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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

Kodaikanal

11 Feb

There isn’t a lot to say about Kodaikanal or “Kodai” as it is known by most people here, except that it is a world away from the stifling heat of the plains. In fact, the high temperatures here are only in the 20s° Celsius. It gets cold at night- very cold for southern India- around 9-10° Celsius.  And it has rained a little every day that we have been here save one.

There are hills everywhere in the town and you get an amazing workout as you walk around- which is the easiest way to explore. Astrid and I took a “walk” yesterday to Silver Falls, about 7km out of town. Our hotel concierge told us that it was an easy walk to take a shortcut through the town. And it was..until we reached the end of the path and realized we had to climb down the side of the mountain on a single track dirt path to get to the falls- in sandals. We finally made it…and the falls weren’t that nice, garbage everywhere, interstate tourists clamoring for a photo, clothes hanging from the branches of nearby trees as if they were swept down the river that feeds the falls. So we stayed for a little bit, ate a pomegranate and walked back- this time by the main road…uphill…very uphill. We figured that we walked about 14 km yesterday- around 9 miles.

That isn’t the only place to walk in Kodai though. A huge attraction is the man-made lake just below town. We have walked it everyday since we got here and it is beautiful- watching the mists roll in over the hills while families paddle around the lake in pedal boats, red and blue kingfishers search for food and purple and yellow Lotus’ float in the water. The lake circuit is 5km and it has been great to be able to get some exercise while we’ve been here- something that you can’t do in most places in India.

I’d definitely recommend coming here, but only for a few days, it can get tedious after that with frequent blackouts and restaurants that close at strange times. Check out Cloud Street Cafe, the best coffee in town, Pastry Corner for a mean brownie, and the Royal Tibet Restaurant which serves up good Chowmein and Momos. Hotel Hilltop Towers has been our address here for a week and the people are really nice and have been good to us. The rooms are clean and it is close to everything.

We leave tomorrow morning to Coimbatore to fly to Mumbai tomorrow afternoon where we’ll meet our friend Hana and check out the most expensive city in India.

Cheers until then!

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!

Fort Cochin and the Backwaters

2 Feb

I can see that Ft. Cochin is a nice place. Relaxed, laid-back, easy-going…you know sleepy. The influences of the spice seekers is plain in the architecture, Chinese fishing nets, Jewish synagogues, Portuguese houses, the Dutch Palace all on a little island that faces out into the Arabian Sea. It really is quite beautiful and although we had a annoying experience at our guest house, there were some things that really stood out. Lunch and coffee at the Kashi-Art-Cafe, walking by the Chinese fishing nets at sunset, tea and dessert at the Teapot, and spice and antique shopping in Jewtown. I totally recommend going to Kochi, but it really is a two-day stop, any more and it gets REALLY boring.

While in Kochi, we took the opportunity to take a backwater tour that was a combination of a short tour in a “country boat,” read canoe that took on water, and a longer tour of the backwaters in a houseboat that is designed like a kettuvallam, or rice barge. These boats are made of wood and then a frame of bamboo and reed is attached on top. Throw on a few chairs, two boatmen, and 16 or 17 of your closest friends and you’ve got yourself a tour on the Keralan backwaters. It was long, but it was also beautiful. Small islands dotting the waters, pink and yellow lotus flowers growing out of the mud, villages in the middle of nowhere, and gorgeous kingfishers (the bird, not the beer) flying around you.

We took off early this morning heading to Coimbatore in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu on our way to Kodaikanal, a hill station nearby to do some trekking and get some fresh air.

Less than two weeks to go! 😦

Indian Fashion Accessory of the Year…

27 Jan

Three words…Ali Baba Trousers.

The fashion fad of all fashion fads for the 2007-2008 India travel season is the Ali Baba trousers…also affectionately known by us as genie pants, diaper covers, grungy hippie premium denim, and load in the pants. They are made with billowy material usually with an elastic waist and about two yards more fabric from the waist to knees than you actually need. In fact most of these pants hang well below the knees and this- in essence- is what makes it look like the person has taken a dump in them.

And they are EVERYWHERE…I challenge any of you to go to any Western travelers haven in India- be it Goa, Hampi, Puri, Mamallapuram, or Varkala and NOT see these pants on someone. Male or female- it doesn’t matter- although in my humble opinion, men should NEVER wear these pants unless they are very comfortable with their masculinity and don’t mind looking like a big dork.

So to be an completely individual traveler in India, get your Ali Baba Trousers, sport your Om tattoo, carry around the Lonely Planet guide, read Shantaram, do yoga while you are just standing around, buy a drum, stare off into space and wear your hair in dreadlocks and you will look just like every other twenty-something backpacker that I have seen for the last six months.

Ed note: I am not knocking Shantaram- it is a great book and I would recommend it to anyone. Read it now before Johnny Depp ruins it on film.