Posts Tagged ‘India Frustrations’

Typhoid, the CWC and India Whitewater, India – Feb 2011

The International Diner has a lot to answer for.  This newly opened establishment in GK1, New Delhi, is the worst restaurant I have ever had the sorry misfortune of dining in.  With some minor assistance from the loathsome Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), who seem to unrelentingly torment and test cricket fans on a near daily basis, this shoddy eating place has tried its utmost to singlehandedly ruin my February. A couple of friends joined my wife and me for dinner at the new diner earlier this month; the very same night three of us succumbed to chronic food poisoning.  A couple of weeks later two of us contracted typhoid from the contaminated food we had eaten in this unhygienic eatery.  Eating out is supposed to be an enjoyable treat, but this is not always the case in India.  Our Friday night dinner outing certainly turned into a nightmarish debacle from which I’m yet to fully recover.

It’s a common adage that everyone makes mistakes but only the real dumbasses don’t learn from their booboos and keep repeating the same schoolboy errors.  And it must be said India’s preparations to host major international sporting events definitely falls into category two.  It seems no lessons were learnt from their diabolical Commonwealth Games fiasco and the Cricket World Cup has ignominiously followed suit … Eden Gardens stadium renovations not completed in time, last minute venue changes for matches, difficulties in purchasing tickets, ticket delivery problems, archaic security protocols (no digital cameras, lip balm or even sunscreen are allowed into many of the match venues) and, most shockingly, we see empty stadiums for almost every game the host nation isn’t involved in.  In a country of 1.3 billion cricket fanatics this is nothing short of criminal and a serious indictment of the BCCI and the inane bureaucracy that thwarts cricket fans at every turn.

Despite the challenges of watching live cricket in India, Katherine and I overcame the gauntlet and joined a few friends at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi for a fun night out watching South Africa cruise to victory against the West Indies at the start of the CWC group stage.  Lets hope it’s a sign of good things to come at the business end of the tournament towards the end of March.

My India Whitewater book project is progressing well.  It’s presently marginally behind schedule, although the plan remains to try and have the inspirational coffee table book completed by mid-April and for it to hit the shelves by mid-year.  Keep an eye on this website and www.aquaterra.in for further updates.

Travel wise it was a relatively quiet month, although I was also fortunate to travel to Orissa on a livelihoods assignment for CRS and I will be headed to the northeast early next month for some more work covering their HIV work up there. What I’m most excited about, however, is a weeklong trip to cover multi-day elephant-back safaris in Corbett Tiger Reserve during March.  So, there are plenty of exciting travels and assignments to look forward to in the near future before Katherine and I undergo the daunting task of packing our life into boxes as we prepare to ship out of India in early April.

The next exciting chapter awaits us…

Monsoons & Dissertations in Delhi, India – September 2010

September has been a month of all work and no play.  While relentless, heavy monsoon rains wreaked havoc with the mad rush to complete stadiums and infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, they provided the ideal environment for me to finally sit down and complete my Master’s dissertation.   I had done much of the research work and background study during the preceding months, but in August I stepped it up three gears and pulled long days and nights pulling everything together and writing up the research report.  It was a really great feeling to submit it at the end of the month.

I did manage a couple of all-to-brief study escapes during the course of September.  The most notable was definitely an excursion to Gwalior with Katherine and a few friends.  Our good South African mates, Guy and Katie, treated us to an extremely enjoyable weekend away at the luxurious Usha Kiran Palace (www.tajhotels.com/Leisure/Usha%20Kiran%20Palace,GWALIOR/).  Long lazy days drinking beer around the swimming pool, champagne on the terrace and wine at dinner were the perfect tonic for a relaxing and recharging break.  We did venture out on the Sunday and explore the huge hilltop fort and palace that overlook the city; otherwise, it was very much a poolside retreat.

With my backlog of magazine stories and newspaper articles pretty much cleared, I am no longer staring down the barrel of multiple deadlines, so I look to October with my sights set on exciting new assignments, adventures and travels.  The Kali-Sarda beckons for a river rafting adventure through the pristine wilderness along the Nepalese border in mid-October, while tiger tracking will be the order of the day when Katherine joins me on an assignment to cover two more of &Beyond India’s luxury safari lodges in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh towards the end of the month.

It’s always good to finish off on a high note, so I’ll leave you with some unexpected good news… I finally have a bank account!  After sacrificing a small forest in a bid to provide all the paperwork required, two months of heartache and suffering drew to a close last week when Katherine and I were finally deemed worthy enough to deposit our meagre riches with Standard and Chartered Bank.  A very happy ending to a long soul destroying confrontation with some of India’s finest bureaucracy!

Ladakh Floods & Climbing Mountains, India – August 2010

Two days before I was supposed to depart for Leh and an expedition through the Grand Canyon of Asia on the Zanskar River, disaster struck Ladakh.  The torrential rain that had uprooted millions across Pakistan spilled over the border into northern India.  Massive thunderstorms and heavy rain triggered flash floods across Ladakh.  Villages were washed away, landslides blocked roads, bridges were destroyed and hundreds of lives were lost.  The runway was even submerged and all flights into Leh were cancelled.  Aquaterra Adventures was forced to take the extreme decision to abandon our river trip as tour operators and travel agents across India scrambled to cancel their Ladakh departures and expeditions.

