Thursday, 2 January 2014

Journey's End - Chapter 25

The final part of my journey couldn't have started any worse. To break up the trip to Agra, some 500 miles or so away, I'd decided to go back to the border town of Sunauli to spend a night there. Obviously, I hadn't done my research or this never would have happened. From the moment I got out of the bus I hated the place. It was dirty, congested, and bereft of any backpackers. Thank god, I was only going to be there for one night. Although, this turned out to be one of the worst nights of my entire life.

Feeling groggy from the bus journey all I wanted to do was book into a decent guesthouse and get some sleep in preparation for my journey to Agra the following day. I jumped into a rickshaw with exactly this goal in mind. But, as anybody who has been to India will tell you, rickshaw drivers don't always take you where you want to go. They'll generally come out with comments like, "I know very nice hotel sir, only 3000 rupees," or "guesthouse is very big fire last week sir. My cousin have very nice hotel, very cheap." This driver was no exception, by the time I got out of his rickshaw we'd been all over town and I'd lost the best part of an hour. Feeling stressed I jumped out of the vehicle.

"Fuck! Shit! Bastard! Wanker," I shouted as I went up to my hip in an open sewer, and my tourettes kicked in. As I dragged myself out of the gutter of human excrement it felt like life had reached its lowest ebb. But it hadn't, things were to get even worse.

I booked myself into the guesthouse and went straight into the shower to wash the shit off before it dried in. A great idea, had this not been the worst shower in India. As I opened up the tap a droplet of water drizzled out of the shower head and dripped to the floor. I tried in vain to scrub my legs clean but without water it was a wasted effort. Eventually I gave in and elected to sleep with one leg still mostly covered in shit.

I managed around 10 minutes sleep before the flies and mosquitoes arrived en masse. They couldn't believe their luck. A whole leg baked in their favourite food. And what's more these two most vile of creatures seemed to be working in cahoots with each other. As I was busy trying to kill the flies, the mosquitoes were burrowing themselves into every part of my body. It was like Salem all over again. I couldn't even cover myself up with the sheets because it was far too hot and there wasn't a fan in the room.

When I awoke the next day (after 2 hrs broken sleep) I couldn't have felt any worse. I stunk of shit, I'd been eaten alive, and I had a massive bus journey to Agra in front of me. I was off to see one of the wonders of the world, yet I would have traded this experience for a nice shower and a comfy bed, in the bat of an eyelid.

My hostel was about as close to the Taj Mahal as you could get. If I went on the roof and craned my neck a little I could see a tiny part of this most famous of mausoleums. I won't go into too many details about the Taj because they've all been written before, and are widely available. All I'll say is that it was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal. Construction was started in 1632 and finished in 1653. Soon after the Taj was finished the emperor was disposed by his brother and put under house arrest. Upon his death he was brought back to the Taj and laid to rest next to his wife. The love story was complete.

And here's a few facts that may be less well known. Fact 1: The Taj appears to change colour throughout the day. In the morning it looks pink, in the afternoon white and in the evening golden. I can vouch that this is indeed true. Although the intense sunlight made it practically impossible for me to visit it in the afternoon because a cheeky monkey had dropped down onto the balcony of my room and stolen my sunglasses. Fact 2: The Taj is perfectly symmetrical in every way, except for one thing - the two tombs inside are unequal in size. Fact 3: The pillars surrounding the Taj are slightly tilted outwards so that in the event of an earthquake they will fall away from the building. Fact 4: And this is my favourite one. An identical Taj was intended to be built in black marble over the other side of the river. The base of which can apparently still be seen. Why had I never heard that before? (probably because the World Wide Web had not yet escaped the confines of Tim Berners-Lee's mind).

The Taj Mahal was beautiful, and make no mistake about that. With the amount of marble and precious gems that had been used in its construction, it couldn't fail not to be. Although the outside bench that Princess Diana so famously sat on during her visit there in 1992 seemed to be far more important to the hordes of tourists than the building itself. People were queuing for hours just to get a snap shot of themselves adopting the same pose as Diana. I must admit that I fell victim to this touristy pursuit myself, although the less said about that the better.

And that was that, another famous landmark crossed off the list. It had been a nice interlude but it was time to get back to the real things that make up a trip. Those times when you're just doing ordinary things in a country, as opposed to running around trying to see the sights that everybody else is trying to see.

