Delhi: The End

Ladies and Gentlemen, if you have reached this point you’ve done pretty well in all honesty. This will likely be my last post from the road. I’ll almost certainly do a post-trip roundup either once I’m home, or while I’m flying back, but as for reporting from the ground in faraway lands, this is the end.

I almost certainly should have written more this week than I have done, but there are two reasons why I’ve been silent. First off, I’ve been doing literally nothing all day every day for the past week. I’m not sure if you’ve seen (it made some national news), but parts of India have hit 43, 44 and even 45 degrees Celsius. The country is in the grip of a pretty brutal heatwave that has killed over 100 people as of the publication of this post, and Delhi is one of the city to have been hit the hardest. Thus, it’s almost impossible to actually do anything – stepping outside in the day to that heat/smog combo is absolutely unbearable (and dangerous), and stepping out at night is a one way ticket to either lodging yourself in the grill of an erratically swerving tuk-tuk or getting your pockets knifed open by little Artful Dodger street urchins. So I’ve done literally nothing that’s worth reporting. This is also compounded by the fact that exploring Delhi is pretty comfortably at the absolute bottom of my wish list at the moment. And that ties into the other reason I haven’t written anything in a while; I hate it here.

Earlier in the week I had maybe one of the worst experiences of my entire life, and it frustrated and upset me so much that I simply didn’t feel like writing. If not simply for the fact that a blog post at that point would’ve manifested as a seething library of pure hatred, it also struck me that I would probably offend some people in the process. So I decided to wait out my anger and write this post when I had calmed down a little. However, that hasn’t happened, so strap yourselves in for some choice words about my experience in what is, without doubt, my least favourite of all the destinations I’ve ever been to. And yes, I do mean not just on this trip, but ever. This is a sparkling compendium of a list that is splattered with such worldly fecal matter as the awfully soulless Liechtenstein, the offensively jingoistic Nagasaki, the painfully boring Helsinki and the timewarp bomb site of Blackpool. India – or at least the fairly sizeable chunk of it that I’ve seen – has got them all beat. And here’s why:

It gives me absolutely nothing. It may sound entitled or arrogant to say, but literally every country, city, town or village I’ve been to, probably in my entire life, has something to offer me for the effort and money I put into it. I make it to a major capital city, I’ll be greeted by amazing sights, beautiful streets and a great atmosphere. Likewise if I head up into say, the Alps or the Andes – I get amazing vistas combined with stunning, cozy little villages where you can relax and feel at home. India has neither of these.

Let’s start with the cities. I’ve been to three. It’s not that many, admittedly, but I feel I have a right to comment on the state of Indian cities simply because if you’ve been to three major cities in any country, you can safely say you have at least a bit of experience of cities in that country. I dunno, maybe that’s a very small-country Eurocentric angle to take. However, another reason is that – while every single person who ever swooped through this godforsaken city will tell you that Delhi is little more than a stain on the surface of humanity – they’ll also tell you that Jaipur is infinitely more beautiful, and that Agra has an enormous list of amazing historical places to visit. But that’s the thing – it’s all just as crap as the last place. Doesn’t matter which city I’m in – when it comes to India I cannot bring myself to like it, or even acknowledge why others like it, to be honest.

Really, it seems to be an issue with me more than the country itself. Every dreadlock-clad, harem-panted moron from Chertsey I’ve met on this whirlwind adventure of shit has done little other than gush over how awesome this nation is. How its spirituality makes you question your beliefs. How its smiling natives make you question the point of your material wealth. And while we’re at it, listen, you might be doing yoga and know the names of a couple more Hindu gods than the average Brit. You might have changed your name from Peter to Lakshmana and have sworn off alcohol, but that does not mean that I should strive to do the same. You know why I have such faith in my material wealth? Because it affects literally every aspect of my existence. I find it extremely patronising that people think otherwise – sure the little kid in the sidestreets of Agra may grin and wave at the backpack-wearing Westerners walking past their house, but that smile doesn’t hide anything. It doesn’t mean they’re not living in a country with extremely limited access to clean water, or with massive illiteracy rates, or with a population of well over a billion yet also with a life expectancy of 66 – a full 16 years lower than the UK.

That’s one way in which India has influenced my way of thinking; it makes me realise how lucky I am that I had the opportunities I did by being born in the fully developed world. Yes there are obviously very rich people in India, but an insanely large percentage of people – for a nation this large – live well below the poverty line. It makes me realise how much I cherish that exact material wealth that many others choose to reject once they set foot at Indira Gandhi Airport. It’s that wealth that stops me from getting typhoid when I try to drink tap water. It allows me to communicate with other people all over the world at the touch of a button. It allows me access to healthcare services that don’t involve slipping in puddles of blood on the waiting room floor. It allows me to not have to walk past mountains and mountains of garbage at the side of every street. It allows me to have a quiet night in my house in London with a bottle of red wine and Match of the Day. It allows me to even be here – it allows me to come to India and to see what it’s like with my own eyes, and that is the reason I don’t have to unequivocally praise it. Maybe that’s the greatest facet of my material wealth – it offers me a generous and vast arena of travel, from which I can form my own opinions, not just regurgitate the desperate, pseudo-spiritual self-righteous nonsense you pedal in the belief that you’ve broken the glass ceiling of Western society, and ‘seen beyond’ whatever it is about it that you inexplicably chose to turn your back on.

