Saturday, April 23, 2005

Farwell to my love, hello to black slime and chos...

Alone again! :( Ester and I had to say a tearful goodbye at Siliguri Station, as she flys from Delhi and I fly from Bombay... But it's not all bad, as we are going to meet up again very soon, either in England or Majorca. :) So, since that parting I have been rediscovering the "joys" of solo travelling, namely having the exact same conversation with every stranger in the street, generally involving my precise itinterary and a ten point list of reasons why I like India. In fact, from the moment Ester's train pulled out of the station, things started to revert to their usual level of difficulty...

I only had an RAC ticket, which basically means my seat is not confirmed yet. You have to go and check your name on a list to find out if you have a seat, however I had been assured by the guy who sold me the ticket that my bed was 99.9% guaranteed. When I eventually tracked down the list however, I was surprised to discover my name conpicuously absent. I went into one of many offices lining the platform, each with it's own handpainted sign proclaiming the title of the occupier: Deputy Sub-Division Officer of Canned Goods Transportation; Chief Divisional Sub Clerk of Latrine Maintenance and Air Conditioning... I'm not sure what my office was, and it made little difference as the uninterested official inside just waved me off to a different office. The next official I found was much more helpful. In return for a ten minute oratory explaining my six months in india and the reasons why India was such an amazing country, he told me to look for the Travelling Ticket Inspector, or TTE for short (!).... He said that when my train pulled in (Platform as yet unknown), the TTE's would get off and pass "the list" to replacement TTE's, and I would have to try to intercept them and find out my seat number before the train left. This didn't sound too hard so I sat down to wait for the train.

When it arrived I realised this wasn't going to be so easy after all. Firstly, the train was loooong, and secondly, it was BUSY! The platform was packed with people trying to get on, and being as every indian man wears a shirt exactly the same as a train conductor, finding him was gonna be tricky. Eventually i did find one guy with a list, but it turned out it wasn't THE list. He sent me off to the other end of the train. I found another guy with a list, also not THE list. Each of these guys was surrounded by frantic people like me trying to find their seat numbers, and had pockets full of wads of folded paper lists, which they would pull out one at a time, going "noooo...nooooo.noooo, not that one...ummmm...nooooo.... mmmmmm..maybe this one? oh, nooo..." It was complete madness, but they were all Zen masters, and didn't rush in the slightest, despite the crowd of people and the impending departure of the train...

Eventually I found THE list, and was given my magical code: s4/7. I finally found Coach s4, conveniently located between s1 and s3, but found a frail old man sitting in my seat. No problem I thought, as he coughed his cocktail of diseases in my face, I'll just sit opposite him, he's probably getting off before bedtime... When the ticket inspector arrived, it turned out that they had double booked the seat/bed, and we both had number 7. He told me this as if it was the most normal thing in the world, and should hardly be considered a problem. Luckily it turned out it WAS a problem for the guy whos seat I was now occupying, who started having a loud argument with him in Hindi. The men in the surrounding seats, sensing some entertainment, crowded round to join in the fight. A big argument ensued, in which everyone got involved except me. It was a classic indian argument, with everyone shouting and looking angry for 5 mins at a time, puncuated by everybody laughing for 5 seconds as if it was all a funny game.... which i suppose it was.... ! Eventually they found the old guy another seat, and gave me seat/bed 7, which was one of the side seats that are too short for me... but then a lady asked me if i'd mind swapping for an upper berth as her elderly father needed a lower berth!! so after all that fuss i finally got the exact bed i'd wanted all along.... :)

So now I'm in Calcutta again, just as lost as last time! I arrived at 7:30am and my train doesn't leave till 1:30pm... I tried to make a plan to see/do something, but calcutta is just not tourist friendly!!! It was hard enough just getting from Sealdah station to Howrah Station and putting my bags in the cloakroom!!! The taxi driver wanted 200 rupees to go from one side of the bridge to the other. I got him down to 40 providing I shared the taxi with an indian family...but then he spent the entire journey telling me i was stupid (never tell a taxi driver "I'm not stupid you know?!") and insulting me in hindi and bengali!! Then the cloakroom ppl refused to take my guitar, saying they didn't do instruments. They finally agreed to take it if i locked it, but then said it was no good using one lock for my bag and guitar, as each item had to have a separate lock. They refused to be swayed by my logical arguments, smiling at my naivety, and made me go and buy a separate lock. The biggest irony is that locking my guitar case does nothing except stop someone taking the guitar out of the case!!!! As if they would take it out of the case to steal it!!!! Anyway, I tried to read the paper in the station, but finally gave in when the cleaning man started throwing water over my feet and bag, and came to Sudder Street, the only "Tourist Street" in calcutta.... So here I am, coated in a sweaty black grime that I can collect in rolls under my fingernails and flick onto the floor, wasting time in a small oven-like internet cafe and waiting for my next train, a full 36 hour marathon to bombay... hooray!!! :)

Friday, April 22, 2005

Oh my goodness, is it that time already?!

I'm afraid it is kids, it's time to go home. By this time nest week i'll be back in the beautiful land of britain, just in time for the General Election! Hooray!! Anyway, I've got loads of stories, and no time, so then how? Anyway, who's in the uk now? Where do you all live? What do you do? Is it fun? Can I join in? With a bit of luck I'll be goin on holiday to majorca to visit Ester a few weeks after i get back... sweet! I know, I'm a lucky bastard, what can i say?

