Friday, 3 January 2014

The escape to Puri

When I want to get out of somewhere, I sure as hell get out. And usually, the place tries to hold on to me. Puri had a beach, so that was even more reason to make a beeline for it.
This is a decent view from a hotel window, thank you
So taking a 40 rupee bus required sitting like a lemon for 90 minutes, without anyone telling me this was the case, in a bus station, where the only entertainment was the look on my face when I tasted the tea.

Seriously, this is India. It's a basic requirement of all tea here to be nice.

Uneventful bus journey over, I kind of knew where I'd been dropped (as per usual), but wasn't 100% sure (also as per usual), and was confronted by the hordes of autorickshaw drivers (definitely as per usual). I asked them to take me to the CT Road - no, not the city road, the CT road - the main backpacker enclave of Puri.

They didn't seem to know what I was on about.

So I named a random hotel I knew was there from the Lonely Planet, and asked how much that would be.

I knew the answer already.

100 rupees, of course!

"It's a long way!"

Yes, I've never heard that one before.

I'm not even going to make links to these ones. Just look at any post on India that I've made.

It was a 60 rupee fare, at most, if I was being generous. If I was a local, I'd pay 40 rupees. But I was too tired to argue - and so when white man fare is 200 rupees, I'll only have myself to blame. Because that's how it works.

So I got to Z Hotel, which apparently had 500 rupee rooms. After a major kerfuffle trying to work out if it was actually a hotel (it looked like a manor house the British would have built), I wandered inside and to look at a room.

How much is this one? 1000.

What?! Any cheaper?

Ah, it's 500 if you turn the aircon off.

Yeah, we'll go with that.
And I could see the sea. Every problem solved
The place had a super-cheap restaurant though, and with some good food to boot. Mohan was a bit of a legend of a waiter - anyone who can bring out the crazy in me is always going to be a bit of a legend.

And among the others, there was Theo, a fellow crazy man from Greece, and ANOTHER WELSH PERSON!

Even if she was from north Wales. Not that I can say a lot about that, she actually spoke Welsh.

And I'm so useless that I've forgotten her name. That is not good of me.

She was a grown-up hippy who had just gone to the government shop to buy weed. Genuinely.

Yes, there's a government shop selling drugs.

The place had atmosphere though.

Enough atmosphere that I spent my first day being lazy, having beer for breakfast and buying painted postcards from the shop opposite on the basis that they cost 8 rupees each.

Eventually I decided that I should probably do something with my life, and thought I'd head over to the big temple before it went dark.
This isn't the temple. This is just a relevant photo to break up some text, since I haven't posted a photo in a while.
I'm in Orissa, after all. It's only appropriate.

So I went for a walk. I was on strike against the autorickshaws.

Eventually I just took a rickshaw instead. Because those are drastically different, of course.

He wanted 100 rupees to go to wherever he thought I wanted to go.

See, I can't get into this temple because I'm not Hindu, but there's a library nearby where I can have a peak. So I asked him to take me to "the library near the temple where I can see".

Of course he wasn't getting white man fare for it, so I offered him 50 rupees, which he took without question. And this I will say: fair play to him for working, despite the fact he only has one complete arm - especially on a cycle-rickshaw, where it's kind of helpful to have both hands intact. And in India, where the whole question of disability is a bit taboo because of the whole Hindu reincarnation/karma thing, you could even call it brave.

But I presume something got lost in translation, because he took me to by the sea near the temple.

Word order is important
I say near - not really.

It was a fairly long and sweaty walk - and I didn't really save any distance at all. And it was nearly dark by the time I got there - and I still had no idea where the library was, so I went looking.

The worst bit after all that - the library was DIRECTLY OPPOSITE the temple. I could have just asked him to take me to the temple.
The "library"
And when I went inside what was at one point a library, they of course wanted a donation. And of course, they opened their book full of people who'd given 200, 500, 1000 rupees.

So of course they whinged when I put 20 down on the table. "But everyone gives at least 200!" Yes, that's the people who actually give enough that you allow them to write their names down. Or maybe they all give 20 like me, and you just added another zero.

Also, good work on using all these large donations for the maintenance of the library, like you said they were. I can tell that it's in a great state of repair.

Now I'm done with the whinge of my own, I must admit that it's quite something to ascend to the top of a staircase to view a huge thing like this and for it to suddenly appear in front of you. The sheer size of the thing!
Yes, it falls off the page. THAT'S THE POINT.

If only they'd do the same with the Taj Mahal. All it would take is a tunnel. Just don't tell UNESCO.

Eventually they kicked me out (ah, if only I'd donated 200) and I had to try to negotiate my way back. Thankfully a rickshaw driver bailed me out and told me he'd take me to the CT Road for 50. As in saw confused foreigner, and said "CT Road sir? I take you for 50".

OK, rickshaw drivers are still in my good books. Autorickshaw drivers are another matter.

