Posts from the ‘India’ Category

The Journey*

My last 350 rupees are splurged on a mock-Mont Blanc pen (They’d run out of biros. Hello Tesco Nige, by the way.) within the airport terminal. A necessary procurement along with the complimentary notelets from the hotel. Scribble now, blog later. The devil will find work for idle hands to do. Several thousand miles to go. Mumbai to Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne in the company of Air Malaysia.

“When the President does it, that means that it is not a steaming pile of horse poo…” Frank Langella stars in the inflight movie’s main role on the Mumbai to Kuala Lumpur leg. Robot & Frank is the title apparently. People tune in inquisitively.
Frost & Nixon is one of my favourite films of all time. Your man Langella was Oscar nominated, deservedly, for his role as the doomed President. This is him, older, whiter, balder, more hang dog post his finest hour.**
Langella frowns his way mournfully through proceedings, trying hard to look interested, trying harder to maintain credibility as he conducts a cod-Short Circuit type relationship with a plastic space age robot of the type that failed the auditions for a Beastie Boys video. The best thing about the film is Liv Tyler’s legs. There is no harsher come down than the one from the White House, even as an actor.
Either that or there’s no business like show business.
The sound around me is the hurried rustling of passengers replacing their earphones back into the plastic bags. At least three hours before we land. Poor bloke.

The Aerotram, KL airport. I catch a glimpse of myself reflected in the window. Resplendent in Panama hat and horizontal striped blue and white t-shirt. Ye gods, it dawns on me that I look like I should be doing a turn on the waters of Venice or punting down the Cam. First impressions count. Don’t give those Aussies anything. In plenty of time for the connecting flight to Melbourne, I head to the gents to sort out my contact lenses but take the opportunity to address my sartorial issue. Emerging from the bogs sporting another shirt with the very embodiment of Great British man looking on earnestly from the breast, his name writ large.


I’m ready for Australia now.
I decide to carry the hat though.

Although, quite by accident, later it falls out of the overhead locker on to the head of a grumpy looking lady from beneath her hijab. That her young daughter is laughing isn’t making it any easier for me as I do my best to look solemnly apologetic.
Air Malaysia are good. I’ll fly with them again. Good staff, good choice of entertainment, well on the second part of the journey anyway.
Beef for the first time in ages functionally washed down with average air food claret. The Dark Knight Rises is well worth the wait. Gary Oldman needs to do a Bond film. Nearly the best thing about the film is Anne Hathaway’s arse. It is that good.
I don’t sleep. I never do on planes. Despite the wonderful hostesses doing their best to help by segueing smartly around my variations on a theme of gangly. Some kid behind me constantly sniffing grinners isn’t helping my route into subconsciousness. I ponder the previous night in the most comfortable bed in the world and consider twenty four hours is a long time in sleeping patterns. I also reflect on the evening’s film versus Skyfall. It keeps me awake. That and thoughts of the next month or so.
I’m excited. I think.

My first repast on Australian territory, just after seven as the sun comes up over Coober Pedy, washed down with weak black tea with the sound of Concrete Jungle on my iPad is, bizarrely, chicken pie in a box. Who? Why?
Air Malaysia’s attempt to mix it with the locals, or, genuinely, is chicken pie de rigeur among Malaysians first thing in the morning? Either way, it’s not worth devoting anymore words to.

Unlike Australia, which hopefully will give me a month or so of material. Time to get among the chazzwazzers….

*Ha ha! Hello erstwhile colleagues! I’m laughing now but I fear I’ll soon be begging for my job back.

**And, no, his role as the baddie in Cutthroat Island was not his finest hour, irony fans…..

Bathrooms Of Bombay: All Cisterns Go

The Waterstones Hotel, Andheri East, Mumbai. I shouldn’t be staying here. I’ve got the Australian economy to negotiate for the next month or so. £10 for a steak pie, £15 for a beer. If I buy a round, I will have to pawn my beloved Elstow cricket shirt. (Just imagine how much a Blunham one would go for, eh Nick?)

Monday evening, sat in Nagpur airport, with five weeks slumming it behind me and the thought of negotiating Mumbai by night, I’ve just committed the backpacker’s equivalent of sashaying down the wicket three balls into negotiating a spell from the opposition’s best left arm spinner on the fourth day in the baking heat. When you’re 55-4.

Weary after the late flight, the Sounds of the 60’s loving but basically useless taxi driver (though not in his choice of in-car sounds) and the communication breakdown between the online provider’s fiction and the hotel’s fact, I eventually get to my room.


