International Writers Magazine: An Aussie in India
alternative Civilisation: Travel India by Public Transport
Anyone who has
been through airport customs in Australia, will know, that before
you even reach the baggage inspection staff, you will have been
prompted by at least two menacingly large signs to throw all contraband
material out. By the time we had passed through emigration, and
exchanged some money in Indira Gandhi airport in Delhi, customs
had packed up and left.
Systems that were
deceptively familiar never worked in a predictable way. I missed several
buses before I learned that tickets are not purchased from a ticket
booth but from an un-uniformed ticket seller who leans out the bus door,
or wanders around outside the bus yelling "Rishikesh, Rishikesh,
Rishikesh!!!" or whatever destination the bus was heading to.
None of the buses had toilets, not even ones that drove long haul trips
of six to 12 hours. All the writing on the buses was in Hindi, making
it very difficult to scamper back to the correct bus after racing to
the toilet at a station. While I spent five minutes wading through a
sea of urine, water and sometimes rats, the bus would invariably move
and I would desperately search for my travel companion; the only other
foreigner among to sea of Indian faces peering from the bus windows.
You see people in Sydney fighting off a nervous breakdown when a train
is running ten minutes late. At any Indian train station you will hear
unapologetic announcements about trains that are running up to six hours
India in all its extremes held for me some of the best and worst experiences
of my life. Trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas was by far the
hardest, and yet also the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
After stumbling along through snow at least a foot deep for 20km, with
15kgs on my back and spending the night in a village inhabited only
by metre long icicles just waiting to melt off the edge of the roof
and deliver a fatal head wound, I felt like I had truly achieved something.
No view could ever beat the snow capped Himalayas at sunset, and no
feeling could be the same as finally stepping out of the snowy woods
back on to the road and finding our jeep waiting for us like an old
Travelling with an Indian friend gave us a distinct advantage over other
Western tourists lost in the perpetual smog of Delhi. After the sun
set at 4pm into the pollution, it was good to have a local to navigate
through the chaotic traffic and endless shouts of "yes Madam, you
need? Very cheap, very cheap!" When we finally struck out on our
own, two pale "goras" (foreigners), in the majestic desert
state of Rajasthan we were armed with the basics; a few essential Hindi
words and phrases and a couple of phone numbers to call if we got into
The true treasures were definitely found off the beaten track. We found
our jewel of the desert in the form of a small fort town called Chittorgarh
in the south of Rajasthan. Most towns and cities in Rajasthan boast
forts but none matched the 1700acre expanse of towers, palaces and temples
enclosed in the three metre thick wall of the Chittorgarh Fort. The
highest of the fort towers was an impressive 24metres of hand carved
stone. The many temples within the fort offer welcome cool sanctuaries
from the heavy desert heat.
While you cant go to India and not see places like the Taj Mahal
and the floating palace in the lake city of Udaipur, be prepared to
pay not only with money but also with your sanity as the harassment
of tourists, especially in the Tajs home town of Agra can reach
best way to get around in India is the trains. While over thirty
hours on a train from Goa to Delhi may not be everyones cup
of chai, it can at least be a good way to catch up on sleep. Book
yourself into an AC sleeper class and a bunk bed and blanket will
help you kill the hours. Be prepared to share your bed with the
occasional scampering mouse, a white woman shrieking in surprise
at her new found fury friend only gains you a couple of condescending
looks from people who know better than to be surprised at the company.
Sharing travel stories
with fellow travellers is a much better way to pass the time than watching
the tenth repeat of King Kong on one of the few English
channels on Indian dish T.V. One seasoned traveller of Asia
beat all our horror stories about Indian traffic by recounting seeing
a motorbike driver in Vietnam texting on his mobile phone while his
passenger read a newspaper.
While over 80% of Indians are Hindu, 100% follow the religion of cricket.
As soon as anyone found out we were Australian, cricket was all they
would talk about. "You, me, Sachin Tendukar?" one tout asked.
After much deciphering we realised that they were trying to ask if we
thought that they looked like Sachin Tendulkar.
When I arrived in India I would sit rigidly in the back seat of a taxi
watching the six lane traffic navigate along a two lane road, wincing
at every near miss. After a few weeks the Indian way had forced its
way into my blood, and I could snooze peacefully on a bus while it swung
onto the wrong side of the road to rocket past a line of trucks on a
Tranter - March 2008
I am a third year journalism student studying in Australia.
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