First week in India (no running)

So I’ve been in India a week now and it’s time to reflect. 

 Getting through immigration was a joke as the fingerprinting machines just weren’t working properly and I got off lightly with only about five failed attempts per hand.

I set out for the city quite soon. I was surprised how busy everywhere was at this time of night. The driver couldn’t find the hotel. He got me to find it online but that didn’t help, then he tried to phone them without success. He went and asked a group of rickshaw drivers for directions and eventually I spotted the sign across the road. The man on the front desk woke up with a jolt when I walked in. I was dead tired as it was 3am on my body clock, but he insisted I look at two rooms to choose between them (and of course the lift wasn’t working properly); neither were very nice. Later I noticed dead cockroaches on the floor, mothballs in the basin (this is an Indian custom), no toilet paper, and a view of a grimy wall.

In the morning I ordered breakfast at the hotel before remembering I had no Indian money. It didn’t seem to matter. Maybe it was included.

I walked around the dusty streets for a while checking out local restaurants for future reference. There were heaps. Then I went by taxi to the race expo which was an hour away. The driver told me there was a big marathon in Mumbai tomorrow but he didn’t understand when I said I was doing it, and nor did he understand I was going to the race expo as he was somehow reluctant to follow the street signs to the expo that I noticed when we got close.

I didn’t do much apart from eat and nap, and walk around those traffic filled dusty streets looking for a route to get to the race start. It was hot.

I reflected after arrival that India may have changed more than the West since I’d last been here in 1983. That was mainly because everyone is on their phones all the time. And there are lots of cars that aren’t relics of the sixties. It’s an illusion of Westernization. After week here I’m not so convinced that much has changed in a fundamental way. This morning at breakfast at my hotel in Bikaner the waiter asked how Australia was different and I was at a loss to explain, muttering about cleanliness and no cows on the streets, but looking out the window at the tumbledown or half-finished sandstone coloured houses and dry dusty streets I thought that it could really not be more different. 

One of my strongest memories of India is going to be from the Delhi subway station. The train was pulling into the station and I was waiting for the women’s compartment: it was the last one, and all the other compartments were filled with men in drab greys and browns, and then the women’s compartment came into sight and it was a riot of colour and loud noise. It spoke volumes about the colourfulness and liveliness of India.

Compared to my last visit things are still dirty, although less smelly. Hardly anyone smokes, which is a big and unexpected change. People drop their rubbish wherever they happen to be. There are piles of rubbish all along the streets and dogs or cows nibbling at whatever takes their fancy. The huge number of people on the streets is maybe disguised by the volume of traffic which takes precedence everywhere and is therefore more noticeable. 

Unlike before, I haven’t noticed people in rags just squatting in the gutter doing nothing (although there are plenty of folk doing nothing). People seem better dressed but almost no females are in Western clothes. I’m sure there are more cows in the streets than before; I just don’t remember there being quite so many. Touts seem to hassle less in that they don’t run down the street after me, but they still believe they have a right to talk to me and get an answer whenever they like. Everyone asks where I’m from and their knowledge of Australia is limited to cricketers. 

However it seems to me that fewer people can understand or speak English than previously; by no means are all signs in both English and Hindi and sometimes when I’ve asked for directions the person hasn’t understood. Nobody has tried to engage me in conversation in the language of Jeeves.

Jaisalmer is lovely but the ambience definitely suffers with the traffic; then again maybe I’m wrong: maybe the juxtapositioning of traffic and antiquity gives the place an Indian feel. When there’s no incessant hooting and you can walk in a relaxed way it will no longer be real. Apparently the town foundations can’t cope with the amount of water being used nowadays, but there’s no mention of the damage done by traffic. Motorised vehicles take priority everywhere. But the cows act blasé and in Bikaner the poor camels pulling big loads aren’t phased either.

The food has been really good and the restaurants, while basic, are not grotty. I don’t recall the sweet shops being so good or so plentiful. I have been short-changed twice after meals. They know the amounts of money are so small I would be embarrassed to check my change. 

Booking a train at the station has become easier. I haven’t seen any queues so far. There’s still a big form to fill in for a $4 train ticket. And, of course, finding the right reservation counter can be hard. But all in all it’s easier to book tickets in person than online since you don’t have to try the payment portal 20 times and don’t have the risk of getting your credit card cancelled!


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