Mangalore had been what we expected. A big, noisy, dirty town. The hotel had been ok but in keeping with each and every one so far in India not without some failings. We ordered the same breakfast for three days and got three different things. On the third day I said 'This isn't what I ordered'. The waiter replied (with a head wobble) 'Yes sir, you get three of the items listed with your eggs'. 'Ok' I said, 'But shouldn't I get to choose them not you'. He looked bemused by that concept and walked off. I looked equally bemused at my scrambled eggs with green beans and carrots. Next the wifi stopped working. This was a pain as it was expensive to connect and we were waiting on some booking confirmations. They eventually got it working again.
Being a business hotel we had a copy of the 'Times of India' under the door each morning. It makes comical reading. The language is so dated. You've probably seen the reports of demonstrations over the gang rape of a young girl in Delhi. A rape is reported every 18 hours in Delhi and every 23 minutes in India as a whole. It seems to be the second most popular past time for men after cricket. These of course are only reported rapes. The vast majority go unreported because most are committed by relatives, teachers, police and army. This particular case involved five men on a night bus. They beat up her boyfriend then raped her causing terrible injuries. Did I say five men? Of course I meant six as the bus driver joined in as well.
The reporting of the case has been bizarre. Although six men are in custody as yet they have not been charged. They are however referred to as the six rapists so I'm not rating their defence team's chances. The newspaper reported that one of the rapists had raised the ire of his fellow inmates and they had thrashed him up. How quaint. Reporting another rape the police chief said 'We will look at this case from every angle and will not cease until someone has been nabbed'.
A young lad was killed by a car. The report said 'He was playing volleyball with chums on the university campus when he found himself dead under the wheels of a vehicle'. A young girl was found hanging in her house. The police said 'We believe her boyfriend had declined to marry her. We think she may have taken this rather badly'. No s*** Sherlock.
The police here are not getting good press right now. The demonstrations over their response to the gang rape have led to a couple of senior officers being sacked. The demos are mostly women wanting better protection. The police response is to use tear gas and water cannon on them. This is set to run I feel.
Anyway we went to the bus station to catch the 9am bus to Mysore where we were going to spend Christmas in a swanky five star hotel. I went to the ticket office and asked which platform for the 9am bus. 'There is no 9am bus' was the reply. 'But there is a big board over there which says there is' I half heartedly responded. 'It's wrong next bus is at 10.30am' he cheerily advised me.
Jill had noticed another ticket window so I went to enquire there. I was always told in the Police that throwing money at a problem was not the answer. Well let me tell you, it may not buy me love but it can get you an early seat on an executive bus with aircon. Result.
Mysore is described as a pretty town. It's not. We booked into the Sandesh hotel. Allegedly five stars and one of the best in town. Their motto is 'Welcome to luxury' Apart from the Christmas tree in reception it all looked fine. We settled in the room and Jill popped off to use the bathroom. I logged on to the complimentary internet. Five minutes later a little voice is calling that the door won't open. Jill hadn't locked it but somehow the lock had clicked and was now stuck. Another five minutes and there are six men outside the door with a tiddly little screwdriver trying to force the door handle off. After half an hour Jill is freed. Just to reinforce my view about their attitude to women. The manager says nothing to Jill but apologises to me if I've been inconvenienced. Not for the first time, we moved rooms.
Breakfast in the hotel was not great. It changed location every day. We couldn't decide if it was buffet or table service. Most things were cold and it was chaotic. They were clearly having some building work done. Possibly not the best time of year to choose but hey what do I know. The waiter proudly told us they were soon to be opening the refurbished restaurants. 'Soon?' I enquired. 'About March' he replied. 'This is India and we forget to stress which Christmas we meant'.
Mysore boasts a Royal palace. Listed as a must see attraction. We rocked up. As usual we paid five times the admission price that an Indian pays. We should try that in England. That would make entry to the Tower of London about £150 each for foreigners. That might put off our Nikon wielding oriental friends.
The palace looks very impressive from the outside. Of course once you discover the original burnt down and was re-built in1926 by the British it rather looses it appeal. We took some pictures from the outside then handed over our camera. I've never worked out why places won't let you take pictures inside. If you know the answer let me know. Next we handed in our shoes. Nope no idea there either.
Inside it was a huge disappointment. Lots of faded pictures hanging crookedly on walls in no particular order. Random bits of furniture and weapons scattered around rooms. Outside we needed the loo. As I went in a young lad held out his hand and was duly ignored. He didn't bother as I left. I met up with Jill and she was a little upset. She explained that there had been a little scene in the ladies. They'd stationed a young girl there asking for money. The fee was two rupees and she was more determined than her male colleague. A western lady gave her ten rupees and asked for change which was refused. Jill said she only had ten rupees and could she have change. Then an Indian woman intervened and aggressively told Jill and the other lady that she didn't have to give change to 'the likes of them'. Personally I would have told her where to go but I'm a bloke. Jill was upset which upset me too. When we went to get the camera from the 'free storage' office I was not a happy bunny. When the guy gave me back my camera and asked for a tip I gave him one. It wasn't what he was expecting.
