Category Archives: India

The Curious Kids Who Led Me Through The Slums of Mumbai

 

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The one thing I knew I wanted to see in Mumbai was the Dharavi slum, one of the largest slums in the world, home to approximately 1,000,000 people; almost 55% of the people in Mumbai!

Upon arrival to my hostel in the Andheri East area of Mumbai, I noticed posts for guided tours through the slums.

Psshh. I didn’t want a tour. I wanted to explore on my own whim and meet some locals there who could give me the scoop. The only things I would miss on a tour was the safety aspect and the information from a knowledgable guide. I didn’t care though. That’s what google is for anyways.

Are the slums really that dangerous?

Will I be a walking target prone to mugging and harassment?

Possibly. Although, I used to volunteer in shanty towns in South Africa and I never felt in any danger. The key to exploring the slum is to do it on my own, with no other backpackers with me. The reason being is because I tend to blend in here a bit. I’m the same complexion as all these locals and don’t get bothered any where near as much as any of the “blonde haired, blue eyed” backpackers that would typically join my party during travels. My hair and beard has grown out a lot longer too which helps with blending in.

I was dedicated to exploring the slums without a tour guide, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a buddy or two? Two buddies max! So I told my idea to Fin (England), another backpacker I met at my hostel. He was game to join.

And just like that my plan to “blend in” was out the window. But it’s okay. I don’t think it will be that bad.

I did some reading on the slum and if anything, it excited me more. It’s also the same slum where they filmed parts of Slumdog Millionaire. To take precaution, I dressed in my crappiest clothes and only brought a handful of rupees in my pocket. I kept some rupee notes hidden in my right shoe. I left my wallet, watch, and anything valuable back in my dorm. I debated on bringing my phone and ultimately decided to bring it. I’ll keep it as secure as I can.

Fin and I took an Uber to the outside of the slum in the afternoon of the next day. The plan was to be finished before nightfall began, otherwise we might get lost in the hundreds of alleyways in the mazes of the slum.

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We entered into the narrow alleyways of what appeared to be the industrial area. Two people could not walk through side by side. Busy laborers, all of which were men, came and went carrying hunks of goods and chunks of plastic around and about. Wet litter and rodents took over the pathways that we thought would lead to the epicenter of the slum. We saw plastic being chopped into bits and densely packaged into tight boxes. Amazingly, the Dharavi slum is known to rake in millions of revenue from its vast recycling efforts even though India has no government waste management system or recycling program. Dharavi truly is a recycling phenomenon. We were barely given a glance, as the slum dwellers were mostly engaged into their duties. Eventually we stepped into what appeared to be the main street that cut through the slum.

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We were in another world compared to the Mumbai we were used to. It was like a city within a city, except this city was bustling with the upmost of everything absolutely hectic-even when compared to the craziness of the outer Mumbai metropolis. Rickshaws and cars that were way too big to be driving through honked constantly and without pause. There were people of all ages everywhere around going in every which direction. Small groups of slum kids ran about, mostly barefoot, flying their skimpy kites. Stray, beat up mutts roamed the grounds, some laying in patches of dirt dead-smack in the middle of the road. Goats everywhere. It was dirty and as filthy as I imagined. Fin and I were in the middle of it, a bit rushed in the head by the scene of it all.

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I read that it was frowned upon to take photographs, but to be fair, most of the photos of the locals are ones I took with their permission. Still, I was uneasy about pulling out my giant phone. One quick snatch and then I would lose the culprit to this elaborate maze. I was more careful than I’ve ever been.

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We followed the main road to the edge of the slum walls. Along the main road is a bridge that takes you all the way on the other side of the slum. We decided to go up there and follow it. As we went up the metal stairs, a group of four kids came up to us with smiles on their faces. Four boys around the age of eleven.

They were full of ‘hellos’ and ‘namastays’ but their English was broken. I could barely understand them when I asked them their names. We made short chit-chat before I asked them if they could show us around. These kids would be the perfect guides! They can show us the cool stuff that regular tourists don’t ever go to. They didn’t understand my request, but after some hand gesturing, they understood and happily agreed.

