Tuesday, July 31, 2007

AirTel signup redux

I now have a number in India.

I can be reached at +91 9906990639. Please respect the time difference (google for current time in delhi) and do not call before 9AM, or after 11PM.

In hindsight, it really wasn't as much of a chore as the Airtel sales reps made it out to be.

Required materials:
1 x photocopy of passport and visa page, 4 rupees
3 x passport photos, taken at photo shop in bazar. 40 rupees.
1 x SIM card + activation fee, 130 rupees.
1 x bribe to kashmiri dodgy guy to fill out reference form, 50 rupees.

Being a total scam artist, the Kashmiri guy wrote the name/address of someone else that he knew back in Srinigar, pocketed my money, and thus couldn't even be traced to the transaction.

I filled out a few forms in the airtel office at around noon-ish, and by 9PM, my phone had been activated and was working.

Considering all the stuff they told me about the difficulties of getting a sim card due to terrorism/security, I was expecting much worse.

Of course, if I turn out to be a bad guy, and use my sim card in some kind of IED bomb remote trigger, the sad bastard in Srinigar whose name is listed as my personal reference is going to get a personal visit from the Indian Security Services.....

Needless to say, I won't be selling on my sim card when I leave - i'll be destroying it.

Leh day 2

[Ed: this post is not for the sqemish]

I managed to get some sleep. I woke up at 7AM, the sun flooding my room, and the signs of a sore throat/cold coming quickly. A bit of vitamin C, and back to bed. I assume that was the 2 days of travel, the lack of sleep, the temperature difference, and the night of A/C + fan in Delhi.

2 hours later, I woke up with cold sweats, and the symptoms (which you never forget) of Delhi Belly. Moments later, I was clasping at the toilet seat under me, shivering, sweating, swearing profusely at India, any deity I could think of, and any of the food merchants whose tasty yet evil wares had put me in this state. A piping hot shower helped things, followed by paracetamol, vitamin C, and about a liter of water.

More than likely, i'll be repeating the scene tonight and tomorrow morning. How I love India.


It took a lot of work, but I finally have a SIM card for my phone. Due to the terrorism, SIM cards are a complete pain in the ass to get in this state. Just like gmail, and other web 2.0 services, you need to be invited by someone who already has the service. Since I've been here for one day, I don't really know anyone at all - let alone someone who has been an Airtel customer for 3 months.

Lucky for me, Leh is full of Kasmiri traders. Due to terrorism, Kashmir isn't getting much tourism, and so lots of them have come here to sell their wares to tourists. I'm generalizing somewhat here, but Kashmiris are natural born used car salesmen. They'll lie, cheat and sell their own grandmothers if it seals the deal.

Within a few minutes of asking random kashmiri traders, I was able to find someone who was willing to vouch for me, and state in writing that he knew me personally.

3 passport photos later, I now have a SIM card, which should hopefully be activated tomorrow.


I don't know how long I'll stay in Leh. It's beautiful for sure, but it's also very very touristy. It's impossible to eat at any restaurant/stall where the locals are eating. It's essentially a controlled environement for a captive audience. Shops everywhere, all offering trecking, hiking, trips, etc...

My options are to either go into Muslim Kashmir (in Srinigar), where there are beautiful house-boats on a lake, or to the Parvati Valley in HP. The only thing that will change my choice, is rain. I need to figure out where it is raining the least.

Due to the altitude, Leh is dry as a bone. Which is perfect. No humidity, no rain. Anywhere downhill will be wet, as it is monsoon season everywhere else in India.

More later...

Delhi to Leh

My evening in Delhi consisted of stuffing my face with all the food I'd missed, picking up bits and bobs that i'd need for my trip, and then attempting to catch some rest.

3 showers later, I was still hot and sweaty, and even with the A/C and fan going full blast, I couldn't get any sleep. I blame the jetlag at least partially.

