Vince's blog

India, Selfies & 2x ODI's

(I don't like cricket or watery potato curry - I love it!)


After accepting the invite from my mate Dave to do a 10 day mini tour of NE India to coincide with two ODI's between the hosts and England at the beginning of the year, here is my blog of the experience...


The journey there...


Was a long one! We flew from Heathrow to Kolkata via Dubai.. There would be 4 of us on tour, Dave and Ian (experienced cricket tourists) who are part of a small supporter group known as 'The Wrong 'Un's. Paul and myself make up the rest of the group.


We travelled down from our hometown of Northampton to meet Sarf London boy Ian at Heathrow where he and Dave quickly departed to the Emirates business lounge! Ian is a frequent flyer and used his air-miles to get the two of them upgraded! Apart from a brief sighting of the pie-eyed pair at the departure gate in Dubai, (They'd obviously been taking full advantage of the Emirates business class hospitality), we didn't see them again until 15 hours later at immigration in Kolkata airport...


Kolkata


You know you're somewhere very different the moment you walk out the airport! The smoggy air hits you, the haggling starts immediately and the beggars are on to you in a flash..


We headed to the popular Sudder St/Park St area where we checked into our 1st hotel. A bit later we headed over to the towering Eden Gardens which was only a 30 minute walk away to collect our pre-booked tickets for the match in 6 day’s time. Attending one of the most famous cricket grounds in the world was something to look forward to...





Cuttack


The journey to Cuttack was most enjoyable! It began with a morning taxi ride through Kolkata - which was an eye-opener seeing how the thousands of pavement dwelling locals start their day.


Then it was over the impressive Howrah Bridge that looked like it had a million rivets joining the huge latticework of steel together, to the massive Howrah train station. After a red hot cup of chai, we boarded our train and was welcomed by a steady stream of beggars with some sporting some impressive deformities including a man with a foot on the end of his arm!


The journey took most of the day though the constant stream of wallahs selling chai, food, shoe polishing etc kept us entertained and Ian had a fanzine with a cricket quiz in it which entertained us for a while. I improvised and using the info in the fanzine, made up a whole new quiz which seemed to last for hours!


It was dark when we arrived in dusty Cuttack...


After the confusing search for our hotel, there was a mix-up in our reservation that meant we all ended up in the 'presidential suite' - definitely no presidents have stayed there!! Ian and Dave bagged the double bed while Paul and I made do with the floor..!


No bars at all in the area we stayed in but there was an off-license where we all bought a few 'Special Brew' strength Kingfishers. And a local restaurant had a back room where it could be consumed...!





The next day after another watery potato curry breakfast we headed to the stadium. The queues were unbelievable! Like giant 'conga's' half a mile long! Of course we pushed in right at the front- we're English don't you know? The stadium was big, around 40,000, and we were the only England fans there apart from one elderly couple we saw.. The atmosphere was electric especially when their big hero Kohli took to the field.. Now I'm not a massive cricket fan but the 1st half hour was fun - what I didn't realise was nothing much happens in an ODI for about 7 hours then it livens up for the last hour. There are no seats at Cuttack cricket ground (well not in our stand) - just concrete steps, so after several hours it becomes clear that it's going to be an extreme test of endurance. As a long distance cyclist, I'm used to feats of endurance but this has to be up there...


England eventually lost after going down to the wire and we headed back to the off-license near our hotel for more Kingfisher Strong...


Puri


Our next stop was the seaside temple town of Puri - Home to the important Jagannath god, revered by the visiting hordes of Hindu pilgrims. After a quick shave in the nearby barbers and Paul enjoying the delights of a generous local sharing his chillum, we bought 'cattle class' train tickets (around 60 pence each) for the 3 hour journey.


Stepping out the station in Puri, the first thing we saw was a dead body! You could tell it was dead as it was covered in flies..! We checked into our hotel then went for a quick game of beach cricket - cut short though because of the rapidly incoming tide...


We hit a few bars that night, then as it was Dave's birthday, got totally hammered back at our hotel on a bottle of quality whisky Ian had bought with him from Blighty...


The next day and still drunk!, we went for a walk round the temple area of town. Of course, not being a Hindu, we weren't allowed in the temple itself but it was still interesting and I provided the entertainment by repeatedly treading in piles of cow shit which was everywhere!


That evening we're back at the train station for our sleeper back to Kolkata- and this time no bodies...





Our bunks were not super comfy but they were cosy enough. Probably got about 5 hours kip (glad I bought the earplugs) considering the train's whistle going off every 10 seconds! Indian trains are long, very long! Maybe 30 or 40 carriages and we were 2 back from the whistle...


Kolkata.. again...


