"I love the way this country smells. I'll never forget it. It's kinda spicy."
~Peter Whitman, The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Nonono, what it really smells like is a dodgy toilet block in a park. Seriously. Hey you. I'm in India. First feeling once I stepped out into India, as always when in an airport, is terror that the men with guns will think I'm doing something illegal because I look terrorist-y. First thing that hits you (if the men with guns don't, for looking like you're doing something illegal) is the heat. I knew it'd be hot, and it was exactly as hot as I thought it would be. It was HOT. HOTT, with two T's. And a silent Q. Hott, for one hundred and twelve points in Scrabble. Next thing to hit was the language barrier, I ducked but it still caught me across the face. I found that if they don't understand you the first time, they just nod and wander off, which suited me fine if I don't need something urgent. Unless they're a taxi driver, in which case they're the most annoyingly persistent, pushy sons of bitches on the face of the planet. An immediate dislike for them, one that I'm sure I'll carry with me through the whole of India. Next were the policemen, they're all absolute pricks, arrogant fricken pricks with nothing better to do than push people around. I absolutely loathe them in India, they're pathetic. No help whatsoever when I need it, and they're all malnourished so I constantly wonder who the fuck they're gonna stop. No wonder they all carry those sticks around, they need 'em. Grr. I left the airport terminal and stepped into the confusion that was India, hesitated, then stepped back in to see about booking a train at one of the service counters, but was stopped immediately by an officer who was standing at the door.
"What you want," he asked.
"Oh hi, I need to see about booking a train to get down south to Kerala, mate," said I.
"Train?" he enquired impatiently.
"Yes, I need to ask at the travel desk inside about a train to Kerala."
"TRAIN! TRAIN OUT THERE, THIS AIRPORT! GO OUT THERE!"
"Oh for fucks sake"...
Not a nice start to my adventure, I was tired and just wanted to keep moving, I persisted and had to show him my passport and visa, sure he would ask for a bribe, but I finally got in. No one at the service counters was of any help at all, it's quite a pathetic airport so I left, got accosted by the same policeman who had forgotten who I was already, eventually got myself a taxi to the train station after being hassled by a group of ten drivers vying for the honor of taking my money, and even once I'd climbed into it, a man who I assumed was the cabbies pimp, wouldn't close the door until I'd given him some rupees, I assume for having put my bag inside for me. My impression of this country up til now was one of absolute disgust.
I cheered up immensely once the taxi hit the streets of Mumbai, AKA Bombay. The absolute chaos, the filth and poverty, it hit like nothing else. Whenever the taxi stopped at an intersection, street urchins would come up to my window all scrawny & dishevelled, put a paw through the window and I'd refuse them, ignore them, of course what else could I do? I believe that I can't help everyone, money is best used giving to an organisation that can do some real good for these people, make it go to the right place instead of some man in a doorway who takes the children's collections and sends them out begging for more. Breaks your heart, but you harden against it, learn to see past them. Um, this isn't why I cheered up immensely though! It was the way the cabbie drove, amazing. They drive with their horns here, eyes everywhere at once, a Nokia to his ear the majority of the time, it was madness! It made me compare it to fish in a river, the way the vehicles just flowed past each other, coming so close , taking any opening available, going as fast as was possible (about 40KPH, which is impressive in such dense traffic) and watching out for each other, a beep of the horn not meaning 'Get the heck outta my way, you nob!' as it would in England or Australia but instead was a friendly warning that 'Hey amigo, I'm approaching your left flank, let me in, yeh?'. It works here, it shouldn't but somehow it does, and it astounds me.
Bloody cabbies. Or, auto drivers. Rickshaw drivers, tuk-tuk drivers, a pox on the lot of them. I caught a pre-paid cab, where I paid the booking office prior to my journey so I'd not get ripped off, but as karma would have it, I got taken on a forty-five minute drive to the wrong train station. After trudging around for twenty minutes with my backpack looking for some sort of booking office, I asked the group of taxi drivers who accosted me, where oh where do I get a ticket for a train to Kerala. Wrong train station, said they. Fucking fuck, said I. I was ready to pack it in and just catch a plane to Kerala, regardless of the cost. Stupid me for not booking a hotel or doing research prior to landing. One of the bastards (they're all bastards!) hustled me into his cab and assured me (never trust a taxi driver in India) he'd take me to the right station this time. It was an hour and a half drive to the other side of Mumbai (I hate Mumbai, it's a dump. Gosh, I'm so ANGRY!) with a stop half-way so the bastard could let in another bastard (listen to the guidebooks, kids. Never get in an auto with more than one cab driver. NEVER! Gosh, I'm so ANGRY!), fuck knows who he was, the bastard didn't talk except to offer me marijuana that he pulled out of a hidden compartment between the dashboard and the side window, to which I laughed, refused, and commenced my plans on how to take them both down in the event of an attempted mugging (punch to the throat, both of 'em)...
But, no mugging. In the classic sense. When I arrived at my supposed destination, they charged me what may or may not have been a ludicrous amount for their services. I say they, but the bastard in the passenger seat didn't contribute at all to any part of the journey, heck, he was probably there just to add more weight to the car and decrease the fuel efficiency so the driver would charge me more... Sounds crazy, I know, but ye can't blame me for being paranoid. I paid, but then he asked for another hundred rupees (which is about $2AUD, not a lot it may seem, but it certainly ain't worth his services, the bastard) for supplying me with information on the train station (!) and on top of that, he handed me back one of the notes I'd paid with and said he couldn't accept it because there was a tear along where the serial number was. He told me the train station would accept it, so I asked why he wouldn't, and then the cunty cunt told me to give him another 50 rupees if he wanted me to accept it! Crumbs, what a bastard. Of course, not all taxi drivers are this pathetic, I just had bad luck (and a huge 'vulnerable tourist' sign on my head).. Just watch your back though, they're dodgy as heck.
My trust blown in humanity, I headed to the train station to book a ticket down to Kerala. If you wish to travel in some semblance of comfort on the Indian railways, ye have to book in advance by a day or two, or arrive a few hours earlier at the ticket office and try your luck for scoring a cancelled ticket in a better class of carriage. I didn't know this, and my Lonely Planet guide was in a box in storage in Australia. If you wish to travel in India, a Lonely Planet guide is invaluable. The travelers bible. Don't leave home without it. Or you'll end up booking two back-to-back 14 hour train trips in general class, sandwiched in, shoulder to shoulder with the locals. They can pack 7000 into a train built for 1500. They can, and they do. And they did. I was number 5088. I secured myself a prime position right next to the toilets, where I could get the best experience of India.
Everyone is so talkative right after they've taken a dump.