Coronavirus and Indian racism

Nurses in COVID-19 protection Cochin

On the evening of the 18th of March, having been nearly 2 months in India and in the midst of full scale coronavirus panic, I flew to Bangalore for my return flight to the UK on the 22nd.

On the plane out of Cochin I was already beginning to miss the shops and little restaurants of Azad Rd in Cochin’s suburb of Kaloor. I’d made many acquaintances and enjoyed their company. They are a friendly and generous lot.

Hostel
The hostel that likes to practise racism

PK and I arrived at our Bangalore hostel and checked in. We’d stayed in Social Rehab Downtown before and it was close to where I needed to be for appointments, so we stayed again.

Due to the universal panic over COVID-19, the coronavirus, I tried to check my return flight. After a short lifetime on hold I was connected with an Air France agent who informed me the flight had been cancelled. He could either refund the money or book me out on the 31st, if it was flying. If I chose the flight of the 31st I would not be able to claim a refund if that flight was cancelled. No brainer really – “Give me my money back”.

As the ticket was an eTicket I couldn’t understand why a notice hadn’t been sent out via email informing passengers that the flight had been cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions. It would have been polite and simple enough.

On the night of the 19th India’s Mr Modhi gave a speech at 20:00 local time to the nation. During the course of which he (like everyone else in the world) recommended that people stay put, try not to go out etc etc.

Following that, the owner of Social Rehab Downtown told all white-skinned travellers that we would have to leave the following day. The Indian residents were welcome to stay as was a mature French lady of about my age who happens to be dark skinned and appears a bit Indian to the eye. It doesn’t take a lot to realise this was a racist decision that directly contravened the health authority’s recommendations and was probably illegal.

More panic set in. I tried to appeal for help from my friends down near Mangalore. A million excuses. Busses out of Bangalore being cancelled. Eventually I found a flight back to Cochin. We enquired on the airport customer services line whether a UK citizen would be allowed to fly and were told “no problem”.

Booked the flight!

Get the hell out of the racism. I was wrong. The taxi driver that took PK and I to the airport asked in kanada (the local language) where I was from. He was told “UK”. At which point the man looked at me in the mirror and said “put mask on”.

I got a tad annoyed “Oh what? I have white skin and I come from the UK so I must have coronavirus? I think that’s a racist remark”.
“Put mask on.”
“I haven’t got a mask.”
I was all for stopping the car and getting out.

The driver shut up and directed his unwanted comments at PK.

90% of Bangalore airport passengers had masks on. Would have be a great day to knock over a few of the restaurant cash tills. The flight back to Cochin was uneventful.

Kerala state are screening all people entering the state. I’d found that out on the Consulate’s website. If there was going to be a problem, this is where it would be.

Boarding card stamped with health authority VERIFIED
Boarding card stamped with health authority VERIFIED

The screening was done efficiently and fairly rapidly. Indian passengers passed directly through after their screening, foreigners had to fill in a form detailing nationality, address in India, contact number – that kind of thing. One question was “what countries have you visited in the last 28 days that has coronavirus?” I put “India”.

The medical officer told me that I was free to enter and that there were no restrictions on me. Also I was to try and avoid large crowds and to keep contact to a minimum. All logical and the same as every country is saying.

The Uber cab dropped us at the house. We dumped the bags. The neighbour (normally a nice man) stuck his head out to see who was entering the flat. He appeared angry and fired off some malayalam (Kerala’s language). PK said it was rude and knocked on the man’s door to see what the problem was. The man declined to answer.

As I’d been told that there were no restrictions on me, we went down to our little dhaba for some much needed grub. Rajkumar, the owner, was delighted to see me back but also saddened that the flight had been cancelled. I had wonderful light fluffy chapatis with a channa dal curry (chickpeas, garbonzo) and bought water to take home.

