let the challenges begin

I mentioned prior to arriving in India that I was ready for the challenges it would undoubtedly throw at me. Eleven days in and I’m lying in my bed coughing and spluttering thanks to the general pollution levels here whilst recovering from a hilarious bout of projectile vomiting that matched Simon from ‘The Inbetweeners’ efforts where he spewed all over his dream girls kid brother whilst trying to ask her out. If you haven’t seen this entertaining clip then I suggest you do. It will give you a good idea of where I was at 3am yesterday morning. Luckily it came on after the incredible tied game against the Indians which I had the pleasure of witnessing amongst forty thousand screaming home fans.

It’s been a challenging week or so. I had the misfortune of spending three days in Calcutta after an excellent time in Nagpur. More on that latter. After my positive experience of Mumbai third time around I’m not going to judge Calcutta as quickly on a first impression as I did of Mumbai and label it outright as a ‘shithole’. However, it was without doubt the dirtiest, filthiest and least endearing place I have ever spent any time in through my life. Of course it is a big city which is as densely populated as any place I have been (10th in the world, apparently) but having a large number of people in a small space is no excuse not to at least attempt to keep the place clean. One of my favourite cities in the world is Jakarta; home to some ten million people. Chennai is 15th on the list of densely populated cities in the world, yet the people there were several times more approachable and friendly than the ones I encountered in Calcutta. Basically, just because you live amongst millions of others shouldn’t automatically give you an excuse to shit on the streets, burn rubbish, unsubtly spit on the floor every three seconds before trying to rip off two tourists that just happened to be visiting your city.

We had to check out of our first hotel because of the general feel that we were being harassed by all and sundry for a few rupees for the most minimal of work. One of my biggest bug bearers about India is the lads that carry your bags to your room who won’t take ‘No thanks, I’ll carry my own bag’ for an answer. I wouldn’t have an issue if they were doing it as part of a service, like they do everywhere else in Asia. My issue is they hang around like a bad smell waiting for payment despite you telling them that you are happy to carry your own bag at the beginning. I mean come on, I’ve carried my bag across the world in 35c heat for several miles looking for somewhere to stay. Why would I need you to carry my backpack (incorrectly by the way, the strap nearly broke) up to my room via a lift? No, sorry. You aren’t getting money off me for that. And no, we don’t want ‘mineral water’ from an obviously refilled and recycled bottle given the state of the screw top and the labelling of the bottle. And we certainly don’t want to be woken up before 8am by some moron with a broom, knocking our door and asking for money to sweep up what was a perfectly clean room when we checked in at 9pm the previous evening.

The feeling that we were being treated like an ATM continued throughout the trip thanks to some of the rudest taxi drivers I have ever encountered. The most frustrating was trying to sort out a fair price for what was shorter journey back to the airport from our new hotel. Now, before we go any further I have mellowed hugely when it comes to arguing over 50p here and there. Call it seven weeks in the economic power house that is Australia or something. But when you pay a fixed price of 260 rupees from the airport then are offered 700 rupees for a mush shorter journey back, you know you are being ripped off. The taxi mafia that operated outside our new hotel wouldn’t even bargain with me. Still angry from the previous nights argument over a ridiculously overpriced bar bill (that’s another two hour story) I was ready for a dust up – not physically, but verbally. I walked off onto the main road, flagged down a cab and straight away accepted his realistic offer of 200 rupees. As we piled our bags in the boot we were surrounded by the taxi mafia who all of a sudden were willing to accept my original offer. I told them in no uncertain terms to go forth and multiple, explaining that if they hadn’t of taken the piss out of me then they’d have got the fare. I’d rather walk to the airport than go with them. Maybe next time they won’t try and rip off the next westerner that comes out of the hotel looking for a ride. Once we arrived at the airport, I thanked our taxi driver for not taking advantage and gave him double what we agreed. I have no doubt he will treat the next westerners with the same respect, hoping to get the same type of tip next time.

If Calcutta didn’t endear itself to me, then Nagpur most certainly did. Judging by the inquisitive stares, smiles, head wobbles and cries of ‘Hello Sir!’ that accompanied every walk down the street, I’d say Nagpur doesn’t get many tourists. In all fairness, unless you were passing through the centrally located city to get to somewhere else, you wouldn’t visit Nagpur. There’s not a great deal to do and see if you were a guidebook follower. What this meant is that the forty or so of us that travelled to the city to watch our game against the Dutch were made to feel extremely welcome. The tuk tuk and taxi drivers were just happy for the business, giving us tours and local knowledge of the city as we passed notable landmarks such as the railway station or a market. Of course there was pollution, poverty and plenty of eyesores, but at least Nagpur was trying. I especially liked the main road to the cricket ground where the central reservation was covered in freshly planted shrubbery. In between were small signs telling the cities many drivers to drive carefully in small riddles. My favourites included ‘Be a hero by making accidents zero’, ‘Drive slowly to see our city’, ‘Speed thrills but kills’, ‘Arrive home in peace, not pieces’ plus the catchy ‘Danger creeps whilst safety sleeps’.

The experience at the cricket ground was another example of Nagpur not getting many visitors. About fifteen of us has congregated in the mid range seats and were instantly awarded celebrity status by the many local students that has been let into the ground for free. Against ridiculous ICC regulations, the kids had managed to smuggle in mobile phones which they used to pose for photos with us. This was before asking us to autograph the many four and six cards that the sponsors hand out. ‘Union Dave’, ‘Pompey Chris’, ‘Basingstoke Pat’ and of course ‘Hereford Rich’ all got a good airing!

This is one of the reasons I love following the England side abroad. We get to visit places ‘off the beaten track’ that even the most hardened of travellers wouldn’t consider visiting. For instance many people visit Jamaica to stay at one of many beach resorts dotted round the island, such as Montego Bay. As a cricket fan, I’ve had the pleasure of several nights in Kingston. I’ve only ever met one person in my life that has visited Kingston for non cricketing reasons and that was American Doug who married a lass from Jamaica! A number of my mates have visited and loved time spent in Bangladesh. Again, unless you had family contacts or maybe had some business to attend to in Dhaka, you’d never dream of holidaying there. Basically being an England fan who is willing to travel the world to follow the side opens up a whole new world of interesting travel which isn’t always in the guidebook.

India has slowly provided its first challenges and I’m just about still standing. The realisation that the end of this trip is creeping up on me has led me to start contacting letting agents back in Hereford. This could just be the biggest challenge yet!

***On a final note please remember that all material and photos on this website belong to me. Please contact me if you wish to use anything***


1 Response to “let the challenges begin”

  1. 1 Matt
    March 1, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    re. Maybe next time they won’t try and rip off the next westerner that comes out of the hotel looking for a ride. Once we arrived at the airport, I thanked our taxi driver for not taking advantage and gave him double what we agreed. I have no doubt he will treat the next westerners with the same respect, hoping to get the same type of tip next time…

    Top effort with teaching the taxi drivers a lesson, and rewarding the honest ones!!! Class!

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