Frustration - India Part 1

August 13th 2013, 1:24:00 pm

I'm going to prefix this by apologising that it's ridiculously long; I really understand that quote "I'm sorry for the length of this letter but I didn't have time to write a shorter one". I'm struggling to keep up, this will probably be the last post I write in this format, which is probably for the best. I'm going to post this as 4 parts as I get the chance, photos will have to wait until I'm somewhere with reasonable internets.

I arrived in Delhi quite late at night, about 1am, and was very glad to have an airport transfer already organised. The roads of India didn't seem too crazy at that time of night, or at least no worse than Vietnam or Cambodia; how little did I know back then. I checked into my hotel, Hotel Perfect, and went straight to bed.

I woke the next day and went out in search of an ATM so I could get some Rupees and some breakfast. The ATM was easy enough, although the maximum withdrawal was less than AUD $200, another win for my overseas-transaction-fee free credit card. I'd hate to be getting socked with $5-10 foreign ATM fees for every $200 I needed.

Breakfast wasn't so easy to find. The area the hotel was in, Karol Barg, seemed to be mostly closed, which seemed a bit silly in a country where it gets so hot to be shut for the coolest part of the day.

A very persistent "guide" and his auto-rickshaw driver finally wore me down after following me for about 15 minutes while I walked and failed to find anywhere open with food. They took me to a south Indian street food place where I had dosa and vegetable curry, which was actually really good, so I decided to stick with them for a while and have them show me around Delhi. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake, the next place they took me to a "handi-craft" market.

Maybe it's just me, but on day one of visiting a country, before I've seen anything at all of the place, I have no interest in buying kitche souvenirs. Heck, on day 20 after having seen a bunch of the country I still don't have the slightest inclination to buy souvenirs, and even less so to buy stuff so generic that you could think it was from anywhere in Asia.

I did a quick walk through, still trying to be polite at this point, but really just wanted to get out of there. Each shopkeeper insisted that I look in his store, "just looking is ok", completely ignorant to the possibility that maybe I just didn't want to look at their tacky trinkets.

I went back out to the rickshaw and asked them to take me to a real market, you know, the kind with the big baskets of spices and stuff that might make nice photos. They drove me to another shitty tourist shop (putting market on your sign does not make your shop a market). I was getting fed up with it at this point and didn't even get out of the tuk-tuk and asked to be taken somewhere I could buy a chai.

They instead took me to the tourist travel agent to get a "free map", which the guy inside told me cost 500 rupees, so I left empty handed. Next they took me to "a great place for tea", which was another air conditioned tourist shop selling packaged dried tea. I told the guide to stop wasting both our time with tourist traps as I just am not interested, and asked him to take me to the sort of place where he would actually drink chai of a morning. I think he got a bit pissy but the rickshaw driver seemed to finally get it and walked with me down the street 100m to a little hole in the wall where we had tiny little cups of chai masala. It was very yummy, but the plastic cups smaller than shot glasses were not very satisfying

That night I met up with the tour guide, I guy from Udaipur named Mayank, or Moon, the English translation of his name, and the only other person starting the tour in Delhi, Nicolle. It turns out that most people on the tour would meet us in Varanasi, coming down form Nepal. We were briefed on what was planned for the next 2 weeks, filled out some forms and had an early night.

The next day we went on a tour of the old city, and visited a large mosque where they wouldn't let Nicolle in at all, and they wanted you to pay $12 to take in a camera, so I went in by myself with no camera for about 5 minutes to see a very plain and uninteresting structure with people who may well have been homeless sleeping all around inside of it and left. Sexism in the name of religion... another mark against Muslimism in my eyes.

We next went to a Sikh temple, which was much cleaner, more welcoming, more attractive to look at, and was happy to give free meals to anyone regardless of gender, faith or skin colour; a bit of a stark contrast to the Mosque. We learned about how Sikh believers always carry some sort of a knife or spear, and never cut their hair or beards because they believe it shows their wisdom, and how large turbans are actually full of lots of hair. I guess I have got some good beard wisdom going on, but not so good hair wisdom :P

We then had breakfast in a little parantha shop that made some amazing food. I had a cashew nut parantha, a flat bread stuffed with cashews served with some vegetable curries, and it was really something special.

In the afternoon Nicolle and I went in search of snacks for the overnight train, and made a trip to the police station to make a report about Nicolle's camera that was stolen from her the day before.

