India Diary - 6 September 2001

Culture shock creeps up on you without you realising it, then repeatedly smacks you about the head, leaving you in a very similar state to the guy that got 'Tango-ed' (British joke, tough to explain if you haven't seen the advert - have a look at their website if you really want to find out, it'll be something like Very much like dehydration, or salt imbalance or low blood sugar...

Today was very tough. Amazing, and yet just a wee bit too much for one day. I've never experienced so much 'new' in such a short space of time before. I had planned to go to the Aussie embassy to get my visa sorted out early this morning, then, well walk around for a bit. And that's sort of what happened - ish.

To get from my hotel to the Australian embassy I used an Auto Rickshaw - 'terror' is not quite strong enough a word to use about this mode of transport, but it'll have to do until one is invented that adequately describes the stark abject, imobolising fear that hurtling between buses, trucks, cyclists and pedestrians, over full roundabouts, through red lights and overtaking into oncoming traffic imparts on you. In actual fact it isn't too bad, I think that my brain just went into 'fairground ride' mode and just pretended that it wasn't real!

The visa application seemed to go okay until the issue of payment came up, they don't take cash at the embassy, only a 'demand draft' from a bank. "How do I get that then?", I asked, hoping that they would miraculously realise that because I wasn't actually Indian and therefore didn't actually have an Indian bank account and therefore probably wasn't actually able to produce one of these things anyway, would suddenly come over all generous and say something along the lines of, "Well sir, actually cash will be fine after all." Der, nope. "Go to this hotel and they'll be able to help you". Now my rickshaw driver was waiting outside for me (big mistake No1) and he whisked me off to the hotel. While he waited for me, I just 'popped in' for a banker's draft. Cue lesson in Indian bureaucracy. Just bizarre, one guy to do this, another to do that, one guy to get the tea, and one to act as a sort of agony uncle, or that's what it seemed like at least, his job appeared to be just to listen to each of the people's problems in turn nodding sagely, but not actually doing any work himself. Anyway, by the time I got the draft, the embassy was closed for the day, quelle surprise. So back to the hotel, via the rickshaw driver's "brother's" emporium. He said that, he really did - I couldn't believe it, they say in all the guide books that they did, but I didn't really believe that they actually would. Anyway, after he massively fleeced me for the fare ( I actually got some of the other rickshaw drivers feeling sorry for me later in the day - or was that jealous for him... can't tell) to the tune of the equivalent of 6 whole pounds for around three hours work and waiting that the guy did. Yeah, I know that it was many, many times what I should have paid, but that sort of money wouldn't even have got me halfway of the five miles home from Brighton after a night out in the UK

Task number two was to find an Internet Service Provider (ISP) while I'm in India, and if you're reading this, then hopefully it's worked! Note, that I never did manage to get the internet account to work properly. I walked into the centre of New Delhi Cannought Place, or CP as it's known. This is where the poverty really starts to hit you. It sounds harsh, but it looks staged, it's not, I know - and I'm probably going to get a whole load of hate mail for being a heartless w*nker, so I'd better try and explain myself. It looks for all the world as if it were a film, where some Hollywood director has said, "okay, now, we need that cripple... What do you mean, which one? Oh, the one with no hands, he'll do, put him over there at the bottom of the underpass. Put the pathetic old women at the other end, hmm and those filthy kids... Where've they gone? Just scatter them about a bit". The thing is that these people are all desperate, all of them. But it was just too much to take in and my brain decided at this point to take a break and shut off for a while. The true desolation struck me when I chatted with some of these guys. Not the people shouting, "mister, mister... Chess, mister?" while thrusting some (bound to be) overpriced trinket in your face, but, for example the shoe shine man, who inquired politely if I was okay, as I adjusted the plasters that I'd put on my Achilles' tendons in a vain attempt to stop my new sandals from rubbing down to the bone. He did ask me if I wanted them (the sandals) cleaned, but only once, and we just sat and chatted for a bit after I mentioned that they were brand new, and that they probably didn't need cleaning just yet. His parting words were poignant, "I'm a very poor man", he said, cradling his box of polishes and brushes. He didn't ask for any money. He wasn't pushy. What was scary was that he was maybe two or three years younger than me, and from the way that he said the words it seemed as though he had resigned himself to be cleaning shoes for some time yet.