And so there we went.

Back we got, and guess what?

He wanted 100.

But you said 50.

No, 50 was to the beginning of the CT Road.

Well why didn't you stop at the beginning of the CT Road then?!

Or even better, tell me this in the first place? Maybe ask me how far down I wanted to go?

And I didn't have enough change to give him 50 and walk, so I had to just give him 100 and have a good moan on Facebook about it instead. Oh wow, that one sparked a bit of debate. As I said, poverty is no excuse for dishonesty - and dishonesty keeps countries poor.

And they believe in karma. Apparently.

It had to be time for some Kingfishers. So in the end me and Theo decided to create a mystical "Mr Kingfisher", because a Hungarian girl we'd met didn't get the link, and it seemed funny to go with it.

She appreciated it in the end.

Maybe the next day.

A day which began with a long walk to the bus stand to get myself on the bus to Konark. A walk necessitated by my new strike against both autorickshaw AND rickshaw men. Apparently it's walkable - but not in this heat and humidity.

It didn't help that it was about 11am either, but that's my own fault for not getting out of bed at a normal time.

I was sweaty, but as long as I was in the general vicinity of a window that would be just a temporary problem.

Well, maybe if I wasn't squashed in next to the gear stick. Next to far too many people. Especially the guy who had a seat by a window, but insisted on leaning forwards into my personal space, and leaning his arms on me.

Oh yeah, this is India.

So I just exaggerated the effects of the bumps and knocked him backwards into his rightful position a few times. Neo-imperialism at its finest.

And of course, every time the gear stick shook excessively, which was quite often, my knees would fling up in the air.

I'm such a nice guy.

So eventually I escaped the can of sardines, and ignored the various touts on my way to the Sun Temple, another UNESCO site in India.


Which basically means they have an excuse to charge foreigners more than twice what they usually do for admission.

And I'm not a cynic at all.

I normally get guides coming up to me, trying to get me to take their services on the basis that I need them to regurgitate the information that I could get from another source in order to understand it, or that I'd already paid a lot for my trip/my entry ticket.

Well, I don't pay a lot for my entry ticket out of choice. And if I've paid a lot, I'm not going to just throw more money away. That's not how it works.

What the one guide said actually infuriated me though.

"But you won't understand! You're too young!"

That age-related comment actually made me steam up a bit, and I had to tell him to make himself scarce just so I could avoid doing time in an Indian jail for assault. At least I didn't remind him that regardless of age, he probably didn't have a degree, unlike me. That would have been a bit harsh. And I'm not that rude anyway.

No, I understand what this means
So in I walked, on my own, and had a look round. As I was getting excited about the existence of the sundial which appears on the Indian flag, I got accosted.


10 rupees for a photo of you on your camera.

Seems reasonable.

Oh wait.

He wanted to do some sort of photoshoot.

At 10 rupees a shot.




Then he started insisting on stupid poses. No, I'll just take the 5 photos please. No, I don't want 12 for 100, I only wanted the one.


This will most certainly be enough
In the end he took six. So instead of arguing over that last unwanted photo, I just gave him the 60 rupees and reminded myself that I hadn't paid £250 for a modelling shoot like some people do.

And I get a world heritage site as a backdrop too. Take that.

So I continued exploring, with heightened awareness of the various money-makers around. And then I came across this.

I genuinely thought that it was some kind of joke, probably dating from colonial times, put there to take the mick. I mean, it's our sense of humour after all!

No, apparently this is a genuine temple. Add it to the list of diplomatic fails, in the book of Idiot Abroad.

They also insist on having scaffolding on the whole thing, as they're "restoring" it.

Debatable.
Even more debatable.
Seriously - if it's falling apart, put the relevant bits back together so it's not going to fall apart any more, then LEAVE IT ALONE. It's more real that way.

At least they haven't put any handrails, barriers, or other such things on.
My kind of health and safety
After being briefly amused by such things, and performing the necessary act of having photos with the 50 Indians who ask on any given day, I decided to work out where the bus left from.
Can't have me using the normal toilet, can they?
Several different opinions on where this departure point was later, I found it. It was already full. This of course meant that there was plenty of space for me and the other 10 people who also wanted to go back to Puri, and so I got crushed into what actually felt like a can of sardines.

And yes, there were actually 4 people hanging out of the door. Genuinely.

After an age, and far too many stops at unnecessary places, there was still a walk back to be completed. In the heat. Ah, this strike against rickshaw-men had become serious. I even bought a rather large bottle of mango juice for the journey, which of course the locals found highly amusing.

By now I'd lost half my bodyweight in sweat, and so whether the power was out or not, I was having a shower. In the dark. Cold. Ah, it was good.

One more stop, and then my time in India is up. Calcutta - let's see if you can improve my view of big Indian cities after the horrors of Bombay last year...

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