That night Moon took us to the train station where we boarded our overnight train where we had 3 beds out of a 6 berth sleeper carriage with a few regular Indian people in the other beds. For at least the first few hours the food and drink guys were constantly walking up and down the isle saying "Chai, chai, chai! garam chai!" (Hot tea) or "Omlette, Omlette, Omlette" and made it seem a bit pointless having brought our own snacks.

I got a pretty decent nights sleep and in the morning (with the train running a few hours late) we arrived in Varanasi. We checked into our hotel and took some time to freshen up.

We went and ate lunch at a very tasty restaurant, then walked down to the ghats. Nicolle and Moon went back to the hotel to relax, I decided to explore a bit more by myself.

I saw some guys getting their head shaved on one of the ghats, my hair was over due for a shaving so I thought why not. I tried to ask how much a few times but they kept replying "yes, shaving!" as though they didn't understand English and I figured even if they tried to charge me 4x it would still be cheap. The guy rubbed some water into my hair (thinking back, maybe it was holy Ganges water... I really hope not), opened a new razor in front of me and put it in the straight razor and started shaving away. Once he was done shaving he started insisting on giving me a head massage, then arms, then another one of the guys there started massaging my other arm telling me how lucky I was to be getting massaged by two men. Right...

To be honest I wasn't really enjoying it and just wanted them to stop so I could leave already. When they finally finished, suddenly the guy could understood English much better and wanted 1000 rupees for him, and 1000 rupees for the other guy (about AUD$20 each). I told them where no way in polite terms. They gave me a spiel about how normal price for Indians in 800 rupees (a crock of shit) and that 1000 each was a good price, and more of them started crowding around.

At this point I'm feeling a bit intimidated since I know they all have cut-throat razors, so I pull out my wallet, and give them all the money in the notes section of my wallet, which because I separate big notes elsewhere, was only 300 rupees. Still a huge ripoff, but a much easier to stomach one. They tell me they're still not happy and want me to go to an ATM or to come with me to my hotel so I can get more money. At this point I'm starting to get pretty mad, but try and keep calm and tell them sorry but that all they're getting.

Their tone suddenly changes and they say OK, and ask me if I'm happy. I tell them no, I feel like you've ripped me off (because they have). They then make me to do a chant with the "holy man" sitting under their umbrella, repeating his words after him. For all I know they had me saying "I'm a stupid white man and I promise to give you all my money" in Hindi.

When he finishes he puts a red dot on my forehead as some sort of blessing. Surprise surprise, I'm now told I have to make a donation for the blessing. I've had enough with keeping calm, I tell them they've already stolen all my money (a lie, but I have no qualms about lying to a pack of thieving liars) and I've had enough of their scamming, I stand up and storm off, half expecting one of them to follow me and rob me.

I try and walk off my anger from being taken advantage of, but the chaotic streets of Varanasi aren't really a good setting for calming down so after storming around for a while I end up getting a taxi back to the hotel, going for a swim and writing the rest of the day off to read.

That evening we meet up with the rest of the group coming from Nepal at dinner.

The next morning we get up before sunrise and head to the Ganges for a sunrise boat ride. It's supposed to be a slow journey where we are taken down the river by the running water, but the light wind over-powers that and we stay pretty much stationary until after about 20 minutes of not moving the boat boys give up and turn on the boat engine and take us up the river past all of the ghats. A ghat is basically a set of stairs leading to water, from with the locals do many things including bathe, do laundry and cremate their dead.

After a quick Chai on the side of the Ganges when we get back, in single use disposable ceramic cups none the less, Nicolle and I decided to head to the monkey temple which as the name implies is home to a lot of monkeys. The temple was... really just another temple. But the monkeys were cute and awesome. Unfortunately you're not allowed to take cameras inside at all, which is a shame since I had zero interest in photographing their holy shrine of flaking paint, but would have loved to get some photos of the baby monkeys and their mothers.

Afterward we went for a wander about the street markets, where I took a photo of a guy charming a snake. I went to walk off and the guy stopped playing his flute, picked up his snake basket and started chasing after me and demanding money. I told him to put down the damn snake before giving him a few rupees.

That evening we went on another boat ride where we attempted to float little leaf boats with wish candles in them down the river, but the wind quickly extinguished everyone's wishes. India can be a cruel place :P

We then came back and watched a prayer ceremony on the ghat from the boat

I ended up deciding I was overdue for a "weekend" the next day, and it was a day leading into an overnight train to be followed by the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort in Agra, so I chose to sit by the pool (accommodation on this tour was far fancier than I'm used to) and read for the day to relax and recuperate.