I don't like India....oh no....I love it!
Are you going to Vizag? Are you going to Rajkot? Vizag's meant to have a lovely beach you know. But Rajkot's dry, can't get a beer. Need an alcohol permit or summat. And Mohali, aren't you getting bored of Mohali? We seem to go there every time. Got the Wankhede again though – love walking to the Wankhede in the morning across the maidans with all the games of cricket going on. Mad it is, there's so many you can't tell who's fielding in which game! It's' no wonder they're good at cricket, they just play, morning, noon and night. Except when they're at school, then they don't. But they're straight back afterwards. And Chennai, or Madras, got a lovely canal running right by the cricket ground. And great food – you can eat off a banana leaf: they put the banana leaf on the table, just plonk the food on top and you get involved.
These are all things I've heard since the dates of the Test matches were announced. There is considerable excitement about the whole tour, especially the first two Tests in Rajkot and Visakhapatnam as neither has ever hosted a Test match before.
As I haven't been to either of the above, except for passing through Vizag on a train once, I really can't offer anything on these. What I would say to those complaining that they can't get a beer in Rajkot, as Gujarat is a dry state, is if you need beer that badly then perhaps best stay at home. If you love cricket and different cultures, just embrace it. You'll soon get used to hanging out in street-side eateries, chomping on some of the best food you've ever tasted while you watch the world go by. After a few days you won't even miss it. Well, maybe a bit, but it really is no hardship.
There is less excitement about Mohali, many wondering why we have to go there again, having played Test matches there on three of our last four tours, but I have a real affection for it, it being the first place I visited in India. That was for the first Test of the 2001 tour and I have since been for the Tests in 2006 and the hastily arranged misty debacle of 2008. I also visited in 2011 for the India Pakistan World Cup semi final, which was some experience, especially the madness in the morning where it seemed everyone, including me, was trying to get a ticket for the sold-out game.
Although a place in its own right, Mohali has the distinct feel of being a satellite town or suburb of Chandigarh and most cricket fans tend to stay in the latter, it having more hotels, restaurants, bars and other attractions. Situated in the Punjab, there is plenty of turban action going on. Indeed there are many specialist shops awash with colour, my own particular favourite being the magnificently-named Turban Emporium. Chandigarh is built on a grid system and is split into numbered sectors, which, if you've got a map makes it remarkably easy to get around and if you haven't got a map makes it remarkably difficult as much of it looks the same. Get a map, use the bus station and the post office as your reference points and you should be fine. The trip out to Mohali is easily done in a rickshaw and the stadium is a decent one with reasonable catering facilities and a multitude of floodlight pylons.
The fourth Test is in Bombay - currently officially called Mumbai, which let's face it is nowhere near as good. Bombay is quite simply my favourite city in India and in my top two favourite cities in the world. Superb colonial era architecture, interspersed with much greenery, cricket being played on every space available, a buzz that gets hold of you and a recently rebuilt Wankhede Stadium right in the middle of the city are all the right ingredients for a top Test cricket experience. Get off the beaten track into some of the back street bars and you'll really know you're alive. To cap it all, central Bombay is built on a peninsula so has the sea on both sides. What's not to like?!
The final Test is in Chennai, formerly Madras. Not the prettiest of cities, but very friendly, a massive beach and superb south Indian cuisine, which makes use of the aforementioned banana leaf. Saves on washing up as they simply lob them in the bin when you've finished. Or out onto the street for a passing cow to munch on. The cricket ground has been renovated since we last visited for a Test match in 2008, the game where we had a clueless skipper whose inept panicky field-changes allowed India to make 387 in the fourth innings, Sachin Tendulkar bringing up a hundred with what was also the winning shot of the game. Gutted to lose that Test in the manner that we did, but you gotta love Sachin.
So that's it, a five Test tour of India! In fact the first since 1984-85. Many won't be in a position to do all five, but will do what they can with the time available, while combining it with as much other stuff as they can manage. And there is an absolute multitude of other stuff to do in India, but five things I would recommend if you have the time are: 1) Visit Shimla – a town perched on a ridge amongst stunning mountain scenery. 2)Take in the Golden Temple at Amritsar - an incredible experience, Sikhs bathing in the water around the temple which is quite literally made out of gold. 3) Witness the Taj Mahal at sunrise – make sure you arrive in the dark and you will see the beautiful marble of the Taj burst into life as the sun comes up. 4) Ride on a train in standard class – great fun and you will never complain about overcrowding on the tube again. 5) Have a cup of chai – not in posh restaurant, but from a street vendor. The chaos of India can be draining, but for an energy boost that cannot be beaten you can't beat a strong sweet cup of chai!
(This article sponsored by Indian Chai Board!)
Andy Clark is the editor of the Corridor of Uncertainty fanzine, the next issue of which will be available during England's upcoming tour of India.