“Come!” said one of them. And so we did. We followed them down the steps back into the main street.

We followed without question. They led us onto another bridge that took us just outside of the slum.

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“Where are they taking us?” I asked Fin. Not like he would know the answer or anything.

The boys had a respectable English vocabulary but didn’t know how to put the words together into sentences. So most of the time, their communication was just a word or two at a time. From that we had to make sense of what they were trying to tell us.

“Beach!” said one of them as they pointed ahead. “You will swim?”

I guess we’re going to the beach, but I ain’t swimming. The boys were all about it though.

Once we approached the beach, we walked into a carnival that was being dissembled. This was the most beat up carnival I’ve ever seen. Still the boys were eager to show us and they asked some of the workers there if we could go onto some of the rides. Not to actually ride them, but to just go onto them. The worker looked at us and then gave a head bob which meant ‘ok’.

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Afterwards, we walked onto the shore which reeked of sewage and piss. And just like anywhere else in Mumbai, there was trash everywhere. It was actually pretty sad to see. We walked closer to the ocean filled with India’s pollution. The boys went right in.

 

While we were there, one of the boys picked up a bag of gravel from someone that he intended to carry back to the slum. He slung it over his shoulders and carried it with all his might. It looked kinda heavy. We offered to carry it back for him but he kindly refused. All four boys took turns carrying the giant sack of gravel before they finally gave in and let Fin and I carry it back. I stopped to get water for myself and offered to get some for the boys but they kindly refused.

These kids are so self reliant and wouldn’t take anything from us initially.

They guided us through more of the slum before we paused.

I fully intended on giving a few rupees to a local we met that would show us around. I wasn’t sure how I would give money to these kids without causing a scene.

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100 rupees equals to about $1.50 USD. That would be suitable for each kid. It may seem like nothing but 100 rupees can last a couple of days here. I brought the kids into a quieter alleyway as not to whip out my rupees in the public. I handed each kid a 100 rupee note and off they went. Not before they were arguing and bickering. I think a fifth kid came out of nowhere and took one of their notes. Still, it didn’t sit quite right giving a kid money. I much rather would have given it to the parents of their families. When I suggested that to one of them, he made a face-slapping motion with his hands, indicating his mother would slap him. I didn’t question him. I just left it as is as they ran off and waved goodbye.

Fin and I had to find ourselves out of the slum before it got dark. We had no idea where we came from either, so we just walked through the alleys of any one direction.

We walked through several residential and school areas where the kids rode their bikes past us back and forth, smiling and saying hello. As a matter of fact, the kids in the slum always said hello to us. The adults did not. But still the adults never came up to us and begged for anything, unlike the outside world of the slum. It’s crazy how the people here are less intrusive than the ones out in the open world.

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We stumbled into what I believe was the women’s sector of the slum. Either that or the men were all out working. I deduced that based on the fact that there were dozens and dozens of women and children with no men in sight. Should we even be here? Fin and I, two adult men, were the only males among hordes of Indian women. None of them gave us a weird look. They just walked past us and went about their business. We could venture further into the sector but I wasn’t sure if it was rude to do so and plus the day was beginning to fade. We have to leave.

We rickshawed it back to our hostel, pooped from walking all day.

It’s strange to say but the slum was impressive. It’s what many people may consider an eyesore but it was definitely a sight to behold beyond its cover. The people there were hard working, busy souls who didn’t bother us one bit. I felt just as safe there as anywhere else.

But I wasn’t completely satisfied. I felt like there was more to see. I read up more about Dharavi once I got back to the hostel. Now that I was better informed, I needed to revisit.

A few days later Mischa, a backpacker I met in Goa came up to Mumbai wanting to visit the slum as well. I was able to revisit the slum and show him the ropes.

We went on a bit of a tasting spree, to pump some rupees into the community. Of course we had to try the chai tea here among others.

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We spent more of the day exploring the sights, without anyone wanting to bother us. Everyone was busy doing their daily chore. Like tiny ants in a complex ant farm, they all had a vital role to play.

Amazing.


