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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

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

Palolem, Goa

22 Nov

Hey all, just a quick note to let you all know we haven’t dropped off the face of the earth! We moved down south to Palolem Beach on Monday and it is like a slice of heaven. Sure, there’s as many taxis, shops, and dolphin watching boat trips as you want to take…and as many touts trying to get their commission as soon as the whities step off the bus, but AHHHH…it really is paradise. I can imagine what it must have been like twenty or thirty years ago when the hippies happened upon the beach for the first time. Pristine jungle with swaying coconut palms, huge green mountains in the background, blue-green sea and blue skies that go on forever.

It is really beautiful here, the water and the beach is cleaner, there is more wildlife- like the hermit crab pictured to the left, and if you don’t want to, you never have to step foot in a polluting vehicle, everything is right there on the beach for you…as long as you want the ubiquitous “multi-cuisine” restaurants, (which we don’t) because while they may do multi-cuisine, they hardly ever do any of them well. Me, I much prefer a good curry and rice or for a real treat here in Palolem, walk off the beach and into the main part of town to go to either of the two health food restaurants there. Both Brown Bread and Blue Planet serve up tasty salads and GASP, tofu dishes like tofu with mushroom sauce, mashed potatos with grilled onions, carrot orange salad, and bread with cashew butter for $120 Rs., a totally fair price! Now I never thought I would say this, but give me a good grilled tofu with brown rice, steamed vegetables and peanut sauce any day of the week.

We are staying in a beach-front shack toward the north end of Palolem Beach called Brendon’s, it’s pretty good although a little over priced for what you get. I mean, it really is a shack, plywood walls, sloping floors, it rattles and creaks when you walk in it, but hey, look where you are, it’s freakin’ beautiful! If you stay out of the room all day as we do and close your eyes when you do come in, then everything is alright. Besides, the staff are the best bunch of guys we have met anywhere. Bobby, Kumar, and John are our favorites, but everyone is very nice. To the right is a view from our front porch watching the sunset over Green Island and the Arabian Sea.

We’ll be here until Thursday and then off to Chennai and Tamil Nadu.

Cheers!

You know you’re getting used to India when…

22 Nov

You know you’re getting used to India when…

  • …you’re in a shop and you laugh out loud at the first price a hawker gives you for their crap.
  • …you understand why people wear sweaters and woolen hats when it is 26.5°C (80°F.)
  • …there’s a huge explosion nearby and you roll over and go back to sleep.
  • …you no longer say to yourself, “What’s that smell?”
  • …you’re perfectly fine with the shopkeeper giving you four wrapped candies as change.
  • …shouts of, “Hello friend, yes sir, taxi, maybe tomorrow…” are just background noise.
  • …your sense of “personal space” gets tossed out the window. Now you’re just happy if there is enough room for you on the bus and the guy next to you doesn’t stank of body odor.
  • …the layer of dust and grime on EVERYTHING (including yourself) doesn’t make you cringe anymore.

If you have any others, feel free to add them to the comment section!

Cheers!

Some Pics from Kolkata

30 Oct

I wanted to post some pictures of the architecture around Kolkata. The Victoria Memorial was kind of like a Taj Mahal for someone alive rather than dead and so strangely out-0f-place, yet so perfect right where it is. When you walk around Kolkata, you really begin to realize HOW invested the British were in this city- they really weren’t planning to leave- EVER. Part of me misses the city, the art, and the architecture, but my lungs do not miss the pollution.

To the left, is a street scene from somewhere near BBD Bagh, though you can’t tell from this picture, the traffic was suicidal for pedestrians. Cars absolutely DO NOT stop for anything, even red lights! Add that to the diesel dust, the petrol fumes, the smoke from roadside food vendor’s fires and you can imagine the type of issues you might have walking around in this city- in fact just take a taxi, they’re ubiquitous and cheap, as long as you get them to use their meters.

The highlight of Kolkata though is the Maidan and the grounds around the Victoria Memorial, here you are actually away from the cars, in the trees and shrubbery and grass and you actually feel like you can relax a little. Families walk through the parks surrounding the memorial, bachelor mans and bachelor womans get their exercise, and people just seem to be enjoying their time here. To the right is a photo of the Victoria Memorial at sunset.

We’ll be heading to Bhubaneswar in Orissa on our way to Puri and couple of days at the beach and the Sun Temple at Konark.

See you soon!

Do taxis in Kolkata know where they are going?

27 Oct

It’s a valid question.  After being here for a few days and taking our fair share of taxis around the city, the same question I come back to is, “Do these drivers have any clue where they are going?”

Case in point, we got in a taxi yesterday and asked to be dropped at the Netaji Bhawan METRO station so we could walk to a bookshop and arts center that was close by.  The driver took us to Netaji Bhawan, not the METRO station.  When I tried to get him to take us to the Metro, he had no clue where it was.

Luckily a security guard was standing nearby and we asked where the station was.  He told us it was around the corner so we decided to walk.  We paid the driver and set out on foot.

After about three km, we felt totally lost and another taxi driver was sitting in the street, so we asked him.  We were supposed to be on SP Mukherjee Road, but when we asked him he had no clue where it was.  Another driver pulled up next to the first guys taxi and a discussion ensued.  The first driver asked the second (in Bengali) where SP Mukherjee Road was.  The second driver laughed and pointed to the street we were on.  The first driver didn’t even know the name of the street he was sitting on!

Well we finally found the Metro station, but failed to find the bookstore or the arts center.  We gave up and caught a taxi back to Park Street, which the driver WAS able to find… well, wish us luck.

Cheers!