As my bus drove me away from Agra in the direction of Rajastan I was afforded the perfect view of the Taj. I'd seen hundreds of photos of this most majestic of buildings before in my life (mainly on Indian restaurant walls) but I'd never seen it from the back looking across the river. It felt so much more refreshing to see it like this because it gave a more real feel to it. I sat and stared in enchantment until it eventually disappeared into the haze. It was a magical moment.

From what I'd heard about Rajastan I thought that this was going to be my favourite part of India. And I wasn't wrong. Nestled in the north west corner of India bordering Pakistan, this desertous state captures everything that's wonderful about the country. The dusty pink cities, the magnificent palaces, the regal architecture, the smiling faces, the unbelievable colours, and the bhang lassi (we'll come back to that later.

First stop was Jaipur, or the pink city as it's also known, due to the colour of the sandstone that many of the buildings are made of. As I was wandering around Jaipur, I was beckoned into a shop by the shopkeeper, a young guy of around 25 years. At first I was cautious because I thought that he was trying to sell me a carpet. But after a while I loosened up and I was able to spend a wonderful afternoon with him, as he rode me around the town on his Royal Enfield motorbike. 
The most impressive building that we saw was the Hawa Mahal Palace (Palace of the Winds). Which was also adorned on the front cover of my edition of the Lonely Planet guidebook.

Later that day I met Richard, an English guy from Worcester who was on the run from the police back home for smashing a lads face in with an ashtray. We ended up sharing a room together, where he regaled me with countless tales of his drug dealing lifestyle. Six years later, while travelling around Guatemala, Richard was to crop up in my life again in the most bizarre of circumstances. Which I'll summarise for you now.

I was sat in a bar one night in Antigua de Guatemala when I was introduced to Sarah. She would later become my girlfriend and we would live together, but that's another story. Anyway, Sarah informed me that she was from Worcester, to which I replied, "I met a lad from Worcester in India in 1994, he was on the run from the police because he'd smashed a guy's face in with an ashtray." "You're joking, Richard St****!", she shouted out (I'll refrain from using his last name to shield his identity). As the story unfolded, it turned out that Sarah had been at a party when she was 15, and had hidden under a table to drink a bottle of wine which she'd found, and didn't want to share. As she was sat drinking it she heard a sickening crack and the table came crashing down on top of her. When she emerged from the wreckage the first person she spotted was a guy who had just had all his teeth knocked out by an ashtray. The perpetrator of the crime one Mr Richard St**** . The story got even crazier but I'll save that for another book.

Richard decided to join me to my next destination Pushkar, where we found accommodation in some lovely bungalows. I loved Pushkar from the outset. Located on a lake against a backdrop of mountains the place was the epitome of serenity. Pushkar is a holy place, and for this reason alcohol is banned from the town. I didn't care because I'd decided to lay off alcohol for economical reasons during my time in India. Basically, one beer was equivalent in price to one nights accommodation.

I seemed to spend a lot of my time in Pushkar stuffing my face at buffets. For a pound a meal I could spend at least two hours slowly reading my book whilst helping myself to food every now and again. Between meals I would walk around the town taking in the ghats whilst soaking up the tranquility of the place. It was during one of these wanderings that I met Phil, Neil, Trine and Lucy, a quartet from England. Neil and Phil were university friends and Trine and Lucy were sisters. After a short while I suspected that the two boys were trying to get into the two sisters and I was effectively pissing on their bonfire with my very presence.

Whether I was pissing on their bonfire or not, they invited me to partake in a bhang lassi later that evening at a place I seem to recall was called Rainbow Cafe. My reasons for accepting their invitation were threefold, (1) I was extremely curious about the locally ubiquitous potion they called bhang lassi. (2) The girls were sexy. And (3), The lads seemed like a good laugh.

Full of excitement for the evenings activities I went back to the room for a little nap.

As I as leaving for the Rainbow Cafe later that evening I invited Richard to come with me. He was definitely no socialite though and he refrained in no uncertain terms, "Fuck off, they seem like a right bunch of middle class wankers."

So what is this bhang lassi I speak of? Let me tell you. It's a very potent drink (shake) made from the crushed up buds of the cannabis plant. Its usage is deeply ingrained into the culture of the Indian subcontinent, where it is seen as a panacea to all evils, as well as an aid to boost meditation and reach transcendental states. I can safely say in retrospect that I reached some kind of altered state, although I'm not really sure that I could refer to it as transcendental.

After some deliberation we ordered three bhang lassis between the five of us. Neil and the girls would share one, while Phil and I would have one each. It looked terrible (green) and I didn't find the taste awfully pleasant, but once it was down it was down. Then came the waiting game.