Jill and I have tried hard with India and its people but it is pushing us to our limits. It is without doubt the most consistently disgusting place we've been. The people drop litter where they stand then piss on it. They have arrogance and frankly treat their own people appallingly. All of which is proportionate to how important you think you are. As an example when we were at the bus station a beggar was there. Ok they are annoying but they don't really harm anyone. This guy was about seventy. He was approached by a police officer. He was told to leave the station and when he didn't move quickly enough the officer struck him with a long wooden stick. Class or caste is still very evident here.
Our hotel had a dodgy bloke dressed as Santa wandering around reception and a trio singing Christmas carols. Fortunately they shut up at 10pm so we could sleep. Christmas dinner was chicken curry. Boxing day and we were off to see two more big attractions. Chumundai Hill and the Railway museum. The first as the name suggests is a hill which overlooks the city. It has a temple on top and is described as the most sacred hill in south India. We found a rickshaw, agreed a price and set off. It was a long way and a very steep hill. We thought we had got the fare a little cheap and felt a bit guilty. At the top it was India all over. It promises much but delivers little. Put simply it was a lot of small stalls surrounded by rubbish in the middle of a building site. Sacred in the Indian dictionary clearly means dump your rubbish then piss on it to show your devotion. Believe me they are very devoted. Oh and there were about five hundred people queuing to see an idol which is meant to bring a blessing.
We stayed about fifteen minutes. We should not have worried about the rickshaw driver. It was all downhill on the way back and he pretty much made it back to town with his engine off. No wonder he was smiling. We had a spot of lunch then found another rickshaw to take us to the railway museum. Described again as a must see. Two Hindu drivers quoted 60 rupees which we knew was too much. The Muslim guy quoted 40. 'I don't do the cheating thing' i.e. rip off tourists, he said. He took us to the museum and said he would wait to take us back. 'No need' I said. 'It's ok' he said. 'You will only be ten minutes. There's nothing to see in there but it is good price at only 5 rupees'. He was right. Five rusting old engines and a wood worm infested coach which belonged to the Maharaja. He only charged us 30 rupees for the trip back. Nice Indian.
Next day we were off to Calicut a half way stop on route to Allepy in Kerala state. As usual we asked at the bus station how long it would take. Four and a half hours we were told. Lying Indian. It took seven and could never have been done in four. On the way we went through a tiger reserve. There were big signs everywhere saying 'Tigers, do not stop and do not leave your car' or 'We accept no responsibility if an elephant kills you'. Near one of the signs was an Indian family out of the car with their young children. Stupid and now very likely dead Indians. Our driver clearly took the whole reincarnation thing seriously and obviously believed he would be better off dead and all of us with him. It's little wonder they have 230 fatalities per day on the roads here as opposed to 8 or 9 in the UK.
When we arrived it was dark which makes everything more complicated. We couldn't find a rickshaw or a taxi and wandered around looking bemused. We went to enquire about a bus out the next day. While we searched for the enquiry office an Indian chap from Woolwich spoke to us. He told us not to get the bus but take a train. We told him the train was booked solid. Get a second class ticket he told us then get upgraded on board. Ok, sounds possible.
The hotel details said it was ten kilometres out of town. Lying Indian hotel. A Police officer spoke with us and said it was eighteen kilometres. He then kindly found us a taxi. We eventually arrived at the hotel, feeling tired and hungry. Fortunately it had a restaurant and bar. That was the good news. The bad news they got our food order wrong and Jill ended up with no dinner, the wifi didn't work and the beer was warm. Nothing new there then.
Next morning we went to the train station and got a second class ticket. We sat in a sleeper carriage on a couple of empty top bunks. This was cattle class Indian style. In England we wouldn't treat cattle this way. It was hot and sweaty. We never got the chance to upgrade so spent six hours in the carriage. Six hours with no air, laying on a plastic mattress with my ruckie for a pillow. What am I doing in this country I keep asking myself? It got worse. Below me were six young Indian lads having some food. I moved my rucksack and my water bottle came out of the side pocket rolled off and dropped down. Straight in one of their curries. A water bottle from six feet up makes a big splash believe me. Curry went all over one guy. He was not impressed. It was one of those moments when you wanted to laugh but thought better of it. Fair do's, I apologised profusely and offered him some tissue to get clean. I even cleaned his seat for him. Then the ungracious little (actually not that little) t*** decided he would lecture me about being careful. That was it, total humour failure from me. I told him it was an accident and I had apologised. If he couldn't accept that then he could go f*** himself and next time I'd throw it at his head. That seemed to do the trick. He took the offer of some tissue, sat down and said no more. Lucky really as he was quite a big lad. Of course he was only worried about his T shirt. When they finished their food they threw all the rubbish out of the window. Classy Indians.
