India; en route to Goa from Punjab.
A beautiful warm and sunny morning, as is the norm in hot countries.
There I was, the first-class carriage of the Shatabdi Express (which is pretty much like a battered up normal carriage of a train back home; except hot meals are included!). I caught the train at Sirhind, travelling to New Delhi, where I'd catch a flight to Goa. The bulge in my pocket? Over 20,000 rupees -enough money to have a good time for a few days...
Or so I thought.
The train ran late, as it would in a country full of Indian people (the one place on Earth where 'Indian time' is standard), but as only one express train ran per day, it was packed, even by Indian standards! However, all the seats on my carriage were by allocation only, so we had more than enough room. There's not a lot money won't buy you in this country.. except maybe fresh air and a straight politician, but I'm sure that's just another market waiting to be exploited by some billionaire or his son.
A cursory look around revealed no obvious talent; my seat was next to some oldtimer who snored; not exactly the beautiful female traveller a single guy hopes he'll be sat next to for a few hours whenever he makes a long journey. But there was still the flight to look forward to...
Hopefully my luck would improve.
The night before, it was suddenly announced that 500 and 1000 rupee notes were no longer legal tender, effective immediately. I figured it was just like when they introduce new notes back home; you can still use the old notes until the new notes are gradually phased in. People were panicking when they heard the news, but I paid it no mind; the fools.
I'd already been in India for two weeks, arriving for my niece's wedding (or for all you non-Indians out there, the wedding of my 'second-cousin'!) and I had the most beautiful time; seriously, it was just what I never knew I needed. This trip to Goa was just the icing on the cake; a chance to have some time to myself, sit on the beach, clear my mind and do some writing; crystallise that epic story I'd been chasing all these years...
As the train neared New Delhi, people began to get up and retrieve their luggage; y'know, so they could stand around by the door for the next five or ten minutes. The white folk began chatting to one another in the way they do when they spot one of their own in a foreign country... Like they've been friends for years. Us Indians just look at each other and wonder if there's a place on this Earth where we won't find other Indians.
'Apparently Trump's won the election?' Said the middle aged Welsh guy to the middle aged American.
I couldn't have given two shits to be honest. Part of the bliss of my trip had been not watching the news and avoiding the internet, and when I say 'bliss' that's exactly what it was. It's remarkable how the world keeps on turning in exactly the same way whether you know about what's 'apparently' going down, or not.
I left the civility of the first-class carriage and entered the chaos of the train station.
'Where the fcuk is the metro?'
I thought to myself (too polite to actually say it) as I scanned past the billions of people around me, travelling with the herd until I exited the station.
'Now where the fcuk are the station staff??'
This wasn't London, where members of staff are easy to spot and happy to help. This is India, where staff are camouflaged and the only people to be seen are dressed in green fatigues, belonging either to the military or the police; either way, they ain't there to help tourists.
I couldn't see a 'Metro' sign anywhere, and even if I could, I wouldn't know it because everything was in Hindi!
I swear someone told me the national language around here was English? I mean, I know there are loads of languages spoken in this country, but I thought the one thing they had in common was English as a second language (just like the rest of the world!)??
I had also been told that the Metro was next to the train station and would cost only 70 rupees to the airport...
I was set at by a swarm of taxi drivers and kept batting them away by saying 'Metro'.
But all the people on my train with luggage were getting in cabs...
Maybe the Metro wasn't next to the station afterall?
I asked the next couple of taxi drivers that came my way; each one said it was a long way away...
One of them became super friendly, and told me it was far, but he'd take me there for 150.
'Where do you want to go?'
I repeated my 'rip-off' proof mantra. 'Metro'.
He looked at my luggage and asked 'Do you want to go the airport?'
I remained steadfast.
'Look, I can take you to the Metro for 150, and it will take you another 150 to get to the airport, and from there you'll need to get another taxi to the terminal... I can just take you there comfortably for 450.'
His logic was sound, even if his maths wasn't. The fare on the Metro wasn't 150.. was it?
Doubt crept into my mind.
I knew I was paying the tourist tax, but I just couldn't be bothered, so off we went.
At one point I pulled out my camera and took a shot. He pulled over and offered to take me on a tour of Delhi for 1500!!
Enterprising folk these Delhi peeps; never ones to miss an opportunity to fleece an outsider. I declined and gave him the last of my 100 rupee notes when we reached the airport.
When I finally boarded my flight, some fat dude was sitting in my seat. One thing you might notice when you take domestic flights in India is that the rising middle-class that can afford to fly everywhere are mostly carrying a few extra pounds (and I ain't talking just about money!); they're also quite arrogant and rude- but then to a polite Englishman, the whole world is!!
I told him he was sitting in my seat, to which he pointed at the vacant seat by the window. I repeated that he was sitting in my seat. He and his friend shuffled over.
I paid extra for the aisle seat dammit!
The sun was setting when I arrived in Goa, and even from the tarmac of the airport, it was a spectacular sight!