To My Fellow Eager Adventurists:

*The Dharavi Slum is definitely a sight to behold and what I consider a must-see. However, I found that most tourists opt for the priced guided tour as opposed to just walking in freely as I did. With the tour, know that most of the money you pay is invested into the slum community and you gain a wealth of information from a knowledgable guide. If you do decide to venture on your own, please be respectful. Try your best not to take photos and if you do, make sure it’s not intrusive. If taking a picture of a local, get their permission first. The slum dwellers were friendly and I never felt in any danger. The kids there will love to show you around! Don’t linger during the night hours where things could get dangerous, just like anywhere else in the world*

Happy Adventuring!

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I Gotta Get The Heck Outta Goa!

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The sleeper class train ride up to Goa from Kochi, India was a long and “interesting” 15 hours.

I felt gross by the end of it. The Indian locals stuck their bare feet up in every nook and cranny on the ride, as if they were in the comforts of their own home. I am NOT a foot person. The toilets were the ones you had to squat and aim, like I expected, but the first toilet I found was just a bit ridiculous. I don’t know about you, but the sight of another person’s poop in the toilet I’m about to use can ruin a day.

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The train ran overnight and there was no way of telling of which stop I had to get off unless I looked out the window. Or in this case, unless I hung myself out the door so I could see the station signs because my sleeper bunk had no window. Thank goodness I downloaded an offline map of the area on my phone, which helped me navigate where I should get off. Finally, I arrived in Goa, the party capital of India.

It was early in the morning. I took a cab about an hour north to the hostel I reserved called the Red Door Hostel. There were a bunch to choose from, but this one caught my eye because of its common area, its vicinity to Anjuna Beach, and the relatively modest price. I strolled up to the hostel, to a silence broken by a couple of dogs who barked at me from within the building. I sat outside and waited. It was still too early to check-in and everyone was probably still asleep.

A backpacker who was working at the hostel came out and introduced himself and gave me the low down on the place and from the sounds of it, it seemed real chill and the place to be.

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Soon I was able to check in and was escorted to an 8-bed dorm equipped with an A/C. There I might fellow backpackers from different countries like England, Sudan, and Switzerland. Even a couple of locals from the north and south of India. All of them in the middle of their own trip and in Goa for a few days as well. As soon as I showered from the filth I endured on the train, Pamela (England) invited me to go along with her and a few other backpackers to Anjuna Beach, just a few minutes walk away.

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Ah, yes. This beach had an abundance of chairs and umbrellas. I can never truly enjoy myself unless I was laying under one of these bad boys. I ended up taking a nap while being served mojitos from the bar behind us. Much, much different from the beach I experienced in Kochi.

The vibe in Goa was definitely not what I expected from India. Yes at times the traffic was a bit crazy but nowhere near as hectic as I presumed. As a matter of fact, it was relaxing. Beachgoers everywhere came here from across the world to Goa to drink, beach, hangout, and party. I haven’t partied properly since Fiji so I was game. The neat thing about my hostel at the Red Door, there was a unity among the backpackers who stayed there. If there was a party, we all partied together. We went to the largest night club in all of India called Cubana. Ladies enter and drink for free. Dudes have to pay 1,000 rupees ( approximately $15 USD) to enter which always sucks, but here’s the kicker…everyone drinks anything they want absolutely free. OPEN BAR!

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We took advantage and stayed out until 4am in the morning. I’m not a fan of clubbing anymore, but when there’s an open bar and I’m in a different country, then let’s go!

The money I spent in Goa was mainly on food and let me tell you the food was AMAZING. Every morning when I woke up, I walked about two minutes down the road to get freshly made samosas. They costed 15 rupees (23 cents) each. I always got about four to six of them. I became a regular and the hostel dwellers would always laugh and tell me, “You always have samosas in your hand.” That’s because they’re so damn good and cheap!

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Not just the samosas though. Sometimes a few of us would splurge and when I say splurge, usually spend no more than $6 USD on some local delicacies. Thanks to Ajay, a local who stayed at the hostel, and his recommendations, I had some of the best Indian food I’ve had in my life!

