MARK/SARAH: Wow, where did that first month go? All too quickly is the answer. We move on now to Nepal, but before we do, here’s a few of our thoughts, tips and general observations about India, a truly amazing and awe inspiring country. If you haven’t been, go – everybody should at least once in their lifetime.
THOSE ALL IMPORTANT STATS
Miles covered in India alone: 4,870
Planes – 8
Trains – 6
Busses – 2
Taxis – 20
Tuk Tuk – 17
Rickshaws – 3
Ferries – 8
Boat – 3
But the key stat is that our reserves of Imodium remain intact – doubtless to be used somewhere else on the trip. So that’s a big fat ZERO then.
DICE WITH DEATH – PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR
It doesn’t take long for you to work it out. The only way to cross a road anywhere in India, is to hold up the palm of your hand to the oncoming traffic and go for it. There are few zebra crossings and no flashing green men. The choice is yours. Stay on one side of the road all day or trust in your hand. And amazingly, even if traffic is speeding towards you at up to 40mph, if you weave across the highway – our record was six lanes of traffic – and hold your hand up, taxis, rickshaws, cars, lorries and even cows do stop. It seems to work, but you need bottle and the knowledge that you will receive a cacophony of horns blowing your way. But hey go for it. Welcome to India!
SMILE PLEASE IN SELFIE CITY
Amongst a sea of brown, we have often been the only white faces for miles on end. That does bring celebrity status. Expect to be stopped every few hundred yards by teenagers, families and groups of young men for that all important “click”. We now know what it is like to be celebrities, with constant requests for selfies and group photos. Great fun for the first few days, but it can be a little wearing. Mark (and men in general) do seem to be more popular in the photo stakes. But do practice your baby holding skills in advance, particularly the art of avoiding those with smelly nappies. Yuk, squidgy, smell.
THE ART OF NEGOTIATION – HOW NOT TO GET STUFFED
You need to negotiate all the time. The price of a rickshaw, an item in the market. Pretty standard really. But watch out for manipulative Tourist Taxi drivers that “suck” you in with a cheap deal, try to become your friend with quotes such as “Maggie Thatcher” and “Marks and Spencer” and then renege on your original deal by “adding” on spurious charges. It does not happen often. It did to us in Goa causing an interesting autication outside the Airport Departure Terminal in full glare of the local Army. We left with a sour taste and having to politely, but firmly saying NO to the demands for more money. “I Love Goa” the marketing hype shouts. Ummmm….!
MUST HAVE ITEMS
It’s MANDATORY to take your own toilet roll with you everywhere you go. But having said that, we did not once have “Delhi Belly” despite eating in local restaurants and trying wonderful street food. The Imodium stayed in the box, but possibly because we used hand gel all the time. Have a few tennis balls in your bag as it guarantees you the chance to open the batting and bowling for BOTH SIDES if you leave the ball as a gift. Water water water. You do sweat like pigs even if you never normally sweat, so drink plenty of water and do ensure you have spare deodorants. And finally, DO take photos of your family with you. People loved to see pics of Joe and his ginger (Prince Harry) hair.
UNVERSAL LANGUAGE – HOW TO BOWL A MAIDEN OVER
Even if you’re not in to cricket, do go armed with a few names of the current Indian national side and essential questions for discussion including: “can you bowl a googly”, “what do you think of the IPL” and “do you ever think Sachin Tendulkar will one day be the Indian president?” ALL Indians love cricket. And any men reading this, will be surprised to learn that you can easily bowl an Indian maiden over, by showing her your “short leg” and “silly mid-wicket”. Many people had not heard of Middlesbrough, so limit any reference to football if you want to win friends and influence people – although pleased to see my Tweet on the BBC Sport website after we had beaten Leeds. UTB.
PLASTIC CHAIRS – YOU ARE A NOBODY IF YOU DON’T HAVE ONE, OR TWO, OR THREE
You’ve all seen them. Those white moulded plastic chairs that cost about £15 from B&Q. They are largely used in the garden or if you run out of house chairs at a child’s party. In India they have many uses and it is clear that your life is not complete if you don’t own at least half a dozen. They make great office chairs – in banks particularly. Shop keepers keep them for the elderly. And if you have a small café then of course things are multiplied many times over, with striking shade of cream and black. Plastic Chairs often go on holiday and can be seen on top of cars and carried on scooters as families head off for their summer break. They also have multi uses ranging from a commode to a set of cricket stumps and when their life is over they make great sweeping instruments in the streets of Delhi. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the multi-talented award winning PLASTIC CHAIR!
HEALTH AND SAFETY – WHAT’S THAT?
In the UK, the expression “health and safety gone mad” is one regularly heard. Not a chance of that in India. Representatives from the Health and Safety Executive would have a heart attack if they spent just one day in this mad country. Where to start? What about plug sockets that always “spark” when you take a plug out and are always placed next to the bath/shower? I got one “bad shock” – not nice. Or how about no guard rails on top of a 5,000 ft. mountain with hundreds of tourists wandering around and nothing to stop them falling. There are no such things as illegal limits on tyre tread. If it is inflated, use it and sod the consequences. Doors that fly open on trains as you travel along at 70mph+ can be initially alarming. So can going to any form of public loo, where even having a “hover wee” (ladies) can mean you literally falling in to a cess pit of sewage. We could go on, but we’d need to write a book. The answer is to accept it and when your number’s up it’s up.
WHY ARE YOU HERE? WHERE DO YOU COME FROM? WHAT DO YOU EARN?
Being a Yorkshireman, I much prefer directness in speech. Say what you mean and get to the point. It saves a lot of time and both sides know where they stand. Love it. And so it appears do the Indians. “What do you earn, how did you fund your trip and what is the purpose of your visit?” These have all been pretty much “opening lines” when meeting a local for the first time in Delhi, Goa and Coimbatore. In most cases I answer directly back and off we go. There is no “skirting around the edges.” I am sure it must be a lot easier when it comes to chatting up members of the opposite sex. Instead of “do you come here often”, what will most certainly work is “do you fancy me”. The answer is either yes or no. And if it is no, then go on to the next one. The old sales adage, “if you kiss enough frogs” works very well here so go with the flow, strip away your inhibitions and be direct.
MANY HAVE LITTLE – WHAT THEY DO HAVE THEY SHARE – Indian people, wonderful people
We will never forget the kindness of Garima and her family at Delhi station. One day in to our trip we were thrust in to the madness of India head first, 20 railway platforms, thousands of people and a three hour late running train. Up popped Garima, my new “Indian sister”. Four weeks later I still wear her red and yellow friendship bracelet. But the thing that struck us most is how ALL Indians share no matter who they are and what they have. This is particularly the case on public transport. We have been offered, crisps, curry, drinks, bananas and even “Bombay Mix” on the trains, busses and ferries we have travelled on. In return, we have shared what we had and even though in most cases it wasn’t very much, the fact that we offered was good enough. Garima’s Grandmas tea was wonderful, so were her crisps. But the abiding memory of being offered her newspaper to sit on that filthy platform edge, will stay with us for ever.