Hindi Speaker, "Usne banduk si chiriyaan maaree!" (He killed the bird with a gun!)
McTourist, "...sorry, what? I don't speak Hindi. English?"
Hindi Speaker, "Vah ek saptahh men mar jaaegaa..." (He will die within a week)
McTourist, "Good good, yeah..."
Lana, "What did he say?"
McTourist, "I dunno, probably wanted money..."
I needed a phrasebook...
Lost among some dusty shelves of a backstreet bookshop, I had narrowed my choices down to two possibilities, one from Lonely Planet and one by an Indian fella looking to dispense his linguistic wisdom.
I spent the best part of twenty minutes weighing up the pros and cons of each before finally settling for the Indian guy. I'd like to be able to say that it was his useful content (as used above) or his finely worded introduction which won me over, with titbits such as,
"Tourist traffic in India is increasing day-by-day. This book will prove handy for them and they will learn Hindi in a couple of days..."
"Therefore it is essential for every foreigner to have a workable knowledge of Hindi to get through the everyday ordeal of communication." And so on...
But, with a car and driver to pay for, our budget was in need of some David Cameron style cuts and consequently, the fifty rupee price difference was the big decider. We were about to go solo again after two weeks of flashpacking around Rajasthan and every rupee was being counted.
It was a long drive from Bikaner in Western Rajasthan and, as we passed through the dust cloud of outer Delhi and rumbled once again through the bumpy streets to Connaught Place and central Delhi, I had that "end of a chapter" feeling. For fifteen days we had been whisked from city to city in air-conditioned comfort, deposited in nice hotels, taken to the sites and were generally living in a tourist bubble. Suddenly it was all over and we would be left to fend for ourselves...but not before a chicken party!
Sunday afternoon, Lucky & Lucky (two Indian drivers, both called Lucky...) picked us up at the hotel and together we dodged the traffic in the direction of Halal Straße for some muslim friendly chicken. There, two squeamish tourists and three Indians witnessed the murder of a chook called Charlie. I named him for the sake of rememberance.
Charlie was plucked from his cage, twirled into an upside down, dangling from the feet position and allowed one last look at the world, albeit the wrong way up. Disorientated, it's unclear whether or not he saw the knife coming but, even if he did, he wasn't exactly in a position to flap it away from his throat. Bleeding from the neck, he was thrown into a bucket where he spent his last moments in a kind of poultry pogo, rocking the bucket violently as life slowly drained away. Less than five minutes later, Charlie was ready to be curried.
We headed to Lucky's place, after the obligatory English Wine Shop detour, where and he and his father cooked up a tasty Charlie masala. We washed it all down with cold kingfishers and another bottle of Vodsky, acquired through unknown means. Due to the latter, the afternoon flew by and a few photos can be seen on the posting "A Sunday Afternoon in Delhi."
The following day, we attempted the impossible and tried to buy a train ticket at Delhi station. The guidebook warned of touts, scamsters, fraudsters and commission rackets that abound and so there was a slight feeling of apprehension as we boarded the metro in the direction of New Delhi station. En route we were seperated into male and female carriages and as it was morning rush hour, the metro was similar to that of Japan where platform officials shove passengers inside in order to close the doors. At one point I was forced into a standard "where you from?" conversation with a Sikh guy, as Delhi transport broke the Geneva convention on personal airspace and his wirey beard tickled my eyebrows between stations.
After a brief farewell, I squeezed out of the carriage and we weaved our way through the scores of female Nepalese soldiers guarding important parts of the central station against possible "anti-Commonwealth Games" terrorism, although if their positioning is anything to go by, the extremists were targeting toilets, pissy concourses and dark shitty corners of Delhi's central rail hub.
Once into the main station itself, we went into a focused "ignore everyone, all Indians want to cheat you, go directly to the booking office" mode. Perhaps it was the Indian smile or perhaps it was my stupidity, all I know is that ten minutes after trying to buy a ticket to Varanasi we were in the city centre getting the hard sell on a trip to Kashmir with a tuk tuk driver outside sporting an eager commission based grin.
Mr Kashmir salesman tried everything to get us onto one of his pricey tours North, including showing us a page from the Indian rail website and saying the trains were full for the next five days. We politely declined his offer, went for a coffee, made a new plan of attack and found ourselves six hours later on an express train bound for the Ganges. The next chapter was about to begin...