I had so much hope coming to India. It’s one of the world’s largest and greatest societies. Thousands of years old, filled with amazing food, drink, culture and history. I was willing to give it a huge go, even though I knew it might be a bit of hassle. And it’s just disappointed me so so much. For instance, I just went outside to get some dinner, and what happened was just kind of… India in a microcosm, summed up perfectly. First off, it was 11pm and still absolutely agonisingly hot. I made it to the main street and a man on a motorbike came flying down the pavement and almost hit me. Then a tuk-tuk drove into the back of a bus and smashed its own windscreen all over the street, and just kept driving. I got to the corner I needed to turn round, and from somewhere came the most intense smell I’ve ever experienced. India’s full of nasty smells, but this was a whole new ball game – it was like a rotten egg that had been dipped in sulphur and then excavated from a rotting corpse’s digestive tract. It’s the first time a smell has literally made me gag in the street – it was unreal. I turned the corner and the street was covered in unpopped popcorn. I mean literally thousands and thousands of corn kernels. All over the street. And people were just walking and driving through it all.

Random stuff as unexpected and strange as that would be endearing anywhere else, but here’s it’s just another weird annoyance. I barely broke stride before getting accosted by a bunch of children tugging and my shirt and asking for money. Sorry, I don’t have any. They tug again and give it the big puppy-dog eyes. No, I’m sorry. Then again they pull at my clothing and stand in front of me, looking all sad. F*ck off kids, I’m not interested. How many times do I have to say no before you get the picture? Go collect money for your cartel from someone else. And lo! Once they realised I wasn’t giving them anything, they ran off to a nearby restaurant, sat at an outdoor table with a bunch of men they obviously knew and started eating with them. Oh yeah you really needed my money, didn’t you? What a load of bullshit.

I got to the square with the food stalls, approached one of the vendors and asked for a bottle of water. Usually they’re about 20 rupees (20p). He said 100. I just looked at him like ‘how much of a mug do you take me for?’. Without me saying any more, he said ‘OK 70’. So not only did he know I knew he was ripping me off, but he then attempted to ‘be fair’ by offering me a price still way higher than the going rate. I said ’20’. He said ’50’. I said ’20’. He said ’50’. I said ’20’. He said ’45’. I said ’20’. He said ’30’. I said ’20’. He said ‘OK 20’. He handed me the bottle and it was warm. I’m not talking room temperature – this bottle was actually giving off heat, like a hot water bottle. Which I guess, in a sense, is what it was. I handed it back to him and told him where to go. Trying to rip me off and then can’t even be bothered to give me a cold bottle. The stall across the way then gave me one for 20 straight off the bat, and it was freezing cold. That’s all I ask man, just because I don’t look like you doesn’t mean you have to try to steal my money.

That one ten-minute trip was just so filled with stress, filth and unnecessary arguing that it just makes me wonder what anyone gets out of this place. In fact, that’s the exact thought I had around a week ago, so I booked a trip up to the Himalayas, to get away from what the Himalayan people call the ‘Lowlands’ of India – basically all of India that isn’t mountains. However, my experience up there was something I thought I would never ever want to write or even talk about, so utterly terrifying was it. But hey, it makes for a good story I guess, as it affords me a platform to describe the effects of – and bring awareness to the dangers of – AMS: Acute Mountain Sickness.

On Wednesday, I took a brief 55 minute flight to Leh, in the Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir, in the extreme north of India. This isn’t the India you see on TV – it’s mountaintop monasteries punctuating a vast, barren desert, surrounded by gigantic jagged mountains and populated by locals that are far closer to the people of Tibet in ethnic makeup and culture than the people of Lowland India. Leh is somewhere I’ve wanted to go for many years. It’d be silent, reflective and a gateway to some of the most spectacular scenery that the entire planet can offer. But it didn’t work out like that in the slightest. 

As every guide book or travel website will tell you, Leh is pretty high. It’s not super crazy insane high, but for a major town it’s pretty high. It’s 3,500m (11,500ft) above sea level. That’s toward the top end of many ski resorts. Above 2,500m the body starts to behave a little differently due to there being less oxygen in the atmosphere. You’ll barely even feel it around that altitude, however. It’s once you push the 3,000m barrier that you’ll actually notice your body having a little bitchfit. Basically, when you go skiing, or when you go to Leh via the road that was closed when I went there, you acclimatise. You gradually deplete your body’s oxygen levels by slowly bringing yourself up to altitude, meaning your body adjusts like the fader on one of those fancy alarm clocks that’s supposed to make waking up super calm. I had to fly there. Delhi is at 100m above sea level, so as a result I jumped 3,400m in just over 50 minutes. Travel articles suggest that you don’t fly if you don’t have to, but if it’s your only option, you just chill in bed feeling a little sleepy and funny for 24-48 hours (depending on who you ask) and you’ll be alright. However, they also make it clear that even if you’re a healthy, fairly slender 24 year-old like me, that does not remove you from the blast zone of the bomb of randomness that is severe altitude sickness. While most people have the ‘feeling a little funny then feeling fine’ progression of symptoms when they quickly ascend, there are some people to whom that doesn’t quite happen. And they get hit by AMS. I’m one of those people.

