Thursday, 16 October 2008

Rupees and Rickshaws

I had dreams and aspirations of packing up my stuff into a sturdy 65 litre Karrimor and bumming around the arid plains of India for a month or three, with my trusty tent, sleeping bag and mozzy net holding pride of place in the rucksack. As it was I lasted a week, mainly due to the filth and exhaustion.
While a wonderful place, vibrant and full of life, New Delhi is also a polluted shit hole (ten yards from an open air public urinal was a guy selling fried chicken from a portable oven) and has the same attraction as London probably did in the 16th century or, for the more literary diverse, Ankh-Morpork in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. Cows meander down the busy roads oblivious to the traffic jams they're causing, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, motorbikes (usually with a family of 4 on them) and taxis career downthe streets in a constantly honking and screeching cloud of pollution and stress. Shops are tiny and there's at least 2000 just on the main bazaar. Anything from water (3 litres a day just to stop from seizing up), to hashish (even though it's 6 months minimum in gaol if caught with it) to a shag can be bought here ("3000 Rupees for one night, you like Indian women yeah?"). Dogs, chickens the oblivious bovines and the odd cat litter the streets while at least two jewellery shops I ventured into to buy some cheap silver, had mice scurrying under the counter as the owner proudly showed me his "friend" his latest imports from down the street.
Food was delicious and cheap and to avoid shitting my brains out due to Delhi belly I stuck to veggie stuff. About 65p for a big plate of grub, juice and a tea but in a restaurant that hardened truckers would have given a wide berth (the outside table nearest the door backed onto an overflowing garbage pail). Beggars used conversation as a sign of weakness and even eye contact as a chink in your armour and will simply pester you until your resilience caves in and you give them a coin or two. One bloke had his lower jaw hanging off and stood there glaring at me with his hand outstretched until I was well and truly ill and gave him 10 Rupees just so I could finish my breakfast. A cute little street urchin girl came up to the rickshaw I was using when we were pulled up at the traffic lights and I gave her 10 Rupees. While she was over the moon and made a big display of smelling it and showing it to what appeared to be her equally bedraggled mother, her two sisters then came over and were pestering me for more money and weeping like willows until the cab driver told them to sling their hooks.
The New Delhi zoo is magnificent and I went twice. First time a group of about four 10 year old Indian kids latched onto me with "hellloooo" and dragged me around the place. The ice cream cone-stealing monkey was worth a laugh, particularly as it didn't differentiate between kids or adults and reduced many a small child to tears as it scampered off with its pink bum in the air to munch on a newly thieved vanilla cornet. The white tigers, of which there are now only 30 in existence, were absolutely gorgeous and must still be quite young as they were play fighting for most of the time we were watching them.

The other big cats were too tired to entertain us and were just dozing on the grass.

Due to the terrorist attacks that Delhi suffers infrequently, the security at all touristy places and in particular the Underground is super strict with metal detectors, x-ray machines and pat downs. Travelling back from the main train station took an extra 15 minutes due to the huge queue of pissed off punters waiting for trains. I wanted to spread my wings a bit and travel. However in India that means a bus or train journey of at least 8 hours and my planned trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra was cut short after my slipped disc started kicking up a din again at the train station and the sight of peopel hanging out the windows and open doors before I'd even boarded put me right off so I traipsed back to the hotel for a nap and shower and then spent the remaing 4 days shopping and sightseeing.

My original hotel was booked from Greece on the Net and seemed cheap and cheerful, a place named Smyle Inn. Receptionist had a little fold down cot behind the desk and was quite helpful when I arrived at 4.30am an hour before check-in and told me to get my head down in the Internet cafe. Met two very bubbly Danish girls and second night in the hotel we sat up chatting to about 3 o'clock in the morning. Next day one of them told me that the guy from reception had enquired "was it good?" over breakfast and when she asked what he sniggered about me and them having a 3-some. I confronted him later the same day, saying he was rude and if he had a problem he should speak to me as the man in the equation and not embarrass the girls. Little bastard blustered and got defensive, threatening me with his boss coming to see me about the noise. When I'd finally got the point across (retrospectively I wish I'd simply thumped him) and shaken his hand he then casually tells me that the hotels is now full and I have to leave the following morning. I got a cheaper bed over the road and the staff there knew him and said that: a). I shouldn't take it personally as he's frustrated and does it all the time and

b). If I'd said THAT to an Indian woman the police would have given me a good hiding and put me in gaol.

Horses for courses.

Booked a flight to Moldova and a ripped, 20 year old paperback of The Fellowship of the Ring for the flight. Chisinau beckons.

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