Well, I’m here, and… WOW!
Everything they say about India is true, good and bad, but overall, India is so far the most beautiful place I have ever seen, and the people are amazing. Everything about this trip so far has had my eyes out on stalks, my hair on end, my nose twitching, and my brain exploding with the sheer amount of amazing sights, smells and sounds. I’ve also been laughing like a drain and crying like an idiot!
When it came to the flight out, I was wandering around Heathrow Airport after five hours of sleep at the hotel, a bit numb, rather nervous to say the least, and not knowing what I still needed to get. I bought wafer bars and bottles of water, terrified that I wouldn’t be eating or drinking in India unless I took all my own supplies with me.
For those who don’t know, the flight to India was the second time ever I have been on a plane, and my first flight ever on a 747. I sat waiting for the plane to take off, with my seat above the wing, just wondering how the hell the wings even stay on, the size of them! The food on the flight was good, and I hadn’t realised there would be a video screen in the back of the seat in front of me, so my idea of reading a book went out of the window – also because I met two great people in the seats next to me – Vini, a Keralan working and living in the US who was going to see his parents in Cochin (hi Vini!) and Margaret, a small Scots lady who was going to India because she was volunteering, and because she loved the place (“you’ll be coming back!” she said to me).
I saw an amazing sight on the plane – after about five hours in the air we were flying over Iran, and the clouds that had covered the ground below the plane cleared, and I saw scattered lights on the ground far below. From 39,000 feet, these lights were so small, they looked like stars. There were stars in the sky above the plane, and stars below – it was like flying through space. Then, we passed over Tabriz, a reasonable size town, and it was like an explosion of light – all of the street lights and house lights shone up, shimmering blue, gold and orange, countless tiny specks of light. The town looked like a fractal diagram or an organism, a jellyfish, or an alien from a James Cameron movie. I wish I could have taken a photo, but it would never have done it justice.
We got to Bombay airport, and I was getting very nervous by now. As the doors of the plane opened, a rush of warm (25 degrees c at one in the morning), fragrant air shot into my face. Well, I say fragrant, it was probably a combination of flowers and kerosene. I parted company with Vini and Margaret, and found my way out of the international terminal – the guard attending the baggage scanner walked over to me at one point and beckoned me round the scanner – I was terrified he was going to do some sort of invasive body cavity search – it just turned out the baggage scanner was jammed and he was letting me straight through… great security! I then started worrying when I changed my money for Rupees – I was handed a wad of cash so thick I felt incredibly self-conscious, and had to shuffle off with my wad concealed so I could stash it in my bag.
Finding the domestic terminal for the flight down to Kerala turned out to be a piece of cake – it was all very simple, clearly signed, and I just followed the other tourists. A baggage handler shook my hand when he had labelled my backpack for the flight, and said “bhaiyaa – good journey”. Bhaiyaa means ‘brother’, used with strangers. The English in India is fantastic, often very proper and old-sounding. Porters and handlers muttered things like “you are most welcome sir”. After getting to the domestic terminal, I now had an eight-hour wait for the next flight, so stayed awake all night in the waiting room with everyone else. The TV was on at full blast, no chance of sleep, and chai wallers were constantly passing by selling chai for Rs 10 – about 8p. What is chai then, at least in Mumbai airport? Tea, boiled up with evaporated milk, masses of sugar, and possibly ginger. Yorkshire tea it ain’t. But at 8p a shot, and when you want something warm, it actually gets to be quite good!
At one point on the TV news, footage showed a man on fire – not the sort of thing you see on Look East. He was being chased around a yard by fifteen other men, who I thought were giving him a good kicking – it just turns out they were putting him out. I saw a McDonalds advert for a McAloo Tikka – they’ll stick a Mc on anything. At one point, Vini found me and bought me a cuppa, and also very kindly gave me his parents phone number in case I needed anything – what a star!
The flight down to Kerala from Mumbai was quiet – a very cute stewardess had memorised my name, so I was treated to “Are you alright Mr Nelson?”, “Tea or coffee Mr Nelson?”, “Goodbye Mr Nelson”. I embarrassed myself a bit by waking myself up snoring so loud I’m sure the whole cabin heard.
Anyway, I have got a heck of a lot more to get down, and haven’t even started on India, Trivandrum, Tamil Nadu, the gypsies, SCAD, or the children here – there’s so much I’m having to write it down every day! For the time being, take a look at the latest pictures at www.flickr.com/photos/mybigtrip. I’ll post more soon!.