Not being experienced in these matters, I wasn't sure how long I should wait, nor how I should be feeling at each stage of developments. "Think I feel something!" I would shout every 20 seconds. When the bhang lassi eventually started to weave its way into my system there was no mistaking that something major was about to occur. We headed back to Lucy and Trine's room so that we could "transcendentally meditate" in a more comfortable environment.

Once there, we made a feeble attempt to play cards to try and take out minds off it. Before we knew it though we were all laughing like demented hyenas. Nothing was particularly funny, yet everything was hilarious at the same time. Suddenly I felt partially incapacitated and extremely sick. I needed to get out of the room quick. "Right folks, I'll bid you a good night," I told the others. At least I think I did, but I wasn't entirely sure whether I was communicating properly or not at this point.

I staggered to the door, fumbled with the lock, stumbled through the door, and then immediately fell down the stairs beyond. Upon hearing me crash down the stairs, the girls came rushing out, and assisted me to my bed (much to the boys annoyance I suspected).

I fell into my bed and lay there with the room spinning out of control. My god, this was horrible! It felt like I was on a carousel that was spinning so fast that I was about to enter another dimension. Then the hallucinations started. The bhang lassi had opened up a portal to my sub-conscience. And what was in there? A fucking toy monkey, that's what was in there! When I was a kid I wanted a real pet monkey. Instead I got a crappy toy monkey, whose body was made from a toilet roll and whose limbs were made of wire. It was covered in fake fur and had a plastic face with a pipe protruding out of its mouth. For this reason I called it Harold Wilson after the prime minister at the time (who smoked a pipe).

So, I was lying on the bed with an animated, cartoon version of Harold Wilson sat staring at me. In his mouth was a pipe, from which he was blowing bubbles that drifted off to the ceiling. His eyes meanwhile were made of springs, like the joke eyes that you used to be able to buy at any seaside resort. It was all too much, I simply had to vomit. Quickly, I propped myself up and prepared for the inevitable.

As I was about to wretch, Harold Wilson's eyes suddenly sprung out and entered my mouth before delving deep into my insides. In my mind all that I could see was my intestines, only they weren't intestines, they were the alphabet sweets that I used to get as a kid. Cartoon alphabet sweets cascading around deep within me, ready to exit my mouth at any minute.

After a few seconds I vomited and out shot the letter B followed by L and A and R and finally B; the word blarb was ejected from my mouth and flew across the room, where it hit the wall and stuck there. The action was repeated as I gasped for breath - arrrgh BLARB, arrgh BLARB etc, etc. This went on all night long until every single square inch of the wall was covered in blarbs. At which point I fell asleep.

The next day didn't happen. I was due to catch a train to Jodhpur with the English quartet. I vaguely heard them knocking on my window but I was too glued to my bed to move. When I did finally get out of bed in the late afternoon Richard was sat outside. "I thought that you were fucking off to Jodhpur with those middle class wankers!" he said. "Well I would have done but I had an appointment with a monkey called Harold Wilson," I replied. He understood straight away. "Oh, you were on the bhang lassi's were you?" he laughed.

The next morning I bid farewell to Richard, wished him luck on his evasion of the British judiciary system, and caught a rickshaw to the train station. I'd yet to travel by train in India, and I relished thought of it.

As I sat on the train waiting for it to set off, a stream of begging lepers came parading through the carriages. Not all at once mind, they came through at the pace that their affliction would allow them to move. The first ones looked like they were scammers to be honest. I think that they'd just borrowed some crutches and a begging bowl. Thankfully I didn't give in to their cheating techniques. Next came the ones with no arms, then no legs, etc etc. Until finally, just as the train was about to set off, a beggar, who I can only describe as a head on a skate board came trundling past. It was too much for my brain to compute. I threw him a handful of cash.

The train was great though. Heavily recommended for those that have never travelled by this means through India. At each stop vendors would appear at the window selling their goods. A samosa and a cup of chai for a few rupees. A bargain in any currency. The chai, I hasten to add, was quite wonderful. I don't usually like to fuck with tea but the spices that they added were a whole new taste experience altogether. It came in a little clay pot, which was disposable. Basically, you drank your chai, and then threw the pot out of the window. The side of the tracks were littered with smashed pots, and human shit. Often I'd look out of the window to see somebody taking a dump on the side of the tracks. It became normalised after a while.

I don't recall much about my stay in Jodhpur to be honest. I know that I was there for a few days, and I remember climbing up to a magnificent fort, from where I glanced down at a sea of blue roofed houses. But that is all I can come up with. I'm sure that it was wonderful though. Everything in Rajastan was wonderful.