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We’d all order a bunch of stuff and share everything for the most part. I never went hungry in Goa. 

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Wow Goa, you’re too kind to me. Is this even India? A few of us would always venture out into other areas of the regions including ginormous local markets…

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and famous art festivals where we got lost in a few times…

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so instead of trying to find our way, we found sketchy bars with cheap beers.

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Goa is mainly known for its vast beaches that go on for miles. We spent a lot of the time beaching it up as well. There was always a bar nearby with a server that would come and happily serve us drinks.

Strawberry milkshake? Yes, please. An ice-cold Kingfisher Beer? Give it to me.

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Even at the hostel, during the day it was cool and okay to just chill, drink, eat, and mingle with everyone else.

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I ended up extending my intended two-day stay to a week!

Then it dawned on me…

Daniel, what are you doing???

This is not what you came to India for!

I was getting too comfortable. I came to India to experience culture and to challenge myself by being as uncomfortable as possible. This was as comfortable as I’ve been on this trip so far. I enjoyed being in the presence of other travelers and everything about Goa but I had to leave.

I was tempted to stay though. Christmas and New Years were just around the corner and Goa is the place to be for both. Some of the other backpackers even tried to convince me to stay in Goa and that anywhere else would be shit.

I guess the “shit” is where I wanted to be, otherwise this challenge would be a complete fail. And so, I booked another train out of Goa for the following day, north to Mumbai, one of the largest and most populated cities in India.

Before I left, I spent some time exploring a bit more of the area and having one last Goa feast with another backpacker before I departed.

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I was happy with my decision to get the heck out, as much as I enjoyed it. This wasn’t a proper representation of India. I booked a 12 hour train to Mumbai, not knowing what I would do there and who I would meet…

and that is exactly why I came to India in the first place.

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I Don't Want To Go To India…But Here I Go Anyway

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Alright. Here I go.

Forcing myself into India for a month.

India is probably at the very bottom of the barrel of countries I never wanted to visit.

I’ve heard it’s dirty, polluted, way over crowded, hot, sticky, smoggy, muggy, smelly…

I’ve heard the people there are always trying to con you and rip you off. That personal space is non-existent. That falling ill is inevitable. 

I’ve heard to never shake the left hand of an Indian because that’s the hand they use to wipe their butts.

I’ve heard to always buy the most expensive bottle of water because the cheaper ones have been filled with tap water and cleverly resealed.

With all these negative things I’ve heard of, then why am I going?

Simply because I need a challenge. This Quest to the Seven Continents has been way too easy so far. I want to go to a place that will test me like no other country has before and I can’t think of anywhere better for that than by spending a solid month in India. Not only that, I’ll be spending Christmas and New Years in only God knows where there. Also, I’m not allowing myself McDonald’s or any other western restaurants for that matter while I’m in the country. Only Indian food all day every day.

I truly have no idea what I’m doing there…more so than anywhere else I’ve been before on this Earth.

By visiting here I want to learn to love and appreciate the country. I doubt all those negative things I heard of are true, so it’s due time that I investigate for myself.

I will get sick. I will probably lose my mind at times. But I’m expecting it.

So let’s get this over with! How do I even begin to decide where to start my trip in India though?

The country is so huge!

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I  looked at a map of all the major international airports in India, closed my eyes, pointed my finger at a random spot on the screen and opened my eyes to find that my index finger landed near an airport called Cochin International Airport in Kochi, a region in the south of India.

Kochi it is.

The connecting flight from Bali to Kuala Lumpur was a bit bumpy. However the night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kochi was by far the scariest flight of my life! I’ve never experienced so much heavy turbulence on a single journey. The pilot explained we were in a middle of a storm and he was trying to avoid it.

Was this an omen of things to come for me in India?

Upon landing, I had to go through foreign immigration to get my visa stamp. Earlier I applied for an e-visa which grants me exactly 30 days to be in India. The process to get that e-visa was a little weird. I was asked questions that didn’t pertain to anything relevant, like “What is your religion” and “What is your father’s profession?”

Why does it freakin’ matter?

