Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Will the real India please stand up?

So after eating some of what is quite clearly, and quite scientifically, the best food ever - which nearly convinced me to stay in Varanasi, strangely - it was off to Mughal Sarai station, the other side of town.

And this being India, nothing is ever that simple.

The autorickshaw wouldn't start.

To be fair to him, the driver didn't give up - he tried everything. He went into more parts of the auto than I thought existed, but eventually settled for the old-fashioned tactic: the push-start.

But despite paying over the odds for an auto purely because the colour of my skin must make me a walking ATM, we still had to act as the local bus service for various people who wanted to get in on the way.

Various people who quite blatantly and obviously paid next to nothing, for a fare that any driver would shout "one-hundred" at me if I even attempted such a thing as going across town.

I'm fairly sure it's a fact: for white man, every autorickshaw fare is 100 rupees. Until we hit 5km, in which case it's whichever big number the driver knows the English for. And if there's a meter to stop this kind of thing, it never works for white man - because who knows, they might only have to pay a FAIR AMOUNT rather than having to mess around with the people who not only take advantage of tourists' wallets openly, but also try to take them to the shops and hotels that pay them commission.

Regardless of whether they wanted to go there in the first place, or whether they can afford it.

As I said last time, it takes money out of the hands of HONEST local people, and puts tourists off coming at all.

Anyway, I digress.

By the time I'd worked up enough anger about this whole situation, we'd stopped again, and my autorickshaw was now the main attraction in town.

Bigger than the actual attraction of some Hindu festival (there's always a festival) going on in the street.

Well, taking up both sides of the dual carriageway, and closing it off.

Ah yes, white man has just happened to turn up. Must shake white man's hand. Must get photo of white man. Must just stand there and stare at white man, despite the fact that he's NO DIFFERENT to any of us, apart from the colour of his skin.

I don't mind the shaking of hands and the photos - in fact I find them mildly amusing. At least they're making an effort to communicate with me, and at least they're welcoming me; making me feel human; treating me as a person. Staring on the other hand is just uncomfortable. Yes, the culture is different - staring is just showing interest - but staring is the kind of interest you show in animals, insects, the things you can't communicate with. OK, so maybe language might be a barrier - but that doesn't stop me using some strange game of charades in a futile attempt to communicate with foreigners!

I'm a human, just like you. I can speak. I can respond. I don't just have some sort of animal instincts. I'm not another species. Your culture is meant to be welcoming and friendly. Come on - take a think about it. We wouldn't do this to you. Maybe it's because we're used to such diversity, but seriously - think about it.

But it's not the worst thing. If the staring is uncomfortable, and the hand-shaking and photos amusing, the face-pinching is plain uncivilised.

Yes, I said "uncivilised".

It is uncivilised.

Don't give me the "cultural" nonsense. Causing pain to another human being unnecessarily by PINCHING THEIR FACE is ridiculous. I genuinely don't get why people do it, or why it's so widespread, or who thought it was a good idea. But it makes me tempted to act like an animal and punch someone - if only I knew who it was, because they tend to make themselves scarce pretty quickly.


Man up and talk to me!

If you don't speak English, just smile, or shake my hand, or make some effort to recognise that I'm human!

Anyway - enough of crying about being a white man. The culture shock had hit me again at this point - on my second visit to India - despite the fact I knew what was coming. Despite the fact that I'd come via Nepal, which isn't that different. It's the staring and the touts that generally put me in a bad mood.

Eventually we got moving again, but that required a push-start. By face-pinching locals. Thanks for the welcome, but please don't ruin it by doing stupid things like that next time.

Into the station and finding the platform proved to be a mission in itself. I thought it was platform 4, then I wasn't so sure. So I wandered back towards the main concourse to check. No taxi drivers, I don't want a taxi back to Varanasi, now or ever again in my life.

Indian railway stations do the stupid thing of putting the platform information for departures on a whiteboard behind the enquiry desk window. The same enquiry desk that has a large scrum of people trying to shout at the poor guy sat behind the window, plus a second scrum trying to look at the whiteboard. It really doesn't work, especially when you can't read Hindi script and have to guess from what you think is the train number and departure time.

OK, I still have no idea, but let's wander back to platform 4.

Oh, I should have just stayed here. It actually admits that my train exists now. And it even tells me where my sleeper car is going to stop.

Let's get going.

It was meant to roll into Satna, the station where I'd change for a bus to Khajuraho at about 5am.

So I woke up at 5am.

We were in a station.

But with this being India, and not Germany, we were at Allahabad - the next city along from Varanasi.

We didn't get into Satna until 9:30am.

Not only had I missed the 6:30am bus to Khajuraho, but I'd also missed the 9:15am bus. Either I could wait until 2pm for the next direct bus, or I could change at Panna and then attempt to say "Khajuraho" there.

Eventually, I settled for changing at Panna. A note: it's Panna, and not Panni. Panni is the Hindi word for water, and shouting it in a bus station just confuses people - especially the people actually selling water to people on buses.

Thankfully, someone who could actually pronounce "Khajuraho" bailed me out. This bus will take you straight there, and will be quicker than the government bus.

But it's leaving now. You'll have to chase it and jump on.

Jumping on to a bus, while wearing a 15kg pack on your back and another 5kg pack on your front, and doing so successfully, must make me level up in terms of man points. Surely.

It was a private bus, and I assumed that I was going to pay for the privelige.

Nope. Cheaper than the government bus.

