Day 583: Flashback


So it was a cloudy, overcast day on which I returned to India after an absence of eight years. Not much has changed since then, but then I didn’t really expect it to: India is India is India and will be until the end of the world. A frustrating, intoxicating, bewildering blend of noise and nonsense with a few increasingly perplexed cows thrown in for good measure.

But I can’t help liking the place, possibly more than India likes me.

I said my goodbyes to the captain and the crew of the CMA-CGM Jade (a few times, as it transpired) and just six and a half hours after we arrived I was finally allowed to leave the ship with a couple of the crew who were leaving for Burma after a good ten months at sea. Customs took its time, and my bags were sealed with wax (seriously!) until I left the port. Which took another couple of hours.

It was when I found myself in a dank and dismal police station on the edge of the middle of nowhere waiting for the port police to come that I really started to worry. My stomach started to sink and I got that feeling I got in Cape Verde and the Congo… something was about to go horribly, horribly wrong.

I dived into my backpack (without breaking the wax seal, funnily enough) and pulled out my old, broken mobile phone. I then used my working phone to text “Help I’ve been arrested at Nerhu port, Bombay – inform the embassy!” and saved it to drafts ready to tweet at a second’s notice before stuffing the phone in my sock and placing the broken phone in my pocket to give to the police should the inevitable occur.

It wasn’t until much later that I realised my twitter account wasn’t updating from my mobile phone.

The port agent sat and waited with me, which was magnificent of him, but the feeling of dread was growing by the second. I had already paid the required bribe money and got my entry stamp and been checked over (thoroughly!) by customs. I had broken the golden rule of travelling in developing countries – don’t make a nuisance of yourself – and now I could see the next six days spent at the Maharaja’s pleasure, if you know what I mean.

It was now dark and it was starting to rain. To pass the time I pulled some card tricks on the port agent, but it was well after 8pm before the police chief finally arrived.

My arrival from Dubai on a ship clutching a multiple entry business visa had prompted the Indian bureaucratic nightmare into crisis mode. THEY DIDN’T KNOW WHAT LEDGER TO PUT ME IN! Terrified at the prospect of me not being entered into a ledger, I think the police chief had gone out and bought a brand new ledger for ‘Passengers on Container Ships’. I like to think that during the hour he kept us waiting he was drawing nice neat columns in the ledger with a ruler.

So, eventually, I was asked where I was going. It’s all a little complicated so I just stuck with Bombay-Kochi-Calcutta then out via Nepal, just to keep things neat and tidy. If I said I was planning to come in and out of the country a few times they would have probably chased me up the nearest flagpole and then cut it down with an axe.

So… I didn’t go to jail. Phew!

After thanking the port agent profusely, I took a taxi to the nearest train station and boarded the choo choo to Bombay.

The train was brilliant – no doors, no windows, chugging along at 100mph and only stopping for ten seconds in each station (seriously!). Ahh… this callous and foolhardy disregard for Health and Safety could only mean one thing… I was back in India, all right. And hurrah for that! On the Dubai Metro you could be fined for running in the station. In India running is compulsory.

Returning to Bombay I felt a tremendous sense of homecoming, back on the native backpacker trail. In fact, I had been off the trail ever since I left Central America, save for the trip from Cairo to Istanbul. There were so few backpackers in The Caribbean, Africa, Central Asia and the Arabian Peninsular I felt like an endangered species. But from hereon in it should be sandals and saris and dreads all the way to the Pacific. I might even meet some vegetarians!

Bombay was just as bombastic as ever as I flung myself through a flurry of tooting taxis towards the Colaba area of town, eager to find a place for the night. I had arrived at 11pm and the train to Kochi, my next destination, left at 11.40pm – there was no way I would be getting a ticket for that one, so I resigned myself to a night and a day in Bollywood.

I checked into the first place listed in the Lonely Planet (the size of a shoebox, but the price of a shoebox, so no worries) and got my head down for the night.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John Silva

    India wont change till the end of the world – how true ! Economic boom, software giant blah blah….India wont change !

    Ok one question and does not apply to India because in India’s case I know the answer. Elsewhere where and how did you s**t ? I always wanted to be a backpacker but never went because what about toilets ???

    I am also following you on the NatGeo. Seriously how will your travel contribute to helping out the water problem ?

    All the best Graham, wishing you a cockroach and rat free passage through India.

  2. indian(and not a rikshaw wala:) )

    so what i can see from your blog, is that you might have travelled the whole world, but you have learnt absolutely nothing.
    So all in all, quite a waste of time wasn’t it? oh apart from the Guinness world record of course. Only valuable thing you have gained.
    But the record doesn’t change your idiotic racist attitude so….
    I’d suggest you do your research thoroughly before going to a place and then blogging bullshit about it 🙂
    India is not just filled with ‘rikshaw walas’. We have every profession possible in our country. oh and for your information, india is leading in the IT industry maybe you should get your facts right. 😀
    GANDHI not ‘ghandi’ is highly respected by Indians, you happen to know literally nothing about him so please do not insult him by acting like you follow his teachings.
    You/re a film maker as far as i know, so i’m really surprised. if you didn’t like the conditions of the places you stayed, you could easily upgrade. India happens to have some of the finest hotels in the world, didn’t do your research again? Well i’m not surprised.
    Oh and “the president of india is a chick?” are you stupid? or are you stupid?
    For fucks sake, India is not a village, stop talking like it is. maybe you went to the shit places i’ll agree we have some but it’s not all we have dumbass.
    ‘you’re that lousy friend that we can’t help forgive because they make us laugh’
    honey i would kick you straight in the balls so hard you couldn’t walk if i were ever to see you 🙂 respect= 0
    here is a fun fact- india was fucking rich until the british came and robbed us:) So why don’t you shut the fuck up and keep your bull shit opinions in your bullshit head because all you sound, is retarded and uneducated! okay? 🙂
    man you’re so disgusting i cannot even read any other countries.
    I’m sure you won’t post this but i sincerely hope you read it and never set foot out of your hometown again! racist bitch.

    middle finger from,
    India <3

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