A day of whole-body-evacuation, reaction to immodium and no food left me weak and a little dispirited (Awwwwwwwww poor Tina!) But it was my final full day in Ahmedabad, and I was determined to catch some of the sights I’d been excited about for many months.
There were two places high on my list I had already regretfully let go of seeing: Lothal City, the site of an archaeological dig that had uncovered two villages estimated between 4,500 and 5,500 years old. The City is located in the Indus Valley, which is argued by some to be the cradle of civilisation.
The other was Nal Sarovar Wildlife sanctuary, where thousands of local and migratory bids live. Apparently seeing the birds sunrise is an amazing experience and it ranks highly in the world’s best birdwatching sites.
However each of these placed are located some 70km out of Ahmedabad. In Australia, and many other places, this would be an easy day trip- you’d hire a car or catch a train: in India, alone and female, in an area that has very little western tourism or organised tours, the problem became unsurmountable.
If you think I’m a bit soft, or should have tried harder, perhaps the following will give you an insight in to the challenges faced by the solo (and not very organised) traveller in India.
Tina’s big day out
Plan A: I’d found a ‘public’ bus tour on the web that took in most of the ‘must see’ city sights. During the week, I had tried unsuccessfully to contact the tour operator, book a spot or get more details. However, it was today or never and I could see the pick up point was at a ‘tourism’ centre I’d been past a few times, and because things always work out somehow, I rocked up with a high degree of optimism.
I arrived at the centre and was excited to see the brochure for the tour on the desk (but virtually nothing else). The staff looked startled to see me, but as only one of a dozen or so obvious westerners I’d seen here I guess that shouldn’t have been surprising. One staff member spoke a little English and told me I needed to call the tour operator to book. Of the four numbers on the flyer, they crossed out three, and I attempted to call, but got a message saying first in Gujarati then in English “this number is not in use.” The staff indicated I should try each of the other numbers but I got the same message each time.
Sigh. I wasn’t sure if it was my sim card or at their end. (Note to reader, do NOT get an Australia Post traveller’s sim card, RUBBISH and overpriced). The staff member eventually dialled head office on his phone, and I was told the tour was not running that day.
Huh. Plan B. The rickshaw driver who’d dropped me off that day was old, nice, seemed reliable, spoke a little English and he had offered to drive me round all day for the princely sum of 1000 rupees (outrageous) and had written down his number. Finding a good driver is a challenge, the aforementioned attributes being important to me, so after hanging around for a while to see if the empty rickshaw near the centre was his (sorry, but all the rickshaws look the same to me!) I called him All I got was a message in Gujurati indicating I was “sh*t out of luck” (I assume).
In desperation I went back inside the tourism centre and asked my ‘friend’ to call him. He looked at the number for a while and eventually told me it was wrong. When I asked if he could try dialling it anyway, he shouted at me “it is wrong number wrong number!” I recognised the shouting was a stress response to not having a lot of a foreign language to work with, but it didn’t mean I enjoyed it, especially in my weakened state (awwwwwwww!!) Eventually he explained there was a number short.
So there I was again- no plan, no clue, already tired (the noise, the pollution and the constant threat of follow through sure take it out of you), and if you can believe it, a tad demoralised. The Tourism Centre is set in apparently beautiful Law Gardens, so I decided to walk around those while I deliberated my next move.
Of course, it’s India so the entrance to the gardens was not at the Tourism Centre, but down the road. After picking my way down the broken footpath, between various stalls selling brightly coloured clothes, patting some cows, ignoring leery stares, and dodging death-by-hell-bent-rickshaw-drivers, I found the main gates.
The gates were locked. It was already noon, and there was a security guard a few feet away who motioned 2 minutes, so I stood and waited. Standing still in India, especially if western looking, is asking for trouble. Within half a minute, two little children came up. Common across India is this begging style: tap tap on your arm, and motion to the mouth for food. I had been told not to give money to beggars for a number of reasons, and though I kept saying “nae nae” and motioning them to go away, they kept pawing at me.
Two minutes stretched in to 15 minutes (hello India time), the gate remained locked and the guard had long disappeared. Suddenly, I found myself launching in to stern lecture to a 3 year old Indian boy about the fact I was pissed off, frustrated and sick of the country and how bloody hard everything was and while acknowledging it wasn’t his fault, could he rack off! Can you believe, it was completely ineffectual. He simply gazed at me a moment, tapped my arm and pointed to his mouth.
I gave up. It was time for Plan C- return to the hotel and work out some other plan.
I’ll be honest here, and let you see behind that cool unflappable experienced traveller vibe I’m sure y’all get from me, and say I feel a little nervous each time I get a rickshaw alone, but no more so than one just off the road.
Trying to act nonchalant, I stood at a busy roundabout for a while hoping to spot a driver I wanted to get in to a rickshaw with. But after three drivers stopped, then drove off because of the language barrier (well, I assume it wasn’t my personal hygiene) I started to despair. Would I even make it back to my hotel? It seemed those city sights were no longer in my sights…
To be continued.