The bed is bigger than Austria’s national debt. Four huge pillows lay tantalisingly on top. The mattress is easier than Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits. There’s a desk I won’t have time to sit at. A flat screen Plasma telly I won’t have time to watch. A minibar I won’t have time to drain. The bathroom features a cartoon by someone who dreams of being as brilliant as The Telegraph’s Matt.

Hot water! Instantly. Constantly. The travel beard goes (Hello Grandma! x) courtesy of the complimentary shaving cream, Bic-type razor and an old Squeeze album, though don’t ask me why I chose this as the soundtrack. The shower rids me properly of the dust I’ve been carrying around since Ahmedabad. I revitalise, reenergise and enjoy my sadly all too temporary surroundings.

Everything about the room admonishes yet justifies my decision to spend my last night in India in unalloyed comfort.

You can’t take it with you.

Just what I think as I ponder piking the Courvoisier and the Shortbread.

To the airport my good man. Jaldi jaldi….

The Sound of Silence

Silence. No tooting, no tuk-tuks, no taxis. The pigeons attempting fruitlessly to nest on the synthetic roof of the hotel’s neighbouring outbuilding don’t get a look in either. No Call to Prayer to be heard today. Commerce is the ruling religion out here in Sahar, Mumbai.

The wake up call for the clientele is the distant sound of the Stock Markets opening.
The gentle hum of the under employed AC unit and the thick panel of sound proof window, my looking glass into the other side of India. The reinforced bubble. The India that pays the bills, moves the economy, keeps the rich obscenely richer and the foot on the throat of the others.

A mile into the clearing distance, giant jumbos climb at regular intervals into the morning Mumbai air. Hawks gracefully accompany them on the prowl for breakfast.
After five weeks of backpacking, for my last night in India I’ve had an upgrade. Welcome to Waterstones in East Andheri. A newly opened boutique hotel and a cross between The Rainforest Cafe and the ill-fated Cuban hotel in The Quantum Of Solace in among the familiar, bigger names. While the Gateway to India stands watch impressively in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel, here, overlooking the international airport, is the tradesman’s entrance.

After the first time in a long time, I’m on the inside looking out rather than the main attraction at the museum. Down to breakfast, through the impressive scored marble corridors and the rough shag astroturf carpet. Business people heads in papers, tablets, frothy coffees. Two mint blondes turn heads for a minute. A ghastly, reedy cover of a New Order song does the honours on the Muzak Jukebox. From the ceiling, plants grow downwards. Water cascades needlessly down the outside walls. Janitors pluck and sweep tirelessly at the omnipresent plastic grass.

The black coffee tastes good. I wonder fleetingly how that miserable Northern bastard from the hotel in Nagpur has got his this morning. I really don’t care. Lost in luxury and reflecting on England’s triumph, my second visit to this tempestuous holiday romance of a country and the next stop on my travels.

I sit in dreamy contemplation.

Then Wizard’s cretinous Christmas anthem playing over the hotel airwaves wakes me from my daydreams. Is nowhere safe from this horrible, horrible song? Time to go to the airport.

Sukriya India.

Viewing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 7, Drawn 3, Lost 2, Won 2

Ian Bell, the hero of Jamtha. I liked writing that. Well played sir.
Well played Trotty. Well played Jimmy.

Well played England.

Of course, it was all down to this you know…..


Fair ye well, Lucky Paul. Go well in Nepal sir.
See you for a few Monteiths in Dunedin in about eleven weeks time and the start, just before play as custom now dictates, of the first Test Match between New Zealand and England.

Pull Off Into Paradise….

You can tell a city by the club it keeps. Kolkata has the Tollygunge. Mumbai has the Taj. Nagpur, well, Nagpur has The Skylark.

Looking for a venue for our last night together, myself and the lads plump for Lucky Paul and Simon Nos’s hotel. Treading gingerly into the facilities, past the battered door marked “Bar & Grill” in neo-Tudor lettering and into a world that shrieks Phoenix Club.

All that’s missing is Brian Potter.

The Maharashtran Les Alanos are there, snuck steadfastly in a corner of the room, the circling disco lights and sound system are their protection from the outside world.
The room is a noxious mix of brown painted panels, dirty white tiles, dirtier mirrors, rust clad twisted iron grills and cream and ruby tiger striped seating. Tottenham versus Swansea carries on regardless. Two signs on the walls grab the eye. Firstly, and quite arbitrarily, Medium Of Cooking Soya Bean Refined Oil. Secondly, Smoking Zone. The reason for this becomes clear soon.