I think that I've found an ISP, we'll see, I'm going back there tomorrow because, after going in and discussing my requirements with the manager, which was quite a challenge and took some time, as I appeared to blink in and out of visibility and audibility every now and again, the cashier's desk shut for the afternoon. At least for him I disappeared anyway. I thought that I was still in the room, but every now and again, he'd just ignore me, I'd vanish, and he'd go off and speak with somebody else for five, ten minutes or so. After a couple of times I became a little bit less polite, but this didn't appear to help and I resigned myself to my part-time existence. So, it's back to the embassy and to the VSNL office tomorrow for me.

Tonight went slightly more to plan - well actually, no, it didn't. The plan was to find another place to stay - at around 800 Rupees a night, this place is around two or three times the price of some of the cheaper hotels. Don't get me wrong, it's good. It's clean, and the rooms are large. It gives the impression of being relatively safe, it's just a bit too posh - more than I really need anyway. I'd heartily recommend it if you're coming into Delhi by plane though - fax ahead to book your room, and use the 'Delhi Transport Police' prepay taxi service at the airport. Don't use anybody else - they may be legit, or they may be a tout, there's just no way of really knowing. For two of us, with bags cost us around 200 rupees (plus 50 baksheesh or 'tip' to the driver 'cos it was late at night - despite the fact that the cab was 'prepaid'). I don't know how much the price will have changed but this is the going rate as of September 2001. Enough of that, maybe useful little aside, and back to the plot: I ended up walking in to town with a guy from Mombai/Bombay, doing a bit of email, and then going to have something to eat. The food was grand. I asked if he would take me to somewhere where I could get something 'real'. Not McDonalds (although it is a good place to get clean and free water - well it's the same water that they use to make up their coke so I certainly hope that it's clean...), but a Thali or something like that. The place we ate at was popular (good sign), clean-ish (well cleaner than outside anyway) and I don't feel sick yet, so fingers crossed! I was a bit concerned when my dining colleague religiously wiped everything with his paper napkin, the coke bottle, the spoon, the dishes... I began to wish that I'd brought my disinfectant wipes wipes... Doh! Still, the food was excellent; Paneer and spinach (not sag, another kind!) and daal, with roti and naan each. That, plus a couple of cokes came to a grand total of 130 rupees - just about 2 pounds the lot.

It was around this time that I'd realised that I hadn't actually eaten anything since breakfast, the filtered water is quite difficult to drink (it's so well filtered that it tastes weird - possibly lack of minerally type things) so I was only drinking when I was thirsty (i.e. not enough) and I think that I was low on salt. Hmmm, not the best decision I made then to try and walk to find a new hotel, it being around ten in the evening... I've just realised, did I mention something earlier about not letting my Mum read this? Mum, don't read the last few paragraphs, okay!? And, don't worry, it's got a happy eanding, nothing nasty happens ...needless to say I didn't find the place - I didn't get lost, I found CP fine, which I thought would be the hard part, I just couldn't find the road back to the hostel (I'd given up on the idea of traipsing around trying to find another hotel), so I ended up getting an Auto Rickshaw (Auto) back. Needless to say, my bargaining was a little better this time. Still, you've got to get ripped off as a tourist at some point in India - it's probably a law somewhere!

PS Don't expect this much every day! I just needed to write it all down, more to sort out and store it all in my head than anything else. Well, I do feel slightly calmer now, this, and the Diarolyte fluid replacement mixture feel like they've done the trick - my heart rate is down to with 10 BPM of normal!

And on to tomorrow...

Created by Dan Leigh 6/9/01