A week later the situation in Leh had stabilised, a massive relief effort was underway and I climbed aboard my Kingfisher Airways flight to check out the situation on the ground for myself.  Vehicles wedged inside building, massive boulders and collapsed buildings provided irrefutable evidence of the scale and ferocity of the water by the time it reached the downtown areas of the city.  Higher up in the tourist zone, there were virtually no signs of the calamity that had ravaged the city just a week earlier and the Ladakhi people were unanimously happy to see the few tourists who had stuck with their holiday plans to visit Ladakh.  The words of a local shopkeeper summed up the viewpoint of locals in the face of the terrible situation that had befallen them: “We all survive off the tourists.  Visitors come here and spend money and that is what sustains us during the long cold winter.  Now everyone is staying away because of the flood and we don’t know what we will do.”  I estimated that tourist numbers had plummeted to 20% of what they were in August last year.  The bottom line is that people who cancelled their visits out of respect for the Ladakhi people, not wanting to burden them during a difficult time, were actually exacerbating the problem and perpetuating their woes.  Now is the time to go to Ladakh and by spending your money up there, you can really  help the locals get back on their feet.

After a couple of days acclimatising and exploring monasteries, we headed for Zingchen and the start of our trek.  During the course of the following days we crossed the Stok La pass at 4890 metres before making our way to Stok Kangri Base Camp.  The campsite had a picturesque setting on a high altitude meadow next to a stream in the shadow of towering snowy peaks.  This was our base for the next four days as we adjusted to the challenges of walking and climbing at altitude.  During these ‘rest days’, we practiced walking in snow shoes with crampons and tested our climbing equipment on the Stok glacier above camp.  It was necessary preparation for the summit bid that lay ahead.

On Friday the 20th of August at 10pm we set off from camp on what would prove to be a 14 hour round trip slog to the summit.  We reached the foot of the glacier at midnight and stopped to attach crampons and rope up for the journey across the ice.  Under the expert guidance of two seasoned Stok Kangri climbers our group of four intrepid amateurs concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and not falling onto any of the crevasses.  It was hard work as long snow sections were interspersed with tricky obstacles of slippery ice and exposed rock.  Throughout the night we continued climbing upwards in the dim glow of our headlamps.  Just before dawn we reached an exposed ridge with steep drops on either side that demanded a careful traverse.  A final push over treacherous rocky outcrops and deep snow carried us onto the 6,153 metre summit.  Our celebrations on reaching the peak were anything but raucous as everyone collapsed exhausted and it took real effort just to gather the tired troops for a victorious summit photo before we retreated to a more hospitable altitude.  After a half hour on the top of Kanglacha, we turned and retraced our steps towards home.  Descending in the daylight we enjoyed spectacular views down onto the glacier bowl and noticed that our route descended between the debris of two recent avalanches!  Climbing Stok Kangri was a seriously exhilarating and exhausting adventure.

Finally, on the subject of my Indian admin woes… After six weeks of trying I still don’t have approval for opening a bank account, but at least I am legal.  Thankfully my visa extension finally went through on the 25th of August allowing me to remain in India until the end of January 2011.  An Indian friend recently told me that India is officially rated the sixth most difficult country in the world for foreigners to conduct business in… I have no plans to try and track down any of the top five!

Monsoons & Bureaucracy, India – July 2010

July has been an extremely hot, humid and frustrating month in India.  Faced with a growing list of commissioned stories to write and with deadlines looming, there was no option but to put the travels on hold and get writing.  Unfortunately, the spectacularly frustrating and tediously slow bureaucracy of India has tried its utmost to thwart my best efforts at productivity and efficiency.

Trying to open a bank account and extend my Indian visa have drained Katherine and me of all our reserves of patience, persistence and politeness.  As the month draws to a close, we have devoted many long days to the Ministry of Home Affairs and FRRO, but I still do not have my new visa (police verification of information still pending) and, after seven visits to the bank and sacrificing a small forest for all the paperwork we’ve had to submit, our bank account has yet to be approved.  Amongst the many reasons given by Standard & Chartered for refusing to open the account, was that my signature didn’t seem authentic enough for them!  India certainly seems to be trying its hardest to wear us down and this is compounded by the unrelenting heat and humidity of the monsoon season, which refuses to abate.  This has not been our happiest month in India to date.

The good news is that (provided my visa gets approved this week) I will be headed to Ladakh and the Himalayas for 3 weeks in August.  Having recently agreed with a publisher and sponsor the terms for my book India Whitewater, I will be collecting more photographic material and experiences on an expedition down the Zanskar River and through the Grand Canyon of Asia.  After that trip I will join a friend, Ben Sheppard, for a climbing adventure as we tackle the 6,153 metre peak of Stok Kangri in the Indian Himalaya.  So, fingers crossed, I’ll be headed to Ladakh at the end of the week.

Otherwise, the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about… I’ll be given 36 hours to leave the country and will be back in South Africa before the end of next week. Lets just hope that the Gods of Indian bureaucracy decide to be a little more friendly during August and deign to let me to stay and explore some of the great rivers and wilderness areas of the spectacularly wild and beautiful Indian Himalaya.

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