There aren't enough positive adjectives in the English language to describe Jaiselmer. A town so soaked in atmosphere, that walking its streets was enough to fill me with joy. This small town sat on the edge of the Thar desert, and was about as close to Pakistan as I was going to get. The buildings appeared to have sprung up from the desert without assistance from human hands. Like they'd just magically appeared one day after a sandstorm. That's how it seemed to me anyway, maybe the bang lassi had opened up a new channel to my imagination.

As I made my way around the market place on my first day I bumped into the English quartet. I'd been kind of expecting it in a way because my trajectory across Rajastan was a well trodden path. "Alright there Andy, recovered from the bang lassi have you?" Phil shouted out across the square. "Yeah, I replied, nothing that a day in bed couldn't sort out." It was only a few days since I'd tripped my face off but I was already talking about this intense experience as though it hadn't had a deep impact on my mind (and intestines). In reality, the experience had been so harrowing that I vowed to myself that I would never touch the stuff again (as if).

I struck gold with the guesthouse that I was staying in. It was a small family run business with a few rooms to let out. The family were delightful, treating me as if I was their long lost son. The quartet had not been so lucky. They hated their guesthouse and were making noises about leaving. We decided that we would do a camel trek out into the desert together, after which they would relocate to my place.

Somehow I managed to end up with the grumpiest camel on the trek. There aren't too many animals as grumpy as a camel, add to this that my camel was even considered grumpy by normal standards of camel grumpiness and you may understand just how grumpy he was. Every action that my camel carried out was on his own terms, even the guide had given up on him and preferred to leave him to his own devices. When all the other camels were standing up Victor (as I had named him) was sitting down, when they sat down, Victor stood up. At first it was annoying, but over the two days I grew to love his rebellious ways, even if it meant that I arrived everywhere last.

Halfway through the first day I almost missed a jumping gazelle because Victor was busy being Victor. "Quick! look! look! over there!" screamed our guide. When Victor permitted me to watch where the guides finger was pointing, I was amazed to see a gazelle bouncing its way across the desert into the distance. I swear that the gazelle was jumping as high as a house. No sooner did I set my sights on him than he disappeared into the sky again. Before I knew it he was a mere dot on the horizon.

A few hours later we came across a guy in a headdress playing a flute to charm a cobra from a basket. The guy was just sitting there in the middle of the desert surrounded by mile upon mile of sand, as though it was the most normal thing in the world. Mind you, I assumed that we were not the only people trekking across the desert that day. It appeared that we had the desert to ourselves, but who knew how many trekkers lurked over the next dune? Fortunately, the desert was big enough for each group to go off in a different direction. The snake charmer didn't seem too pleased when we passed by him without throwing any rupees into his basket though. His nose was twitching more furiously than Victors.

Late in the afternoon we set up camp on some high dunes. Our guide prepared us a feast while the five of us chatted about our travels. It was one of those travel moments that will stick with me forever. When darkness came the sky was illuminated by an ocean of stars. As I always do in these situations I pointed at the sky and said "There's the ladle!" And as ever, my knowledge of astronomy left everybody unimpressed.

After a surprisingly comfortable night on the dunes we headed back to Jaiselmer, where the quartet moved into my guesthouse.

That night we were lucky enough to witness a sandstorm. We could sense that something was about to happen before the sandstorm actually arrived. A tension was building around the guesthouse as the family went around closing the shutters in preparation. "Mr Andy, there is coming a big storm of the sand," the owner warned me. "We maybe losing the power," he predicted. He was right on both accounts, the sandstorm was big and we did lose the power. Our group retired to Phil and Neil's room where we watched on in amazement as a sea of red dust blew in from the desert and engulfed the whole town. We literally couldn't see a few feet in front of us. When the power shut down we lit some candles and played cards into the night.

As I entered my room around midnight I had the feeling that something was amiss. An eerie sensation that somebody had been in there. Fortunately my desire to sleep was strong enough to overrule this, and I was out cold a few minutes later.

My intuition had proved right. The next day as I went to pay my bill, I realised that I'd been robbed.

"Mr Andy, this cannot be happening, we are being the very honest persons," the guesthouse owner replied when I informed him of the theft.

Then suddenly, and without warning he turned on his axis and ran off towards the town square. As an afterthought he turned around and shouted "Mr Andy, you be having the breakfast. I will be coming back with the money."