I arrived at Leh airport at 8am on Wednesday morning. I stepped out into the absolutely freezing oxygen-depleted atmosphere and felt strangely refreshed. It had been so hot in Delhi that this was a welcome change. Being a worrier I spent my time at the baggage belt breathing deeply to try to adjust myself to the surroundings. I felt fine, but then as I turned and walked toward the exit, I suddenly got a little wave of cloudiness, like I’d had a shot of weak alcohol. I thought it was quite funny that I could actually feel the altitude, as I kind of assumed much of it would be bullshit. I hopped in a taxi with a strange man who kept bowing his head in a nervous tick every five seconds, including when going round blind corners and when navigating junctions. I held on for dear life as we drove through Leh to what can only really be described as my disappointment. Sure, the scenery was nice, but the town itself had the same old shitty, run down buildings everywhere, the same piles of rubbish and the same hoards of mangy stray dogs roaming the streets as the Lowlands. I sighed, realising I hadn’t quite ‘escaped’ some of the things I disliked so much about India, but thought I’d be happy if I pushed on, got through these difficult two days of acclimatisation, then got out into the Himalayas to see the local sights, such as the amazing Nubra Valley, Tso Moriri Lake, and the world’s highest paved road, the latter two of which are close to 5,000m in altitude.

I arrived at the only affordable hostel in Leh – the Leh Ecology Hostel – and holy shit what a surprise that was. A large glass-fronted yet extremely old building way outside the town centre, on the side of a hill, overlooking the city, was where I would be staying for the next twelve days. I arrived to total silence, but it was below zero outside and I desperately needed to start my resting, so I approached the house next to the hostel and knocked on the door. Out stepped a little Ladakhi man in his pyjamas, who proceeded to give me a tour of the hostel. There were no heaters. There was no tap water. There was no hot water. There were no toilets. There were no normal plug sockets. There was (almost) no wifi. What the hell had I done. As I completed the tour, my earlier grin having slowly morphed into an emotionally pained grimace, I was led to my room – a wooden box with two twin beds, a lightbulb and nothing else. As he was about to leave, I turned to him and said ‘… Am I the only guest?’, to which he heartily laughed, proclaimed ‘Yes!’, and left, leaving me in an empty building in the Himalayas, 10km from the nearest shops, with no way of charging my phone or contacting the outside world. I got into bed and fell asleep.

I remember having an exceptionally vivid dream where I was drowning, and struggling to breathe, when suddenly, boom. I woke up, jolted upright in bed and realised I wasn’t actually breathing in real life. Its fine, I know sleep apnea occurs at this elevation, I just wasn’t expecting it. I attempted to drift back off to sleep, and after a long struggle of my brain vs my lungs, I managed it. Being affected by 3,500m altitude is extremely normal – it affects 70-80% of people who ascend too quickly to that height. It’s usually a mild headache, a little bit of breathlessness and feeling sleepy. And I knew this. So when I woke up three hours later feeling like I had a bear trap around my chest and a giant air pocket in my brain, I immediately got up out of bed in panic, at which point I then stumbled, banged my head against the wall and had to stand there breathing heavily for five minutes. I went outside to ask the hostel guy for some water, and he took me into the kitchen, where he uncovered a bowl from under a towel filled with boiled tap water that had a layer of strange minerals on the surface. He gave me a glass of it and it was so fresh from this botched pasteurisation that it was still incredibly hot. So when the guide books say drink litres and litres of water, I felt I was falling a little short with a 250ml glass of boiling scumwater.

I headed back to the room, where my laptop and both phones decided to run out of battery. I sat and stared at the wall, when suddenly a strange little shape appeared in my vision. It was like when you stare at the sun or another bright object and it burns into your retina. A strange sort of deformed star appeared in the middle of my vision and wouldn’t go away. Turns out this is the precursor to a retinal hemorrhage, where the blood vessels at the back of your eye expand and put pressure on your optic nerve before rupturing and bleeding into the back of your eye. I just kind of rode it out and fell asleep again, this little imaginary star shape permeating my dreams. Then, problems.

