India 🇮🇳: Observations, fun facts, nuisances …

Almost two month in India are up and a long journey in this huge country has come to an end. In total, in visited 11 of the 29 states (some more, some less thorough) and I that process came across a few oddities that I want to write about in my last India blog.

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“We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”

Albert Einstein

Security is tight: First up, there is loads of army on the streets of India and loads of road blocks (even if not reinforced, lock down can be quick). At times also very visible at airports. Especially our first flight, from Varanasi to Goa, we faced some excessive airport security and thousands of checks. Other flights were better (esp. Hyderabad impressed). I was told that sometimes there is extra security if there is a threat of terrorist action like incidents in Kashmir.

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Bureaucracy: When I bought new flip flops in Varanasi the layers of people involved in my purchase surprised me. One to sell the product, another to pack it and another to check everything on the way out of the store. Crazy! Same goes if you purchase a ticket at the station or check into hotels – lots of details are often required.

Ola vs. Uber: Ola is the local ride sharing app that has slightly better coverage than Uber. Using your foreign credit card might be an issue, but more importantly the divers don’t get the concept of a location based app. For every ride they will call you to confirm where you are and where you go (and not always in English) … e.g. exactly the info you put in the app. Whats the point? Uber never did that once.

OYO vs. booking.com: OYO owns most of their property and are very pushy for reviews and also pretty bureaucratic. Generally the experience with OYO was worse than with booking and I felt they pimped their pictures more and staff were generally less competent or rude. Discrimination: The worst part of OYO and something unlikely to happen in Europe is client discrimination – some hotels don’t accept foreigners or unmarried couples. Better check beforehand. I was refused entry once in Assam.

Foreign credit cards: For airlines you are fine and in larger hotels. Otherwise, best get enough cash (Rp 10,000 per withdrawal max) or bring foreign currency. Booking trains can be really a nuisance, but cleartrip should work.

Orange hair:  Orange is certainly the new black cross India and at time you might think someone escaped from Holland (Koningsdag in Amsterdam: Oranje rules). Men use henna colour to dye their hair and seem to love the colour. Amazing really.

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Driving can be wild: I didn’t;have an accident, but driving is poor in India. Generally the rule of the stronger prevails (watch out for trucks) and general road rules are not being observed. Cars pull out on the street without any consideration to look, overtaking can happen uphill in fog, stopping cars put the indictor on the wrong side, using dimmed headlights at night is not worth the effort for many … don’t get me going ;o). Maybe it is for the reason that speed limits are that low (KM/h 20 to 80).

Smell & urinating: Something pictures can’t tell is the smell of India in certain places. North generally by far worse. You can be strolling along happily somewhere an suddenly a cloud of urine smell hits you. Importantly, it can be different with place like Sikkim completely clean and smell free. Generally speaking and without trying to discriminate here, religion has an impact on a places cleanliness (India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle Diaries – Exploring Meghalaya’s South (day 4)) as well as geographical location (South cleaner than North as richer).

Small pint measures: The. they first asked me if I wanted a pint of lager I expected a UK sized beer. Turns out that despite a long colonial presence of the British in India, the pint definition is a very different one – just 330ml vs. the 568m at home. On the flip side, you getvto buy 650ml beer bottles with 8% high alcohol beers. So don’t worry if getting drunk is your concern.

“It’s not spicy”: Don’t trust anyone that says it is not spicy. Most food will be to an extent. Likewise, don’t push it and say you want it spicy … in my experience that was an invitation to burn you alive ;o).

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Respect for women: Mainly in the North we had bad experiences as men looked at women in a bad way (see India 🇮🇳: Jaipur, the pink city and India 🇮🇳: Holi Festival in Mathura 🌈 🙏 👳🏽‍♂️). However, it is also amazing to see that within the same country you have place like Meghalaya where women carry the family name and inherit the family wealth.

Spitting everywhere: After littering and honking the third most popular activity as usually men get rid of their reddish chew tobacco. India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle Diaries – Back in Assam: Scenery 😁, towns ☹️, hail & discrimination (day 5/6)

No privacy: The lack of privacy was one of the main issues for me. Whether it is this huge urge to take selfies with Westerners or people (groups of them) starring at your phone. There is generally a lack of privacy as a concept and hence, when you remind people of it, they don’t feel they have done anything wrong.

Drugs in Goa: Goa was an eye opener although Anjuna beach was also a bad spot. Drugs were offered everywhere and very openly so. Felt like a joke when they stopped selling alcohol 10pm I the pre-election period yet next door you’d be able to score MDMA, weed or whatever suits you. Generally speaking, these election time restrictions seems completely pointless.