I respectively put my religion as Scientology and my father’s profession as an astronaut. Both of those are entirely incorrect and I did it for my own personal amusement. Just like I suspected, it didn’t matter and I was granted my stamp which officially allowed me into the country.

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Welcome to Kochi

Knowing that I’d be bombarded by taxi drivers wanting me to ride with them, I conveniently booked a cab from inside the airport to save the trouble. I walked outside and noticed the smog in the air, even at night. My taxi guy pulled up and in about an hour’s time, I arrived at the YMCA International Youth Hostel somewhere in the city. There was nothing ‘international’ or ‘youthful’ about this hostel. I was the only foreigner and everyone there seemed to be a lot older. I was shown my room and immediately passed out from the long day of traveling.

I went out into town early the next day. I discovered that India had Uber and that it was stupid cheap to get to the area of Kochi I wanted to go, to a region called Fort Kochi. Fort Kochi is a water-bound area in the southern part of the city involving beaches and lots of historic monuments. I’ll go there and see what’s around.

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The Uber dropped me off smack-dab in the middle of the fort. I was in the center of outdoor food stalls, craft markets, and a line of rickshaws parked on the side of the street. The smell of foul fish and trash was present. I noticed an Indian man eyeing me and he proceeded to come over. He asked me what my name was and what I was doing.

“My name is Daniel and I’m just walking around,” I said with a smile. Smiling is the single best thing you can do when walking around foreign cities. It says to everyone, “Hey I’m foreign, but friendly!”

He said his name is Ashique and that he could give me a tour around the whole fort area from his rickshaw. I wasn’t interested and was okay with exploring on my own for a bit, but he insisted that I come to him once I was finished ‘walking around’.

“Okay,” I said, with no intention on coming to him later.

The beaches in the fort was absolute garbage. Literally.

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There was trash everywhere and the smell reeked, but strangely I wasn’t fazed. I expected this and accepted that this was just how it was. People, locals and few tourists walked about, eating ice cream, running along the beach, eating at the food stalls and seemed to all be enjoying themselves. I already had enough of the beach area and decided to walk in the town, but in the hopes of evading Ashique who was persistent as heck. He must have eyes like a hawk because he spotted me from a distance and began to follow me again. Ugh.

He made small talk and I was polite about it. He then asked me to take a tour with him and he proceeded to show me a photo of all the places around he could take me to. Still with no intention on going with him, I asked him “How much?” just to see what he said.

“100 rupees,” he said to me.

“100 rupees?” I said in disbelief. “That’s it?”

“Yes, just 100 rupees and I will take you around.”

Just so you readers are aware, 100 rupees translates to about $1.50 USD. One dollar and fifty cents! Ridiculously cheap.

“You will take me to all of these places for 100 rupees?” I asked him, just to be certain.

“Yes, I will take you in my rickshaw.”

“Psshh, let’s go!”

There had to be a catch, but I figured I’d cross that bridge once I get to it.

I hopped in the back of his rickshaw as he happily climbed into the driver’s seat.

“I will show you everything my friend,” he said.

Just like he said he began to take me to all the temples, museums, and sanctuaries that were indicated on the photo he showed me.

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He then stopped in front of a market which he claimed to be one of the oldest markets in Kochi.

“Have a look inside,” he urged.

This was my first full day in India so I didn’t plan on buying anything yet, but I guess I could look around and see. I ended up coming out with a festive shirt for 500 rupees. I’m not buying anything else today.

Ashique took me immediately to another shop just around the corner.

“This shop is the biggest in Kochi,” he began to say. “Have a look inside.”

Hmm. Okay, I guess I’ll take a look. It is the biggest in Kochi after all.

Inside these shops, merchants would follow me around asking me what I was interested in and things I should buy. I remained with a firm ‘no thank you’ and exited after a few minutes. That shop had the same exact merchandise as the previous shop.

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Halfway through I realized I was starving. I haven’t eaten anything since I arrived in India.

“Hey Ashique,” I began to ask. “Is there any place you can take me to nearby that has good Indian food?”

“Yes I know,” he said.

Three minutes later, he pulled up to a place called ‘B’ For Biriyani.