Eyes shut tightly, India Idol-that-never-was croons his way through another Hindi classic, buoyed on by Les Alanos and their wall of weird sound. I never even saw the choir. Our Marvin is joined by his Tammi Terrell. Another song falls on deaf English ears.

The bar begins to fill up. Regular faces from my hotel’s breakfast melee join the scene. Two middle aged chaps minus their mindless, shirtless Cockney pal come in to steal a glance at the telly. Simon Nos’s contact and our transport coordinator aka Nagpur’s Eighth Most Unreliable Man takes a seat at our table. Seedy looking single men filter towards the corner.
A fellow hotel guest, face like a melted Richard Nixon mask, a moaning, bullying shower of a Scunthorpe resident and probably the man who put the cu…. Anyway, he’s here. Complete with his monosyllabic bearded tit of a mate. I’m embarrassed to be from the same country as them. No black coffee or hot water to complain about now, just the Kingfisher. And the noise. Obviously.

The receipt roll from the clerk in the adjoining booth clacks slowly into life as the music fades. Is it part of the act?

It doesn’t matter. The music goes from Maharashtra to Mariarchi. The club from Phoenix to Coco Bongo. Those magicians in the corner on their keyboards have done it again. The reason for the upturn in punters suddenly becomes apparent.

The most beautiful girl in Nagpur takes the stage. The locals have their Tina. The Smoking Zone. This striking chanteuse strikes up a number. Collars are loosened. Pulses quicken. Repressed but shabbily dressed. Eyelashes flutter. Hearts pound. Warm applause greets the conclusion to the plaintive posturing.

I smile upon this scene, one of the only times I have in this armpit of a place in the last few days, and await the arrival of the one-legged Elvis. Or maybe Jerry’s Free N’ Easy Night?
Talent Trek?

Deciding I’m getting none of this. I head back to my hotel, for, hopefully, a decent night’s sleep. And the conclusion to an epic series of Test Cricket.

Hope, damn hope….

Kharzis Of Kolkata

‘How lucky you English are to find the toilet so amusing. For us, it is a mundane and functional item. For you it is the basis of an entire culture.’
Baron von Richtoven, Blackadder Goes Forth

Well, yes. That and there’s sweet FA to write about in Nagpur (though, having said that, thanks to Swanny’s batting and Jimmy’s bowling, there may be something very pertinent to report on soon), plus the WiFi connection’s not great here.
Stand by you plumbers. Following on from the much viewed Bathrooms of Bombay post comes the inevitable follow up.


As luck would have it, I didn’t have the fortune to stay at this particular hotel. James and Vicki did. They thought I’d like a picture for my blog.
If the cistern’s Slimline, I’m not quite sure what that makes the seat…..

Have a great weekend all.

The Future’s Bright…..

Nagpur. Unforgettably forgettable. Not warranting a whole page to itself in the Rough Guide, home to two million people and famous as the orange capital of India.

Oranges. Orange juice. A glass of locally produced, Vitamin C enriched, fresher than a dip in the Ouse on Christmas morning jus d’orange.
What a wonderful start to the day, the first day of the fourth and final Airtel Test Match.
I’ll just reach for the Room Service Menu….

Now then; Mineral Water, yep, Fruit Punch, non-alcoholic you’d imagine, Mango Shake, hmmm ok, Pineapple Shake, obviously, Strawberry Shake, uh-huh, I think I know what’s coming here, Juice-Tinned, riiiiiiiiiiiiggggghhhhtttt. Lemon Tea? Oh for Goodness sake….

Hang on a minute this is turning in to the Maharastrian version of the Cheese Shop Sketch.

No orange juice. In Nagpur. The orange capital of India. Really?

I’ll settle for an Immodium and a slice of Ma Wiss’s Christmas Cake instead, then (Thanks Mum! Xx Thanks for bringing it out Pete. Top man).

Let us hope England’s day bears more fruit.

Kolkata Nights: A Retrospective

An email plopped disconsolately into my mailbox a fortnight or so ago. My intended digs for Kolkata, it informed me, were actually full, and consequently, due to this oversight, I was homeless, or hotel-less to be precise. A further email an hour or two late from the same embarrassed source gave me the option of taking up their next best thing.

I took the next best thing.

Then I noticed on the Rough Guide map, the distance from the cricket ground, the distance from my co-travellers and fellow England fans and the nearest bar and cursed my luck.
The best part of a week later, I reckon, not for the first time on this trip, I may have misjudged things slightly. In fact, despite the haplessness of the substitute hotel, my stay in Kolkata is made for a number of other reasons.

