of areas. At at the same time I would like to mention that India is not only muck, animals on the road, dicey auto rickshaw drivers and a huge population. There are many more exotic places to be visited in much more cleaner way. Since you travel on a shoe string budgets, you invariably come across the grass root level. The fleecing touts, dusty or dirty pathways, second class travel in which you get lots of ‘chai’ guys.
I am in Delhi and feel responsible for the image India has overseas. If you have a moderate budget to travel, you will not be hassled into dealing with shady people. Air travel is far more affordable now. You save time and travel with comfort. Just know someone here before you travel. All the best for your travels.