Saturday, December 31, 2005

Chris's Law of Auto-Rickshaw drivers

On the way to the train station this afternoon, I figured out what had happened this morning.

I was charged a tiny 10 rupees for the ride from the train station to the hotel.

However, when I tried to go back to the train station this afternoon, no auto driver would give me the time of day for less than 15rs. So, what happened?

The answer is that the auto-rickshaw driver received a 20 rupee kickback, or backsheesh as its known here, for taking me to the hotel. Heell, he probably would have driven me there for free.

I was pretty pissed when I found this out, as I pride myself in not being taken for a ride... pretty soon, I figured out a way to get my revenge on rickshaw drivers everywhere:

Fact: Auto drivers are happy to take you to a hotel, as they will receive a kickback.
Fact: Auto drivers will take you to the hotel for less than a normal fare as a result.
Fact: Auto drivers have no way of knowing if you are alreay a guest at the hotel.

So.. I figured out of that I can keep travelling to my guesthouse from either the train/bus station for a amazingly cheap price, as long as I look like I just got off the bus (i.e. clueless)

I tried this on the way back after buying my train ticket... worked like a charm.

and, continuing this line of thinking, I now present:

Chris's Laws of Rickshaw Travel

1. Do not use the rickshaws that are waiting in line outside a station/famous place. They are waiting in line, and so the person in the front will not give up his place for anything less than a full priced fare. He has probably been waiting there for hours, and is not going to be happy to take you somewhere for 10rs.

2. The more recently an auto driver has had a customer, the more willing he is to haggle with you. Flag them down while they are driving for best results.

3. Auto drivers will not haggle in front of their friends. This is due to a combination of pride, and price fixing cartel style rules enforced by peer pressure.

4. The older the driver, the slower he will drive.

5. Young guys spend all their money on their auto, and will quite possibly have a very nice sound system. Ask them if they can play some music.

6. If the journey you are taking involves any kind of entrance or toll road fee, the rickshaw driver will never ever mention this when you are haggling for the price before you depart.

7. If he takes you to a hotel or shop, expect to pay more as it will for sure include a kickback to the auto driver.

8. If you are drunk or carrying heavy bags, you lose bargaining power. Have a sober friend do it for you, or leave your bags inside the hotel while you go out and hail the auto.

9. Never agree to go anywhere for a quick stop. If he doesn't want to take you exactly where you want to go, and directly, you don't pay.

Alas, Alang

Money Money Money. I'm spending it like it's going out of style.

I went to a 5 star hotel for lunch today, and had gourd/pumpkin dumplings - wow. Easily the best food i've had in India so far. Mmmmm

Went to the train station and picked up my ticket for onward travel. I take an overnight train tomorrow (1st of Jan), dumping me 3 hours from Diu at 6AM. I suppose I can take a bus or something to get there... The only thing available was 2AC class, at 20 bucks....

I picked up a SIM card for my mobile phone. My number is +91 99 25 287 950

I'll have this as long as i'm in this state.

While Diu seems like it will be very cool, I really really want to head to Alang, a few hours away on the coast.. It's the largest shipbreaking site in the world - and a place that would be perfect for photos... Imagine 5km of beaches, lined up with ship after ship (supertankers, battleships, cruseliners, etc) each with a team of 300 people tearing it down to the smallest piece of scrap metal.

Alas, it seems that the Indian government is not so happy about tourists coming to see this - they would rather we visit the Taj in Agra (an equally dirty place). I've googled quite a bit, and it seems that most tourists who go there get turned away (if they're lucky), or get given a very costly runaround, after being charged hundreds of dollars for a visiting permit.

So. The plan for now:

Go to a film tonight, maybe head to the 5 star place again for a coffee in the late evening.

Tomorrow, do a bit of shopping for clothes, etc... before taking the night train to Diu.

New Year's Eve

Arrived in Ahamadabad this morning at 5AM.

It seems that with every previous night train that I've taken in India - I've been lucky enough that the train terminating station happened to be my stop.

Not so in this case, and so it was lucky that I asked the people around me.. or I would have woken up in some other city. Still, this meant that I arrived at 5AM to a cold and dark city.

Backtracking slightly - I decided to scale down my travel in the name of saving money. I had previously been travelling 2 tier AC (2 beds on each side), but a night train at this class costs me around 20 bucks. By dropping down one level to 3 tier AC (3 beds), I'm saving about 8 dollars per ticket. Sweet!

It's still an expensive enough ticket that you get middle class Indians on the train with you - and so I spent some of the journey talking to a lawyer who is the project manager for an "Eden Project" style nature park opening outside Bombay next year.

I also learned an important lesson about the top bunk... in addition to heat rising, methane gas seems to rise.... and with 4 beds undernaeth mine (2 on each side), I had a very unpleasant time before I finally dozed off.