I woke up in the middle of the night and felt like death. I could barely see anything, felt like I was going to vomit, and had a headache that would’ve killed a small cat. It was absolutely insane. By this point I had been there for 20 hours – there is no way my conditioning should’ve been getting worse by this point. I was on a mountain in the Himalayas, alone and freezing cold, genuinely worried that something terrible was going to happen. I had spent a day and a night in a spinning room, trying not to throw up, cut off from the outside world and not being able to see or do anything without either bumping into the wall or collapsing like a wheezing Type II diabetic. It was the worst 24 hours of my life, hands down. So I woke up the hostel guy and asked him to order me a taxi for 6am to head to the airport and buy a ticket for the first flight back out of there. I did not care if it was going to get better if I persevered – right now the £30 to get straight back down from this hellhole was comfortably worth it. Again, I tried to sleep, and somehow managed it in between strange fits of not breathing and feeling like there was a knife in my head.

I headed downstairs to wait for the taxi when the hostel guy appeared. He asked how I was, at which point I said ‘I’m actually feeling terrible. I feel much worse’. Now for my entire time here, this guy had been extremely cavalier about AMS. Everything I said, he’d just go ‘Ahh it’s OK/It’ll be fine/It’s nothing’, but at this point, even he couldn’t help but freak out. His eyes widened, he put his hand on my shoulder and said ‘This is not good. You should feel better by now, not worse. Are you going to the hospital?’. No dude, I’m going to the airport and getting the f*ck outta here. We parted ways and he went back to bed. I knew the taxi would pull up on the other side of the gate into the hostel, so I went to open it. It was locked. The wall surrounding the gate was one of those makeshift bullshit anti-trespasser row of pieces of jagged glass. I was stuck. Still very much unable to walk 10ft without getting out of breath, so what did I do?

I felt too bad about waking up the hostel guy again, so I found a small gap in the glass and – with my giant heavy suitcase in tow – scaled the wall. Feeling like Edmund Hillary scaling Everest, I perched on the top and dropped my bags over the other side just as the taxi arrived. Then I made the mistake of not lowering myself down, but instead just casually jumping down. Something had seemingly gone very wrong with my nervous system in my time here, so I hit the ground only for my knees to give way and I crumpled into a heap in the path of the oncoming taxi. My reaction times were so shit that I couldn’t actually stop my face from hitting the ground. This part of the world is an exceptionally dry desert, so as I impacted the ground, a giant plume of dust kicked up like an atomic mushroom cloud and floated off over the town. Through the headlight-lit dust, the taxi driver came running towards me and helped me up, and with two hands around my shoulders he walked me – looking like a terrorist attack survivor – toward his car, bits of rock and dust falling off my face and clothing as I continued to breathe like a fat person was sat on me. He piled my stuff into the taxi and sped off down to the airport. After the slowest security procedure and some of the most unfriendly staff I’ve ever experienced, I got on the plane and it pressurised. Holy shit I could actually feel the pressure in my head and lungs dissipate in a matter of seconds. Suddenly I could see and breathe normally. I grabbed a coffee, relaxed and headed back to Delhi.

I love mountains. I always have done. I love the Alps, the Andes and everything in between. So I had been buzzing about seeing the Himalayas, and throughout this whole ordeal there were gigantic mountains and some of the most dramatic scenery I’ve ever seen, and I just did not give a shit. That’s how bad the whole ordeal was.

So now I’m in Delhi, the shittest city on Earth. But lo! It’s still in the throes of a giant heatwave, so going outside is not really an option, and also I’m waiting for my round the world flight guy back in London to sort me out with a ticket out of here, so I can’t leave Delhi in case one comes through. If he doesn’t manage to find a free seat, I’m stuck here until the 28th. And in all honesty I’d rather shoot myself in the foot.

Gabe

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Delhi/Jaipur/Agra: The Unholy Trinity

Part I: Delhi

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Yo.

I’ve been in India for a week now, and I have to say – save one night with my good friend Jasdeep – it’s been a bit of a disaster. While sitting on the roof of the crudely-named ‘Lord Of The Drinks’ bar in Delhi, knocking back cheap Indian whisky with Jas was obviously a most excellent way of spending time, the rest of my adventures across Delhi and Jaipur have been arduous to say the least.

This is the first time on my entire round-the-world trip where I’ve been completely and utterly shocked by how incorrect my predictions had been about a prospective destination. Sure, Tahiti was surprisingly bleak, and Easter Island surprisingly mindblowing, but India has just totally undone me. I mean, let’s be realistic; we all know India is a developing nation, and struggling with a population of over 1bn while attempting to put together a viable nationwide infrastructure for even the simplest facilities is a huge undertaking, but I have to admit I did not expect it to be at such an early stage of development.

Because of it’s purportedly rapid ascent through the gears of infrastructural advancement, people often refer to India as one of the select few countries that fall under the category of ‘second world’ – which I’ve always seen as a bit of a vague catch-all or a cop-out. As far as I can tell, it simply defines a country as ‘not as technologically or infrastructurally advanced as the first world, but with enough industry, democracy and, say, paved roads, to not be considered third world’.