I didn’t know what biriyani was but I ordered the chicken version of it. Mighty tasty and mighty cheap!

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In addition to a few more historic areas of interests, Ashique proceeded to take me to yet another market but instead this one was a spice market where I was greeted with a cup of ginger tea that costed five rupees (around seven cents).

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The woman inside was persistent to me in buying something but again, I remained a firm ‘no thank you’.

I met up back with Ashique who was waiting outside.

“Hey Ashique,” I began to tell him from the back of the rickshaw. “I don’t need to go to anymore markets.”

He was silent for a moment.

“Okay, but can you help me?” he asked.

“With what?”

“If I take you to a few more shops, then I will receive a fuel ticket.”

I knew there was a catch to this cheap tour around the city. I was baited into this tour with the stipulation of visiting a handful of markets in the hopes of purchasing something, so the rickshaw driver could get a commission. His commission being a fuel ticket, which I assumed was his way of getting petrol for his rickshaw.

Hmm, he has been pretty nice. And he did follow-up on his promise and took me to plenty of places already. I figured I could help him out.

“Yeah I can help you,” I told him. “But do I have to buy anything?”

“No, I just have to show my face bringing a tourist and you only have to stay for a few minutes.”

“I can do that then.”

So off we went to four more shops. All four shops sold the same stuff. And all the merchants in the shop all claimed their goods were the “best” goods. It wasn’t difficult to say no. I’ve gotten plenty of practice in other countries. There is a way to go about it.

Be firm, but polite. I would always say, “No, thank you” with a smile. No matter how many times they pestered me after the fact, I still stuck with it. “No, thank you.” “No, thank you.” “No, I’m okay today.” “No, I am just browsing.” No, but thank you.” I must have said it about a hundred times today. I’ve met other travelers who were rude as heck. These people are just doing their jobs, as annoying as they can be – always remain firm and polite. Give in a little, then they will never leave you alone.

By the time we made it to the last shop of the day, I saw Ashique get his fuel ticket and I got my moneys worth of touring around Fort Kochi, regardless of all the shops I was dragged to, it helped him out.

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The locals I met in Kochi were quite friendly. The traffic wasn’t as horrendous as I was led to believe. But, Kochi was a bit lackluster as far as keeping me entertained, so I decided to take a train up north to Goa the following day, which would turn out to be a 15 hour overnight train ride. I went with the ridiculously cheap sleeper class train (420 rupees) as opposed to the first or second class air-conditioned cabins.

If I’m gonna experience India properly, I will ride where the locals ride.

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Getting a ticket was a pain in the ass, but I finally got one.

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It wasn’t the most comfortable train I’ve been on, but it wasn’t horrible. I actually spent most of the time hanging outside the door because the views on the way up to Goa were pretty neat.

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So far so good India.

(In case you missed any of the previous Quest posts, click here for the archive of stories since the Quest began in August.)

I Don’t Want To Go To India…But Here I Go Anyway

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Alright. Here I go.

Forcing myself into India for a month.

India is probably at the very bottom of the barrel of countries I never wanted to visit.

I’ve heard it’s dirty, polluted, way over crowded, hot, sticky, smoggy, muggy, smelly…

I’ve heard the people there are always trying to con you and rip you off. That personal space is non-existent. That falling ill is inevitable. 

I’ve heard to never shake the left hand of an Indian because that’s the hand they use to wipe their butts.

I’ve heard to always buy the most expensive bottle of water because the cheaper ones have been filled with tap water and cleverly resealed.

With all these negative things I’ve heard of, then why am I going?

Simply because I need a challenge. This Quest to the Seven Continents has been way too easy so far. I want to go to a place that will test me like no other country has before and I can’t think of anywhere better for that than by spending a solid month in India. Not only that, I’ll be spending Christmas and New Years in only God knows where there. Also, I’m not allowing myself McDonald’s or any other western restaurants for that matter while I’m in the country. Only Indian food all day every day.

I truly have no idea what I’m doing there…more so than anywhere else I’ve been before on this Earth.

