My final night in India was spent at a typical airport hotel, ie overpriced but handy although I didn’t know how handy (under a kilometre away from the airport) until I’d been ripped off by the taxi driver to the tune of 200 rupees. ‘I could have bloody walked it’, I declared to my shameless driver as he parked up outside the glamorously-named Shangri-La Lodge.
So, after five weeks in India, I’m leaving for Myanmar and Christmas with Ian and Tristan. I’ve had my last cloyingly sweet masala tea with the skin on top, taken my last shared jeep ride along treacherous roads peppered by landslides and roaming animals, and had my final bag of disappointing sweets (looked like a macaroon, tasted like dust). I’ve met a few Westerners ranging from the Austrian John Hurt lookie likie who had sex tourism written all over him, to the Belgian occupational therapist from Brussels who took me to the Tibetan monastery where I got chased by a dog with the largest nipples I’ve ever seen.
I’m sad I won’t be in India for National Handwashing Day but not sad that I’m going somewhere where lettuce is not dangerous. I’m still curious about a few things: why there are hardly any balding men (they can’t all be wearing syrups), and exactly what do I do with the bucket, jug and small stool in all my en suites, and am I hosing my anus with the small shower attachment or washing the toilet seat? I’m also sad I don’t have room in my rucksack for a machete. I feel I could make good use of a killer knife back at home, if only to hack away at the blackburry bush on the allotment.
Things I love about India:
1. The correct use of the apostrophe.
2. The proliferation of public notices and mottos eg ‘Don’t litter – it makes the world bitter’,’No urination in this place’, and my particular favourite speeding admonishment, the wonderfully succinct ‘Better to be late than dead’.
3. The occasional sense of humour. I saw one toilet with a simple sign for ‘Men’ on the left hand side and an opposing sign for ‘Women – always right!’.
4. You can go to jail for ‘misbehaving with bank employees’, as the window sign outside the ICIC Bank informed the public. I read this as possibly making an inappropriate deposit with your favourite teller but no, this was a reference to bank robbery.
5. The wonderfully delicious food to be eaten by the side of the road, provided you can ignore the fact that the vendor looks like he needs a ruddy good wash and a visit to the dentist.
6. The wonderful use of the Empire’s mother tongue, a combination of Dickensian era English and unabashed verbosity eg a sign from Guwahati’s local council informing its residents to keep the noise down on New Year’s Eve becomes: ‘The rollicking and frolicking of high decibel music systems committing sonic violence is prohibited.’
Things I’m not so keen on….
1. The hawking and spitting of betal juice every which way. Does no-one blow their nose in this country?
2. The lack of maps or road signs and the seeming inability of people to give adequate directions eg ‘turn left at the bottom of the road and proceed in a northerly direction for approximately five minutes…’ No, it’s all vague hand waving and shouting. If I ever arrived at my chosen destination, it was a miracle.
3. The daredevil driving, horning, and lack of seatbelt wearing. With no traffic lights, zebra crossings or lollipop ladies, if you’re a bit lily-livered or have a limp, you’re road kill. Having said that, I loved the roadmen who wore dazzling gold wellington boots that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the London catwalk, and the men pouring vats of bubbling tar over the road in just a pair of shorts and flip-flops.
4. The extreme poverty, exemplified by the man with no eyes singing at the roadside. It was a bit XFactor early stages, but I gave him 100 rupees (£1 – a fortune), nevertheless.
5. The rubbish. Despite all the signs, India is one big litter bug. I’ve seen so many beautiful locations marred by the detritus of modern living – crisp packets, fag ends, and most heinous of all, plastic bottles. There’s seemingly no regular rubbish collection so people burn at the roadside, releasing noxious gases into air that’s already clogged by traffic fumes and dust. No wonder so many people wear face guards.
6. Just like home, everyone is on their mobiles, all the time; think less ‘I’m on the train’ and more ‘I’m on the rickshaw’. People may live in a derelict concrete block with a corrugated roof and no running water but they can still watch ‘India’s Got Talent’ on their phone of any evening.
After all this, I had one glorious night in Bangkok – where a towel on the bed is not just a towel on the bed – it is a swan! And the taxi to my hotel has working seat belts, air conditioning, and a driver with a full set of teeth. Next stop Myanmar…..