Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mother India

21 December 2008 - 24 December 2008
We left quiet, peaceful Koh Lanta, Thailand (though it wasn't so quite our last night) and made it to India! We flew into Bangalore and landed quite late at night after a very long day of travelling and hanging out in Singapore. Singapore was a nice break from 'Asia' - toilets that actually smell good or at worst neutral and provided hand soap and paper towels, clean streets, orderly traffic, good food and safe drinking water - a pleasant reprieve before touching down in India.

Once we'd landed in Bangalore, we took a hair raising taxi drive (it's not real, it's not real became a little mantra I was repeating in my head) and reached our hotel at 12:30am. We were both starving and in need of some alcoholic refreshment, so we naively stepped out of hotel expecting to find a bar that served beer and some sort of delicious Indian fare. Instead what we found were dark and nearly deserted streets with only a few dodgy characters wandering around. Before leaving the hotel we were told there was a restaurant open until 1:00 am. We bumbled our way to this restaurant through sinister looking streets until we came to the restaurant which came with about five to ten unsavoury characters hanging out the front. We asked if they served beer and they quite aggressively attempted to put us in a taxi with an axe-murderer looking fellow who would take us to a shop that they told us wasn't open, but we could still get beer there. We declined the kindly offer, took our shattered, nerve-wracked selves back down the sinister streets to our hotel with only bottled water to show for our efforts (at least we had that!). Somehow we'd expected a bit more of a Bollywood welcome to India, as opposed to the horror/thriller movie one we got. I can't speak for Rohan, but I was beginning to have some doubts about three months in India.

But never fear dear readers, because our Bollywood welcome was just waiting until morning for us (Bollywood minus the singing, but keeping the bad moustaches and beautiful saris!). After conking out for the night we awoke to a whole new world, filled with people (lots and lots of them), honking cars, auto-rickshaws, buses and trucks, colour and hustle and bustle. We had breakfast (rice and curry and tea - oh! the tea here is just beautiful!) for about $.80 USD, found ourselves an auto-rickshaw driver and went out to explore. We asked the driver to take us to the markets and he assured us he would, but first we needed to stop by his 'brother's shop'. Five 'government shops' (selling extremely expensive rugs, trinkets, jewellery, saris and shawls. For taking us to these shops he collects coupons which somehow benefit him) and three hours later we finally managed to shake the driver and get to the markets. And what markets they were! About a million people, auto-rickshaws and stalls selling everyone imaginable, all bustling about in so little space. We found all the things we needed (charger for the camera, clippers for our heads and tailor made salwar kameezs for $18 USD each).

India is exhausting and overwhelming! The constant traffic, hoards of people, beeping horns, stares from everyone and every third person (in Bangalore) trying to sell you something you don't want at prices you wouldn't pay in the West tends to wear one out.

The next day we set out with the address of the tailor who was making the salwar kameezs for me and we attempted to make our way back there. We found an auto-rickshaw driver who wanted to charge us three times what we'd paid to get home from the markets the day before. That should've been a sign that we weren't necessarily headed where we thought we were. He dropped us off somewhere that didn't look like where we wanted to be, but that said it didn't necessarily look unlike it either. From there we spent three hours wandering around completely lost. We asked person after person where the address we had written down was located - one person would point left and say '4 kilometres that way', so we'd follow that. After walking 4 or so kilometres, we'd stop and ask someone else where the address on the piece of paper was and they'd point back the way we'd come and say '6 kilometres that way'. Arrrgghhh! Eventually we ended up here, which was certainly not where we wanted to be. Finally we asked someone and this is the only someone we'd asked all day who actually knew where the address was. It turned out that all day we'd be NO WHERE near it! We jumped in another auto-rickshaw, who once we were moving asked us if we wanted to go to some shops (same scam we'd wasted three hours on yesterday), we vehemently said 'NO' and I demanded he pull over the rickshaw. I had thoroughly lost my patience by this point. He wouldn't pull over, but clearly got the message that going to the shops was out of the question and from there on he was quite nice, pointing out the sights along the way and getting us there safely. All of this for a few tailored shirts and pants!

That night we were out looking for some dinner. A beggar girl approached me and asked for money. I said I would buy her food and she happily agreed (usually they won't take food, only money). It wasn't immediately apparent where we could get her some food, so we asked her where we could find some. She took us to KFC! Rohan and I laughed, but I took her inside and bought her 300 rupees worth of KFC (please note, dear reader, that our dinner cost 40 rupees); not to mention the moral implications of taking a beggar child to a multi-national corporation for a dinner of dubious nutritional content. The security guard approached me while we were in KFC to share that our dear little beggar girl was a regular at KFC! So, once again, we'd been hood-winked; I have a feeling this will be an ongoing theme in India.

On Christmas Eve we got a train to Kerala. The train experience was quite mild, particularly when compared to my expectations. It was actually quite nice, though 12 hours long, but fortunately we'd booked sleeper class, so we spent most of it sleeping.

And Kerala is so beautiful! And the people here are so nice and everyone of them isn't out to fleece us! In fact, some of them just want to say 'hello' and find out where we are from. This is in opposition to Bangalore where we had one, and I'm not exaggerating, conversation that wasn't someone trying to sell us something or take our money. I have a feeling we're going to like it much more here.

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