During the course of the supper PK got a phone call from the house owner “what are you doing back and what’s he doing back?” He’d received a phone call that his white, corona carrying tennat was out on the streets. It was explained to him that we are paid up until the 11th of April and that my flight had been cancelled due to the general pandemonium and that we’d been screened at the airport. He wasn’t a happy bunny, and I suppose he thought I was having a ball? “Tell him to stay inside.”

Now let’s look at the logic: I’ve been here in this flat for slightly over 6 weeks. I’ve eaten in the local hotels, I’ve shopped in the local shops, I drink chaya at the road side. I’ve talked to the people I regularly bump into. They interact with me and are friendly.

Suddenly people that don’t know me are reporting to the owner. There’s a white man on the streets and he’s got coronavirus. The landlord (who is a prick in my opinion), instead of saying “don’t be silly, he’s been here for a couple of months and well before this panic” has ordered me to stay indoors. And yet the medical officer at the airport told me that I was free to enter and that there were no restrictions on me.

Today (Friday 21st March) a lovely man called Suresh Narayan ordered up my breakfast and PK went and collected it. See… there are some human beings around. I also popped into another café this evening where I normally have breakfast. The owner wanted to know why I was back. He told us that there is a nation wide lockdown tomorrow and that the military are going to be spraying the whole city with… who knows what. I haven’t found any information on this on the net, only one reference to it being fake news.

From my reading there is not a vaccine in full production yet and even if there was it wouldn’t have been tested sufficiently. The way I see it is, if it is true medicate the entire population with some untested substance.

I wonder how many problems that could bring? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow?

Kerala and its capital, Kochi

Kochi or Cochin or Ernakulam

I am down in Kochi now. Sometimes written Cochin. I asked why. Apparently the town is really Cochin but Fort Kochi gave its name to the town so it’s called both. It is part of the district of Ernakulam in the state of Kerala. This means the town is often called Ernakulam too. Confused?

Kochi in Kerala
Kochi in Kerala
Kochi is situated on a vast network of (not quite lagoons and) waterways. The definition of a lagoon is:

an area of sea water separated from the sea by a reef, a line of rocks and sand.

In fact Kochi is a port with a vast inland area of sea water and small islands separated from the Laccadive Sea by a narrow entrance. You can see it on the map detail.

Cochin used to be known as “Queen of the Arabian Sea”. It was an important spice trading centre from the 14th century onward, and maintained a trade network with Arab merchants from the pre-Islamic era. Originally colonised by the Portuguese who then shifted their base of operations to Goa in 1503 CE. If you want to read more about Kochi visit this link.

Kerala, arrival in Kochi and the North Centre Hostel

So I arrived in Cochin at the Ernakulam Town station having spent about 10 hours on a sleeper train from Mangalore Junction. I’d booked the North Centre Hostel online. Without knowing it, the hostel ended up being about 200 yards from the station. Couldn’t be better. North Centre Hostel turned out to be a hotel in which they have converted a few rooms into backpackers hostel bunk rooms. It’s super clean and quiet, the staff are friendly and the street outside – well you’re spoilt for choice for good food. It’s pretty close to Fort Kochi and a lot of the things that tourists want to see. It’s easy to get an auto-rickshaw at the station. The only drawback it that, as it’s a hotel, there is no communal area for backpackers to meet up and chat. That said, I’d recommend it none the less.

Marine Drive in Kochi
Marine Drive in Kochi
My friend PK took me to the Marine Drive area where I took a few photos that you can see below. This area is the mouth of the port. The main body of inland water stretches from here to Alappuzha (Aleppy) in the south to beyond Vypin in the north. We hung around for a while and waited for PK’s girlfriend. What do you call a group of girls hanging out together? I think the answer is a “a giggle of girls”. Yes – she giggles a lot.