Well, Sikkhim was lovely. After weeks of planning, we finally set off on a 5 day trek last sunday. After 1 hour of climbing down the side of a very steep mountain, my knees began to give way. Then I realised I'd forgotten my sungalsses at a rest stop near the top. 2 hours and 3 litres of sweat later and I was back in the same spot, trying my best not to cry out in pain every time i put my weight on my knees. 30 mins later and they gave way for good. Luckily we had reached a road, and managed to hitch a ride in a jeep to the lake we were heading for. We stayed the night there, without even visiting the lake, and got a jeep back to Pelling the next morning. And there ended our 5 day trek! No more trrekking for me until i get these bloody knees replaced!! Now i'm back in dusty, noisy, smelly lowland india! wish me luck! :)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Hey Guys!

well, despite being utterly shit at writing my journal, I have somehow managed, using Microshit's Paint program, to resize some photos and upload them for you viewing pleasure! (extra swearwords just for Uncle Jim!). You can see them at

Incidentally, if you haven't joined, go and do it so I can get weekly updates of your new photos and stuff. I could move my journal there as well, but that's just too much like hassle... Anyway, shall I attempt to write a journal entry? Mmmm, we'll see....

So, me and Ester, my new girlfriend/true love/soul mate, have spent the last week being sick as dogs. I have had my intestine invaded by parasitic bugs from Mars. I have been taking drugs to kill them for a week now, but if anything it has just made them angry. When they get angry, they display their annoyance by producing deadly toxic gases that smell of rotten eggs and expelling them through my bumhole. As you can imagine, this can be rather upsetting, not just to me, but to anyone within a 10 metre radius of my butt. Ester has had a really bad cold, which has now evolved into a full chest infecion, requiring a small pharmacy of drugs administered through the mouth and nostrils on a regular basis. We have been in darjeeling for a week and so far we haven't seen a mountain. We spend much of the time shivering in our bed and dreaming of tropical beaches. But not to worry, pretty soon I'll be back in tropical england where I can warm up and recover! Anyway, I'm not complaining, I have a bed, 2 large duvets, and a beautiful spanish babe to keep me warm! :)

So, amusing stories..... Hummmmm.... Hmmmmm..... Nope. I've just finished reading a book on buddhism. Unfortuanely I chose a book written by a complete sceptic of buddhism who has painted a picture of buddah as a pessamistic, obsessive, manic depressive ego maniac whose main message was "give up, there's no point, commit spiritual suicide!". At one point in the book, whilst trying to convince me of the existence of God, he made an analogy where he talked about the "seemingly absurd possiblility" of man one day, centuries from now, building a large torpedo powered by exploding rockets that might be able to pierce the earth's atmosphere and actually land on another planet!!! At first I thought he was being sarcastic, then I realised the book was written in 1938!! My god things change fast these days!

Right, Tirupathi. Tirupathi was pretty mad. We met a family on the train, who apart from being completely insane and trying to give us their children, entertained us for the entire journey. Actually, I think it may have been more the other way around. Anyway, they had been displaced by the Tsunami, and were living temporarily in Chennai. They were now very poor, explained the teenage cousin, whilst sending text messages on her mobile phone and eating ice cream simoultaneously, so they were going to Tirupathi to see the living God and ask him to sort them out with some more cash. The "Living God" is a black statue of some god or another, which apparantly, according to sources long since forgotten, is actually a living avatar of God himself. 100,000 people a day, not just Hindus, make the pilgrimage to Tirupathi every day to see him. This is not surprising, as apparantly he actually grants wishes, no matter how fanastic, for the small price of some gooey sugar balls, your hair, and an 8 hour queue. So anway, our new friends were on their way to see him and ask for cash in return for their hair... well actually the hair of their men and children; the women, despite their claims to the contrary, had no intenion of cutting off their long black tressess! After a few more hours of travel during which we danced, laughed, and sang Britney Spears, we arrived in Tirupathi station and said our goodbyes.

In the station we got our first glimpse of the baldies. They were everywhere! Whole families of skinheads sitting around on their bags waiting for the train home. "This better be worth it!" you could hear them thinking as they imagined their reception back at work and school. In India people take a lot of pride in their hair. Most indian men cannot pass a mirror without pulling out a plastic comb and spending a good 5 minutes restyling their John Travolta or McFly hairdo. And the women usually have perfect long black hair that often hangs right down to their waists. So it's a pretty big sacrifice to give it to God. Not that God doesn't appreciate it. He's very greatful in fact, to the tune of 6 billion rupees a year (trust me, it's a lot), making Tirupathi the richest temple in India. Not that they spend all the money on prostitutes and smack of course. If they are telling the truth, the money all goes back into servicing the 100,000 pilgrims a day, and whatever's left goes to fund orphanages, help the poor etc. We met some guys on the train out of Tirupathi who told us an interesting story about the reason behind all the donaions of hair and money that people make to the God. Apparantly this God stole a large sum of cash from another God at some point in history, and all we are doing is paying the interest on his capital. Sounds fair. :) They were absolutely flabbergasted to hear that I had been to the temple and not actually queued the 8 hours to see the Living God. "This is a very big mistake" said one gravely, shaking his head. I think they decided we were a bit mad after that and left us alone.

So, enough for one day I think! I finally managed to tell something resembling a story!!! hooray!!! ok, maybe more later.... :)