In any case... arrived at 5AM, was met by a hustler at the train station who wanted to take me to a rickshaw driver... The warning lights in my head were going off already - his english was good, and it was too early to trust anyone.

However, in the end, he took me to an auto driver, got me a cheaper price than the driver himself wanted to charge (10 rupees) - which, after the kickback he earned, I can't imagine there was much left for the auto driver...

Today's goals are:

1. Buy phone GSM card... I have 3 internship interviews in the next few days, inshalla, and so I need a way to be reached.

2. I never did find the textbooks I wanted in Mumbai. I want to get some here.

3. Clothes. It's damn cold here. No more lungi wearing. I need something warm.

4. Figure out when and how i'm leaving. I want to head to Diu, but it's about 10 hours from here, and I just can't deal with a night bus again.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Monetary Museum/Lockpicks

It took me about an hour to find the Monetary Museum.. I stopped every 2-3 minutes to ask directions (no one knew the name, but they knew the street). Everyone assured me that it was very close, maybe 5-7 minutes away. Hah

In the end, the review in Time Out Mumbai was spot on: A great museum, yet completely empty. There were maybe 3 other people in there with me. Quite a shame, really.

With my daily quota of education met, I decided to go on a shopping mission: Where to buy lockpicks in Mumbai.

A bookseller wrote down the address of a street full of lock-smiths, and so I took a taxi there. Wow..... An amazing part of town, with small alleys dedicated to seemingly obscure items... An entire street dedicated to the sale of ball bearings.

It was a blast to walk through all the back lanes, enjoying the strange looks from Indians (who I doubt were used to seeing foreigners in these parts of town). Alas, after two hours, I gave up the search. Explaining the concept of a lock pick is a difficult thing - when the simpler solution in India is to break the lock, and buy a new one.....

Only one man claimed to be able to procure a set - but he said they were only made in England, would be shipped in from the UAE, and would set me back about 200 USD. No way I said.

I wanted the lockpick set, so I'd have something to play with on the long plane/train/bus rides.... but it seems if I really want one, i'll have to get it sent from the US.

Leaving Mumbai this evening. One day, i'll come back, as this really is a great place.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chello Pakistan

Finding the Pakistani Consulate in Mumbai is not an easy task.

Asking an Indian where the Pakistani Consulate is located, is something akin to asking a red blooded American where the Russian Embassy is, during the red scare.

The standard answer is either "Why would I know?", or a laugh...

It doesn't help that one of the standard insults (at least amongst poor-hindi-speaking travllers) is: "Chello Pakistan", or, "go to pakistan".

Eventually, I found out (by asking at the British Consulate) that there is no Pakistani consulate here in Mumbai. I also found out that Iranian visas take 2-4 weeks, which I'm not so willing to wait.. so perhaps that plan will have to wait till later.

Plus, if I go to Iran, I'm going to want to go to Turkey and Armenia next door.... and then if i'm in Turkey, I might as well go west and visit my family in Western Europe... see how it works? Better to stick to the asia travel thing, and ignore Asia Minor, for now.

Oh. My 4 months travelling without food poisoning is now properly over. I thought I had gotten a 24 hour bug the day before xmas eve, but it appears that it's come back. Oh well. It was a good run while it lasted.

Thoughts on Mumbai

I love Mumbai/Bombay.

Whereas I hated Bangalore, Mumbai is oh so nice. To those that have travelled, there is a backpacker area here that is just like khao-san-road in Bangkok (not itself a great thing).

The city is warm, the people smile, the street food (especially the bhelpoori) is mind blowing... It's just so damn fun to walk around here, and the lack of rickshaws actually makes it a bit safer to walk around....

I took a walk today for a few hours and tried to find some textbooks for myself.. there is an entire area of town dedicated to on-street booksellers - most of whom sell used/pirated books. I was lost for words at one point - so many textbooks, on so many subjects....

Down another street, and I wandered into an area that seemed to specialize in stalls selling pirated CDs and electrical things (flashlights, alarm clocks, and most surprisingly, vibrators).

I managed to kill two birds with one stone, and got a henna-hair-dyed stall-owner to stand next to his stall - with a vibrator right behind his ear in the photo (I promise to upload it soon). Once I asked him if he knew what it was, all his friends realized why I had wanted the photo, and all burst into toothy grins. Pretty much every stall for 3 blocks seemed to sell these, so it seems that they are a big seller here.

The lungi will have to go away soon. Sure, it's comfy, and stops you from getting sweaty.. but I didn't see a single other person wearing one today. Merchants would call out "Coming from Kerala?" to me, trying to guess where I had bought it....

I suppose I'll buy a pair of pants or something once I get to a new city the day after tomorrow.