A bit later, back at the hostel…

…we set out to get some work done. I’m not really here on holiday. I’m here to open 2 businesses with PK. Together we want to open a hostel and also a specialist decorating business which is what I trained to do. PK is a good painter and all I’ll have to do is bring him up to speed painting BIG instead of on canvass. Pricing and quoting for jobs, organising and estimating paint quantities. There will also be a bit of a learning curve while he gets his head around some of the techniques that the specialist decorator uses. The Indian people love colour so what better place to go painting?

Beginning our property hunt

We need to find a couple of things quickly.

  1. We need some rooms, as a base of operations.
  2. We need to start searching for a property to rent to change into a hostel.

PK got on the phone and started with the rooms. It seems logical to find that first. Somewhere where we can unpack and dump our stuff and leave the cameras and computer securely. The prices for unostentatious rooms seem to go for about 5,000/- to 10,000/- per month (about £50 – £100 including bills). I can live with that. We also got on the internet and started looking up estate agents (realtors in the USA) to search out properties to rent.

The train to Aleppy

Aleppy house boat
Aleppy, in Keralal is famous for its house boats
We then took an exploratory visit to Aleppy. It’s about 50km south of here. The train tickets cost the princely sum of 75/- for both of us (say 80p). Aleppy is gorgeous but it’s also a known tourist area with all its houseboats and water attractions. It’s jungle territory on the sea. I could imagine a Tarzan movie being filmed here. (Yes I know Tarzan was in Africa but Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn’t to hot on geography so…) I saw more westerners there than I’ve seen to date. So it looks like that would be a good area to investigate. The main problem is that the town’s folk are hip to the tourist industry and the prices are inflated accordingly.

Together we’ve decided that it’s probably best to site ourselves half way between Cochin and Aleppy. That way any backpackers we do get can enjoy the countryside while being on the main rail and bus routes to Cochin or Aleppy. We took the normal train down there, it took about an hour. On the way back we took the Superfast Train that goes to Chennai in Tamil Nadu. It took half an hour longer. Go figure.

Estate Agents in Kerala and Indian websites

Our estate agent search, while being frustrating, has actually yielded results quite quickly. Indian websites tend to be a directory of services and it’s hard to find a real estate agent with an actual website. Mostly they want you to put your email and or phone and they’ll get back to you. I find that absurd as I’d like to SEE what’s on offer before being inundated with calls at inconvenient times for properties that simply don’t suit. Never the less, we contacted 8 likely property owners and the first interview is tomorrow (10 Feb) down in Aleppy. The house we both like is in a place called Cherthala (H is silent after the T). Cherthala is pretty much half way between Cochin and Aleppy. At the time of writing this we are waiting for the owner to contact us. It is Sunday so I’m hoping that he’ll be in touch early in the week.

There is such a thing as a free lunch

I also visited Fort Kochi. I took the ferry there. No one told me that there are two stops, so I got off with the crowd only to find I was on the wrong island. It wasn’t too bad though. I got a few photos and ended up walking about 5km towards the island on which Fort Kochi is situated. It was midday and hot. A nice local man stopped and picked me up on his scooter which was lovely for the last 2km. A bit of a breezes to cool down.

I then walked over the bridge to the other island and was about to start to look for an auto-rickshaw to take me to the area called Fort Kochi, when a gentleman in his mid fifties (I’d guess) asked me where I was going. His name is Stanley and he’s a travel advisor helping with the big cruise ship passengers. I was taken under his wing. He was absolutely lovely and wouldn’t let me pay for anything, including lunch, much to my embarrassment.

The temperature here is about 33ºC (USA you do the maths – you use an antiquated, illogical system) and to be honest I was getting tired. I bought a 1·5 litre bottle of water and sunk most of it in one go. I wandered around taking photos of the Chinese fishing nets (which you can see in the photos below) and a few other subjects but to be honest the spirit was willing but the legs were getting weak. So I decided to cut my losses and head back to the hostel where I drank another litre of water and lay down with my feet up to let the blood run back to my head.

This evening we go check out some rooms to rent. We can’t stay in the hostel much longer.