Heeding his advice I headed to the nearest rooftop and ordered some food. Fortunately the thief had left a small stash of money in my wallet, probably to try and fool me into believing that I hadn't been robbed at all.

Moments later all hell broke loose in the town. People were literally running in all directions presumably searching for the thief. From my vantage point I had the perfect view of the whole charade, which bore more than a passing resemblance to the Keystone Cops. The hunting posse would first run in one direction and then in the other, as they seemed to get a new lead. Eventually they reached the desert and I lost view of them.

I finished my breakfast and sat eagerly waiting for the hunting posse's return. I didn't have to wait long. Within 30 minutes of the search beginning it was all over. One of the search party was sent up to the rooftop to get me. God only knows how he knew where I was, it seemed that the whole town was in on it. "Mr Andy, we catch thief, you must be following me," he ordered me. As he headed off down the stairs.

I followed him all the way to a house that was not familiar to me. As I was approaching the house I could hear screams of pain coming through one of the windows. "Oh god," I thought "unless I'm mistaken they're torturing someone in there." I wasn't mistaken.

There were a multitude of people in the room so it was difficult to immediately see what was going on. However, when the crowd parted I was confronted by a sickening sight. The thief had been tied to a chair and was being repeatedly beaten with a large stick by a guy in a blood speckled police uniform. The policeman's blows were so hard that the chair fell over each time the thief was struck. Two accomplices to this torturous act would pick the chair back up ready for the policeman to strike him again. As if watching this punishment wasn't bad enough the policemen thrust the stick into my hand and asked me to beat the thief. I politely refrained.

One look into the beaten man's eyes was enough for me to question my hitherto airtight convictions. Oh shit, was my money really stolen? Was the question most firmly on my mind. The guesthouse owner soon answered this for me. 

"We are very sorry, he be sneaking into your room when storm of sand make power out," he apologised. Upon further questioning I discovered that they'd found the thief drunk in the sand dunes. He'd spent the evening visiting prostitutes and drinking whiskey.

"Well at least he didn't squander it," I told the crowd. But alas the joke fell on deaf ears.

Against my better wishes the guesthouse owner insisted on returning the stolen money to me from his own pocket.

"We are the very honourable persons Mr Andy. It is better that name of our guesthouse remains untarnished," he told me.

I'd said my goodbyes already the previous evening to the quartet. However by the time this latest debacle had sorted itself out they were awake and curious to know why I had not already left for Udaipur. I filled them in on the last action packed hour and bid them farewell once more.

Udaipur was to be the setting of my 25th birthday, and I could think of no better place for it. Like Pushkar the town was focused around a beautiful lake. Only this lake had a magnificent palace slap bang in the middle of it. A palace so grand in fact that they chose to use it as a location for the James Bond film Octopussy. And didn't we know it! Every establishment in the entire town chose to show the movie every night around 7 pm.

My hostel had a roof garden which looked down over the lake. A view so perfect that it inspired me to challenge my budget by purchasing a few beers. On the way to get the beers I rang home to speak to my family. Unfortunately, my semi deaf and highly dramatic grandma was the only person home. Quite why her I informed her of my theft I have no idea, but it turned out to have dire consequences.

"When are you coming home love?" she enquired. "Not for another few months yet grandma," I lied. I was determined to keep my homecoming a secret because I really wanted to surprise my family by just turning up one day. In all honesty I'd already booked my flight, and would be leaving in a few weeks time.

I returned to the roof garden with a bag of beers and an over the top determination to make this birthday celebration the best I'd ever had. Unfortunately my over excitement was to become my worst enemy. Within an hour I'd drank three beers, made a public spectacle of myself, thrown up and retired to bed. At least I can't say that it wasn't memorable.

Quite why I chose to have another bhang lassi in Pushkar was beyond all reasoning, but this was exactly what I decided to do. Maybe I was compensating for my pathetic birthday celebrations. Whatever the reasons, approximately two weeks after watching my intestines explode I was once again ingesting this most vile of liquids. Only this time it was worse, I was about to embark on a seven hour bus journey to my final destination Delhi.

Precisely 30 minutes after drinking it, I was sat at the bus station in Ajmer waiting for the bus. No idea about now but back in 1994 there was no bus from Pushkar itself. A jeep ran between Pushkar and Ajmer from where I could catch a bus to Delhi.

The bus station was a curious little place which doubled up as a shop. As I sat there with the bhang lassi running through my veins I observed as the shop keeper went about his daily routine. I found it all quite fascinating. I thought that I was the only backpacker catching the bus that night but whilst watching the shop keeper in action I noticed another white guy sat opposite me with a glazed expression on his face. Our eyes met at the same time and we both instantly knew that we'd shared the same poison.