By visiting here I want to learn to love and appreciate the country. I doubt all those negative things I heard of are true, so it’s due time that I investigate for myself.

I will get sick. I will probably lose my mind at times. But I’m expecting it.

So let’s get this over with! How do I even begin to decide where to start my trip in India though?

The country is so huge!

Screen Shot 2016-12-29 at 1.48.01 PM.png

I  looked at a map of all the major international airports in India, closed my eyes, pointed my finger at a random spot on the screen and opened my eyes to find that my index finger landed near an airport called Cochin International Airport in Kochi, a region in the south of India.

Kochi it is.

The connecting flight from Bali to Kuala Lumpur was a bit bumpy. However the night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kochi was by far the scariest flight of my life! I’ve never experienced so much heavy turbulence on a single journey. The pilot explained we were in a middle of a storm and he was trying to avoid it.

Was this an omen of things to come for me in India?

Upon landing, I had to go through foreign immigration to get my visa stamp. Earlier I applied for an e-visa which grants me exactly 30 days to be in India. The process to get that e-visa was a little weird. I was asked questions that didn’t pertain to anything relevant, like “What is your religion” and “What is your father’s profession?”

Why does it freakin’ matter?

I respectively put my religion as Scientology and my father’s profession as an astronaut. Both of those are entirely incorrect and I did it for my own personal amusement. Just like I suspected, it didn’t matter and I was granted my stamp which officially allowed me into the country.

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Welcome to Kochi

Knowing that I’d be bombarded by taxi drivers wanting me to ride with them, I conveniently booked a cab from inside the airport to save the trouble. I walked outside and noticed the smog in the air, even at night. My taxi guy pulled up and in about an hour’s time, I arrived at the YMCA International Youth Hostel somewhere in the city. There was nothing ‘international’ or ‘youthful’ about this hostel. I was the only foreigner and everyone there seemed to be a lot older. I was shown my room and immediately passed out from the long day of traveling.

I went out into town early the next day. I discovered that India had Uber and that it was stupid cheap to get to the area of Kochi I wanted to go, to a region called Fort Kochi. Fort Kochi is a water-bound area in the southern part of the city involving beaches and lots of historic monuments. I’ll go there and see what’s around.

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The Uber dropped me off smack-dab in the middle of the fort. I was in the center of outdoor food stalls, craft markets, and a line of rickshaws parked on the side of the street. The smell of foul fish and trash was present. I noticed an Indian man eyeing me and he proceeded to come over. He asked me what my name was and what I was doing.

“My name is Daniel and I’m just walking around,” I said with a smile. Smiling is the single best thing you can do when walking around foreign cities. It says to everyone, “Hey I’m foreign, but friendly!”

He said his name is Ashique and that he could give me a tour around the whole fort area from his rickshaw. I wasn’t interested and was okay with exploring on my own for a bit, but he insisted that I come to him once I was finished ‘walking around’.

“Okay,” I said, with no intention on coming to him later.

The beaches in the fort was absolute garbage. Literally.

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There was trash everywhere and the smell reeked, but strangely I wasn’t fazed. I expected this and accepted that this was just how it was. People, locals and few tourists walked about, eating ice cream, running along the beach, eating at the food stalls and seemed to all be enjoying themselves. I already had enough of the beach area and decided to walk in the town, but in the hopes of evading Ashique who was persistent as heck. He must have eyes like a hawk because he spotted me from a distance and began to follow me again. Ugh.

He made small talk and I was polite about it. He then asked me to take a tour with him and he proceeded to show me a photo of all the places around he could take me to. Still with no intention on going with him, I asked him “How much?” just to see what he said.

“100 rupees,” he said to me.

“100 rupees?” I said in disbelief. “That’s it?”

“Yes, just 100 rupees and I will take you around.”

Just so you readers are aware, 100 rupees translates to about $1.50 USD. One dollar and fifty cents! Ridiculously cheap.

“You will take me to all of these places for 100 rupees?” I asked him, just to be certain.

“Yes, I will take you in my rickshaw.”

“Psshh, let’s go!”

There had to be a catch, but I figured I’d cross that bridge once I get to it.

