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No Worries 'Mas o Menos' 2 years on the road, travelling South East Asia, China, South & Central America and who knows where after that... Photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/collections/

Conmen, Cowpats and Corpses

INDIA | Wednesday, 16 December 2009 | Views [3576] | Comments [3]

Welcome to India

Welcome to India

After all that trekking we headed back to Kathmandu for some more relaxation, shopping and to reunite with our Tibet team mates who corrupted us to attend a ‘two for the price of one’ cocktail evening...

And we even managed a bit of sightseeing in the streets of Old Kathmandu to escape Thamel for a day

Including Durbar Square, one of the centrepoints of the city, surrounded by temples, sacred cows, pigeons and marigolds.

The Indian Embassy

It was at the Indian Embassy we were introduced to the term Indian Efficiency, which does not take a leaf out of the Efficiency 101 book! We applied and obtained a transit visa giving us enough time to catch a flight we had booked from Delhi, but not before queuing up outside for an hour, queuing to get a Queue ticket, and then queuing again once the ticket number had been called, even though anyone could walk straight up to the window at any time to push in. This tested our British queuing principles to the limit! Unfortunately, we had to repeat the process a second time the next day as we had arrived a day too early to be valid for a 15 day visa, although on collecting the visas later that day, they had given us a 16 day visa which meant we could have got the visa the day before after all, how efficient of them!

Getting to India

Travel to the border took longer than the 7 hours we’d been quoted due to the bus having no passengers other than us, so it crawled around Kathmandu for 2 hours searching for fares to make the journey worthwhile. We then encountered Maoist protests and strikes outside of Chitwan which caused a traffic jam and a burnt down bridge, so we had to detour to a shallower part of the river to get across, passing a bus that had broken down half way across. 12 hours later we arrived at the border town and decided to save the crossing for the morning, it was time for our last Nepalese beer, but from the taste of it we should have stuck with an Everest beer.

We took a rickshaw each to get to the border but Ryan’s driver was slightly too short to reach the pedals so it took ages for him to catch up to me. It turned out to be the easiest border crossing in the world, with one quick stamp out of Nepal, a 200m walk down the road under a ‘Welcome to India’ banner, one arrival immigration form filled out and we were on our way. No bag searches, no H1N1 checks, no x-ray machines, no custom officials...a smugglers dream, why didn’t I buy that Gurkha knife in Kathmandu after all? Of course, it was all too easy, things were about to head down hill rapidly.

SCAM

We’ve been aware of numerous scams on our trip and have always done our best to avoid them, even though a few rip off merchants got the better of us in Vietnam (yes we are still sore about that place), but we consider ourselves pretty savvy after a year in Asia. Did that sign really say Welcome to India? Walking down the road towards the bus station, we get the first-time jitters and excitement all over again that you get at the onset of a new country, and we were all prepared to deal with everything we have heard India has to throw at you. Little did we know how quickly things can go wrong when a Scammer gets wind of you.

I’ll do my best to cut a long story short but it’s not always easy...the story involves two Brits, two Irish, two Italians and a Korean and India’s answer to the Mitchell Brothers. We were all heading to Varanasi, but thinking we had missed the last morning bus we were happy to meet a ticket man (enter Thug 1) who ensured us there was a bus leaving in that direction in 30 minutes. We all followed Thug 1 to the bus waiting in the station. Alarm bells should have started ringing when we found out the ticket price was an extortionate 500 rupees each (I can hear the gasps from travellers of India) and we should have refused to pay and got a cheaper bus right then, but we know that tourists are generally charged more at border crossings and we were being lazy and thought we would rather pay more for one bus ride rather than trying to change buses in Gorakphor, a city 2 hours away. Ryan went off to buy the tickets just as thing started to go awry when Thug 2 entered the scene. The Korean girl said she wanted to sit on the front seat but he point blank refused it to her and when she pleaded with him he pushed her off the bus and told her to F#$k Off and she couldn’t travel on HIS bus. The rest of us couldn’t believe what happened and we didn’t want to take the bus anymore. I asked if we could get a refund on the tickets but Thug 1 said he wouldn’t give us our money back. The Irish couple had already bought tickets for the bus from a travel agent and the Italians persuaded the Thugs to let the Korean girl on, so we decided to all stick together, maybe it was just a misunderstanding?

