So, that’s it. I managed six weeks in India, and the only thing that defeated my immune system was the common cold. In moments of weakness before we started our trip, I allowed myself to see India as a country to survive – to get out of the way – on route to more exotic parts of Asia. Not twelve hours out of India and I’m a little sad that it’s over so soon.
The sights and smells of Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi, where the imperial might of the Red Fort casts a shadow over the evident victims of leprosy and tuberculosis remain vivid memories. Not to mention the surreal beauty of the Taj Mahal, and the sitars, tablas, bells and Hindi chants drifting up from the holy stench of the Ganges, orchestrating my fight with monkeys for domination of a balcony. Never has anywhere challenged my preconceptions like Calcutta. The only place that was exactly as I expected it to be was Bombay.
I rounded off my India trip with a highly satisfactory experience – selling something to an Indian shop-keeper for more money than I would have accepted. The opposite scenario, where I haplessly give people far more money for things than they would have accepted has been the order of things so far. Now I have at last graduated from the Indian school of individual commerce.
This grand negotiation was sparked by the trade of a couple of books, allowing me to spend my last few Rupees on a copy of ‘White Tiger’, a novel by Aravind Adiga. This book is not in short supply in India, having been awarded 2008’s Booker prize, whatever that means. It’s a scathing indictment of democracy and entrepreneurship in India. Some of the many things I’ve witnessed in India that defeated my reasoning are explained in this book, so reading it on the journey from Goa to Bangkok neatly wrapped up my India experience.
I already want to make another trip to see some of the many places I didn’t make it to. Rajastan, the Punjab, Darjeeling, Kerala, Chennai, Bangalore – I think I’ll need another couple of lifetimes.
The journey from Goa to Bangkok was punishing. We started our final day with a trip by rickshaw to the main post office in Margao with the intention of shipping back all the crap we brought with us but don’t need. We had already packaged, at reasonable expense and inconvenience, our box in the way required of the Indian postal service. Our error was not taking our passports to the post-office. Bureaucracy is unflinching, and there was no option but to return to Colva to get our passports and head back out there again. Then we got a taxi to Goa’s airport in order to sit around waiting for our delayed flight to Bombay. I often brag that I never get bored. Lies! I thought we’d spend similar hours hanging around at Bombay, but the security measures are so hilariously excessive as to eat up all your spare time. We’d checked in a full three hours before our flight was due to depart, and we still only just managed to get to the gate on time. I showed my passport and boarding card to no less than ten officials before getting on the plane.
Hopes of sleeping were dashed by the douche-bags we seemed to be sitting amongst. Seat-kicking sister-fucker wide-boys behind us, and my nemesis to my left. A girl with a spluttering cough, who covered her mouth never. A brief aside: Who the fuck doesn’t cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze? My beloved also thinks she was entertaining herself physically under her Jet Airways blanket. Her right shoulder was moving with suspiciously rhythmic regularity, and she was biting her lip. When she wasn’t coughing all over me, that is. The old guy in front of us with a seedy mustache looked like Gary Glitter’s cousin, and struck me as a chap for whom ‘Bangkok’ is as much an instruction as a destination.
Anyway. It wasn’t a long flight, but it would have been good to spend some of it asleep. The time shift east meant that when we landed, a new day had broken. I am impossible when sleep-deprived. Without several hours of sleep in a bed, I become foul-tempered, obnoxious, and a physical wreck. Excitement about reaching Thailand (the only south east Asian country never to have been ruled by Europeans) just about kept me rolling steady, although upon arrival we were dopey enough to do the first thing you’re not meant to do when you arrive in a strange land, which is hop into an unlicensed cab. Fortunately, our driver was not intent on killing us before or after deriving all the physical and monetary pleasure he could from our bodies. Indeed, he took us swiftly to our hotel, charging the amount of Bahts we had budgeted to part with.
Hmm. Our Bangkok hotel. I clear my throat with embarrassment. It is wildly opulent, and one of the reasons I am glad to be making this six-month trip along well-trodden paths while closer in age to thirty than twenty – I simply have more cash. Le Fenix, a little to the east of Siam Square, is a lavishly decorated example of fine modern architecture. The bed is big and comfy. The wall-window provides a striking night-time view. There is a swimming pool on the top floor allowing you to cool down while looking down over the city. We have wi-fi, a huge flat-screen TV with dvd player, a shower that really cleans your clock, a stereo you can plug your ipod into, and a fancy-pants roof-top bar and restaurant. Best of all, they let us check in at 9am, allowing us to go straight to sleep. We’re here for three nights of luxury before we go trekking around northern Thailand. Jungles, rivers, hill-tribes and elephants are all anticipated, but internet access is not, so blogging from an elephant may remain a pipe dream.
I’m off to fill myself with food that isn’t curry with rice and rotis. Get this – there are close to fifty-thousand restaurants in Bangkok, meaning one for every hundred residents. Om nyom nyom.