The morning stroll to the nearest Metro station is one of the favourite parts of my match day routine. Locals look on dumbfounded as I purposefully stride through their early morning nuances. It’s a novel way to see the backstreets of this area of south Kolkata and all the nooks and crannies, the street sweepers and shopkeepers crank slowly into life.

I am enjoying the tranquility of solitude out here in the suburbs away from the bulk of the travelling England support bunkered down in Sudder Street. And there’s no pubs, so I can save up for at least one overpriced golden pint of horrible, tasteless- “aw mate, but it’s caaaaald mate”- Australian guff for when I get there soon.

Then there’s the evenings, my favourite part of my day. Sat in the hotel’s adjoining restaurant, The Wise Owl, half way down the Punya Das Road. Rooted to my wicker chair, captivated by my fellow diners, a Bollywood flick of a cast list of passers by, time slips enjoyably by as the unintentional soap opera plays out before my eyes.

The gossips are out in force. Joining me in the al fresco dining area, wrapped in jumpers, are the local beautiful people. Slipping seamlessly between Hindi, English and Hinglish, my ears prick up at the salacious stories doing the rounds between sips of lassi and pulls on Gold Leaf cigarettes.
Turning my attention away from Kolkata’s tangible take on Sex And The City and to my meal, vegetable lasagne served in a bowl with a spoon. The novelty value is augmented by the taste. It’s delicious. I nod approvingly at the waiters who wobble their heads back in gratitude.
The tiny Nepalese security guard, in between ambitiously asking for ‘teeps’, introduces me to, firstly his son, then the rest of the waiting staff. To a man; endearingly smiley, obliging and utterly hopeless. A happy band of Manuel-esque brothers.
The hotel manager presides over all this. A rotund man with a pencil moustache, attired in trainers, shirt and tie, like an off duty umpire with all the overbearing pretence, while an over-worked minion scuttles around doing the work of five men.

Peering out from behind the freshly painted picket fence and patio plants I study the form in the Punya Das road race. The contraband tuk-tuks full of workers heading to the night shift, weary blokes wheeling tradesman’s bicycles with cumbersome gas bottles strung to the front. The endless blue striped yellow taxis and their retarded hooting, the barefoot ice cream sellers wheeling their wares, wandering in hope rather than expectation.
A zeitgeist Raj-era gentleman in cravat, epaulettes, combover and immaculate moustache breezes in. Elegant women in luxurious pastel shaded saris destined for a nearby wedding head the other way. Their evening is about to begin, gathering up my notes and books I think about retiring for the night.

All Kolkata life is here. It’s been a pleasure sampling it.

Not One For The Scrap Book

Rubbish day, rubbish. All part of the grand scheme of things in travelling I suppose. A long ol’ journey from Kolkata to Nagpur that was hours later getting in than it should have. Then the obligatory heated exchange of views with Nagpur’s taxi and tuk-tuk drivers over their horrendous fares before a Basil Fawlty-esque stomp off to my hotel. Which was miles away.
Other stuff too, it’s not important.

Anyway, I intended to get a picture last night of some residents of Kolkata boarding a train under the caption, Bengalis On Platforms, a bit of a Morrissey tribute via the medium of photo. This hasn’t come out well. Sorry about that.


In the mean time, please see below a photo of my time in Mumbai. I’m afraid to report I don’t know who won.
Photo credits, Vicky & James, proper photographers.
(Hello chaps, hope all’s well? See you for a few beers in Paggers on your return home.)


Sunday, Bloody Sunday

The season has building up to this. One will triumph, one will fall. A city divided. Three points, but much more pertinently, pride, all consuming pride, at stake. The title may not be decided here but today’s result will go some way to determining the champions.

Welcome to The Salt Lake Stadium, venue for the Kolkata derby, the third biggest match in Asian football, East Bengal versus Mohun Bagan. It’s Super Sunday and it’s Live.

…ly. Very, very lively.

Our taxi scrambles on through the gathering storm. Tightly packed truckloads of fans are ferried in from all over the city. Flags draped around shoulders, shops, bus stops. Supporters bedecked in club colours, knock-off replica shirts and the local fan wear of choice, the official un-official bandana complete with inevitable hari-kiri connotations, swarm anxiously around the stadium as kick off looms.

Not for the first time, if you’ll forgive the travel writing cliche, India takes the breath away. And not for the first time it’s in the unlikely spots that don’t make it into the travel guide that do this.

Salt Lake Stadium is a hulking, ungainly concrete bowl of a place; Cold War Soviet era in its construction and design. To my left East Bengal take two thirds of their allocation while Mohun Bagan half fill their end.