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My parting gift to Changi Airport

It’s because people are now afraid of saying the now-apparently-insulting ‘third world’ that this new category has been clumsily wedged into modern Western parlance. And India, for me, will always sit at the pinnacle of this wave of pretentious revisionism – it is the nuclear warhead at the tip of the rocket of righteousness. In Western eyes, I’ve always found that India rests in this bizarre bubble of worship, and any criticism of it is often called out as racism. There’s an undeniable cult of India. People gaze upon its grand expanses of natural beauty and its enviable ancient religious aesthetics with unrivaled awe, and so they should; India is a vast nation of hundreds if not thousands of different cuisines, languages, religions and landscapes. Yet at times I feel some people go a step too far and mistake quantity with quality.

The number of people I’ve met here (or people who have been here in the past) who choose to unequivocally praise every aspect of this complicated, confusing nation is staggering to me. It’s total nonsense; India’s social, economic and infrastructural problems are numerous and vast, and it’s utterly ridiculous to pretend they’re not. Why would you even attempt to simplify such a complex place into ‘it is good’? Is it your guilt over the British Raj or some other unspoken bollocks? All this attitude does is serve to make you look like you’re either an idiot or are so wrapped up in your new-found ‘spirituality’ that you choose to see past the hoards of people shitting in the street. Which is ironic considering how many of said people talk of feeling ‘enlightened’. Enlightened to what? Believing only what you want to believe?

India is so intense that it retrospectively makes Japan feel about as exciting as Eastbourne. Stepping out of the extremely delayed plane onto Indira Gandhi Airport tarmac, I was hit by the most suffocatingly thick mist of smog and sadness. Delhi is an absolute assault on the senses, the most notable being smell. Spend more than a few hours there and you’ll have your own personal cloud of exhaust fumes and human excrement buried deep inside your sinuses, because, I’m afraid to say, Delhi is a godforsaken shithole. The most foul-smelling, eye-wateringly stuffy and unfriendly city I have ever been to, even its long list of pristine temples and shrines are not even close to compensating for the mountains of shit you have to put up with. And I mean that literally; after getting an Uber from the airport to my hostel, I stepped out to a dude just squatting right there in front of me, next to a dead dog and an overflowing sewer. On the street. Then just pulled up his pants and walked away.

I mean – and this is the first time I’m gonna use this word without censoring it on this blog – what the fuck. Just shitting in the street? What kind of developing nation is this? Something I found particularly amusing was that I then walked past a news kiosk with a magazine that referred to an interview in which some Indian celebrity was quoted as saying ‘I find it insulting that India is referred to as a developing nation. It is developed’. Yeah sure mate, you keep believing that.

Entering the hostel, I was hit by a wave of ferocious air-conditioning, which was sweet relief from the 41 degree heat outside. After a night there, I attempted to head out the next morning to explore, but, as all guidebooks and fellow travelers will tell you, this is not really a ‘thing people do’ in Delhi. Aside from the absolutely brutal heat, the roads are also insane deathtraps, and the people of Delhi are pretty interesting. Or should I say ‘interested’. They are absolutely fascinated by Westerners, whether just to intently stare at, or to scam money out of. You step out of your hostel and ten people will come straight up to you with their shitty little auto-rickshaws, screaming ‘Where you going?! Where you going?!’. At first it seems the logical option is just to wave at them in a ‘no thanks’ gesture, or to politely decline. But by the time you get to even the end of the street, you’re practically elbowing them out the way and screaming things at them that you never thought you were capable of. To some of the more persistent ones who will not take ‘no’ as an answer, you have to just shout at them, or swear at them, and they’ll get the idea. Or maybe that’s just me.

Either way, I bailed on Delhi as soon as I could. That city is the shame of India. I went to Akshardham Temple which was pretty cool, but the queues combining came to 3 hours of standing around, shouting at queue-jumpers and sweating until I was at -100% body fat. I went back to the hostel, cruised across town in another luxury Uber, then got on a bus to Jaipur.

Part II: Jaipur

Disaster struck as soon as I arrived in Jaipur; within about 5 minutes of stepping off them bus, I knew I would hate it just as much as Delhi. It’s cooler than Delhi, it’s quieter than Delhi, and it’s less intense than Delhi, but by the rest of the world’s standards it’s still absolutely batshit insane. Rather than being just spoken to by everyone on the street, I actually had people grabbing me as I walked past, pulling my shirt, stepping into my path and holding my forearms to try and stop me, all while spending most of my waking hours jumping over puddles of raw sewage and dodging suicidal motorbike drivers as the careen onto the pavement to avoid the emaciated dirt-encrusted cows that rule the streets. Contrary to the theory that Jaipur is more palatable than Delhi, it’s still absolutely filthy. And the city’s claim of being the ‘Pink City’ is absolute bullshit; without meaning to sound incredibly middle-class, it’s not pink, it’s terracotta.

On the first day, I got up in the morning, headed to the (admittedly amazing) Jantar Mantar observatory, then to the Amer Fort, Jal Mahal, Hawa Mahal and City Palace. And then it was 11am and I realised I’d exhausted the entirety of what Jaipur’s tourist board could offer me. So I headed back to the hostel and realised something needed to change. Something about India was really not working for me. Well actually it was many things about India that were not working for me. So I took a big risk. I booked a trip to Ladakh, extending my time in India by two weeks. Come Wednesday I’m flying up to 4,000m, surrounding myself with mountains, monasteries and buddhists and basically living as a hermit for 12 days to finish off my intense round-the-world trip. Sounds good to me.

