First day in India, yet more Tuk Tuks, Bicycle Rickshaws, a wedding procession at midnight, on the highway from the airport complete with horses, carts and the groom dressed like a prince.
Our taxi lurches, shrieking to a semi halt, to slow for judder bars in the middle of the highway, evidently designed to slow traffic for toll cameras.
Welcome to the most polluted city on the planet, all honking horns and traffic jams. Honking the horn is considered the polite way of informing another driver that you’re coming and hopefully they’ll speed up, slow down, swerve or jump out of the way or do all three or four at once.
A horn seems to be more important than brakes or lights. Tuk Tuks navigating the rubbish strewn streets without headlights, where the homeless sleep on the raised median strips huddled in thick blankets, because tonight it’s raining and the dust they’d normally sleep in is now mud and giant puddles.
To cope with the air pollution I’ve taken up smoking on a temporary basis. I counter each cigarette with clean bottled water.
Smoking reduces the appetite and I can’t be trusted to eat food from multiple road–side stalls regardless of how good they smell.
Unlike Bangkok I’m unable to shit, Bangkok I had Delhi belly, Delhi and I’ve got no inclination to go near the business end of a toilet.
6.30am the Hindi music blares out like someone has hit the remote control on the TV in the room next door, that’s hooked up to a public address system.
I open for the window for some fresh smog and it’s even louder. The music booms on the street from a large tanoy speaker, hanging from a power pole above a temple that’s no more than a doorway, on a street strewn with rubbish, mangy dogs and the constant smell of urine and dog shit.
At the desk downstairs the porter with the handle bar moustache beams as he stands to attention in his pearly white sailor suit. I salute him and he proudly tells me this is the music for a Hindu celebration and today is a very special day.
Crowds are gathering in the street bringing offerings of food and milk to the hole in the wall, as the music blares on shrill as any cat fight in the middle of the night.
As my friend Deepak said to me at our leaving party “In India we don’t give a shit about Easter” they have plenty of their own celebrations.
Lord Shiva is the recipient of the offerings, women in the brightest saris wait for hours in the heat holding bowls of rice and gourds of milk.
White Ferangs sensitivities aside, the term Ferang seems to be common to a few Asian countries, I wonder if too many overweight pasty white tourists have asked for merang pudding or something over the years and the name stuck, Merang, Ferang….
Sunday “I’m sorry sir the shopping centre is closed on Sunday.
Sunday is a holiday, what is this Tonga? Is India suddenly a Christian country or do they just want to take every holiday they can get?
We find a bar and eat, pay some beggars and find our way back to the hotel via suicidal Tuktuk.
I’m admonished for encouraging the driver to speed by laughing like a maniac, it feels like I’m a passenger on my own motorcycle ducking, weaving, honking, entering intersections from the wrong direction and ducking off down side streets avoiding head on collisions with a wall of trucks and buses approaching like so many stampeding elephants. Death is avoided once more…
Next day we find our way to the Red Fort a massive tourist attraction. “I’m sorry sir the fort is closed on a Monday” I’m not clear if it’s a holiday and Lord Shiva might be offended or it’s closed every Monday and I really should have known.
Morning routine: wake at 6am to honking traffic have a pee, go back to sleep if I can, as yellow light increases and the traffic increases in intensity.
Wake fully at 8am order vegetable parantha with pickle and weak black coffee. Smoke two cigarettes ( I may as well each day in this smog is akin to smoking two packets ) spray on mosquito repellant, disinfect hands feet arms, pack water bottles, negotiate the prices for doing our laundry; while the porter counts each sock and promises to bring everything back in the morning (he never makes it clear which particular morning) meet with the folks in the room down the hall and plan the day.
The only constipated man in India I still haven’t had a shit since Bangkok. When it does come it’ll be a mother load. We’ll negotiate our rupes for washing and walk down the street, find a Tuktuk driver to argue with or just walk to the market, followed by rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers, tuktuk drivers and touts for a plethora of shops and agents for anything from cell phones to overseas travel and personalized tours of the Taj Mahal.
