India Tour 2016

It's India so what could possibly go wrong?

Well should I write it in a list or just let the story unfold?

It all started so well. Freddie and I met at Heathrow on Sunday the 6th November. Unfortunately our flights had been changed and brought forward by hours. So instead of a 2 hour stop over in Mumbai we had a 10 hour one. No problem as Freddie books us in to the Hyatt by the airport from 4am until our flight to Rajkot at 7pm.

We land safely, and go to immigration. 24 kiosks in a row. But on closer inspection only 6 are open. Bugger.

A long slow winding queue as staff appear on a go slow. Get to the front only to be told my visa requires me to go to a different queue. Double bugger. One kiosk here, 10 people in a queue and the Spanish Inquisition commences. Eye scan, finger prints, thumb prints, dirty looks etc. Another 45 minutes and I'm through. Freddie who whizzed through waits patiently for me. Go to get luggage, where's it all gone? We've been so long it's disappeared. Eventually track it down. Right let's get some money out. Card declined. Surely nothing else can go wrong.

Freddie gets some money out, phew. Let's get a taxi to the hotel which we are told is 10 minutes away. 700 rupees, seems a lot for ten minutes in a taxi but we just want to get to the hotel.

Bags in, us in, drive out the car park, down the ramp, around the roundabout and hey presto we are here. £9 for a two minutes taxi ride of half a mile. Done like a kipper!

But we're here, check in, up to room, lovely hotel, great room, asleep at 6am and awake at 11am.

Refreshing shower, down to the pool and there already soaking up the rays is Mr Blade. Hi mate, get in OK? F*****g customs, cheating taxi drivers etc etc - glad we weren't alone and a new person to moan with.

Catch the 7pm flight up to Rajkot. Sweet as a nut. Get bags and out the airport, see the Fern Residency Hotel courtesy taxi man waiting. Mr Gegg and Mr Tremlin we say. Not on my list mate (or words to that effect).

So after a few phone calls and holding up the other residents for 30 minutes we go to the vehicle. 5 people, 6 seats, lots of luggage. But there's a fold down back seat for a small person and all the luggage.

Cue Freddie. I will go in the back, we all look at him, biggest bloke ever seen in Rajkot in the kiddies seat with the luggage. Good call, off you clamber, packed in with bags to stop him moving an inch.

Scenic ride through the heart of the city. Look at that Freddie, see that Freddie? Piss off I can't see anything apart from someone's bloody suitcase up my nose.

15 minutes later we are at the Fern. Our luck has changed. Not the best area but a lovely hotel with lovely staff and a great restaurant.

And did I mention Rajkot is a dry state? Go and check in, on the counter, liquor licence available here. Our luck has definitely changed, oh yeah and the liquor store was down the side of the hotel!!

Mr B went to his hotel from the airport and then came back to ours for some food - did I also mention Rajkot is a 99.99999% meat free area?

Also joining us at the hotel were, Son of, and his mate Lloydy from Windsor cricket club.

Good evening catching up with all and sundry and enjoying some traditional Indian food apart from Mr B who had some non traditional food of hot chocolate fudge cake as his main course. Freddie found a non spicey Indian cheese dish, and there is lots of cheese dishes in Rajkot let me tell you.

Next morning I had arranged to meet a Rajkottiann friend of mine who used to be a pro cricketer in India but now lives in Thame in Oxfordshire. He was back to visit his family and also to be here for Rajkot's first ever Test match. He also coached Pujara as a kid and is very well remembered and respected in Rajkot.

Manoj met us at the stadium, which is 8 years old and excellent, and gave us a guided tour of the ground. We went in the net area (21 of these) while the Indians practised at one end and even allowed Mr B to bowl a few in them. I had a chat with the groundsman about grass and clay which the other 2 idiots found amusing!

We carried on meeting the great and good of Rajkot cricket for a couple of hours, got taken up to meet the main man of the state's cricket and then got our tickets. £6 per day and right behind the bowler.

We were then taken to the Media centre where preparations were taking place for the captain's arrival. The journo's must have been bored (or short of stories) as they queued up to interview us - read the interview here.

After that Manoj took us to a restaurant called Lords for a great meal. Mr B and I had a couple of local speciality curries and Freddie had macaroni pie, much to the mirth of the waiters. Later in the evening Mr B said how much he enjoyed the chicken in the curry until we pointed out it was meat free and in fact cheese!

Things are going so well now, we could start to relax.

Back at the hotel Freddie and I pop down the side street to get our liquor licence and quota for the week. 26 cans of numerous types of beer or 2 litres of spirit. Kingfisher and a bottle of Jim Beam. Hidden in black sacks and taken up to the room. You're only allowed to drink in your rooms unfortunately but hey ho, enough for a victory drink when we win!

Straight after that Freddie and I go to the local ATM to withdraw enough cash for the next 2 weeks. Isn't life all about timing?