I've spent 2 hours in an internet cafe making voice calls to all my credit card companies. Phew, It's all sorted out.

The plan now is to see a movie at the Regal (a fantastic old cinema nearby) tonight - in English. There is a lebanonese restaurant nearby, so with any luck, i'll be able to get some fatoush too... mmm

Tomorrow, i'll head to the currency museum (which is supposed to be world class), maybe buy a few things, and then head to the train station for my 8PM-ish train.

For those of your concerned for my health, I am on train 9005 on 30-12-2005.

The Henry Ford of Hair Dye

I'll try and snap a photo of this soon.. however, I see it often enough (and laugh as a result) that it is certainly worth mentioning here.

Indians seem to be following the Henry Ford model for Hair Dyes. i.e. If your hair is going grey, we can fix it, as long as you don't mind us dying it orange when we fix it.

You see very properly dressed men, with mostly black hair walking down the street - and then it catches your eye: half of their head is a semi-bright orange color.

Still. It's not as bad as some of the comb-overs that i've seen here..

More to come.


I knew I would leave the beach when I was ready....

Well, yesterday, I knew I was ready. It took a while to finally say goodbye, exchange email addresses, and do everything (swim in the ocean/hug people/etc) one last time.. but eventually, I left.

I took the following:

30 min boat from Paradise beach to Gokarna Beach.
5 min auto rickshaw from Beach to Bus Stand.
30 min bus from Gokarna to Ankola.
3 hour bus from Ankola to Margao (Goa)
12 hour bus from Margao to Bombay/Mumbai
10 min ripoff cab from bus stop to backpacker-ghetto.


I stayed a total of about 15 minutes in Goa. After chilling out on my perfect ideal beach, I had no desire to visit the costa-del-sol like ambience that Goa has reportedly turned into. Loud techno parties and chemical-drugs are not my cup of tea, and so I was quite happy to move to Bombay as fast as possible.

Alas, it's xmas/new years, and so the trains between Goa and Bombay were solidly booked... Thus, I had to fork out 850 rupees (20 bucks) for a VIP A/C night-bus.. which had a booming DVD soundsystem, and an A/C system that made it far too cold, even with wool blankets, to sleep properly. Bloody VIP conveniences.

Anyhow. The plan now is to stay in Mumbai for a night, enjoy a few of the niceties (like fast internet, and cinemas), and then head out to Alahamabad tomorrow. I went to the train station first thing this morning, and booked a ticket using the tourist quota system (they reserve the last spots on all trains for foreigners).

Thus, i'm uploading pics as I type this... and then will head out for a bit of shopping (with a hopeful eye to sending the stuff off to the US tomorrow, inshalla).

My mind has been wandering a bit recently, and i'm semi-tempted to cross the Pakistani border (with the intent of heading to Iran). It's only a mild flirtation at the moment, and a trip to the various embassies later this afternoon will at least clear things up for me... more on this as it develops.

Oh, and Mumbai is expensive. There are no auto rickshaws - only taxis, and my cheap tiny room is costing me 400 rupees a night.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Xmas came and went.

An xmas party was organized - a reggae christmas dance party. The idea was to have a celebration for the folks on paradise beach (maybe 40 people). However, word spread to the other beaches, and so we ended up having about 200 people show up.

It was the first time i'd ever DJ's something that big... but it went well, with lots of people dancing, singing along with a few popular songs - leading to much back patting the next day.

I woke up on Xmas day, went into the ocean for a swim, walked back to the chai-shop, where I received a bag of raisins from the british-style santa-filled stockings hung up there...

Udo, a german friend, decided to give me a loin-cloth for xmas... It's new, thankfully - but i'm still not so sure what to make of it. It's one thing to go naked, but a loincloth looks very strange.

I think i'll be heading out of here soon. It's been a month now, and I feel like it's time to move on. I'll be heading to Diu next, I think. Once i've sorted out my travel plans, i'll update things here.

Happy new years.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More reports from Paradise

Given how rarely I update this now, my writing style will have to change..... It's just not possible to write what I want, as I always forget it as it happens, and 5 days later, can't recall all the juicy details.

So, we'll have to make do with fragments.

I've now been at the beach for 2 weeks.

Bikers arrived on monday - well off foreigners who pay $1500 to do a 2 week motor bike tour of this part of India. They come here (different groups) every 2 weeks, like clockwork.. The good part is, they bring fireworks - approx 3000 rupees, or around 80 dollars... Wow. Such amazing pyrotechnics.

I can't wait for them to come back again.

Sunburnt my ass on Saturday. Ouch.

I've now settled on the idea of staying here for a few more weeks. The question is, when will I leave. Right now, the question is; will I stay for new years?

My plans change every time I think about them, and so, I've locked my loney planet away so that it doesn't tempt me.