I'd heard a lot about Goa from various peeps over the years; one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that it was full of Western tourists and hippies, but I'd seen more on my train from Punjab!
The plane, the airport, the area itself, full of Indians!!
I shouldn't be surprised, but it was contrary to my expectations is all.
Once I collected my luggage (through all the pushing and shoving) and left customs, the real shit storm began.
No one was taking 500 or 1000 rupee notes and that was literally all I had!!
I also had a hundred quid in sterling, which I figured I could change at the bureau de change in case of an emergency, but the bureau de change was closed because they had run out of money!
The ATM's were all out too!!
I asked the 'prepaid Taxi' counter if they took credit card.
The Taxi to Baga Beach, where I was staying was 1200 rupees, and the taxi drivers kept telling me it was illegal for them to take my money!
Bloody Indian government couldn't have picked a better time to ruin my holiday!
I spoke to the owner of the Taxi company and he agreed to take my money, but wouldn't offer me any change.
Indians; never ones to miss an opportunity to fleece an outsider!
Finally we agreed on 1300, I gave him three 500's and he gave me two precious 100 rupee notes. Overnight, the 100 rupee note was now as rare as gold dust.. or a beautiful female traveller!
I got in the cab and off we drove.
I wanted to take a few photos of the dramatic jungle type landscape (unlike anything I'd seen in Punjab!), with coconut trees and lush greenery set against the pink and orange sky. But where the fcuk was my camera??
I searched my pockets and my bag a few more times before I asked the Taxi driver to turn back!
He was a good geezer, and parked up asking if there was anything illegal in my luggage and if he could trust me if I was to leave my bags with him? (Hahaha!)
I ran to the Taxi area and searched the floor and the counter. Nothing.
That camera had all my photos from the trip so far, including the one's from my niece's wedding!! I'm sure I would have wanted to see those photos at least once in the next ten years, and now they were gone!!
I ran back into the airport and the luggage collection area (not before having to explain myself to one of the many army guys who stands at every entrance and exit). It was empty.
Finally I saw someone from an airline; not the airline I travelled on, but they pointed me in the right direction. Long story short, my camera was found in the plane and the airline staff were helpful in reuniting me with it.
It was around ten or eleven at night when I arrived at my hotel after a long day spent travelling (since about 7am), and so I did what any weary traveller does when they arrive at their destination. I got the wifi password and checked Facebook.
You people need to calm the fcuk down!
This was almost as ridiculous as the breakdowns people were having after Brexit (which I also viewed from the safety of a foreign country)!
Trump was president.
Come on, we all know the CIA pulls the strings anyway; is it really gonna make that much of a difference?
Ah fcukit. I was on holiday with a wad of useless cash in my pocket and really couldn't care less. I had more important things to worry about, like, how the hell am I gonna pay for dinner??
I took a stroll to Tito's Lane; the main tourist hub around here, and it was chock full of groups of young Indian men.. Like me! Except natives. All on their scooters, full of testosterone and out to have a good time! The bars were blaring out music, and the chaos and lack of pavements was the same as everywhere else in India!
I don't know why my expectations of this place were so European.. I mean, I'm in India! Of course it's gonna be like India!!
In my mind I had an image of something like 'Veronicas' in Tenerife or maybe even something similar to Ibiza (I heard there was a cafe Mambo around here?).
Don't get me wrong; it was good. I'm glad it had its own flavour and was Indian, but man.. Goa was the biggest sausage factory I've ever seen in MY LIFE!!!
I've never seen a place so bereft of women and full to bursting with men (and this is coming from someone that's regularly out in the clubs in London!).
It was also full of elderly British people who had come to escape the winter, and LOADS of Russian families who knew only two words of English: 'No spicey.'
The only chicks you saw were in couples; out with their boyfriends or husbands, and it makes perfect sense too; why would single girls (Indian or foreign) want to party in India?! With it's reputation for gawking guys desperate for a selfie with a pretty chick (or anyone with white skin); or y'know.. their other reputation.. for rape.
As if us Indian guys weren't already doing badly enough in the ranks of 'World's most desirable men'!!
Anyway, that's not why I was there. I had come to be inspired and to do some writing!
The last thing I needed was the distraction of women, so this place was perfect.
My trip to Mumbai a few years earlier came flashing back to me. I was there for three days, again by myself, and the only people I really conversed with were my taxi drivers. I sat alone at breakfast, at dinner (there was no time for lunch) and when I hit the clubs at night, I found both the ex-pat Europeans and the rich Indians to be so obnoxious that I preferred to keep my self-respect and not even attempt to talk to either ever again. I enjoyed myself; exploring the city and was glad to have experienced it, but truth be told, I was glad to be back in friendly old Punjab when it was all over.
I did NOT want Goa to be a repeat of that experience, but as I strolled the streets around Baga Beach that night and saw that none of the bars were welcoming towards a single Indian man (unless he paid the 'Stag' tax), it was all beginning to seem a little too familiar...
No one to take my money, no one to take me; the world seemingly imploding in on itself and four nights left!
The was gonna be fun!
To be continued.