Cochin photos

Aleppy photos

Fort Kochi photos

Jaisalmer – the Golden City

Jaisalmer in a three tier sleeper

Sleeper train to Jaisalmer
Sleeper train to Jaisalmer
I caught the sleeper train from Jaipur to Jaisalmer at 16:45 to arrive at 04:50. We were a bit late in arriving. I had booked a stay with a couchsurfing host called Zarina. She had accepted me but told me that she wouldn’t be there as she too was travelling. However her friend Gaji would collect me from the station and put me up at his hotel.

My lift was late. But I got talking to a young friendly policeman while I waited. The tuk-tuk from the hotel arrived about 20 minutes late and we shot off into town in the dark.

Hotel Gaji, couchsurfing in Jaisalmer

Hotel Gaji - Jaisalmer
Hotel Gaji – Jaisalmer
Gaji hotel in Jaisalmer is a splendid place. My room was nice, clean and comfortable. I was a bit worried that there had been a mistake and contacted Zarina again who put my mind at rest and told me not to worry, there’d be no charge. It seems that a lot of hotels provide couchsurfing facilities. I’m guessing they want to sell desert safaris and desert parties to make up for it, but no one tried to get me involved in anything.

Jaisalmer breakfast
Jaisalmer breakfast
I dozed for a while. The train’s bunks hadn’t been that good although I did sleep a while. Breakfast… into the centre of town to find some grub. A good sized plate of chickpea curry with rice and bits and a fruit juice of banana and papaya and I felt better. I went for a quick wander and took some photos. Everyone is so friendly. The children want their photos taken and they want pens in exchange? I didn’t have any pens. It would have been so easy to have bought a few had I known. I found a beautiful structure on the outskirts of town that I found out was the Brahmin crematorium. It was all closed so I had to content myself with some photos from a distance. There was also the Maharajas palace, but that has been converted into a plush hotel.

On my return to the hotel I popped up to the rooftop restaurant to see what it was like and met Lee ( 이명노 ) and Park ( 박승민 ), two young lads from Korea, the same age as my kids. They spoke pretty good english and had been there a couple of days and had walked out to the desert (20+km each direction), eaten in a restaurant in the fort and that was about it. We decided to go explore the fort together, they were really great company.

Lee and Park in Jaisalmer
Lee and Park in Jaisalmer
We wandered around taking photos and getting to know each other. Both are university students, Park is studying biology and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten what Lee was reading. But he did tell me he wants to be the president of Korea one day and promised me a lifetime visa if he makes it. The whole area is made of golden sandstone, intricately carved. It used to be sculpted by hand but now it’s machine made, but no less beautiful for that. People don’t paint their walls here the stone is so nice to look at. We had drinks in a rooftop café where I had a glorious concoction of lemon and mint and chatted to the owner whose english was excellent. They speak far better english here than they do in Delhi. In fact, in hotel Gaji, a number of the staff spoke Korean, which surprised me.

Gadisar lake  Jaisalmer
Gadisar lake Jaisalmer
After the fort we walked down to the Gadisar Lake. Apparently the structures in the lake were where the dancing girls performed for the Maharaja’s benefit in times past. Shame there weren’t any now. Park wanted to know how the structures were built in the water. We asked a street vendor and he provided the information that they weren’t. They were originally built on dry land and that the lake was the result of monsoon rains. The lake is now maintained and as far as I could tell doesn’t dry up. Hindu people come here and perform their little ceremonies and go boating. In a way we were lucky that the Jaisalmer weather was unseasonably rainy, it provided dramatic clouds for photos but put a stop to a desert safari.

