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Leaving India

15 Feb

Well, after over 150 days in India, we left the same way we came in, with a crooked taxi driver. It seems fitting that it ended this way and we were so used to it that it didn’t even phase us in the least.

We got our taxi from the Bandra area of Mumbai, where we were staying with our friend Hana. Hana’s housekeeper went out and got the taxi herself, telling the driver that we were going to the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. He quoted her a price of Rs. 250 which is a rip off, but we didn’t really care, we just wanted to get on the plane and get home. Once we got outside with our bags and the driver saw us, we knew we were in for a long trip. Hana’s housekeeper made sure to repeat that we were going to the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT and that we shouldn’t pay him more than Rs. 250.

The beginning of the drive was decent enough until we reached the turn off for the DOMESTIC AIRPORT where the driver asked (in broken Hindglish of course) if we were going to the domestic airport or the international airport. We told him again that we were going to the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT and he mumbled something about the price which I didn’t hear. As we approached the turn to the international airport he again asked if we were going to the international airport. We said, “YES! Challo! Now!” he smiled and made the turn. If you’ve been reading out blog, you know what comes next…He said that he thought the housekeeper said domestic airport and that the trip to the international airport was now going to cost us more. We called his bullshit and said, “No, take us to the International airport NOW. You get no more money.” As we began driving toward the terminals, he suddenly made a right turn and went down another road. We yelled at him to stop and got out of the car and told him, “You get no money now!” As we began walking toward the terminals, the driver backed up against traffic and began following us. He demanded that we get back in the taxi and that we pay him.

Astrid noticed a car full of police driving by and waved them over. I saw them too and did the same. I explained that the driver was playing a game with us and was trying to get more money out of us. The police officer got out of the car and beckoned the driver over. What happened next shocked us, in Hindi, the police officer began yelling at the driver, all I could understand was the word “tourist” and the word “rupees.” The driver taking everything in stride went to lean on the police vehicle and immediately had his arm slapped by the policeman. The policeman began yelling even more loudly and then slapped the driver across the face twice before dragging him by his ear to the taxi so the driver could read the meter to him. The officer then dragged the driver back by the ear and told us that “You pay this man nothing, not one single paisa.” We thought okay great, let us go so we can walk to the terminal. Then the officer told us to get back in the taxi so the driver could take us to the terminal…”WHAT? get back in the taxi…with the man you just beat in front of us?” I said, “Get in this taxi?” and the officer said, “Yes, we will follow you.”

So we piled back into the taxi, the driver wouldn’t even look at us and we got a police escort to the terminal with an officer riding in the front of the taxi. As we left, I offered to pay what we agreed to to get there. The officer just looked at me and shook his head. We got out of there as fast as we could and into the airport. I have no idea what happened to the guy after we left. It’s better to leave it to the imagination.

Feeling some sense of relief that that part of the ordeal was over, we settled in to wait for our plane which ended up being a hour and a half late. We knew as we boarded that we were probably going to miss our connecting fight in Heathrow to JFK. Well, we did and since the flight left from Mumbai, Virgin Atlantic doesn’t take responsibility for late departures. They also don’t put people up for the night in a local hotel nor do they give food vouchers. Our only option was to spend 69£ or $140 USD for a room for the night. We also lost out on a prepaid hotel room in JFK. Well we decided to sleep in the terminal instead and it was cold- really cold, but we found a space heater and huddled around it and got at least a few hours of sleep before the flight out at 9:30 am.

At least we got out of Heathrow in time and we made it back to the US at 12:30 pm. Only a day late…not bad. I called the hotel and they honored our reservation for that day. Now to get used to the Western world again…we’ll let you know how it goes.

Cheers!

Anthony and Astrid

What We Won’t Miss About India…

9 Feb

So, the post from yesterday is the highly romanticized version of the most memorable experiences of our trip. Just to be totally unbiased, here are the things that we won’t miss.

Let’s start with mosquitoes, not your average mosquitoes, but ginormous ones that carry blood-born pathogens like Dengue Fever, Chikunyunga, Malaria…We personally find mosquitoes to be the most pointless insect in the world. Tell us some reason why they must exist!

We definitely will not miss the pollution, smoke, lack of sanitation, lack of infrastructure, pot-holed roads, garbage all over the place and standing ponds of sewage and urine.

We won’t miss the Indian man’s fascination with the vehicle horn. From strange French-style horns on autorickshaws with a squeeze bulb at one end that sound like a rabid band of clowns rolling down the street to high-powered, high-decibel, ear-shattering air horns that seem to be on every vehicle- including motorbikes. I understand using a horn to warn traffic that you are coming around a blind corner, or that you are overtaking another car, and even as a thank you for letting you pass, but often, there is no discernible reason people use horns in India, it seems as though it is merely to prove they exist. We both swear that we have lost at least a little of our hearing here in India.

