The trip to India started on Saturday 24th June 2000. My Dad and I arrived at Heathrow airport at around 10:30am, the flight was due to take off at 2:30pm, for once the M25 was empty so we got there an hour earlier than planned.
At around 12:30 they opened the check-in desk for our flight, we managed to be 2nd and 3rd in the queue. The check-in clerk noticed that we are both quite tall, so she got onto the phone and reserved us 2 very good seats with nobody in front of us.
We boarded the airplane at about 2pm, along with 400 other passengers. we were due to take off at 2:30pm but the captain announced over the speakers that due to the brakes not working we would be delayed for about half an hour whilst they were being repaired. At 3pm the captain announced that the brakes were fixed and we were ready to go, but unfortunately another plane had broken down behind us, so we couldn't move.
3:30pm the plane is finally taxiing to the runway, an hour late, for our 10 hour flight. we were due to land at Chennai airport at around 5am on Sunday, we were only half an hour late.
After checking out at the airport we went outside and the heat hit us even at 6:30am (we were also wearing suits), after the heat, the next thing to hit you are the amount of beggars and taxi drivers trying to force you into one of their cabs. We tried for 2 hours to convince them that we were waiting for someone to collect us but we finally agreed that we were going to miss our train if we waited much longer.
The train was the next problem, Darryl (the man who was supposed to pick us up from the airport) had our train tickets. So when we arrived at the train station we had to try and purchase 2 tickets for the train going to Tenali, the town we were visiting. One of the locals offered to help us get the tickets (at a price) we wanted and paid for the first class, air-conditioned chair car, but we ended up in the second class sleeper. It wasn't to bad, we shared a compartment with an Indian family who were very friendly, as were most of the people we met. The family asked if we wanted to share their dinner, we said thank-you and we would. I was a bit wary about eating the cooked food, but I was very pleasantly surprised, it was lovely.
Eight hours later we arrived at Tenali, but when we heard that the train only stops for three minutes, we didn't think that it would go while we were still getting the suitcases off. There was one case left on the train as it pulled away, my one, my dad jumped back on to try and get it but he soon jumped off again before the train got too much speed, then suddenly my suitcase came flying out of the train door and landed on the platform.
We got our stuff together and left the train station, we got two auto rickshaws to take us to the hotel we had booked, it turned out that the hotel was only about 200yards away. The drivers charged us about 300 Rupees (there are about 70 Rupees to the Pound), we paid them and later found out that a suitable charge, for even a ten minute journey, was about 20 to 30 Rupees. We had learnt our lesson, We were not going to be conned again.
We settled into our hotel room and were very surprised at how clean it was. It had it it's own toilet and shower, air-conditioning and a big colour TV. There was a nice view out of the window of a stream, or more commonly known as the open sewer, so as you can imagine the town wasn't particularly fresh smelling.
When we had freshened up we got an auto to take us to John-Paul's house. We were greeted well and met his family including Isaac, John-Paul's elder brother, and his nephews, and then fed, just a taster of the food that was to come. The food was different than we were used to, but they tried to be very accommodating. We didn't want to stay for too long as we were both exhausted so we went back to the hotel.
Monday 26th June 2000
One of John-Paul's nephews met us in the morning to take us back to the house for breakfast. We took a rickshaw each which cost Rs10 each.
Breakfast everyday was omelettes and "toast". Toast in India is bread that has been heated in ghee, so it is very sweet but it is palatable. The whole family were very accommodating, they had gone out especially to buy some knives and forks so that we didn't have to eat with our hands. One very good tip, always carry some waterless soap, one drop rubbed in your hands disinfects them from any germs you might of got on your hands, it is also very useful after you have handled the Indian money, especially the notes, as it is VERY dirty.
John-Paul arranged for an auto to pick us all up to go and visit a local hospital, an auto can comfortably hold two passengers, we had six. My dad and I were sat on the bench in the back there was John-Paul on the front seat next to the driver (very cramped) and three of John-Paul's nephews hanging onto the side of the auto.
The hospital was a very depressing place, I didn't expect much but the conditions were terrible. the rooms were stone rooms no bigger than 2-3m sq. The patients had to be looked after by their own families including their food. The doctors visit twice a day, but any injections that the patients require cost the families 4000 Rupees each that's around £55 - £60.