But packed as full as the government bus, and with the same annoying staring as on the government bus. Which when you've not particularly slept well, haven't eaten for far too long and aren't feeling too great, is a bit too much. So white man slept, the concept of which must have caused much amusement among the locals.

Of course there was a catch: it dropped me off at the main road, about 20km out of Khajuraho itself. But no worries, there's a shared auto that'll take you in. Squashed in and into Khajuraho for 10 rupees. Problem solved.

Apart from the fact that we decided to go the long way round, and wait outside another guesthouse for about 20 minutes while the owner tried to persuade me to stay there instead. Sitting there, lying down and pretending to sleep did the trick though. Yes, I'm tired. Yes, it's partly related to your crap. Yes, please take me to the place I asked you to, and the place I'm paying you to take me to.

Checked in, I went to find some food. I needed it.

The kids here seemed to think that white man was not only an ATM, but also a dollar dispenser, pen vending machine and chocolate factory.

I should have realised what was coming.

I was wandering towards the Jain temples, and the place seemed eerily quiet. It really didn't feel that touristy. Then they descended, like flies.

Do you want to buy this overpriced crap that you really don't need? Yes, you do. Good price! Good price! No, no, no, come to my shop first!

Unfortunately I found the keyrings they were offering me a little bit amusing. Khajuraho is home to the "naughty temples", as someone put it in Varanasi. Kama Sutra may well have come out of here. Let's just say that the keyrings acted out the Kama Sutra, and that whoever makes these is a very clever businessman.

I say unfortunately, because showing any sort of interest, even if it's in the "those are genuinely quite a clever idea" form, is just food for the flies.

To try to move away from that, I just asked if they had postcards. I actually collect a postcard for each place I go to, so these might have been quite useful.

If they weren't trying to charge 30 rupees for them.

Postcards cost 5 or 10 rupees normally. Everywhere.

And apparently, two postcards for 50 rupees is a "good deal".

So I laughed at him, told him he was a rip-off merchant and that I wasn't going to buy anything from him, and wandered into the temples.

Thankfully they didn't follow me in.

I just had a security guard for company, who insisted that I do some stupid poses against the temples.
Man card lost
And I wore a leather belt into a Jain temple, which probably condemns me to a fiery death or something.

I spent a good long time in there, but the flies were still there, ready to pounce, when I left. Now they could offer me an even better deal. First of all, they tried saying that they'd sell them "at cost" to me. Then they said that "for me", I could have them for two-thirds of the cost.

Yes, I don't buy from liars. Leave me alone before I swat you away.

So I had a wander into the old village. I got accosted by a family before long, which is the normal Indian way. They were nice enough as well - gave me a chai and so on. The father offered to show me to the Eastern Group of Temples, which turned into a guided tour.

I should have seen it coming.

Then the stories started. "I've broken my leg so I can't work as a taxi driver, so I'm just showing people around for a bit". Ah, you're a taxi driver. Try not to judge. Try not to judge.

I tried to escape at this point, but no. Inspired by the Hindu gurus we saw smoking weed, he wanted me to join them to have a smoke. And I was expected to pay for it.

His uncle, or brother, or someone, 'rescued' me. And took me into his shop in his house, where he tried the hard-sale tactics with his souvenirs. Oh yes, you're a rich white man, just withdraw cash from the ATM which is YOURSELF.

So I escaped.

Out of the house, in the opposite direction to where the original guide/taxi-driver/scam artist was stood, trying to roll a joint.

White man walking quickly out of the old village confused the locals, especially when my new "friend" was chasing me.

I went and hid in the Western compound which was my hotel. Julian Assange, I feel your pain. You're just lucky that you have food made for you. I had to escape at some point. So I located somewhere suitably far away from the centre in my Lonely Planet and set off to go there.

Suddenly I had a new friend again. I tried to go into the place I was planning on going to, but it was closed. But there's more restaurants near the market. Yes, true. But I'm hiding from a whole village right now.

I was already suspicious, but for some reason he'd befriended me to the extent that I went to his friend's rooftop restaurant - after he dismissed my tongue-in-cheek suggestion that he was collecting commission from me. The menu seemed legit and the prices reasonable, he seemed more interested in talking about his conquests in Goa than anything else, and he wasn't expecting me to buy him any food.

Then his friend came over. Possibly the strangest and most uncomfortable person I've ever met. And he even showed me some texts off an Israeli girl who apparently missed him. Stockholm Syndrome, perhaps. But my, he was weird.

At this stage, they decided that they'd try to convince me into exporting their gems in my luggage. Illegally, using the "personal allowance". All I had to do was pay for the insurance. And then claim the gems had been stolen, and claim back five times their worth on insurance

I should have known.

I seem to have this unique ability to know that I'm probably walking into a scam, but not do anything about it.

Maybe I'm just too British.

My food still hadn't come either, and it was about 2 hours later.

Second escape of the day. I got out of there incredibly quickly, leaving whatever dodgy whiskey they'd tried to intoxicate me with behind.

And no autorickshaw driver, I don't want a ride. Or that kind of ride.

I'm going to sleep. And I'm getting out of here tomorrow.

No more
I didn't even see the Western Group, the main group, so I'll have to make do with pictures. At least it means that I don't have to put a NSFW warning on this blogpost, because those are the actual "naughty" ones.

12:30pm train to Orchha: boarded. Last photo on my camera, ever. More on that next time.

Photo #69 from Khajuraho. You can't make it up.
Will the real India please stand up?

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