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