After visiting the hospital we went on into town to an Internet room where you could hire a computer with Internet access for around Rs50 an hour, not bad I thought but the connection speeds are terrible, but at least people have access to the net.
When we had finished at the Internet room the auto dropped my dad and myself back at the hotel for a rest, we paid the driver Rs80 (£1.15) for driving us all around and waiting for us, around 3 hours in total.
When we went for a walk down the main road in Tenali, we saw part of someone's finger that had fallen off, it was all black and nasty. Children were stopping to have a look at the tattoo on my arm, it is of a lizard and the children thought it was real.
Tuesday 27th June 2000
Whilst we were at John-Paul's house we heard a lot of music, so we popped outside to have a look at what was going on, it was a funeral procession. All the family and mourners were there with musicians and a group of men carrying the body. The corpse was on a bamboo stretcher with nothing covering it (we were surprised it didn't fall off). Because burial is very expensive, most corpses are burnt on open fires, we didn't see that thank goodness.
The roads out there are unbelievable, there are laws for the road but nobody seems to know what they are or they just ignore them. Cars are supposed to drive on the left hand side of the road the same as here in England, but it seems that you drive where there is an empty part of the road, regardless of what side it is on. All day a night all you can here is car horns and bicycle bells, but out there they are used to let you know where in the road they are and not to have a go at someone. The trick seems to be as soon as the horn or bell is really loud you move out of the way at the last second.
The town was on a forced strike today, there were no shops open or very few. If you opened your shop when there is a strike on, you are likely to have it destroyed. When we got back to the hotel all the shutters were up at the entrance, we had to be smuggled into the hotel via the kitchen entrance.
We Started to make piles of dead crickets today, to see if room service would clean them up, they didn't.
Wednesday 28th June 2000
We were due to go to the city Guntur this morning, but on Monday there was an article in the paper that there had been some riots and the bus station had been destroyed, so we decided to wait until later on in the week.
It started to rain last night and it is still raining, only harder, it is the start of the monsoon season. All the open sewers are overflowing so as you can imagine the smell is overpowering, but you do get used to it.
We went to a village tonight, it was not a good night to go. Because of all the rain the smaller roads are either flooded or are being eroded away. The driver went down the wrong road, so as he turned around to come back the car got stuck, The driver and Isaac disappeared to try to get a Land-Rover to pull us out, he didn't find one instead they come back with five men to push the car. It turned out that the Land-Rover had slid off the road into a canal, and they had to get a tractor to pull them free.
On the way back Isaac pointed out a Government bus that had slid off the road this afternoon and it was laying on it's side, a lot of people had got hurt in the crash.
I saw quite a few lizards today, mostly geckos.
Thursday 29th June 2000
It is still raining.
In the newspaper today there was an article about the bus crash yesterday, in it said that nobody got hurt, apparently they do that to stop paying any compensation.
John-Paul asked if we liked lime pickle, we had both said that we did and thought nothing more about it.
I am looking forward to getting home and sleeping in my own bed and driving my own car.
I did not go out tonight as I didn't feel well, the anti-malaria tablets do not agree with me much. Instead I stayed in and relaxed, watched TV and tried the hotel food, which was delicious.
Friday 30th June 2000
After breakfast at John-Paul's house we got a taxi to Guntur. It is about a 45 minute drive. Along the road you can see a lot of typical housing as well as people squatting at the side of the road relieving themselves. There was a man doing his washing at the side of the river.
Getting into the city was a nightmare, the driver decided to drive on the right hand side of the road, because he thought it would be quicker. Back on the left side of the road we had to dodge cows wandering around, one of them was calmly laid down in the central reservation. We met one you beggar boy who had been painted from head to toe in silver paint, he was also wandering around the busy road.
we got to Guntur we went to the bank. The bank was nothing like in this country,
they are big halls with open plan offices. There are also lots of security
guards with various guns, some old rusty rifles others had shotguns which some
of them were sawn off.