We won’t miss the starving, abused and generally neglected street dogs that roam around almost every city and village in India. Will someone please feed and home them or put them out of their misery? If you are looking for a good NGO to give your money to, let it be one of the animal welfare organizations here in India.

We can’t wait to leave behind rickshaw and taxi drivers who are desperate enough for work that you will get asked 17 times in the space of ten minutes whether you want a taxi or not. They don’t take no for an answer, as they rattle off all of the destinations, observation points, temples, etc. that they can take you as if it is some deranged compulsion for them to finish their sentences.

We won’t miss hawkers, especially those on the beaches with their god-forsaken drums, maps, stickers and magnets that hassle you every day even though you have told them, “No!” 493 times…that day. Who buys maps and stickers while they are on the beach anyway? We also will not miss the ever popular hawker patter, “Yes, have a look my shop?”

Last but not least, we won’t miss the hippie tourists that invade India- with their skanky dreadlocks, dirty clothes, smelly body odor, and their vacant stares into space. India is a spiritual country only if you engage in something- not just sit around and bang on your newly purchased drum from the beach hawker.

Cheers!

Driving in India

13 Jan

When I first got here four and a half months ago I thought to myself; “Aw, hell no am I going to drive in India. Its way too crazy.” And for all intents and purposes it is crazy. However I reached a point a couple of months ago where I didn’t want to rely on crooked rickshaw drivers or get gouged by taxiwallahs anymore. I wanted freedom damn it and you just don’t get freedom relying on other people to drive your ass around.

So ever so slowly we got used to driving in India, you know, rent a bicycle here, hire a scooter there. And slowly you get used to trucks and buses driving head-on toward you honking and flashing their lights all the way- forcing you to drive out onto the dirt shoulder to avoid a collision. It becomes kind of a game.

Well here in Auroville the only way to get around aside from walking and cycling (which we do quite often) is to rent a motorbike and drive your own ass around. It is all about awareness and defensive driving- trying to avoid potholes, speed humps, dump trucks, buses, cars, other motorbikes, cyclists, pedestrians and cows in the process.

I wanted a way to show you all how crazy it actually is to drive in India, so Astrid took a couple of videos from the back of the bike to show you. In the first video, you see a sequence of the road to Pondicherry while in the next one you see how it is to drive in Pondicherry itself. Woohoo!

BTW I was as safe as possible the whole time…I promise…and, yes, that is a dead dog in the first video- keep watching.

Cheers!

NH32 Auroville to Pondicherry

 

Balaji Theatre to Ambor Salai

Bhubaneswar…Beware of the Pandas

1 Nov

Not the furry, cuddly, black and white animals that you might find in zoos and Chinese rainforests. These pandas or Hindu priests are sleazy, disgusting creatures that lurk inside Hindu temples. BEWARE! Once they see your white skin they jump into action grabbing flowers and trying to hand them to you, getting you to offer them to the deities and pray for your father, your mother, your sister, your brother, and your crazy uncle Larry. Then comes the best part, you get to pay for this honor and they don’t want measly ten rupee notes, no, they want hundreds only. One hundred for father, one hundred for mother, and one hundred for the aunt you don’t talk about rotting away in a women’s correctional facility in Bakersfield, CA. (Ed. note: I don’t have a crazy uncle Larry or an aunt rotting away in prison, but if I did, the pandas would want me to pray for them.)

I’ll admit it, even after reading all the websites, the travel books, etc. I got suckered into the scam- and it is a scam. Having never been in a Hindu temple, I did not know the etiquette. Am I supposed to give a holy man the finger and tell him to bugger off? I guess I am. But these pandas are counting on the fact that you won’t. That you will be good little rich, white people and go along with the prayers, that you will open your shoulder bag (which is obviously overflowing with money) and give freely. I got away with only giving a couple of ten rupee notes. I feel the need now to apologize to my family- of course you are worth more than twenty rupees, but not when I am getting scammed.

Our autorickshaw driver-cum tour guide (who barely spoke a word of English) quickly ushered us out of the temple and back into the rickshaw. He turned to me and mimed the signal for money (rubbing fingers together,) the signal for no (palm facing me, waving side to side,) and the signal for get out of here fool (a sweeping motion with the hand.) He must have really wanted me to understand because he went through it about seven times and another two before we entered the next temple. OK, OK, I get it…sheesh.

Unfortunately, Hindu temples across the board are difficult. If you can get in, meaning you are either Hindu or male, though sometimes women are allowed in, you ALWAYS have to deal with these pandas wanting to give puja. Finally, we just gave up and went to temples that were open as archaeological sites. They tended to have more presence anyway, and rarely do you have pandas, or anyone else for that matter, coming after you.

