Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Wildlife of India's Roads

Indian roads are notoriously chaotic and busy and the noise of the chirping horns of the numerous vehicles is like the urban birdsong of the city. It took me almost a week to realise that they are meant to drive on the left here but I think I’ve come to familiarise myself with the wildlife of India’s roads.

The Cows, we have to start with the cows. I’m pretty sure the practical Indian driving test must involve navigating your vehicle in between a row of cows rather than cones. They are always given the right of way but they have little care in the world as to where you are going and how quickly you need to get there.

The trucks back home are pretty dull to say the least with the occasional colourful  LED scottish flag flashing in the cabin but here almost every truck is decorated with ornate stickers and ribbons. One of the main things painted on the trucks is “blow horn please” on the back which explains why horns are heard so regularly - they are actually used like indicators.

The Tuk-Tuk is the best means of getting around cities in India. They defy physics on a daily basis winding in and out of potholes while chirping to each other like birds. These Auto-rickshaws are also designed in exciting colours where each owner takes to his Tuk-Tuk as a Scottish boy racer would take to his new Subaru.

This is what they are trying to achieve...
Motorbikes outnumber cars by miles. It’s not just because every male in the whole country wants to perfect their Shahrukh Khan bollywood entrance, it makes sense to have a bike as half the streets are barely big enough to navigate a car down and that’s without skillfully navigating the maze of potholes - if you want to become a skilled biker you should train up in Delhi! You’ll rarely see a saloon-style car here, they are all those awkward box shaped cars nobody dares buy in the western world. However, India is a practical country and anything with a bonnet bigger than a centimeter will be bashed to smitherines in no time. You will see these conspicuous “Tourist Vehicles” which will be used to cart you around in an air conditioned bubble but if I was you I’d try out any of the other methods before this modern equivalent of a carriage.

(None of these are my photos..yet)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Arriving in the heart of Delhi Belly

I sat in Glasgow departures enjoying my last sweet taste of Irn Bru and dairy milk before flying halfway around the world to the land of spice and unwelcome stomach bacteria that is India. I'd heard great things about Emirates and the best thing was through no fault of their own but I ended up with the whole row to myself which although too small for any normal sized human, it is the perfect size to fit a sleeping Rose. Now was no time for sleep though as I'd just discovered the Bollywood section of the inflight entertainment and dinner was yet to be served. I sat eating my yoghurt chicken curry enjoying a bollywood movie accustomising myself to a lifestyle I could get used to. As we flew into the night I thought I should try to sleep for a bit so as I sprawled out on my chairs I discovered probably my favourite thing about Emirates; as they dim the cabin lights to mirror outside'

s setting sun they simultaneously light up the roof to provide the night sky inside. It was quite nice to just follow the roof out the window to the real starry sky.

You could tell you were flying over the gulf states as the black of the desert at night was interspersed with huge orange gas flames lighting up the oil refineries. Dubai which appeared as a orange glow itself over the wing tip before it sprawlled out to the horizon and into the sky. (By the way watching the front facing camera during landing is actually quite terrifying.)

As soon as I stepped off the plane I was smacked by intense heat which I thought was just a consequence of standing near the jet turbines but that was just wishful thinking. Dubai airport wasn't actually as swish as I thought it would be but there did seem to be a garden and pond slap bang in the middle of the place and the bum warmers in the toilets was maybe a bit extravagant. I enjoyed the feeling of feeling like I was abroad, like really abroad and not in a western country and this only increased as I got to the gate of my next flight where I started to really feel like a gap-yah tourist. I was impressed by the nooks and crannies some people could fit themselves in to get some shut eye but I was more mesmerised by the bisare UAE soap operas that were on at 3am - the kind where you are not sure if they were re-runs of something from the 70's or actually just the norm for here.

Of course this flight had a lot more bollywood but I had a lot more sleeping to do and I only woke up for breakfast and landing. I was definitely getting further from home as nobody seemed to be following the seat-belt sign commandment as strictly as I was. I essentially sleptwalked up to immigration, scribbled in an immigration form and sighed a sigh of relief as I was reunited with my rucksack after 12 hours.

I walked out into arrivals where I was to meet by my airport transfer driver and saw a man with a sign saying "Rose" and followed this stranger to a car and as I sat down in the passenger seat I noticed the large crack in the windscreen right in line with my face. A subtle introduction to India's roads and driving style. There is some weird unspoken sense of confidence you get when you are travelling alone where you will easily follow a stranger into his bashed up car with a broken windscreen in a foreign country.

From the airport the roads actually seemed quite tame but I spoke too soon as as soon as you got out of the airport area you reached the rush-hour gridlock where you lost count of how many lanes there were in the road. Delhi seemed to have numerous "dual" carriageways running around the city which had turn-offs which landed you straight into the chaos of countless shops and hotels stacked high like cardboard boxes along the main bizarres. I kept an eye out for my hotel "Hotel Perfect" but as we pulled up I couldn't see it anywhere and I followed my driver to this other hotel and the an at the desk didn't seem to question my arrival and talk of a tour meeting at 2pm so I assumed there must have been a last minute change or something. I was taken up to my room and I'd really luck-ed out as I had a king-size bed and a fishtank in my room - proper boudoir stuff. I still had a doubt in my mind and soon enough I got a call from reception asking if I had a booking with them. My stomach dropped as I realised something had gone wrong after mere hours in the country. It turns out that in my bleary-eyed, jetlagged state I decided reading more than just "Rose" on the sign at the airport was pointless as how many Roses would be expecting an airport pick up? At least two apparently. I'd managed to steal the airport pick up from some Rose from Brazil and so got taken to the wrong hotel... So to right my wrong they got my driver to take her and I got myself in my first ever Tuk Tuk across Delhi to the right hotel. The chaos and Tuk-Tuk drive was great fun and just what I expected from India - I even got some Hindi and bargaining practice in which was like being thrown in the best kind of deep end.

I arrived at the correct hotel an hour before my tour meeting was due to start so I had time to throw things out of my rucksack and meet my roommate for the trip (A nice lady from Australia - might be a handy contact for later on!). There was only 4 of us on the tour which was quite good as it made everything a little bit more flexible and there was a good amount of time to yourself if need be. Our tour leader, who we know as Manu, was pretty young but knew his stuff and his English was absolutely top-notch!

It was pretty much go from there as we headed to a nearby Sikh temple where we were told about the community aspects of a Sikh temple where many materials and maintenence are through voluntary donations of materials and time which is best demonstrated by the huge community kitchens. The temple itself was blindingly white in the afternoon sun so we were releaved it was necessary to cover our heads but the hot marble burned our bare feet. The visit taught me a lot about a very refreshing and interesting religion which I - shamefully- knew nothing about before.

We were then taken on a drive to New Delhi which was built by the British and it was quite pretty - a contrast to the higglty-pigglty buildings near the hotel. These were basically huge, sandstone versions of St Pauls and the National Gallery which were used for government buildings. At the other end there was even a road resembling the Mall with a war monument at one end that looked like a stretched out Arc-de-Triomphe.

My first Indian meal came from a pretty western looking Indian restaurant - I suppose I have to coax my stomach into these spices- and I stopped complaining about being too western in when my paneer pasanda (a special Indian cheese and cashewnut sauce), naan(with ghee) and mango lassi (a kind of smoothie made with yoghurt) was absolutely delicious. By the time I got back to the hotel I was so ready for bed which made me beat jetlag in one day.