Day 072 – !ntolerable !ndia

2008/11/14 § Leave a comment


When God made India he forgot to give them a sense of…well, common sense.

It is amazing with which dedication and blind certainty people manage to screw things up. And since most things already start off at a poor level before the average Indian gets a go at them, one can easily see how this place must have gotten into its current situation. When I look around I see chapter after chapter for my book of “How not to do things”, subtitled “Fail! You do it wrong!”.

It starts with the redistribution activity of dust and trash in the morning which seems to lack someone who actually ever takes away any of the redistributed trash, which naturally leads to streets eventually drowning in shit… and it does not even end when I see how a bunch of Indians attempts to, lets say, fix a fridge to the roof of a car for transportation over hundreds of kilometers over some of the most poorly sealed roads in the worlds. I don´t even have the energy to go into the details. But I will say, it does not lack a certain comic dimension.

To make matters worse people seem frequently to lack any sense of either fairness, honor or honesty. I have a great and sad example for it which happened to me recently.

I was on my way from Nepal to India again, two days ago, after some relatively relaxing weeks in the mountains of Nepal. Arriving at the border I was to meet some guy who was supposed to hand me a bus ticket, which was pre-booked in Pokhara, Nepal. This person who we can call Saroy convinced me to take a train instead when I arrived by the Nepali border in the evening, which would save me time, he said (in fact all that was correct and I wanted to take a train originally, restrained from it though thanks to the horrendous commission fees they wanted in Nepal for booking an Indian train).

So, we changed all the arrangements and I was not to take the bus after a good nights rest but the train over night immediately without resting. The whole thing became somewhat stressful due to the change of ticket, taking out more money from an ATM and all the customs and border arrangements with visa and the like. And it was not helped by the fact that the rickshaw driver who was to bring me to the actual border started an argument with some bicycle rider. One angry word provoked the next and so it went on until both jumped of their vehicles and engaged in a rather sissy and girly looking fist fight. I had neither time nor nerve to enjoy the exhibition of semi-manly power and walked off instead.

Anyhow I made it sweaty and tiered just to be told by Mr. Saroy´s contact person on the Indian side that I would have to pay another 34 US$ in order to get my train ticket. That was the four-fold amount the whole trip was supposed to cost in the first place- high commission fees already included. And that despite the fact that Saroy had told me that everything had been paid and I was fit to go once the Indian contact would hand me my train ticket. But there was the hick-up right then.

After some yelling I realized that I was slightly too exposed with two bags on me and not in the position to argue any more, especially since the bus that should have brought me to the train was leaving right then and there, it was getting dark and I had no clue how to get my ticket now. Of course it was a rip-off attempt and I was mildly speaking furious about Mr. Saroy. I knew that if he was involved he would count on me taking the bus to the train station in any case, and maybe arranging a train ticket on my own at the train station, especially since my visa for Nepal was already devalued. There was no way back. Or so they must have thought.

At the customs I lied my way back into Nepal in order to confront Saroy (which I guess can only work in India, where everyone is too lethargic to care if you have the proper visa or not). He was surprised and shocked, genuinely it seemed, about the whole situation. I got to talk to his contact person on the Indian side over phone and it was not the person who had just tried to rip me off (though it would not be too hard to call someone else and tell him to pose as this person, right?).

Naturally I remained skeptical, even after he gave me back my money and arranged for a bus in the morning for me. He made the effort to bring me to the border at 5 in the morning and took good care that I made it on the bus. Despite not having my passport in order I made it back into India (no one checks anything anyway: this time good that they are so unorganized 😉 ).

The trip to Varanasi was dreadful. Someone once said, the potholes in India even have potholes. A fitting description of what the trip felt like- 11 hours long! However, I made it, almost without being ripped off. Not quite though! Somehow this Indian contact person managed to cut 80 Eurocents out of me for luggage surcharge. I blame the early morning for this little mistake :). What it shows, sadly enough though is, that not even the seemingly honest Mr. Laroy managed to find himself honest companions. Since it was he who had told me to trust this Indian contact guy. So for now the Indian I do business with and who I can trust has yet to cross my way.

Now if you think this a weired and seldom occurring story I must disappoint you. Check the travel forums and you will find heaps of stories much worse than this one (especially if people pay the money in their despair and never get a ticket anyway). This part of India (Uttar Pradesh) seems to be one of the worst for traveling and people (as a generalized tendency) seem to not be on the honest side.

A lot of people had stuff stolen here too, and I hope to make it out alive and with all my stuff. Here in Varansi one should not be outside past 22 h in the evening in the popular old town area for instance. Ghandi´s children are not all that peaceful as one would love to think.

One of the greatest facts about the Indian rip-off-mentality is that they seem not to have any shame when being caught cheating you. A friend told me this story which happened to him recently. He booked a double bed in a rather nice looking hotel- on pictures. When he arrived the place was totally run down (pictures maybe taken 5 years ago when the place was nice, and meanwhile- as custom in India- no one had bothered ever cleaning the place or repairing anything, so it looked 30 years old). And worse for him, the room that was booked for him had a small single bed.

He looked at the hotel-guy and demanded some kind of explanation or apology. The Indian just wiggled his head from side to side and smiled the “you got me mate- we screwed you. But what are you gonna do?”-smile. My friend just laughed since there is hardly anything else you can do. That reminds me of the “modern air-conditioned tourist buses” one can book at every street corner. But enough stories… 🙂

And so is India for traveling. Never lacking a surprise or a rip-off. Never letting you let your guard down and never ceasing to surprise and annoy.

If that sounds just too annoying and bad to you, and you are planning a trip to India right now, I can not offer any words of consolidation. People I talked to seem to agree on one thing: India is intolerable. But many come here because of it, it seems. I think it is like some of the sweet and spicy Indian food. You take a bite and can´t stand the heat in your mouth. Though maybe the next moment the flavorful sweetness spreads over your palate in a way that gives you an enjoyable taste in one second yet seems disgusting again in the next. India seems to be a bit like that on the whole.

On the other hand I have been told that the south of the country is very different not just in terms of landscape nut more importantly in terms of people. I cannot tell. That might be for another time- if I ever come back that is. Even though a lot of people think that the annoying facets of India are also what makes them come back here I am not too sure it will work like that for me. In the end I guess one only needs to eat shit once in order to realized that billions of flies are actually wrong.

But that is for another time to be decided. For the moment I will do my best to survive and maybe even enjoy at times…

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