However, this meant I was now going to be in India for longer than the UK government suggest you should stay in India without vaccinations. So after much research and deliberation I headed to Jaipur Hospital to ask what the situation was, as hospitals in India seem to be lagging well behind the email age. I was told that I could come back the next day and they’d sort it for me, for £3 per vaccination! That’s insanely cheap compared to the UK, where you’d be spending well over £100 on the same thing. I left the hospital very cheerful, but then began my walk home, during which I saw some of the most bizarre shit I’ve ever seen in such a brief period of time. Here we go.

I turned onto the main road, where I saw a man driving a camel-and-cart backwards down the street. I don’t mean he was going up the wrong side of the road either, I mean he was literally reversing a camel up the road. Just turn the goddamn thing round, man. Next block, a row of guys chatting to each other while synchronously shitting in a ditch. I skipped past them as fast as I could, to turn the corner and see a perfectly working public toilet that they could quite easily have been using. A dog then bolted inside and after much splashing and canine panic, it emerged with a live pigeon in its mouth and proceeded to rip its wings off by shaking it violently in its jaws. I crossed the road and entered a small market where a man with polio went scooting past, dragging his ass through the dirt faster than I was walking, then darted into the bank I was about to withdraw money from. I went inside and saw that the ATM wasn’t working, so I turned to the bank clerk to ask if I could withdraw money via him, to the sight of said bank clerk sitting behind the desk with a full-face crash helmet on. I asked him about the money and he addressed me totally normally, muffled through the helmet as if nothing was unusual about him sitting in a bank looking like he was expecting a mortar shell. After being told I couldn’t get the money, I left and went past a number of small shops containing people preparing meat with gigantic cleavers. One of them chucked a big leg of meat out into the dirt of the pavement, a couple inches from a pile of burning feces. I assumed he was discarding it, but then proceeded to follow it out of the shop and begin preparing it actually on the pavement, inadvertently rolling it around in the shit and dirt before chucking it back on the pile with the other meat. If there was ever an advert for not eating from untrustworthy food sources in India, that was it. I walked past to see that they also had a pile of sheep heads with the corresponding pile of sheep brains next to them, dangling off the edge of the table, and a few of the little things had thrown themselves off the side completely, where a small chicken was pecking at them. Godspeed Dr Chicken, I assume you’re next for being rolled around in the dirt. I made haste across the road, but suddenly a middle-aged man sat in a plastic school chair in the central reservation stopped me and asked where I was from. I said London, and he went off on the most baffling tangent about how Indians named London; apparently the UK didn’t have a name for London, so they asked their overseas subjects to submit prospective names for it, all of which were rejected. Then, after this happened (which it didn’t), India stepped forward (which they didn’t), and said ‘what about London’ because ‘London’ means ‘dick’ in Hindi (which it doesn’t) and they were tired of the UK always asking India for names for things (which they weren’t), and so the name London is just one big Indian in-joke (which it isn’t). I told him that I’m pretty sure the name London long predates the British Raj, and can be traced back to at least the Roman name Londinium. He didn’t understand me so I left. As I got to the other side, a tuk-tuk driver asked where I was going, as they always do – nothing weird here. But then after he sped off, I bumped into him again about a kilometre down the road. I started walking past him from behind, and just as his face came into view, I realised he was chugging a massive bottle of whisky. In an exaggerated upward sweep, he shook the last few drops out into his mouth, then chucked the glass bottle into the gutter where it smashed and showered shards all over my feet, and zigzagged his way down the thankfully-wide avenue, almost hitting a one-eyed man who was sat cross-legged in the middle of the road. While contemplating how incredibly lucky I was for not having gotten into that particular tuk-tuk, a man shouted at me from across the street – ‘Ey! Ey! Marijuana?!’. Way to be subtle about it dude. Not only was he shouting it at me across 6 lanes of traffic, but it was also the middle of the day. I feel his conspicuous dealing technique may not go down so well in other countries. He’d be first for the old cane (and maybe a little hanging) in Singapore, I tell you that. In India, you often see guys at the side of the road with giant churning cog-laden machines that they feed sugar cane into to produce sugar juice, and next to Mr Marijuana was one of these guys. Just as he was halfway through his third rendition of ‘Ey! Ey! Marij-‘ a large fragment of sugar cane came bolting out of side of the mechanism and slapped him upside the face. He shot to his feet and ran at the sugar man, who proceeded to also just… run. He left his machine running and just sprinted off into the distance, drug dealer in tow. I decided it’d be better to get a taxi home, so I jumped in the nearest one and headed back.