We endured the rest of the journey with our limbs getting stiffer and stiffer in the cramped carriage. One lady stared at me pretty much for the entire journey. I've now decided when children stare I smile and say hello. When adults stare I stare right back and pull faces. It's fun.
Our station arrived and we got off in pain. Outside was a pre-pay rickshaw stand. We got a ticket, got in the rickshaw and headed to our guest house. Once there I gave the driver the ticket and fifty rupees which was the agreed fare. 'Fifty rupees is that all' he said. He was obviously unaware of the day I had had. 'Oh dear, were you expecting more' I unsympathetically enquired. 'Yes' he said. 'Hard f****** luck' I said and walked away. Scrounging Indian.
We checked in and went to our room. It seemed ok but there was no hot water from the shower. We knew the web site details had made no mention of only cold water. I went to speak with the owner. He said there was hot water in the main house or he could bring us a bucket of hot water. There was and never would be hot water in our room. It had been a long day and I really didn't want another confrontation so I went back and we had a cold shower. He'll enjoy reading my review of his guest house I thought as I took a sharp intake of breath when the water hit me.
We had come here to do a house boat trip through the Kerala backwaters. It soon became apparent that wasn't going to happen. Firstly we had not really left enough time to organise it, secondly most of the tour offices appeared shut due to a festival and lastly it was high season and the prices had rocketed. In the end we settled for a day long boat trip. The hotel owner owned a boat and so we did the deal with him. It was a reasonable price for just us and the driver for eight hours on the water with lunch included.
We were being collected at 9am after breakfast. At 9am we were told our chap was here. We went outside and he pointed to his motorbike 'You're ok with the bike, yes' he said. Someone else who didn't know the day I had had yesterday. 'No f***ing way mate. I wouldn't ride a bike on my own with you mad f***ers let alone three on a bike'. I'm using up my allowance of the F word every day in India. He shrugged and hailed a rickshaw and we followed him. Five minutes later we were at the boat. We could have walked. We got out and waited to be told which boat. Instead we were told to pay for the rickshaw. I paid the rickshaw as it wasn't his fight then launched at the pickup guy. He very shrewdly assessed the situation and immediately reimbursed me. Thieving Indian. The money is not the issue as its pence. It's just the sly way they do things. I hate it.
Anyway we had a lovely day on the backwaters. They weren't the narrow channels we had expected. Instead they were large interconnected lakes lined with palm trees. We spent eight pretty much noise free hours chugging along in our boat with our driver sat at the back. We stopped for lunch at a small house come restaurant on the lake side. We took one look at the kitchen and the sweat drenched lady who was preparing lunch and politely declined. Our driver looked a bit perplexed and asked if we wanted to go. I told him we were more than happy to sit and watch the world go by and why didn't he sit down and eat our lunch. He looked a little embarrassed but when we insisted he soon tucked in.
He took us around at a nice slow pace and even pointed out a snake in the water. Back at the jetty I gave him a tip. As we got out of the boat the**** head from earlier was there. 'How was it and did you give the driver a tip? I was just about to punch him when our driver shouted something at him. 'Oh ok' he said.
We had a nice evening meal and a good nights sleep. Next morning it was time to leave. I paid the owner and he asked if there was anything he could improve. I always say if you don't want the answer, don't ask the question. 'Well' I said 'You could start with hot water, then some bed sheets that fit and don't have stains. Oh and some towels that were made in this century and are more absorbent than steel sheeting'. He looked a little shocked.
We headed to the bus station to go to Cochi about an hour or so away. We were told there were lots of buses and it would go from platform 1. Eventually a bus arrived. Here is today's exam question. It's multiple choice.
If you had a bus with a door at the front and a door at the back and fifty people wanting to get on and off it would you?
a. a. Let people on the front and off the back.
b. b. Let everyone off both doors then on both doors.
c. c.Try to get everyone on through both doors while people are trying to get off.
Don't be silly the answer is clearly C. It was open warfare to get on the bus. Well if you can't beat them, hit a few with your rucksack and tread over women and children. Once on board we were stood for the first part. What fun that was with a driver who accelerates hard then jumps on the brakes. More by luck than judgement we got to Fort Cochi where we are spending New Year. I can hardly wait to see how they will balls that up.