Pulling into Howrah Station, lying in bed sipping chai was a nice start to the busy day ahead. We're off to Eden Gardens later to see our second cricket match of the trip. A bit of haggling with the ever-present taxi drivers, and we're on our way to our next hotel which is in one of the city's main shopping streets - Park Street. A bit of breakfast and a decent coffee in the nearby McDonald's was next. I had a McEgg meal followed by a McShit. Always good loos in a McD's!


No time to relax on this trip, we're soon off to the cricket. It's not far to walk so we stop off for a beverage at The Oberoi Grand, a 5 star hotel in lush colonial surroundings.. Pricey but interesting to see how the other half live - bastards..!


After negotiating several 6 lane carriageways we're at the ground. It's huge (about 60,000) and there are seats! The ground is filling quickly and the national anthems play. The match starts and I'm so glad we're in a shaded area (again). Once again the game takes on a familiar pattern - keep the scoreboard gently ticking over with a few singles and the odd boundary. The crowd is bigger here than Cuttack but not as raucous, the food is nowhere near as good and the chai is non-existent! We got a pass out at half time (for the 3 smokers) and I soon got into a big argument with a chai seller! Now I had volunteered to hold the kitty early on this trip which meant I paid for everything. After buying countless cups of chai, I knew the price very well.. at first he said I'd had 5 cups, then changed his price, but in the end he had to give in..!


England played well in this game and took a straightforward win - a rarity on this tour! The India fans took it well - and we saw no rioting afterwards!


A few beers and a nice curry near our hotel ended the day before another hectic day tomorrow...


Nagaland


A long wait for our breakfast meant there was no time to eat it before another taxi trip, this time to the airport. We're off to Nagaland - an Indian state situated in the North-East of the country bordering Myanmar (Burma).


We check-in for our flight then grab a surprisingly tasty fast-food style masala dosa. On our way to the departure gate we see a crowd gathering and quickly realise the Indian and England cricket teams are in the airport. They're off to another city for the upcoming 20/20 game. I manage to say a quick hello to Johnny Bairstow and got a selfie whilst thinking it must be great fun travelling the world, all expenses paid, playing a game you love and getting paid for it!


After almost missing the plane because of the wrong tag on mine and Paul's bags we board the 1 hour 'Go Indy Go' flight to Dimapur in Nagaland. Outside the small airport we negotiate a taxi for the 50 mile journey to the state capital Kohima. It's a tough 3 hour uphill drive all the way in a very small car on a very bumpy and dusty road. We couldn't help but notice the hundreds of military vehicles coming the other way. With the Chinese Red Army not far away at the Tibet border it's not too surprising...


Kohima is a hilly place and stands at over 5000ft above sea level. It's famous for a notorious 2nd World War battle with the Japs and an impressive war cemetery is a must-see here. On arrival we learn that Nagaland is a 'dry' state..! Dave's idea of visiting somewhere 'off-the-beaten-track' did initially feel like it was going to backfire on him but to no avail! Within the hour he had found an illegal drinking den full of well-lubricated local Naga folk..! The next day we went on a hunt for the notorious Naga chilli pepper to a place called 'Mao Market' which was a multi-level shopping labyrinth specialising in local delicacies. Hamsters, frogs and witchetty grubs seemed very popular food items along with the famous chillis. We bought a few bits, went to the war cemetery, ate and went to the town's museum, and then of course ended up back at the drinking den for more Kingfisher. We were made to feel very welcome by the inebriated locals...





Here Ian tried a plate of the local offal and fat of which he paid for dearly the next day when he shit himself walking down the street... oops!


The next day we're back at the airport for our internal flight back to Kolkata to begin the journey home.


Kolkata... yet again...


Back to the big city again for the 3rd time in 9 days! It's a national holiday in India today.. Republic Day.. Everyone's out and dressed up and it's very busy. We are told that nowhere is serving alcohol on this day as the authorities are not happy with millions of pissed locals everywhere! Again it doesn't take long to find a bar defying the ban.. This time it's a 5 star hotel and it's happy hour.. Several drinks later followed by a takeaway just about wraps up our mini tour of NE India.


It was a fantastic experience to witness the spectacle of a cricket match in India - as far away as possible from watching Northants (my local team) at The County Ground with 200 spectators...


The train journeys were also a personal highlight on this trip...


The people here generally are very friendly and welcoming and I’d definitely visit again – but would probably give the ‘one-day’ cricket a miss!


Footnote on Selfies


It seems everyone in India has a smartphone, even the street dwellers. And a lot of them want you in a selfie! At times it was getting out of control.. large crowds would gather all wanting a selfie with the England cricket fan! Locals driving past on bikes, cars and rickshaws would spot a selfie opportunity, park up, and join the throng for that all important shot...


The four of us must've gone viral after the hundreds of pics taken. It was an insight into how celebrities might feel..!




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