Next day I turned up to the hospital nice and early for my jabs. The receptionist told me to sit in the waiting room, which I did for 40 minutes. Halfway through, a surgeon, complete with blood-stained scrubs, approached me – a dude sat in the corner wearing sunglasses and listening to music – and said ‘Hello! Are you doctor?’. ‘Huh? Am I a doctor? No, of course not’. He shook his head with a bizarrely huge grin on his face and walked off. The nurse came in and said ‘The doctor is refusing to give you the vaccinations’. What?! Why?! ‘We don’t have them here. Go to the government hospital’. For God’s sake, fine. As I stormed out of the exit, the surgeon ran to the door behind me and waved me off with a hearty ‘Farewell doctor man!’.

I wound my way across town to the government hospital and… in all honesty the scenes were difficult to put into words. It was the most depressing, disturbing hospital you could ever hope to see. I felt like a less helpful Florence Nightingale after the Charge of the Light Brigade. It was absolute chaos; a mix of dried and fresh blood on the floor, dead people being wheeled around on gurneys, hundreds and hundreds of people crammed into a tiny waiting room, and the smell of rotting flesh mixed with vomit. I’ve never seen anything like it. With my sleeve covering my mouth and nose, I waded through the sea of people before arriving at the reception desk. Surprise! He spoke no English. He then led me to a different guy in a different building. That guy then led me to another building, then another, then another. Then after wandering around for over an hour, dodging the strangely-located queue of elderly male amputees in the ‘mother and child’ department, I found a guy who spoke perfect English. An Islamic man with a gigantic beard, I asked where I could get these jabs from. He walked me all the way across the neighbourhood to a totally different building, and led me to a small door and said ‘vaccinations are done in here! But it’s closed today’. I almost had a heart attack.

Part III: Agra

I have nothing to say about Agra. It’s very dull, impoverished, hot and ugly. The Taj Mahal was undoubtedly impressive close up, but that’s about all this city has going for it. The famous ‘Red Fort’ was absolute shite, and I’m glad I didn’t pay anything to get in (take that you bastards – how dare you charge £0.15 for Indians and £5 for foreigners). However, you might not know this (because photos are strictly forbidden inside), but the interior of the Taj Mahal is totally bland. It has pretty much nothing in it. It’s a mausoleum, so naturally it has a couple of graves in it, but the walls are just plain, smooth marble, and is fairly small. It’s also tiny, so in 42 degree weather with seemingly the entire population of Uttar Pradesh crammed into it, it became the most intolerable little sweatbox imaginable.

Also directly across the street from my hostel is the Jalma Leprosy Colony.

No, I’m not joking.

Gabe

Singapore: The Changi Delusion

I know it’s been a while since my last post, but Singapore was so jampacked by endless activities that I barely had a single moment to rest/write. I attempted a couple of times but failed on every occasion. I’m actually in Delhi now, and have been for a few days (in fact I’m actually leaving Delhi on a bus to Jaipur as I write this), so I’ll try to write retrospectively about my time in Singapore; five days of non-stop fun.

First things first; I love Singapore. When the time comes that I have to hang up my travelling boots and return to England, I’ll be compiling a list of all the places I’ve visited ranking from best to worst – a list which Singapore will sit very near the top of. If you’ve never been to Singapore, you must go. And that’s not a general ‘Oh you must go because it’s nice’, it’s a ‘you must go because there’s nowhere else like it on Earth’. Singapore has all the charm, weather, food and culture of Southeast Asia, but also has one big weapon in its arsenal that separates it from all the countries surrounding it – it’s filthy rich. Singapore can afford to flaunt its amazing cuisine and rainforest-like landscapes while also having universal access to clean drinking water, an excellent subway system and absolutely pristine streets.

In fact, that’s one thing that really sticks out in a slightly odd way – everyone knows about Singapore’s OCD approach to cleanliness, but it’s not until you’re there that you realise just how insane it is. It’s kind of unsettling walking around an entire city without seeing a SINGLE piece of rubbish, or a blocked drain, or an overflowing bin, or even a piece of dirt. Singapore’s government obviously goes out of the way to not only lumber its city with incredibly strictly-enforced anti-littering laws, but to power-wash every square inch of pavement, wall and road to oblivion. Everything is so shiny and neat. I know it makes it sounds kind of inauthentic and fake, but it’s really rather thrilling to be somewhere so tidy. It even makes Western Europe seem shabby. And I know the city’s level of cleanliness is brought on by a kind of bizarre draconian way of deterring offenders, but in all honesty I don’t care.

Singapore is a libertarian’s worst nightmare. There are jail sentences, fines and other punishments for just about everything within its tiny borders. Spitting on the street? $1000 fine. Smoking in public? $5000 fine. Drinking or eating anything on the subway? $1000 fine. Smuggling or supplying drugs? Mandatory death penalty. Everything is regulated, everyone is watched. It rings a little bit of a police state from the outside. I mean, to put it into perspective, chewing gum – a totally harmless little product – is banned nationwide. It’s genuinely illegal. Which is kind of mad. Yet, Singaporeans are so happy. All locals I met were at once proud of their little country, tolerant and welcoming to outsiders, and also just seemed genuinely thrilled to wake up every day and realise they’re Singaporean. It was awesome. I guess coming from one of the richest nations on Earth probably has something to do with that.