Madresh Mawar - Constable of Jaisalmer
Madresh Mawar – Constable of Jaisalmer
On duty in Jaisalmer
On duty in Jaisalmer
On the way back to the hotel I bumped into the world’s friendliest policeman again, Madresh Mawar. He greeted me like a long lost brother and insisted on a selfie with him. We exchanged Facebook and Whatsapp and I was told that if I’m in Jaisalmer again I have to promise to contact him. It’s nice to have a friend with a big gun 🙂

Park and Lee invited me to dine with them, their treat. They wanted me to try Korean food at Hotel Gaji. It was gorgeous. We all got a bit drunk, they more than me and we had a great night as it was their last night. Back to university for them. The following day I treated them to the breakfast you see above. They were mightily impressed. They had been eating in restaurants and paying through the nose, so street food was a last treat for them. We all had two rounds of fruit juices and moved off back to the hotel to pack, them for Korea, me for the next couchsurf at Hotel Shahi Palace with Devi Lal. (All these places are on the map.)

Hotel Shahi Palace Jaisalmer

Shahi Palace Hotel bedroom - Jaisalmer
Shahi Palace Hotel bedroom in Jaisalmer
Hotel Shahi Palace was just as lovely as the Gaji Hotel. I was given a wee room with en-suite bathroom and an internal window to let the air in through the floor vents. You’ll have to look at the pics for that. I hadn’t been sleeping well so I decided to eat in on their roof terrace with spectacular view of the fort, Jaisalmer and, had there been no clouds, the sunset. Having missed raw foods and salads I opted for a “garden salad” and a Jalfreji to follow. The price was about £5. Followed by a low strength beer – see I’m learning. That said, low strength is the same as normal strength in Europe. Devi came up as I was finishing my meal and we talked for a good while. His english is very good, he’s a really nice friendly, helpful man with lots of local knowledge and his company was most welcome. We both headed of to bed around 22:30 and I slept badly again 🙁 If I’m ever in Jaisalmer again I will surely stay with Devi again.

Hotel Shahi Palace photos

Hotel Sita Raas Haveli – Jaisalmer

Hotel Sita Raas Haveli - Jaipur
Hotel Sita Raas Haveli
Today, as I write this, I am in Hotel Sita Raas Haveli with another couchsurfing host called Babu Dan. He’s just starting his couchsurfing career and asked if I’d mind staying with him. These people are so friendly and helpful that I was more than happy to move here and when I get a chance I’ll write him his couchsurfing review to try and raise his profile a bit. We sat and talked all afternoon and were later joined by his young hotel manager, a Muslim lad, called Sadhu. Both speak good english and Sadhu has a fairly decent grasp of spanish. This business is new and they want to grow it. They will build their rooftop restaurant this October. It also has good views of the fort and the surrounding area but, in all honesty, still hasn’t attained the standard of the other two. However I’m sure in a couple of years it will be a lovely place to stay. Babu treated me to supper in the little restaurant on the corner. I had Shahi Paneer and chapatis. Shahi Paneer is a cheese dish in a spicy sauce that I discovered in Delhi. I’ve been vegetarian since being here, save for one day when I ate meat and it gave me Delhi belly. Better safe than sorry.

I’ve been sleeping so badly that I decided to take today as a day’s rest here in Jaisalmer. It’s such a lovely town and I feel comfortable here. At 17:00 I move on to Jodhpur where I’ll stay in a hostel for two nights. Yes I’m sorry I didn’t get into the desert, but hey ho, I can come back sometime.

Jaisalmer photos


MacBook Pro

Buying a MacBook Pro from Apple, online

This post is an aside about my new MacBook Pro. It is a warning to all of you that may choose to buy laptops and electronic equipment online.

MacBook-Pro
Details of damaged MacBook Pro
I took my MacBook Pro, less than 3 months old, to an authorised Apple Repair Centre here in Delhi to see about repairing it. (I wrote about it in this post.) They claim that the screen is cracked, and in all honesty, when pointed out, I can see it is.

They claim it is a pressure crack.

I had this older version MacBook Pro shipped by Apple. I didn’t feel the necessity to spend €400 more on the touchbar model. It arrived at my place where it was put on a desk until the day I left for India when it was placed in a good solid laptop case with reinforced sides.

