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The Bandits of Bihar

By on September 11, 2013 in India with No Comments

Purnia to Patna

We’d been warned that Bihar was renown for bandits so we wanted to make quick time across the state.  However, it wouldn’t be a good trip if we didn’t get ripped off at least once a day, so not to disappoint, we chanced across a few of our own.  While not waving swords and chasing us down the road on horseback, these surely deserve the title of bandit.

We stopped for tea at a falling down stick hut, and settled down on the ubiquitous plastic chairs by wood bench tables.  A kindly man procured not just tea, but plates of sour yoghurt and sugar.  Not wanting to be rude we ate, tentatively, waiting for the cramps and nausea to commence.  He then plied us with gifts.  First, wonder of wonders, a flute – that he played badly and we couldn’t play at all. Then a plastic Hindu deity, which I’ve actually always wanted, and finally a GIANT bowl of yoghurt for the road.  We tried to give it all back, figuring these we important possessions to him. He took back the deity but refused to accept the flute. And when we told him that a half gallon bowl of uncovered yoghurt wouldn’t travel too well, he insisted on pouring it into a two liter soda bottle and turning it into lassi. I felt very guilty as there was no way we’d ever be able to drink it given that it wasn’t made with bottled water. Anyway, it was all very sweet and we felt much love for the generous people of India.

We asked for the bill, thinking it would be less than 100 rupees (<$2) as all the other places had charged 60-80 for a similar amount of food.

“Ten THOUSAND rupees”

WTF!!! $200 for a cup of tea and rancid yoghurt. No way dude – I don’t care how well your flute plays.

“Okay, okay, ten HUNDRED rupees”.

You have got to be kidding me. Rick, give him 200 and let’s get the f**k out of here.

We made a dash for the rickshaw but six guys materialized from nowhere and surrounded us. Of course the piece of crap machine picked that moment to not start again.

With Rick repeatedly cranking the starting lever (which is so stiff I can barely lift it) and me frantically trying to throw the guy his flute and lassi back we finally got the engine running and hightailed it out of there – with the men grabbing onto the rickshaw and trying to hold us back.

The next few hours were spent dodging the usual menagerie of animals, humans, trucks, and motorcycles. We’ve clocked levels 1-10 in space invaders and now oxen have been added to the mix – plus avoiding random stretches of road that people commandeer by placing rocks in a rectangle and laying out grain to dry. We stopped in a temporary spot of solitude under a tree to eat some apples and a pineapple that we’d bought, only to have a skinny old man with a giant stick and orange underwear walk up and stand six feet away, just staring at us. He was soon joined by another octogenarian trying to sell us little green birds (birdcage included). Given that those cute little birdies would last all of two minutes before being squashed to death by my flying suitcase (see post on traffic, to come) we politely declined.  After all, we have all we could ever need what with a flute and rotten yogurt.

But the real bandits came in the form of the Hotel Chanakya, which is shortly going to receive the worst review Trip Advisor has ever posted.  To get there we stupidly ended up in the middle of Patna in rush hour. Patna district has a population nearly 2x that of the entire New Zealand and a population density of 1,132 people per square kilometer. To give that some context, NZ has around 20 people per square kilometer, and Canada has about 5 (which seems a bit high don’t you think?). Kudos to Rick for having cojones of steel as the traffic there was by far the worst of the terror inducing experiences we’ve had thus far with the exception of Day 1’s night driving.

[side note: one team, also rocket scientists like us and driving at night, was pulled over by the police and told it was too dangerous to be on the road and were escorted to the nearest hotel. If the Indian police are telling you it’s too dangerous to drive then you know I’m not exaggerating]

It seems that those 1,132 people per square kilometer were living up to their reputation in every roundabout we went through. The roundabouts are huge and have a gazillion entrances and exits, and no one gives way or obeys any form of logical order. Combine that with the heat and the noise and the fact that we had no idea where were and that the clutch had decided to quit again (I guess that’s what you get for $8) our nerves were stretched to the limit (yes, we might have got a wee bit snappy with one another). But Rick zipped and zapped and was possibly as obnoxious as every other driver (did I really call the traffic ‘fluid’ in my first post? Ha.), cutting off all those trucks, buses, cyclists, horses, old woman, children, nuns (gotcha) like there was no tomorrow.  Don’t mess with the Canadians!

We’d found a hotel online that claimed prices started at 1,900 rupees but when we got there in person the only thing even close to 1,900 rupees was extra toilet paper.  9,800. Ye gods. Of course it happened to be that the only rooms available were the most expensive. Yeah right. They sneered at us like we were bed bugs.  To caveat somewhat on their behalf we did look like something the cat dragged in, with our hair plastered to our heads, rivulets of sweat leaving streaks on our dust stained faces, and dirt all over our clothes; and it probably didn’t help that we reeked of petrol thanks to the jerry can spilling all over our backpacks making just about everything a potential Molotov cocktail, but still, roll with it guys.

Because it’s annoying me just thinking about how snotty they were, I’ll paraphrase their incompetency.  Besides the misleading advertising on the pricing, they …

  • said they had wifi but couldn’t figure out how to get it working properly.  It might sound high maintenance, but when you’re on the road for 10 hours a day exposed to nothing but sun and noise and struggling to have the most basic of conversations, checking FB and email at night is like a little breath of fresh air (so those reading, thank you so much for your likes and comments on my ramblings)
  • delivered someone else’s laundry to us and later charged us for it
  • while decent, had the blandest food we’ve eaten yet.  Side note: the food in India is absolutely delicious – whether it’s at a restaurant or from the side of the street it has all been fabulous (except the rancid yogurt, and even that wasn’t bad)
  • added an extra 1,000 rupees onto the bill for there being two of us (which would have been fine if they’d mentioned that first, but felt deceptive at the end)
  • had the temerity to call and ask if everything was to our liking, and when I said no, the Internet doesn’t work, they said, very good mam, have a pleasant stay and hung up
  • said they had no idea where we could buy a plug adapter (it was an international hotel, of course they knew, they probably had a stash of them behind the desk)
  • when we checked out they tried to keep our bill open, saying Rick was still in the room. No, he’s right there and just handed you the key you ejits.

Sigh, I guess it was frustrating that we paid 10x as much as most of our other hotels, and they were mean and didn’t have wifi.

Zen Justine, stop complaining, let it go. Ommmm.

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