The bus set off with a ticket collector and a bus owner joining the crew, who proceeded to ask us to pay for bus tickets. Hang on a minute, we’ve already paid haven’t we? Thug 1 told us we also had to pay the conductor for a ticket. We said no way we’ve already got a ticket, but the Thug started shouting and swearing aggressively but we still refused. In the end the bus owner told us to sit down and he would give us the tickets for free, he obviously didn’t want them to cause anymore trouble. Thug 2 asked to see the Irish couples tickets, which turned out to be useless according to him and he demanded they pay him 700 rupees to upgrade their tickets for his bus. After a very intimidating and threatening verbal battle with him saying ‘Get the Eff off my bus’ every time they refused, they had to give in to him and handed over all their cash to shut him up. But that wasn’t good enough, he then said they had to pay another 600 rupees as an extra fee, and it soon became apparent that this was daylight robbery. The Irish had no more money left and couldn’t pay him so he moved on to Ryan and I demanding we pay him 200 rupees each as a luggage fee, which is ridiculous! He was getting no more money out of us so we told them to stop the bus so we could get off, we were only about 2 km out of town so we could walk back or flag down a bus.

Thug 1 came back on the scene and said he ‘worked for the government’ and he wasn’t stopping the bus for us. When Ryan said he didn’t care who he worked for, what does working for the government mean in India after all, Thug 1 then started to crack his knuckles and dust off his fists and told Ryan to shut up and sit down. The bus eventually stopped and when I said we were getting off the Thugs said we could this time but we would have to pay to take our bags with us, Thug 2 was blocking the pile of bags at the front of the bus. We were all getting really worried as we couldn’t do or say anything to get out of the situation, and the Thugs just shouted, swore or pushed us around as soon as we said a word. To top it off we couldn’t be sure where they were taking us, was this turning into a kidnapping??? Eventually I said we would give them money to let us off the bus, we just wanted to get out of the situation as quickly as possible, but at that point the two Thugs decided they had had enough fun terrorising 7 helpless foreigners, laughed at us all and got off the bus themselves, leaving us all relieved to see the back of them. They actually got off just before the bus drove near a police station and started to pick up legitimate passengers in the next town.

What a SCAM! If anyone is crossing the border between Nepal and India do not get on a bus to Varanasi or Gorakphur unless there are also a number of locals already on the bus and only pay the conductor on the bus, don’t buy a ticket from anyone else beforehand. A bus to Gorakphur should cost 70 rupees and all the way to Varanasi is about 200 rupees. Thugs wearing leather jackets do not work on buses. Welcome to India? I don’t think so. I actually dreamed of being reunited with Hanoi it was so bad.

Once the bus started filling up, we got chatting to a friendly local and discovered the bus was only heading to Gorakphur so we told him of our ordeal. At Gorakphur bus station, he told our story to the conductor of the Varanasi bus, who kindly let us travel on it for free! The local even made changes to his travel plans so he and his wife would travel some of the distance on the bus with us, to make sure we were safe. How kind is that? We have discovered there are both good and bad people in India.

About 10 hours later we eventually arrived in Varanasi, covered in dust and mosquito bites but safe and well. After seeing a mob of monkeys playing alongside the road, eating a bag of piping hot samosas, and overtaking one GIANT Indian elephant (in India of all places!!!), we soon forgot about the scam and started to take in the country for what it is...

First impressions - Lots of cows on low fibre diets equates too sloppy, runny, stinky cowpats left wherever they roam and they roam everywhere, no place is cow free. Ryan (My bum is sore from sitting on this bus so long) obtained first foot knowledge of the squelch factor when he stepped straight into a pool of poo at the bus station.