I hopped in the back of his rickshaw as he happily climbed into the driver’s seat.

“I will show you everything my friend,” he said.

Just like he said he began to take me to all the temples, museums, and sanctuaries that were indicated on the photo he showed me.

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He then stopped in front of a market which he claimed to be one of the oldest markets in Kochi.

“Have a look inside,” he urged.

This was my first full day in India so I didn’t plan on buying anything yet, but I guess I could look around and see. I ended up coming out with a festive shirt for 500 rupees. I’m not buying anything else today.

Ashique took me immediately to another shop just around the corner.

“This shop is the biggest in Kochi,” he began to say. “Have a look inside.”

Hmm. Okay, I guess I’ll take a look. It is the biggest in Kochi after all.

Inside these shops, merchants would follow me around asking me what I was interested in and things I should buy. I remained with a firm ‘no thank you’ and exited after a few minutes. That shop had the same exact merchandise as the previous shop.

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Halfway through I realized I was starving. I haven’t eaten anything since I arrived in India.

“Hey Ashique,” I began to ask. “Is there any place you can take me to nearby that has good Indian food?”

“Yes I know,” he said.

Three minutes later, he pulled up to a place called ‘B’ For Biriyani.

I didn’t know what biriyani was but I ordered the chicken version of it. Mighty tasty and mighty cheap!

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In addition to a few more historic areas of interests, Ashique proceeded to take me to yet another market but instead this one was a spice market where I was greeted with a cup of ginger tea that costed five rupees (around seven cents).

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The woman inside was persistent to me in buying something but again, I remained a firm ‘no thank you’.

I met up back with Ashique who was waiting outside.

“Hey Ashique,” I began to tell him from the back of the rickshaw. “I don’t need to go to anymore markets.”

He was silent for a moment.

“Okay, but can you help me?” he asked.

“With what?”

“If I take you to a few more shops, then I will receive a fuel ticket.”

I knew there was a catch to this cheap tour around the city. I was baited into this tour with the stipulation of visiting a handful of markets in the hopes of purchasing something, so the rickshaw driver could get a commission. His commission being a fuel ticket, which I assumed was his way of getting petrol for his rickshaw.

Hmm, he has been pretty nice. And he did follow-up on his promise and took me to plenty of places already. I figured I could help him out.

“Yeah I can help you,” I told him. “But do I have to buy anything?”

“No, I just have to show my face bringing a tourist and you only have to stay for a few minutes.”

“I can do that then.”

So off we went to four more shops. All four shops sold the same stuff. And all the merchants in the shop all claimed their goods were the “best” goods. It wasn’t difficult to say no. I’ve gotten plenty of practice in other countries. There is a way to go about it.

Be firm, but polite. I would always say, “No, thank you” with a smile. No matter how many times they pestered me after the fact, I still stuck with it. “No, thank you.” “No, thank you.” “No, I’m okay today.” “No, I am just browsing.” No, but thank you.” I must have said it about a hundred times today. I’ve met other travelers who were rude as heck. These people are just doing their jobs, as annoying as they can be – always remain firm and polite. Give in a little, then they will never leave you alone.

By the time we made it to the last shop of the day, I saw Ashique get his fuel ticket and I got my moneys worth of touring around Fort Kochi, regardless of all the shops I was dragged to, it helped him out.

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The locals I met in Kochi were quite friendly. The traffic wasn’t as horrendous as I was led to believe. But, Kochi was a bit lackluster as far as keeping me entertained, so I decided to take a train up north to Goa the following day, which would turn out to be a 15 hour overnight train ride. I went with the ridiculously cheap sleeper class train (420 rupees) as opposed to the first or second class air-conditioned cabins.

If I’m gonna experience India properly, I will ride where the locals ride.

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Getting a ticket was a pain in the ass, but I finally got one.

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It wasn’t the most comfortable train I’ve been on, but it wasn’t horrible. I actually spent most of the time hanging outside the door because the views on the way up to Goa were pretty neat.

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So far so good India.

(In case you missed any of the previous Quest posts, click here for the archive of stories since the Quest began in August.)