Alcohol & dark pubs: Clearly India doesn’t have drinking culture although more people drank than I expected. Alcohol shops are more akin to prisons with their steel barred windows. And if you want to drink in a place, be prepared for sealed off dark places without women to do so. Arguably, it is different in tourist places.

Tata rules! The Tata brand will follow you wherever you go in India (and new they even sponsored the London marathon over the weekend … no escaping). They have their fingers in everything and anything and probably have a government license to copy. As a road user, most like the huge lorries will stay in memory.

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Are Indian voices higher pitched? I really felt that at times mens voices sounded really high. Random? Googling for it gives a funny answer in QUORA.

Why do Indian men have higher-pitched voices compared to western men?

Evolution, evolution. Indian women never listened to Indian men so we had to shout at them and  gradually our voices became high-pitched. But all that effort has proved futile since even now they dont seem to give a damn. Maybe we need to swallow a mike or something. [On a serious note please please dont post such silly questions. Lets use quora for quality debates.]

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India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle diaries – Crossing the Brahmaputra & offroad on ‘highway’ 46 (day 2)

Today: 203km | Total: 388km

I didn’t get going overly early and rather enjoyed a long chat with Laura (about to go to sleep being 11h behind) and the comforts of my hotel room – god only knows when i might encounter such ‘luxury’ again (the hotel was only 3mth old).

Into Assam

First up i headed 90km in a broadly southerly direction towards the city of Dhubri in order to cross the Brahmaputra river by boat (or i could wait until 2026 for the completion India’s longest river bridge at 23km).

 

Bangladesh was now always on my right and half way i crossed into Assam. There was a noticeable increase in muslim population as i rode along. 90% of Bangladeshi’s are muslims (following a large concentration / migration as part of the Indian partition, which created the muslim states of East and West Pakistan – the former now being Bangladesh). At 35% it is also high for Assam itself – more than double than Indian average (15%).

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India’s main rivers

India relies heavy on its rivers for everyday life and considers them holi in the Hindi religion. The three longest ones are Indus, Brahmaputra and Ganges though only the latter flows most of its length in India. To that extent, many other and shorter rivers like Godavari are actually more meaningful.

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Crossing the Brahmaputra river at Dhubri

Your basic options are smaller (very flexible timing) or larger ferries (neither with great safety records). I opted for the larger one to get a somewhat decent space for the rather heavy moto.

Afternoon ferries to the opposite side leave between 2.30pm and 3pm. I went with the latter (to make sure i have to wait even longer 😂) to arrive at Fakirganj. Quite an experience with an estimated 100+ people on what felt like a DIY boat, a lot of motorbikes and all sorts of goods on board. Last ferry also meant it was packed.

It took us 2hours as we cruised on the might Brahmaputra – 2,900km long and very deep at 38m average & 120m max depth… WOW! Beautiful scenery accompanied us throughout. Truly breath-taking!

There is quite some order on the boat – Women sit below deck while men above. What happens when it rains i dont know. The boat also features india’s cleanest and least smelly toilets with direct deposit into the river should you use them.

I spent the two hours talking a lot to locals (well, i haven’t met a foreigner since Siliguri) in broken english since i command zero Bengali. We talked about my country, my girlfriend, my travels (we watched the Lhotse video together and a snowboarding one from chamonix) and took lots of selfies. I was even asked for an autograph – a first!

Once arrived all people left and the crew managed to get the bike safely back to land. Time to hit the road again.

Following state ‘highway’ 46 – muddy potholes with speed bumps

Once off the boat i just typed a distant location into google with the aim of stopping somewhere on the way. What a mistake …

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First the map took me on highway 46 into ever more muddy roads until i needed another ferry. Enough ferried for today… So 180 degree turn and back. Same muddy roads, ponds… Worst i have been on with a moto. It all reminded me of the Sicily experience last year (Boys week: Sicily road trip) though i didnt get stuck this time.

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The additional handicap was the onsetting darkness and lack of road markings or lighting. What i thought was hilarious were the potholes upgraded by speed bumps – i mean it was not exactly a highspeed track. What a poor road!

Eventually i made it to highway 12 and could race the only property i found on booking – Hotel Moon Moon in Goalpara. Very visible muslim population and the most bureaucratic check in so far (maybe focus your energy more on the bathroom next time!). Both the city and hotel are a complete waste of time – dirty, noisy, dodgy .. You name it.

Anyway, after 113km in 4,5hours since disembarking the ferryboat i had made it. Time to sleep. I am exhausted. But love the adventure and the insights into this part of India i gained today. Road tripping baby!