Feeling an urge to eat something fresh I purchased some fake Polo mints from the shop, and I popped one in my mouth. As I sat back down I offered a mint to my neighbour, an Indian fellow of around 80 years. He politely accepted and put one in his mouth.

The trip had well and truly kicked in by this point and had left me profoundly observational. The focus of my attention fell upon the Indian fellow as he sucked away on his Polo mint. He was blatantly finding no enjoyment in the mint at all, in fact his face was contorting in displeasure. Showing absolutely no respect for personal space I leaned forward so that I could get a better look. As I did so I noticed that the other backpacker had followed suit. Obviously, he found the whole episode as interesting as I did. It all became too much for the Indian chap, who got out of his seat and walked to the doorway. Once there he used a pretend cough as a cover up to eject the mint into the street.

This was like comedy gold to me and the other backpacker, who'd just witnessed the whole event. We looked at each other and burst into uncontrollable rapturous laughter which felt like it went on forever. When it subsided, I looked across at the backpacker once more, and without words he knew exactly what I was going to do. I offered the Indian guy another mint and the whole hilarious episode started again. By the time he'd been offered his fifth mint he'd got wise to us and taken his presence elsewhere.

The bus arrived to scenes of chaos. About 70 people all rushing to get into a bus made for 50. Some people simply couldn't wait for the queue to go down and decided to enter the bus through the windows. I would have done the same myself had I have been physically capable. However, by this time the bhang lassi was reaching its peak, and I was fighting the demons in my head. Evidently I looked a terrible state because I ended up with a double seat all to myself, even though loads of people were standing.

What followed was like a living nightmare. As the bus hurtled through the night, my mind hurtled through a thousand different scenarios, none of which I ended well. It seemed to me that the bus was a giant corkscrew which was burrowing its way into the Earth's core. I grabbed the sides of the bus seat and held on for grim life, fully convinced that this was my last ride ever. I even took to praying. Strange how quickly I found god when I thought that all my other options had run out.

The journey had terrified me so much that my arrival in Delhi felt like a new beginning. As if life had given me another chance. In less than a week's time I'd be back in England, penniless and jobless but sporting a wicked suntan. 
The countdown had begun. My remaining days in Delhi would be a time for wandering, contemplating, wrapping things up and preparing for home. 

And what better place to do this than Paharganj? Like Freak Street in Kathmandu this area became popular with hippies in the early 70's and was a hub for low budget travellers. It was an absolute den of inequity which in my eyes made it interesting. A place full of dropouts, drug addicts, destitution and despair. I got talking to one guy who'd been in India for over 10 years and had recently sold his passport to fund his heroin habit. He told me that in the past he'd smuggled heroin from Pakistan to India in order to make a living. But having sold his passport this was no longer an option. Of course, this could have been lies but judging by his appearance I could well believe it. He looked more dead than alive. His arms full of track marks and his eyes full of nothing,

On the penultimate day of my trip, whilst I was walking around in the vicinity of the Red Fort, I was approached by an Indian vendor whose face was brought alive with widest of smiles.

"Hello sir, are you wanting to be making the big money?" he asked me. It was as if he'd tapped into my mind because at that precise moment I was thinking about ways that I could earn some money quickly so that I could go travelling again as soon as possible.

"I am seeing in your eyes that you are a man of the travel sir," he said before I had a chance to reply.

For a few minutes I was reeled in by this get rich quick scheme, until I realised that my role would involve me taking an Indian rug back on the plane with me. I assumed that there would be more than carpet fibres in the weave of these carpets, so I declined his kind offer. It was time to go  home to earn some honest money.

My last night in India was spent on the airport floor. It seemed like a fitting end to my trip. God know's I'd spent enough nights sleeping on floors over the past few years. As I lay there trying to get some sleep, a fight broke out in the airport foyer, which quickly escalated into a mass brawl. I sat and smiled to myself. I loved this country. In what other country in the world could I have been welcomed in by a herd of brightly painted elephants, met possibly the most famous woman in the world, observed a local dog running around with a human hand in its mouth, fallen in an open sewer, witnessed half the town running around in pursuit of my thief, had my stolen money returned by an honourable guesthouse owner, and now this, a total free for all punch up at the International airport?

I'd entered India with no particular desire to travel there. I was leaving India with a burning desire to return. Like so many others before me, I'd been lured in.

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