Luckily, one of the Italians had stayed in Varanasi before, so we all followed her to a great guesthouse with a peaceful garden and a ‘off the records’ Kingfisher beer, which we all desperately needed!

Varanasi

Famous for the holy Ganges river running through the city, it’s one of the most religious Hindu locations in India, a place people come to die so they can be cremated on the banks of the Ganges at one of it’s many Ghats.

There are piles of wood towering high over the Ghats waiting to be weighed according to the size of the corpse needing to be cremated. The relatives carry the corpse down the streets and steps to the river and wait their turn to pay respect to their loved one, so the funeral is very much a public affair.

It’s also a place to bathe, do laundry and take a stroll, even though the pollution levels are unimaginable, it’s very peaceful.

The river front is a great place for people watching, from spotting which tourists have been in India longest by the length of their dreadlocks, to watching holy men apply their face paint, the bathing men in their tiny loin cloths, women in all colours of saris, watching the boats fill up with locals and a young boatman trying to hitch a ride off the back of them to get out of rowing himself along!

We lunched at a roof top restaurant where we saw men training their pigeons, kids flying kites, monkeys jumping from roof to roof and the extremes a cricket loving nation will go to for a game...kids playing cricket on a roof top...yes really...the ball is attached by a piece of string to the roof so that when it flies over the wall for a six a kid runs up the wall and retrieves it back by hauling it up on the string. What a great invention.

At night the Dasaswamedh Ghat puts on an engaging puja ceremony with fire and dance on show.

We took a walk along the river to the Ramnagar Fort and finally understood why Indians don’t eat with their left hand after seeing a man do a number two on the bank, then waddle down to the river side to wash his behind with his hand...an image I wont easily forget.

Crossing a rickety old pontoon bridge we arrived at the crumbling fort of the local Maharaja, which contained an eccentric museum that included an huge elephants crown from the 19th century, very cool to see.

I may have accidently accepted a marriage proposal from a little boy whose mother really wanted him to meet me, even though he was startled by my foreign look, he happily gave me a kiss when his mother prompted him too, I hope I don’t have to pay a dowry now? We also had our first invite to an Indian wedding, but it was on the day we were leaving Varanasi so sadly we had to decline.

Agra

We took a 12 hour sleeper train to Agra, venturing for the non AC 2nd ‘bring your own bedding’ class, which turned out to be a fine and cheap option, not quite up to China’s standards but with 6 tourists in one cabin we had safety in numbers.

Agra is the home of the Taj Mahal, but as we arrived on a Friday, the only day it’s closed, we had to settle for a breakfast view from the roof of our hotel, which we followed by a visit to Agra Fort.

The creator of the Taj Mahal was imprisoned here after it’s completion and he could only view it from the window of the tower prison cell until his death. I guess he wouldn’t have had to put up with pollution spoiling the view like it did for us that day.

Taj Mahal

Who needs an alarm clock to get you up for sunrise at the Taj Mahal when the local mosque next to your hotel calls you for morning prayer at 5am? We stumbled down to the Taj ticket office in the dark only to find the place doesn't open until after sunrise, but we joined the hoards of disappointed tourists queuing in the dark! The first view promised us a magical time as the famous image we all know appeared hazy and surreal through the gateway.

Wow, Awesome, Spectacular...

There was nothing here to disappoint, it really lived up to the beauty you expect to see and getting up close to the towering mausoleum and seeing the detail and craftsmanship involved could only improve the first impressions. Stunning.

It’s creator, Emporer Shan Jahal, obviously put all his heart into this monument for his second wife who died during child birth. We couldn't resist a comedy pose photo!

Agra has another less famous Taj, known as the Baby Taj or Itimad-Ud-Daulah, the tomb of a Persian nobleman, built 30 years before the bigger version. Although not as stunning from the outside, up close and inside the detail was striking and much quieter than the Taj.

Just down the road is the Chini-Ka-Rauza, mausoleum of the Emporer’s president and the architect of the Taj Mahal. It’s quite run down but some of the old detail can be seen, it just needs a good restoration project to make it more appealing to the masses. We had fun meeting some local kids here who followed us around pleading to have their picture taken.

