I arrived at Bangalore airport at about 6.00 in the morning. There were several hours of baggage handling, airport confusion and a taxi-ride through town, with auto-rickshaw drivers weaving and buzzing round us like angry wasps, before I reached my small family run hotel in a quiet residential quarter of town.
I stepped out of the car to the calls of loud birds yelling and whooping, and shortly after, found myself escorted to a roof terrace, where I gazed at distant huge birds with enormous wingspans (eagles? vultures?) coasting lazily on the thermals. Attentive staff served me with unending supplies of small soft spongy pancakes – idli – with thin aromatic and spicy dipping sauces and much-needed coffee. It was 9.00, but my body knew that back in England it was 3.30 a.m.
Unable to rest, I set off to explore the quiet back streets near the hotel. Dozens of women were out in the back streets, crouching over their handle-less brooms, sweeping and re-sweeping the pavements. Stallholders on street corners sold bananas, brown and well past their sell-by dates, or coconut juice straight from the shell. A few bored monkeys sat about on air-conditioning extractor pipes. At a building site, a bullock stood patiently while two men shovelled rubble into the cart it drew.
Then I reached the main hub of Bangalore, MG Road (Mahatma Gandhi Road) with the pavements, such as there were, thronged with pedestrians. In the road itself, cars, vans, trucks, auto-rickshaws, all constantly blaring their horns raced along, over-taking, under-taking. However would I find the courage to cross? Answer. By finding a group of others also wanting to get to the other side and introducing myself into their midst. There’s safety in numbers.
I hadn’t wandered too far when I was picked up by an auto-rickshaw driver. He could probably see ‘Arrived from Europe this morning’ tattooed across my forehead. He offered to show me round for 10 rupees. I wasn’t green enough to believe that, but I was exhausted, and it wasn’t an unattractive proposition. It was memorable – and fun.
He proved an amiable guide whose English, while obviously hugely better than my Kannada, often led to mutual incomprehension. Still, he hared round a variety of sites introducing me to the city he loved. ‘This is my Parliament building. This is my national bird. This is my Rajah’s Palace.’ And he waited while I ‘did’ Bengalaru Palace, one of the homes of the Raja Wodeyar. As the Lonely Planet says, you are personally shown round by an aged retainer, who is rather keener to show you fly-blown pictures of the Royal Family than the quirky furniture and fittings. Seedy but fun. It’s not often you see cattle grazing in royal gardens.
He was in the pay of various shops. Of course he was. And he took me to some. I was quite clear that I was not going to buy anything. Not on my first day. This proved to be an effective bargaining tool to bring prices tumbling to the level the shopkeeper planned to sell at in the first place. Reader, I bought a couple of things, and nor did I regret it.
My new friend urged me to ring him whenever I needed transport in his fifteen year old rickshaw. I didn’t. But later that day I wished I had. A different driver saw me puzzling over my map, and offered to help. But his help turned out to mean trying to persuade me into shop after shop to buy. When he realised I really wasn’t going to buy anything, he dumped me.
I was in a poor part of town (where? where?) and with a 500 rupee note as my lowest form of currency. When the average meal costs seven, I knew that offering this note in shops simply wasn’t an option. I trailed round back streets busy with rickshaw drivers repairing their trucks, vendors splicing huge melons and squash to sell, garland makers fashioning powerfully scented jasmine garlands for Diwali, sheep drinking at doorways, solitary cows chewing at a pile of rubbish, tent villages…. until I finally found a travel agent, where they changed down my note.
And then I took a third rickshaw, asking for an address near ‘home’. He took me directly there. Food, an internet cafe, and home to bed, long after dark. Night falls in a matter of minutes, at 6 o’clock. My exhausted body knew quite well that the day was over.
This is my contribution to today’s Ragtag Challenge: Taxi