That’s ninety thousand football crazed Kolkatans, going absolutely bananas for their team. Comfortably outstripping the, by contrast, sedate following at Eden Gardens in terms of numbers as well as fanaticism.

Mohun Bagan are the earlier established, mainly Muslim team, dating from the late nineteenth century and the port area of town. Resplendent in maroon and green, their colours are reminiscent of Rio’s Fluminense. “Mariners on The Move” and other such banners, firecrackers and hysterical support marks their territory.
Lucky Paul, Matt and I are in with the home team fans, East Bengal. Established in 1920, more white collar than blue, the arriviste team are the side to beat in The I-League again this season. More firecrackers, banners, more hysterical cheering. The colours of East Bengal, meanwhile, evoke for the romantic, Melchester Rovers, for the cynical, Galatasary, or for the sadist, Watford.
Yes, that’s right, as a Luton Town fan of some years standing I’m going to be spending the next hour or so cheering on a team in yellow and red. And, to add to things, they’re also the team of Kolkata’s Hindu population….
It’s not just the asphyxiating atmosphere that’s causing the mildest sense of discomfort here.

After the entirely pointless display of the FIFA Fair Play banner, the inevitable presence and presentation of some dignitaries or other and the lumping of training balls by the substitutes in to the stands, we’re almost ready. The police force in their phalanxes take their place sitting cross-legged by the side of the pitch. The referee gets the match underway.

The football is honest. Early on, both teams trade long balls in search of their gangly strikers (I’m saying nothing here Watford fans…) before settling to try and get the ball on to the almost-lush astroturf. It’s apparent, fitness isn’t a priority here. Balls are brainlessly pumped down the channels to no-one in particular with no one following up, let alone making the running off the ball. East Bengal look the better side. For Mohun Bagan, a couple of corners and half-hearted efforts are as good as it gets then, near side, their diminutive attacker gets possession (they love an old fashioned left-winger down here in Socialist Bengal), beats two men before squaring a dangerous looking ball across the East Bengal six yard box just out of reach of the on rushing number nine.
The home team shrug this off and begin to exert the pressure through a higher corner count and possession. Mohun Bagan’s keeper tips over but his team mates keep gifting the ball back to their rivals. The free kick tally begins to tell too as the Mariners start to lose their opponents and, tellingly, the plot. Forty minutes in, a set piece on the edge of the area the ball is floated into East Bengal’s number ten whose flick header takes an age to drop tantalisingly just inside the post.
Delirium. The firecrackers like gun shots ring out around the stadium. Sixty thousand East Bengal fans celebrate wildly. It’s like being at a wholly inappropriate, sulphurous Last Night of the Proms. On acid.

Mohun Bagan try, comically, to take the restart while the opposition aren’t looking. The referee pulls them back. Then infuriates them further by giving yet another free kick to East Bengal on the far side. It becomes too much for the mardy Mariners. A twenty two man brawl ensues and it all kicks off. An ambulance drives on to the pitch, Mohun Bagan’s centre forward gets red carded for dissent, their keeper takes his boots and gloves off in protest, riots break out in the away end, there’s baton charges and even more firecrackers before a moments peace manages to squeeze in the last thirty seconds of play of the half.

Mohun Bagan refuse to to take to the field for the second half. Their fans wreak their revenge for their perceived injustice by ripping their part of the stadium to shreds. The police get stuck in again.
Pitch side, the referee pompously stands with his assistants in the centre circle. Carnage, but no communication. The East Bengal players amuse themselves and their fans by doing performing some keeps-puppy and an impromptu rendition of Oops-Upside-Your-Head.
Still no word, despite the jostling journos and TV crews training their equipment on anyone who looks important for some kind of clue. Fires are lit in the away end. Police charge again. Nothing, not a word, spellbound, we watch all this unfold. The Maroon and Green banners start to be withdrawn. We make educated guesses as to what will happen next. Then fires in the home end. East Bengal’s crest depicts a hand holding aloft a flame and tradition dictates this is what the home fans do in victory. It looks like a hallucinogenic Tory Party Conference. Enough’s enough. We turn down another cup of tea from obliging East Bengal fans and decide to get the hell out of here.

On our way out of the ground we encounter other inquisitive English cricket fans who have popped into take in the I-League’s big fixture and have got a lot more than they bargained for. The match has been abandoned, officially. We wander aimlessly in among the crowds, the dust and the dusk in search of a taxi and a route out of this Bengali bedlam.

Solace, eventually, is found away from the madness in a couple of cold beers on a roof top bar trying to make sense of the last few hours.

It’s not like this at Gresty Road says Matt.