There was also a rubbish dump in the grounds that had 16 puppies sleeping around the bins, who were very cute but it’s a shame they can’t have a good home, Ryan refused to let me take even one of them with us, bah humbug to him!

Fatehpur Sikri

A 40km bus ride away from Agra, which nearly didn’t happen as the bus was an hour late and even though there was a bus load of passengers waiting and plenty of buses the bus station manager refused to put on another bus. One local man decided to kick up a fuss, and told everyone waiting to question the manager, who was soon surrounded by a crowd of angry Indians and tourists alike. It seemed to work though as 5 minutes later he was shouting angrily at everyone to ‘Get on the bus, I hope you're satisfied’!

Fatehpur Sikri is home to a 16th century mosque called Jama Masjid and the Palace of Jodh Bai, but to be honest it was a let down, with a lack of information and detail it wasn’t worth the entrance fee, we were more enthralled by the spicy vegetables we had for lunch...

Delhi

We caught a train up to Delhi, but after seeing the crush of passengers in the unreserved seating carriage, we quickly jumped onto the sleeper carriage to upgrade our tickets to get a seat, a wise move. That’s how most Indians seem to travel by train, buy a cheap ticket then slip the conductor a ‘bakseesh’ to let them stay in a nice seat for a while. Another type of Indian who likes a bakseesh on the trains are the transvestites who seem to earn quite a bit in backhanders by annoying passengers so much through touching them and frolicking about that they pay them 10 rupees to go away.

Dehli was more cosmopolitan than we had imagined, for India anyway, with wide avenues and park areas, but then we arrived in Paharganj, an uglier and dirtier version of Khao San Road with lots of seedy hotels down alleyways lined with latrines, copulating dogs and dead rats. Luckily we met a nice French couple who showed us to a hotel that was clean and quiet and a relief to stay in.

With only two days in Delhi and a day marred by rain and mud filled streets, we didn’t really get to see all the city has to offer, only the place where Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, Gandhi Smriti.

Of course, we couldn't leave Delhi without a celebratory drink, but can you guess what it is?

So after a whistle stop tour we have to say Tata India.

Observations:

STARES - you will get them unless you cover up. Dress like the local women, don’t look men in the eye and you can avoid any unwanted attention. And get ready to slap away wandering hands.

ALWAYS watch where you step, if it’s not a cowpat, it’s a human pat or a dead puppy or a pile of burning rubbish or something equally squalid.

MEN are everywhere...they run all the shops, all the hotels, all the restaurants, all the street stalls, they lounge around all over the place when not working, but where are all the women? Hidden away I guess, looking after the family. Equality? Not in India.

FOOD - Do I really have to mention how good the food is and how much we enjoyed all the delicious curries, breads, and street food we tried? Adventurous we were, even with Dum Aloo Kashmiri that turned out to be Potato and Banana curry!

So where to next? We’ve decided to head back to the UK for Christmas to meet Ryan’s nephew Charlie for the first time and for some long awaited home cooking. We’re not sure if the next blog will come from India, if we return in January, or from South America, we’ll decide in the New Year. So that’s it for our travels in 2009, we hope you have enjoyed it as much as we have!

Jo & Ryan

Photos:http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/collections/72157623021150806/

Tags: agra, border crossing, delhi, fatehpur sikri, sunauli, taj mahal, varanasi

 

Comments

1

So sorry you finally got done by the scammers, but thanks, as always, for the vivid reports and photos! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year at home. xx

  Liz Jan 8, 2010 9:31 AM

2

Dude, I cannot believe you let the Mitchell brothers scam you and this wasn't your first time in India either. I am going to start calling you Billy. :)

So how long are you going to be in the UK, want to get a beer?

  Holmy Jan 8, 2010 11:35 PM

3

Hey ryanandjo,

We really like your story and decided to feature it on the WorldNomads Adventures homepage so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!
World Nomads

  World Nomads Jan 11, 2010 12:08 PM

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