Monday, August 25, 2008

Taxi Ma'am, Hello Ma'am

I am getting very used to being called "ma'am". Everywhere I go, one of the first things I hear and it does not matter what I am doing is "taxi ma'am?" Actually in Goa, they seem to add the "ma'am" part more often than other parts that I have been to - more often than not it was just "taxi" - it seems as though walking isn't encouraged around here. Mind you, if you ever saw the traffic up in Delhi and the lack of infrastructure, you would quickly realize why you want to be enclosed in some sort of metal as opposed to being on the side of the road. I will be sure to post some pictures (I don't have my camera with me right now). Traffic in India is interesting and I am noticing some regional differences. For instance, up in Rajasthan, if there is a tiny opening in the traffic and when I say tiny, I mean tiny - like centimeters, they just honk their horn and move into it and hope for the best that the person besides you pulls over. The roads do have lane marked but I often wondered why b/c most 2 lane roads had about 5 lanes of traffic running up them.

As with England, they drive on the opposite side of the road here. So if you want to pass someone, you honk (you get very used to honking) and then you just move up and in. If you want to turn, you honk. If you get pissed off, you honk. You just seem to honk whenever. There were a few times where I feard marginally for my life, but not very often. I did have to tell my driver in Jaipur that he could slow down on a narrow and winding road up into the hills and that I didn't want to die on this trip! I have also been pleasantly surprised that most of the taxis that I have road in have had seat belts - I guess it is the law around here to wear them. There also seems to be a pecking order to the roadways - big trucks, cars, autorickshaws, bikes and then animals and people walking. Driving, particularly up in Rajasthan is survival of the fittest! Down in Goa, the driving and the traffic seem to be more civilized. They seem to acknowledge how many lanes of traffic that a road was built for and don't seem to be as kamikazee in their driving. Let's put it this way - I never once walked on the road in Rajasthan but I go for walks almost every day in Goa. . .I feel much more confident that I won't get hit by a car!

The other mode of travel I have embraced is the train system in India. It is cheap and comfortable (if you pay for the A/C cars). I think my trip from Delhi to Jaipur, which was about 4 hours and included breakfast cost me about $10 cdn. The train car I was in had cabin service, I was given a big bottle of water, my own pot of tea and a hot breakfast. When I was coming back from Agra to Delhi in the same car class, we were given a hot supper and ice cream for dessert (both of which I declined as I had just eaten). Once you figure out how to book your ticket, travel on the train becomes quit easy. As most of you know, I am big fan of public transportation, particularly in foreign places - it gives you a chance to really see people. I also found it to be quite relaxing. The train stations on the other hand are another story - talk about chaos - particularly early in the morning! Arriving at the train station at 5am - there are people lying about everywhere and when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere! If there was a free inch of space, there was someone lying on it - usually with a piece of newspaper under them. Then when the trains pull in, it is a mad, chaotic rush to the cars, particularly to the 2nd class, unreserved cars. There where instances where people were going in through the windows - to hell with the doors and the stairs! I ended up taking the train 3 times - Delhi- Jaipur, Jaipur-Agra, Agra-Delhi - I think it cost me about $40 CDN total for all 3 legs.

I have also taken the local bus down here in Goa. On Saturday, when I had gone up to Panaji in north Goa (and when I had my gastric distress) I finally gave into the "taxi ma'am" and took a taxi up to Panaji. It was about a 30-40 minute drive (although only about 30km) and it cost me $20 CDN (and that was without A/C - that was another $5 - open windows achieve the same thing). I had decided before I left that I would take a taxi up and the local bus back. Well the local bus (which by the way was quite nice and comfortable - no A/C but open windows), cost me $.50 CDN - yep 50 cents. So really, if you want to do India on the cheap, take either the train or the bus!

I have also had the opportunity fly one of the local airlines - SpiceJet. I flew with them from Delhi to Goa - cost me about $165 CDN and all in all, was very good. The check-in was very smooth (they have separate lines at security for women, that are curtained off for when they pat you down), they flew newer planes like an Airbus 320 and they were very professional. They did however charge for drinks and snacks on board. Tomorrow I am flying with another local carrier - Kingfisher Air to Chennai - will see how that goes.

As you can see, I have really covered the whole transportation gamet here in India short of riding a camel or an elephant (although I did look into it!). I survived it but can honestly say that I never want to be the driver here!

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