A screwup with the taxi (essentially, I got swindled for about 50 rupees), meant that I had to pay retail for a taxi at 3AM - I woke up the taxi driver dozing in the rear seat, and paid him 220 rupees to take me to the domestic terminal.

I've briefly befriended an Australian hippy, who very kindly offered to take my gigantic pot of Marmite, a can of lebanese hummus (to be used in a trade with a desperate israeli), and a few other heavy items with her on her flight. Air Deccan, the low cost carrrier I was taking are very very strict in terms of weight - as they can charge you for every kg you go over. This of course gave me a large incentive to keep my eye on her, lest she run off with my Marmite once she got to Leh.

The flight: I can honestly say that it was the most fantastic flight I've ever taken. It didn't last much more than an hour, but the trip over so many snow-capped mountains made for a fantastic view - and in many cases, it seemed like we were just a few hundred meters over the mountains.

The decent into Leh, was...crazy. There is one short runway, with mountains on either end, and so the airplane had to make a series of decending circles, each time getting a bit and bit lower. It gave us a good chance to see the mountains - and also, the mega-ton of army vehicles, troops and airplanes in the area. Gun turrets and sandbag-protected soldiers lined the runway, and kept the eye on our plane the whole time as we landed.

It's ironic I suppose, in that both this place, and the Andaman Islands I went to last year - some of the most beautiful places I've been to in the world, and both are chock-a-block full of Indian Army/Navy. And in both those situations, the troops consider it to be a really horrible posting. No one likes getting sent to Leh - but thats probably because it's far below freezing 8 months of the year.

Once we landed, we both checked into two different rooms at a guest house about 15 mins outside of leh - and the majority of the rest of the day was spent snoozing. I was already feeling feint - either because of the altitude, or the lack of sleep, and so I really wanted to take it easy.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Back in India

15 months after I left, I'm back in India. Thus, starting today, farting is suddenly a very risky act - as you never know what will happen.

Delhi airport can be a crazy experience. I had breakfast this morning with a South African woman who got completely screwed over when she arrived last night - taxi drivers threatening to drop her off in the middle of nowhere, over-priced mold infested hotel rooms, threats of violence, etc... All because she opted to go with a taxi driver who walked upto her, and offered her a deal.

It's like so many of the horror stories you hear - in hindsight, it's easy to see where they went wrong.

My experience on the other hand, was painless this morning.

I walked out of the airport, got some cash from the ATM - 2500 rupees in my money belt, and 300 rupees in bills in my top pocket.

I walked straight to a policeman, and asked him where I could catch a bus to the city - he pointed me the right way, and a second policeman outside actually walked me to the bus. Police are your good friend in India - assuming of course, you're not an Israeli backpacker trying to smuggle hashish.

The bus cost me 50 rupees, and dropped me off in Connaught Place. A 20 rupee auto-rickshaw ride took me to the area where I'm staying. After a bit of brief haggling, I got a air-con room in a decent hotel for 450 rupees.

First thing I did, was go and get a shave. I haven't shaved for 3 months, and looked like some kind of cross between a goat and a mujhadeen. Cleanly shaved, I got my first paan in 15 months, a towel, a lungi (a sarong/skirt) - as it is damn humid here, and breakfast: Idli.. mmm, oh how i've missed it.

Sure, it's so humid my shirt is sticking to me - yes, cows roam the streets, and the mud in the streets certainly isn't mud... but it's India, and I feel strangely, at home.

I fly to Leh tomorrow morning at 6AM. Leh is an ethnically tibetian area, the highest in altitude in India. However, it's also in the state of Jammu/Kashmir. Kargil, the beginning of muslim Kashmir, is a few hours away - and the Kargil War nearly caused a nuclear war back in 2002. Thus, while Leh will be flush with backpackers, the security situation is still very tight. Permits required to see some sites, military everywhere, and getting a GSM card for my phone may be tough.

I expect to have solid internet in Leh - and will be there for at least a few days, as my body will need to get used to the altitude.

Until then.