People come and go on the beach. It's good for me though, as it forces you to be a social person - interact with others before they leave, etc...

As always, the dominant group is Israelis, but they're younger, and more foolish.. or at least younger.

There is a chap here, an American guy, who claims his mother is the Caroline of Radio Caroline (pirate radio days, off the coast of the UK). Interesting enough guy, with some funny stories.

Renewed my health insurance online. Someone in california seems to have stolen one of my credit card #'s, and charged $300 to it. Doh.

My reading list isn't moving very fast. For some reason, frisbee, chess, and conversation are just a lot more interesting.

Oh, and I tire of the food. If only I could get decent Indian food in Paradise.

I highly doubt if I'll be back for xmas, so.. enjoy yourselves..

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Still here

My first two days in Paradise beach were spent in a bamboo hut, with a sand floor and a straw mat on top. This was fine to begin with, but on the 3rd night, it rained, and so, I got wet.

At first, the rain just drenched my sheets and mosquito net - yet half of the hut was still dry. Thus, I moved the matt over to the other side of the hut, and went to sleep. Hours later, it rained again, this time drenching the whole of the hut.. And so, I opened up my umbrella, balanced it above my head, and as I drifted off to sleep, I vowed that I would for sure change rooms the next day.

The next day, I switched to a concrete cell, with a solid metal roof. However, after 2 days of sleeping on a hard-as-hell floor, within earshot of a very romantic couple next door, I decided that a slim chance of rain was better than a sure chance of backache...


Nudity is not something that everyone embraces equally on Paradise beach. For some reason, it seems to be that the more male, or crazy you are, the more likely you are to run around stark naked.

Sophie probably fell into the second category. Or, to be more exact, given her habit for running laughing into the sea naked at sunset, it was pretty obvious that she was not from the former.

In any case, Sophie offered to pass her shack on to me.. The key selling point, being that she had been hoarding the matresses of people as they left, and had amassed a stockpile of 6. And thus, I now find myself with a beach-front shack, with more than enough mattresses, and just the sound of the tide to sing me to sleep.

I'm making some progress on my books, frisbee seems to happen at least once a day, and I'm actually stimulating my brain through regular chess matches, which I am now starting to win, on occasion.

Sure enough, the vast majority of the people on the beach could at best, be described as "free spirits" - and so while I do tire of the same old conversations of, "Where are you from, where are you going, where have you been. What is it like in your country, etc". With the hippies here, I'm also tiring of hearing poor bob marley covers played around a campfire, and people talking about enlightenment, shiva, and other things they've found on holiday...

However, even with that, I still love it here. It's just so amazingly relaxing, and a few of the people i've met have proved to be great.

One girl who is staying near me - her head is firmly in the clouds, and so I have to take everything she says with a steady dose of salt. She told me the most romantic thing the other day, which I want to write here..

She carries a notebook with her, wrapped in felt. Every time she meets someone from a new country, she asks them to write down the phrase "I love you" in their own language into her book. The purpose, she told me, is so that on her wedding night - she can speak "I love you" in hundreds of ways to her lover.

How romantic, eh?

I think i'll be here for at least another 2-3 weeks... I think.

My bills are all paid, and so I don't really need to use the internet again for at least another 2 weeks. So don't expect too much contact.

If I don't come back (to gokarn, for email) before the 25th... Happy xmas.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Paradise Beach

I don't really know how to go about describing my new home.

I'm staying on Paradise Beach, which is the most remote of the beaches near Gokarna.

The journey, was, awful - and long. I took a morning rickshaw 10km out of the city - was dropped off at the end of a dirt path - with full luggage, and told "walk that way". This turned out to be about 30 minutes, up-hill, in the heat... No the best weather for flip flops, a lungi (skirt), or a huge backpack.

However, I finally arrived - to paradise...

It's a small-ish beach. There are bamboo huts on the rocks on both sides of the sand - one of which, I'm renting for 40 rupees (90 US cents) per night. The beach is clothing optional - which was initially somewhat of a shock. Now, it's fine... and I save on laundry this way (which is a pain in the ass without running water).

I've spent my time hanging out, playing frisbee, reading, listening to music (and even practising a bit of the guitar)...

I met an Indian yogi who lives on the beach - and who has an amazing knowledge of Dub Reggae - who I might take a few sunset yoga classes from later.

In the evenings, most of the people on the beach (15-20) get together for a campfire - some singing, etc....

It doesn't get any more relaxing than this.

Civilization is a 30 minute walk away - over pretty steep rocks, and so this keeps the riff raff (the police, and most non rugged travellers) away....

I'm just checking in now - but highly doubt if I'll venture out of Paradise again for at least another week.

I also suspect that I'll spend at least 3-4 weeks here.. it's too nice not to, and so my plans might have to adjusted somewhat to compensate for this.