When I referred to ‘other punishments’ earlier, I’ve got one in mind that really sticks out. Taken from Singapore’s WikiVoyage page:

“For some crimes, most notably illegal entry and overstaying your visa for over 30 or 90 days, Singapore imposes caning as a punishment. Other offences which have caning as a punishment include vandalism, robbery, molestation and rape. Having sex with a girl under the age of 16 is considered to be rape under Singapore law, regardless of whether the girl consents to it, and would land you a few strokes of the cane. This is no slap on the wrist. Strokes from the thick rattan cane are excruciatingly painful, take weeks to heal and can scar for life.”

I mean… what the hell? There’s so much wrong with that one paragraph that I can barely choose where to start. First, how on Earth does Singapore believe rape and molestation are on the same level as overstaying your visa? Also I’m not a big fan of caning for illegal entry. That’s like saying “How dare you try to come to our lovely country, we’re gonna deport you straight back to your home country, but first we’re gonna smack you with a cane a bunch of times just for the f*ck of it’. Yet perhaps the most troubling thing there is Singapore’s definition of rape. A 16 year old what? Girl? What about boys? Does this law not work both ways?

But rather than dwelling on the negative, I should concentrate on the positives of a wonderful little city-state tucked away in Southeast Asia. I’ve never been anywhere so colourful – all the buildings are painted in lovely vibrant primary or secondary colours, and are lit up tastefully at night. I met a bunch of people from the hostel to hang out with for pretty much the entire time I was there. We did some intensely hot jungle trekking, went up the absolutely enormous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, went on a scooter tour, saw two light shows, and of course, drank the original Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel. This was quite an experience, it must be said. After trekking around the city in blistering heat all day, we headed toward the hotel to cool down. After asking a local for directions and my friend then hilariously telling said local that he spoke very good English (Singapore is an English-speaking country), we found the hotel, went upstairs and found an enormous queue of Chinese tourists, led by a loudmouthed little tour guide who kept shouting at us to go away to the back when we attempted to look inside. We get it you crazy midget, we’re just having a look. Don’t you be telling the English how to queue.

After waiting around for about 20 minutes, we got a table by the window. This place was awesome. Obviously extremely colonial in architecture and decor, the walls were lined with a dark brown mahogany, and we sat in ornate little armchairs. I was told by one of the group that the Raffles Hotel is the only place in Singapore where you’re allowed to litter openly, which was highlighted by the shell casings of peanuts literally all over the floor. And I’m not talking the odd peanut – I’m talking you’re literally kicking piles of them out of the way as you walk around. With our drinks we were handed a big bag of nuts ourselves, and somehow made it through the entire thing, culminating in being sat knee-deep in peanut casings for the rest of our time there.

We also went to Singapore National Museum, which was thorough and informative – I personally learned soooo much stuff about Singapore that I never knew before. Obviously we all know about its war history, and that we were forced to surrender it to the Japanese because we ballsed up our defence of the island. But I certainly didn’t know that in 1963, Singapore merged with the Federation of Malaya to create a new nation; Malaysia. Then, after two years, they split again, leaving Singapore and Malaysia as the two separate nations they are today. The merger brought into light too many cultural, religious, ethnic and ideological differences between the two nations, and Malaysia decided, following severe race riots in Singapore in 1964, to expel their new compatriots. This entire plan was the brainchild of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore following its full independence from Malaysia in 1965, and we were shown a recording of a speech he made on national TV following the failed merger, which was absolutely stunning – one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. It was so heartfelt and apologetic, and so filled with disappointment and genuine guilt, yet at the same time it was laden with hope and optimism for the future of a solo Singaporean nation. I actually clapped at the end. I looked like a mental case.

And so after five days of awesome food, awesome weather, awesome sights and some much-needed history lessons, I flew to India. On the way out of Singapore, I coined a term that highlights one of Singapore’s great flaws – The Changi Delusion. Changi Airport, Singapore’s only airport and one of the busiest in the world, constantly wins just about every award going. Any award that an airport can win, you can bet Changi’s won it, and numerous times too. Look online and you’ll see it’s got a swimming pool, a gym, a flower garden, a butterfly walk, a games station, a football viewing area and just about any shop you could ask for. Actually go to the airport and you’ll realise that’s all bullshit and none of it works. It is simply the most overrated, shittiest airport I’ve been to, and I’ve been to some seriously shitty airports. The wifi doesn’t work, the games don’t work, it’s ridiculously expensive, the pool and gym are only available to some sort of membership card holders, and the staff are utterly retarded and some of the rudest I have ever met. Balls to that airport, I hope a plane crashes into it.

I will report more from India when I’ve recovered from my 3 days in Delhi – arguably the biggest shithole on this planet. Piles of human waste, dead dogs lying in the street and the smell of cancerous pollution have been ever-presents since I touched down here, which is why I’m leaving for Jaipur as we speak. Will report more later.

Gabe