Now things get interesting . . .

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Flag of India  ,
Saturday, December 30, 2006

Both of our India videos are now uploaded!  See the Contents Page (entry #1) for all the videos.

Well, as the old saying goes, "you ain't seen nothing yet".

Following another three quiet days in Bangkok we were kind of getting used to the traffic, the pollution and the food. And then we went to India. Our plane gets in at about 8pm and, from the safe, calm, neon-lit uniformity of the passport control and baggage claim, everything looks more or less the same as Thailand, or anywhere else for that matter. Then, as we round the final corner from Customs to the arrivals hall, we start to realise what we have gotten ourselves in for.

The first task is to hire a taxi into town. To avoid people getting ripped off, they have a pre-paid taxi system here. You go to the official window and tell them where you are going. You pay at the window and get a receipt with a number. You then look in the long like of identical, 30 year-old taxis outside for the one that has this number of its license plate. Our taxi is right at the end of the line, nearly in the shadows that mark the end of the airport parking lot. Inside our vehicle is a little old man fast asleep with his bare feet propped up on the dashboard. Not sure what to do, we tap gently on the window to wake him up. He creaks to attention and gets out of the car. He seriously looks about 90 years old with a long white beard and a white gown that makes him look like a darker-skinned and less powerful version of the Wizard Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings, mixed with Mr Magoo. He doesn't speak English so he confers vigorously with some colleagues as to the location of our hotel, shrugs his shoulders and we chug away into the chaos of Mumbai.

Either Gandalf has been in this business for so many years that he is supremely confident at his job or he is so old that he just doesn't give a shit any more, but he drives like he is auditioning for a job as a get-away driver. Mind you, everyone else on the road is aiming for the same job. Lane markings are merely lines on the road and mean absolutely nothing. Taxis, tuk tuks (called auto-rickshaws here), the occasional regular car, bicycles, pedestrians and even animal-drawn vehicles jostle randomly for space on the frantic motorway. We had thought the traffic in Tokyo and Osaka was nuts but it was nothing compared with Bangkok. Now, Bangkok traffic seems like a Sunday afternoon jaunt in the countryside next to this mayhem.

The closer we get to town, the crazier it gets. Bangkok drivers, for all their death-defying eagerness, very rarely used their horns. Indians drive with their thumb on the horn and honk it every time they get within honking distance of another vehicle - i.e. constantly. Our driver, with his 70 years of experience, plays the horn better than most, almost like a musical instrument. In spite of apparent deafness and absurdly thick glasses that suggest his sight isn't much better, Gandalf grips the wheel tight and just guns it, creating half gaps between two other vehicles in the same lane and veering onto the opposite side of the road whenever he feels like it, all the while swearing away at his fellow drivers.

His confidence begins to flag once he realises he has no idea where our hotel is, so he turns around and starts yelling at us in Hindi. We have no idea what he's saying so all we can do is repeat the name of the hotel. This seems to piss him off even more and he stops the car in the middle of the road, gets out and asks directions. This happens a couple more times before we eventually arrive somewhere near our hotel.

Things are just as chaotic out on the street, except animals now enter the equation. Cows plod across the street unhindered, men lead groups of goats to heaven knows where, mangy dogs slink around listlessly and there is even a small herd of buffalos standing, as bewildered as we are, at the main intersection near the hotel. Retreating to the comparative quiet of our spartan, dank room feels like escaping to an oasis of calm.

Jane's Aussie friend Evie had put us in touch with a good friend of hers from when she lived in India. We call Rajesh, apologising for the late hour, and he gives us instructions on how to meet him tomorrow for lunch.
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