My dad had to change some travelers cheques and I had to change some Rs500 notes into smaller ones. The banking system is a joke, if ever you need to go there make sure that you have plenty time. First you need to go to a clerk that checks all of your documents like your passport and visa, when he has decided that it is all in order he fills out a request form. Next he gives you a token and you need to go and queue at a counter. When you finally get seen you hand in your token and request form and then you are told to go and queue at another booth. When you get to the next counter you order your money and then go and sit down. Finally when it is ready you need to queue up again at another booth to get you money. I didn't have it that bad as all I needed to do was change some notes, so I queued up at one booth only to be told that I was at the wrong one so I went and queued at the correct one, gave him my Rs500 notes and he changed them for Rs100 ones then I had to queue up at another booth to change the Rs100 notes for Rs10 ones.
Saturday 1st July 2000
We didn't go to John-Paul's place today as we were both feeling a bit ill. Later in the morning we got an auto to the town's market, I was quite surprised at how big it was. There were lots of shops and stalls, although most of them sold the same things. I bought some locally made fans, I got 10 for Rs50 (80 pence).
For our meal today we went to the hotel's restaurant, and I have to say the food is magnificent. We both had a big plate of noodles and five bottles of mango drink between us and the bill came to Rs18 (26 pence).
The electricity supply is not good, I know you don't go all the way to India to watch TV, but when you are laid in bed relaxing and watching a film, you don't expect the power to go off three or four times. When we had a phone call come through to our room from home, we were happily chatting away when all of a sudden the phone cut off, the hotel porter had cut of the phone exchange so that he could go to bed.
Sunday 2nd July 2000
We went to John-Paul's for breakfast again this morning, but neither of us was feeling very well so we didn't eat anything. After breakfast we went to John-Paul's church, when everyone arrived there were around 100 people there in a space of about the average sized living room.
When John-Paul asked us the other day if we liked lime pickle, we thought he was going to give us a jar, WRONG, he gave us a big carrier bag full of small yellow limes so that we could make our own.
We had two big power cuts today, each about 20 minutes long. The second one happened after something hit the junction box out on the main road, we heard a massive explosion but we couldn't see anything just people looking at the power cables.
We had your meal in our hotel room tonight, we had chicken noodles, chicken with cashew nuts and tandoori chicken tikka, it was some of the best Indian food I have tasted.
We Leave for Chennai at 6:30am tomorrow.
Monday 3rd July 2000
It is 7:20am and we have been out of Tenali for 40 minutes, the people were very friendly but the town itself was very dirty. I know that most of India lives in poverty, but I was surprised at some of the conditions people lived in. There are some brick homes, not many but most of them are in a terrible state. The only real place that was habitable, by western standards, was the hotel and that would of been closed down by health inspectors if it was in a western country.
This past week has been a good experience for me, when you have seen how millions of people live you don't take everything for granted.
We arrived at Chennai at around 2pm, Darryl picked us up at about 4pm. Chennai central train station is not my favourite place to be, whilst you are waiting around you get none stop beggars asking for money any taxi drivers trying to take you to places you don't want to go to.
We both got settled into our hotel room by around 5:30pm, the hotel is a little bit smaller than the one in Tenali but a lot cleaner.
Tonight we had dinner at Darryl's house. It was much different than the food in Tenali. I think the main difference (apart from the tastes) is that the food here is cooked then served rather than being kept warm for hours.
Tuesday 4th July 2000
I was going to go to the Reptile park today, but I found out that all the parks are closed on Tuesdays, DAMN, that was the main thing I went to India for. Instead we are going to go shopping for present today. We went down one of the main streets looking arounf the shops, of course it is STILL raining, so we bought a couple of umbrellas of about Rs100 for both. A tip for you chocoholics out there, take your own chocolate, I got some Cadbury's Dairy Milk out there, I have tasted better dog chocs.
Darryl took us to and Indian hand crafts shop, we got most of the presents from there, they had lots of wooden boxes and carved figures at very good prices.
We have just booked a taxi for 5am to take us back to the airport to fly to lovely England.
Wednesday 5th July 2000
The taxi picked us up at 5am as promised and we arrived at the airport at 5:15am. We checked in straight away and then went and changed most of our money back to Sterling. Customs and immigration were simple enough although the security are a bit more thorough than back at Heathrow.
We were ready to board the flight at 6:15am, so we sat around for 75 minutes and boarded at 7:30am and took off at 8:15am.
The flight home was a bit more rough than flying out there, but as I had a few Rums I didn't notice that much.
We touched down at 2:30pm local time at Heathrow, bliss back in our own country. We went straight through customs (although I had hidden the big bag of limes) and on to home.
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