I carried the laptop onto the plane and stowed it under the seat thinking that it would be safer there than in the luggage bins above.

I then carried the Mac to the hotel where I put it on a table. It hasn’t moved since (except yesterday). It hasn’t been sat on, dropped, banged or thrown across the room.

I would like to point out that the pressure crack is NOT in the glass, it is underneath in the screen. The glass is undamaged as is the rest of the computer as you can see by the details in the photo.

My contention is that the screen was never seated properly at manufacture (as happens with many mobile telephone screens) and that the slight movement this computer has had has caused this pressure crack.

This computer is a laptop, it is designed to be portable. Indeed in spanish they are called PORTÁTIL.

The service centre claim that I will have to pay for a new screen. A whopping 70,000/- INR (or £830, €928, $1091).

MacBook Pro by Apple
Check your purchase thoroughly.
To my way of thinking this is Apple trying to weasel out of its contractual obligations by blaming me and not repairing a faulty, substandard machine.

One does not expect to have to minutely examine every square centimetre of a new product, but in the case of Apple Macintosh, I SUGGEST YOU DO! I have a feeling that legal advice will need to be sought.



Air India

Air India and Heathrow

air india logo

Leaving UK on Air India was a complete cockup. Firstly London Heathrow has changed so much that I barely recognised it. Only to be expected, I haven’t flown from there in more than 30 years. The information boards aren’t that informative. The instructions on them are ambiguous or plain confusing and there is little help. Good job I’m a native english speaker and God help foreigners. I eventually found a man with Heathrow Information on his T-shirt.

Tickets booked online have to be checked-in on a machine. I entered my Air India flight booking number and then scanned my passport. The machine spat out my baggage labels, which are just as confusing as the machines, and my boarding pass. Once that was done, I proceeded to the baggage drop to check my baggage. This is where my first problem arose.

Air India problems

I had had the forethought to phone the embassy before leaving about the possible necessity of needing a return flight booked. My visa is for one year and, naturally, I hadn’t a clue exactly when I’d return. Air India don’t do one year returns nor did they do an open ended return. The embassy told me that it would be OK. The Air India check in crew told me that it wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be allowed to board the flight without a ticket showing an exit date from India.

Result: an extremely apologetic Air India official took me to their office in Heathrow and got the women on the desk to find me a cheap exit flight. So £50.10 later I have a flight booked to Kathmandu, Nepal for the 29th August. Well I did want to go there anyway. But I kind of wanted to do it in my time not theirs.

On the Air India flight

B787

The flight was one of the most uncomfortable intercontinental flights I’ve ever had. The plane was an Air India Boeing 787. For those that understand it was like being on RyanAir for 8 hours. Ok the seats did recline… a bit, and all I can say is thank goodness I’m not a fatty. The onboard entertainment was impossible. I tried to watch a film but the volume levels, even when pumped to the max, were so low that I gave up with the in flight entertainment and tried for some shut-eye. The food was good though. I opted for a vegetarian meal but they had a choice of lamb or chicken too. Mine was a dal with rice. No idea what the others were like.

Indira Gandhi Airport International

Landing at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport was… interesting. We were half an hour early. At landing I thought the plane was going to roll. Touch-down was accompanied by a massive jolt/roll to the left before we straightened up and made it to the disembarkation ramps. Never had a landing like it and I’ve flown frequently and all over the place.

Immigration, baggage claim and customs were a doddle. The passport check did take a while though. But everything was clear and understandable and pretty quick. No complaints there.

I’ve arrived

I found arrivals gate 6 by KFC as instructed by my CouchSurfing friend Virender easily and ten minutes later he was there to collect me. The 9 or so kilometres from the airport to the hotel took about an hour. England readers think “M25”. But it gave us a chance to talk face to face and for that and the lift I’m very grateful. So now I’m ensconced in the FabHotel writing this and then I’m going to have a siesta.