Friday, 24 September 2010

A new unit of measurement

When I sit down to write each of these blog posts the amount of things that have happened in only a few shorts days is just overwhelming. Where to begin? Well lets start with current affairs shall we? The Indian press is full of stories of their countries shame regarding the state of the athletes village for the Commonwealth games. Delhi is not ready in terms of roads and general infrastructure as I previously discussed, but it seems that even the athlete accommodation is far below par. Human shit and filth spread around the bathrooms, stray dogs tearing up sheets and ransacking bedrooms, a footbridge collapsing injuring 27 and a roof in a wrestling/weightlifting arena falling down. Having seen the north of India and it's attitude to hygiene and what constitutes habitable conditions I am not entirely surprised. Couple this with the extended monsoon, the flooding (which we experienced first hand in the Himalayas), the resultant Dengue fever outbreak and the threat of terrorism it's not a great time for the capital.

After our failed trek and the flooding we decided that the best plan of action was to basically sack off our plans in the north and head south to Kerala. There the living would be easy, the sun would shine and there might be some sort of semblance of reason.We changed our internal flight and attempted to head to the airport. Of course this wasn't to be plain sailing. Trains were cancelled, buses were full and when we tried a long distance taxi, road after road was blocked. In the end we needed to check into a hotel in Saharanpur. A place with more than one hotel (thankfully) but which gets no mention in the guide books for good reason. It's hard to describe what a day of travelling around India is like. For those of you of the scientific persuasion I think a new unit of measurement is required. This will denote the rate of things unfamiliar, repulsive, annoying or hazardous to health thrust in your face per minute. I call this unit the "Delhi".

Getting from A to B is never easy it seems. It all starts well with an internet booked train ticket (cheap as chips) and a rickshaw or taxi to the train station (also cheap as chips). Once deposited at the station the problem starts. Already figures of great interest to anyone and everyone simply by not being Indian and one of your contingent being a blonde lady you have committed the faux pas of carrying a massive backpack on your back. Instantly your shirt is soaked through with sweat. You pass by the gawping hoards to try to find a spot to plonk down your bags and afore mentioned blonde interest gatherer. On the way the Delhi levels are high. Amputees, Sadhus, flies, filth, spitting, begging hands. Then you must find out which platform your train will leave from. The enquiry kiosk is tiny a window with one man behind it. In front thirty or forty men battle each other to reach the front and shout out their enquiry to the single man peering through his bolthole. The Delhi level is off the scale here and not worth dealing with. I have started to simply march into the station superintendent's office and ask him. One benefit of being an interesting foreigner I guess. The answer is quite vague and so I seek two or three different answers from other offices and take an average of all the answers discarding those that seem too far from possible.

The maximum Delhi level "Train is cancelled" reply gives you that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. "The road is blocked" is another classic that we have heard too much and achieves much the same gut twisting sensation. Attempting to find other trains or simply buying a ticket at the station is nigh on impossible. At one station we simply couldn't physically manage to push our way past the crowds to buy another ticket. All the while your hands hover over your pocket to check that no tiny fingers have been off with our wallet and the sweat continues to pour. I found sweat marks on the shins of my trousers the other day. Who knew that could happen?

Sitting from the comfort of a taxi or an air conditioned coffee shop you can marvel at the scene played out in front of you. Amuse your self for hours at the Delhi levels that you don't have to deal with. From a coffee day store I watched smoke drifting lazily up from piles of smouldering rubbish on the other side of the road joining the cloud of dust hanging in the air. I marvelled at the fat pigs snuffling around in the rest of the roadside crap. A buffalo pulling a wooden cart with a semi naked man sat on top of the wooden platform, a well to do family of four without helmets whizzing by on their scooter, a cycle rickshaw driver pumping his stick thin legs to pull an entire room full of wooden furniture along. On top of that you add the constant beep beep beep of the horns from every vehicle that owns one. The horn is as essential to the driver as the brake or the clutch.

We are beginning to realise from hard worn experience that looking at a map and guide book and saying "oh it only takes five hours to get to this place lets go" is foolhardy. Leave yourself two days...


1 comment:

  1. Oh dear, it's not been easy for you two!

    I completely agree about the unit of measure called "Delhi". Somewhere in the equation you should add the quality of the road and the number and type of animals on the road. Space time is distorted in India. Tru fax.

    Happy travels

    PS. You can substitute "China" for "India" in the above post. Train stations just as mental.