Almost everyone in the street is keen to tell us that his cousin, auntie, uncle or brother can show us what to see, where to go and where we can buy anything from a goat curry to a chicken butchered in front of you.
You can wander down alley ways that are six foot wide, while the monkeys swing from rat’s nest of wires in the sky overhead. Scooters honk and rickshaws negotiate the squeeze, bails of cloth and goods are delivered by tired looking walas on their bikes.
Jewelry, bright saris, spices and Kashmir scarves and dark smiling faces surprised to see ferangs smile and wave, children laugh and hide from the big fat white people as we pass….
The rules of India:
Don’t put your fingers in your mouth
Always cake on mosquito repellant like there’s an endless supply
Don’t eat food on road side stalls no matter how good it smells or how hungry you are
Only drink water from sealed containers, check the seal when buying it
Hand sanitise every hour or so
Don’t hold handrails no matter what the sign says
On day excursions carry spare undies, toilet paper, handsanitiser, mossie repellant, wet wipes, sun glasses, reading glasses, passports, visas, hankies kitchen sink
Wipe tops of glasses with sanitary wipes
Don’t assume anything
Don’t assume anything…..
We run the gauntlet to the station to buy tickets on the train to Agra. “Sir you cannot buy tickets at the station, where are you going?” is it too much to expect that anyone might think I might just like trains?
The guys in red shirts are threatening and speak with an authority that would make you believe that they are right, one follows us. “Sir this is not possible I can sell you tickets at an agency”
I persist and keep walking until I see red and wheel about turning on him. “Look I’m going to the fucking train station, to buy a fucking ticket, on a fucking train, to fucking Agra, now FUCK OFF!”
He fades into the distance wondering what he’s done and what western sensibilities he’s offended, there’ll be another hundred people passing in a minute or so not to worry, he’ll find another victim.
We stand in the station reading the arrivals and departure board, I marvel at the amount of trains and their destinations and stations of origin. I sense someone close by.
“Sir are you wanting to buy tickets for a train?”
“Yes that is correct”
“The ticket office is on the first floor” ahhhh they do have a ticket office aye?
“That’s good” I tell him.
“This is not possible too many people you should come with me I have an agency”
“No we’ll just give it a go and try upstairs, I’m something of a train enthusiast you see” he is either in a state of shock or is trying to figure out what a train enthusiast is, as we leave him for the stairs to the first floor booking office.
A sign at the bottom of the stairs written on A4 paper and laminated, warns of touts vying for business in the streets and selling counterfeit tickets or telling tourists that trains are full and offering a car and a driver for the day.
It would have been handy at the station entrance in ten foot wide steel with lights, but I suspect it would have been removed by the red shirted porter gangs.
We manage to book on the mid-morning train to Agra with minimal fuss or hassle. To celebrate I drag Ainslie downstairs to watch trains depart and arrive.
It’s hard to find a clean spot to sit; no wonder Indians are so good at crouching. People with large bails on their heads walk around, cross tracks, others on crutches do the same, a man in a wheel–chair crosses the tracks.
Trains honk and scream warnings as people step off platforms urinate in the open or raise their saris and defecate from the side of the platforms.
A man with a hose washes the excrement from the tracks as people and trains pass devoid of holding tanks toilets empty directly onto tracks. Porters push overloaded trolleys down the platform and off a ramp over the tracks and up another ramp, onto a platform three or four tracks away.
A shunting train reverses coaches slam and crash, everything moves in slow motion and no one dies today, not here at least.
I wonder if anything would change if anyone did fall foul of train movements, would the trains just keep moving.
A Tada Wav sound directly from Windows 7 sounds over the public address system… “Tada!! We regret to inform you that the 5.30pm train to Calcutta has been cancelled.
We would like to apoligise for any inconvenience this may cause Tada!!” maybe someone somewhere did fall foul of a wheel somewhere….