That being said, Astrid and I really did enjoy the temple architecture of Bhubaneswar. An example of the Kalingan style showing influences of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu styles with arches, carvings, and domes that look like Buddhist stupas. The best place by far to see these temples is the Mukteswar and Siddheswar temples in Bhubaneswar pictured here, and the Sun Temple in Konark.

To the left is the Siddheswar Mandir with a red-painted Ganesh greeting you as you come closer. The feeling here was calm and serene with only a couple of families walking around. A huge change from the other frenetic temples we walked through.

The Mukteswar Mandir pictured to the right, in the same temple complex as the Siddheswar Mandir is one of the most ornate temples in Bhubaneswar, and one of the most beautiful.

From here we leave by bus for a one and a half hour journey to Puri to spend some time near the beach by the Bay of Bengal, see the Sun Temple at Konark and sort out the next leg of our trip.

See you there.

Being a Western Woman in India…

25 Oct

So I have never posted to this blog, it’s kind of Anthony’s project and I leave him to it. It’s good to have projects, keeps people occupied and out of trouble. Well, the time has come to speak out- or rather rant about a major issue here in India. Being a white, Western woman in a land dominated by small, (I’m 6ft. and most men tower out at 5.6ft) mostly uneducated men.

Why is it that men who are holding hands, groping each other, etc. can stare at me, laugh at me, go out of their way to try to bump into me (yes, Anthony is right next to me) and otherwise harass me? In my country, in my world, this would never be considered acceptable. Oh sure, people are made fun of and all of that, but this is different. This is public harassment in a form I have never seen, and more than that- it is totally socially acceptable.

In this ancient society that is trying so hard to step up to the 21st century, staring and gawking are totally the norm and nothing is thought of in publicly harassing people. NOW, this I know is not just left for me- I have had so many conversations with white Western women from late teens to late 30’s who have just hit the end of being able to deal with this issue, feel harassed, bothered, unsafe or otherwise tired of the whole thing. The only place in India that I have been, where both other women and I felt safe was in the hill stations. Starting in Darjeeling and going upwards, the harassment abated and the jeering stares disappeared.

Harassment was replaced with curious stares, questions, smiles and fair conversation. At no time did I feel harassed and insulted- usually I was met with smiles, nice conversations and earnest questions. The harassment that I am referring to has been exclusive to the low lands of India.

Most of this behavior has been explained as the boys/men here only see sex coming out of the West and assume this is what all Western women are about. Oh shit, please. This is a society that allows boys/men to do what they want, when they want, rule with abandon and not give two craps about anything or anyone around. I have seen little boys hit their mothers, scream and yell and otherwise display behavior that made both Anthony and myself drop our jaws. With the “gut and a strut” fathers just standing there, smoking and otherwise not doing a damn thing. That’s just the way it is. In fact, some of the worst harassment I have encountered is by little boys being egged on by older men around them. The favorite is to come up, of course holding hands and groping each other (this will be discussed in a later post…sigh) and they stare. Then they try to get closer and closer, and they try to touch. Now mind you, the whole time Anthony is standing right next to me staring them down. I try to do the same, even saying something-but see, I don’t count! So whatever I do or say is ignored. But they won’t even look at Anthony. They won’t get near him, but they will circle around until he just about jumps them, then they saunter away playing kissy face with each other, pants hiked up under the armpit, belt wrapped 3 times around their waists laughing as loudly as possible. So this happens 6-7 times a day at least. Take that with the glaring stares, trying to touch or bump, and a lady just has enough.

I had a super conversation with a few women from Seattle, WA regarding this issue. They were young, in college, cute and all. Studying in Delhi for a few months and then touring India, (why didn’t I do this in college? There was more to do than get loaded? hmmm…) anyway, they had a few things to say also. We compared notes, and we vented. It was great!! I told them about the fantastic book “Holy Cow!” by Sarah MacDonald (just about this very issue) and they ran out and bought it, we spoke some more and laughed over the next few days. The thing we all agreed on was that we just didn’t understand this lust and lurking that these men do. I know they don’t get laid, they have the social maturity of a 5 year old (especially toward the opposite sex) and they are ignorant about so many things in the world. But come on.

I have not in any circumstance been met with this behavior by educated Indian men. I have had fantastic times with educated, intellectual Indian men. Call it respect even!! They know there is something outside of their world and have seen more… I appreciate it greatly. Hands shaken, eye contact, business cards exchanged. All very kind. Now come on, I know that they are looking- but it’s not the same. I am not ranting about looks, I am ranting about all out harassment.

So if anyone knows how to say “Get Fucked” in Hindi, or “Go fuck yourself” or “If you actually had sex instead of fantasizing about me then you might feel better” Please let me know. I really need to say something.