Wednesday, January 26, 2005

This is not same signature

Tuesday 25th January 2005

I started off this trip with such good news - that Colin had decided to come along also. Not only pleased that I have a travelling companion, but because I feel that he has made a really good decision for himself, and that so much lies in store for him. It is an honour to be sharing this adventure with such a good friend!

The flight was long but uneventful. Watched 3 movies (Collateral is excellent, Garden State is good, Cellular was dreadful) to pass the time -- too tired to read, too uncomfortable to sleep. Colin suffered a lot at first and I was worried about how it was affecting him, but thankfully the closer we got to India the better he became. By the time we arrived, apart from the problems of tiredness, he seemed a-okay.

Lines at Immigration were long, and of course we found our way to the middle. By skill and cunning and no special effort of our own we then managed to manouevre our way to the back of the lines - but no matter, the spirit of India had pervaded us and we were in good spirits. Especially more so when we arrived at baggage to find everyone still waiting. Perhaps India is trying to tell us already, "Slow down! Slow down!"

Backpack recovered, and on to the arduous process of changing traveller's cheques for cash. The man there made us both sign our TC's a second times because, "This is not same signature." After enlightening him with the fact that my signature is never the same two times in a row, I signed and he accepted the second (still different) signature. If only retailers in the UK were as diligent!

One big learning point here - 100 Pound (no pound sign on this keyboard) traveller cheques are a bad idea. At current exchange rates this amounts to 8000 Rs which is at least 80 notes! Most things around here cost less than 50 and they don't like changing big notes, so better get 20 and 50 Pound TC's. I could hardly close my wallet as it wouldn't bend with all those notes, but ditched a lot next day by paying for my hotel in advance. I took 1000 with me, but doubt I'll even use half!

Oh, before I forget I had heard there are no mosquito's in Chennai now and been advised from several people not to take meds. I checked this out and discovered that Chennai accoutns for 75% of Malaria cases in Tamil Nadu. With a total of 29,000 cases in 2003 I decided not to take the risk and am taking Malarone. This proved a good move as we'd seen our first mozzie before leaving the baggage hall. They are everywhere, 'though not in any numbers. One bite from the wrong moz and you've got Malaria, so I think a little medication is a good idea. I was reminded to make this post by a little flying insect who just bit my leg (before swiftly dying) as I typed the last sentence.

Then, it was time for the real India!!!

Not a shocking experience at all, really quite easy. We weren't mobbed by taxi touts or anyone, just strolled over to one of the two pre-pay tax counters before leaving the arrivals area proper and booked a taxi to NW for 270 Rs. We used the booth on the left, simply because the man there caught my attention first.

Another man then took my bag and led us past the waiting crowds and out to our taxi. This whole process from landing reminded me very much of visiting my dad in Saudi Arabia (at the old Dhahran airport). The airport layout is so similar, and the high kerbs painted in black and white combined with the gentle heat (was about 2am by then) to jog a few good memories.

Overcharging is a big traveller worry, as you'll see in any traveller forum online. But I am so thankful that it was at this point that fear of overcharging and being "conned" left me. Staring at the big wad of notes in my wallet, I plucked out a 10 Rs note and tipped the man who carried my bag out to the taxi - he looked quite surprised at being tipped. Strange to think thatyou can make someone happy by giving them 12p! It is quite liberating to make that decision, not to o fret over every last Rupee as if it is a small fortune. Not that I am not cautious, or won't haggle, I just don't see the point in bleeding from the ears just to save myself 12p.

The taxi ride was interesting but uneventful, traffic was quiet at that time. Style of houses and layout is again similar to KSA, but I must say we got a taste of the wilder nature of driving here. Still, the roads were quiet and we were soon at NW, which looked quite impressive as we turned in. We got our rooms quickly, Colin getting a modernised one which was much nicer. After resolving to get moved to a newer room in the morning (bathroom was quite poor) I settled about 3am to a disturbed sleep.

Everyone tells you the noise is constant here, but I didn't know exactly what that meant. Now I do!

Hooded crows apparently don't sleep here, caw-cawing through the night, and lucky us they are nesting in the trees just outside our rooms. Even better, below us is a courtyard that seems to be used as an unofficial taxi rank! Even better, strange electrical beepings drift through the ether all night, and it wasn't until morning that we worked out they were the reverse warning sounds of the Ambassador taxi's. I cracked up laughing at one "lewd awakening" - the sounds of Lambada (the Forbidden Dance,you know!) beeping into my skull to warn me of a reversing taxi two floors below. Things being washed and swept, doors being slammed, then the obligatory chorus of men hawking every drop of mucus from their respiratory tracts joined in harmony to the comforting melody of the whirring fan overhead.

A disturbed sleep, but strangely I was neither tired nor bothered. As the excitement of the coming day hit my body I jumped out of bed to see what was awaiting me.