Cards both working, great, 20,000 rupees each. Perfect. Toddle on back 50 meters to the hotel to have a couple of beers with Mr B and Smithy who is flying in and staying at the same place as Mr B.

An hour later, in the room drinking, up on a few Facebook pages filters through the news that Prime Minister Modi, in a bid to rid the economy of black money that is blighting the country, decides to with immediate effect withdraw 500 and 1000 rupee notes from circulation. WHAT???? Quick what notes did we get an hour earlier? Correct 500 and 1000s. No banks or ATMs will now be open for 48 hours minimum. The notes are no longer legal tender. They have to be taken into a bank or post office and swapped.

Now I'm sure you saw this on the news and there was a lot of panic out here, not least between Freddie and I. We had a few 100 notes and that was it. The hotel wouldn't accept or swap them. There could be trouble ahead.

Next morning rationing started. How much can we spend on tuk tuks? How much on water? Ice creams, no chance. Packet of crisps? Must have enough to get home. Pretty much all independent travellers out here were in the same boat. Normally these tours you come out, do what you like, tip lots and don't worry about money. Well not this tour.

Now obviously news like this takes time to filter through to the masses so we still managed to buy the odd ice cream for 50 rupees with a 500 but gradually news was getting around and the sellers stopped accepting the notes. Correct money or small notes was the order of the day now although some sellers would give you change for a 10 percent commission.

Oh yeah by now the cricket had started. Forgot why we were here for a moment.

Cookie won the toss, Kohli lost a home toss for the first time in 3 years! Little Hameed rightly got his debut and Duckett moved to 4. Think we all thought that a good move. 3 spinners too.

After a dodgy start we recovered well, with Hameed looking very solid and composed. But more importantly we survived the day and managed to get back to The Fern.

We managed to cobble enough money together to go out to one of the only restaurants to serve meat. We were all looking forward to it. The highlight of the meal for me was Freddie taking a mouthful of the wrong dish and instantly going bright red and bursting into a sweat. A perfect reminder to never make him eat anything spicier than marmite (which has come on tour with us).

We left the restaurant without further problems and managed to get the 4 of us in a tuk tuk with yours truly lying horizontally on the rear shelf.

Not very dignified for a 51 year old but I suppose I'm the smallest and most agile out of the 4 of us.

Day 2, still no banks open, locals getting restless, still no way of changing all our rupees. How much have we got in 20/50/100s? Enough for 2 journeys, 3 cups of water and a packet of crisps. Times are hard.

I messaged Manoj and thanked him for our tour and told him of our problems. He messaged back and said he will try and help us if he can as he knows how tough everyone is finding it getting money.

Anyway, we get 537, tons for Root, Ali and Stokes. Great effort. Now to bowl them out twice and a good looking pitch. India none down at the end of day , this will be tough. As tough as finding money in India though?

Manoj kindly said he may be able to help so we met him after the game and he drove us through the city to see one of his friends who kindly invited us in, gave us a drink each and swapped 20,000 rupees to help us out of our predicament, just like that. Do you ever get the feeling sometimes luck may be changing?

Next day we swanned around like millionaires throwing money in the air like we didn't care. Well not quite. We weren't sure how long our stash would last and if we would be able to change it when we got to Vizag. But we had enough for now and were relieved.

As to the cricket, well India batted for just shy of 2 days, taking 3 more overs than we did and scoring 49 less than us. Still all results possible here with just short of a day and a half left but money on the draw.

England needed to make sure they didn't lose quick wickets and turn Rajkot into an Adelaide 2006 situation! Cook and Hameed, who batted amazingly on his debut, saw out the day safely although probably a tad slowly especially in the last hour. But hey ho a quick run feast in the morning will leave the Indians 280 to win in 60 overs and on a good pitch but which had started to turn.

So weighed down with thousands of rupees after eating and drinking as much as we now could at the cricket we all headed back to the Fern. Son of caught the locals eye by the fact he was driving a tuk tuk back with permission of the owner. Bearing in mind most people in Rajkot haven't seen white skin before and then to be driven at by a white man whizzing and weaving through the crowded streets you can imagine their faces.

By now we had a found a little roof terrace beside our room at the Fern which overlooked the scenic views of Rajkot (of which there were none). This was now christened the Rajkot Return by us locals who now called it our local. So the 6 of us, plus the worst meat eating mozzies known to man sat out and took our booze rations out and chewed the fat about how we were going to whack the ball to all parts for 2 hours in the morning then bowl the oppo out for a famous victory. We were very excited for Mr B who was going to witness his first overseas England victory unfortunately in a dry state.

The hotel brought us up great food and turned a blind eye to the 6 of us and the plethora of beer cans. Even a couple of Indians came out and joined in the intellectual conversation. Lloydy was happily handing out his new favourite type of Indian cigarette, Hitler Blacks! A good evening for all of us especially the mozzies.

5th day starts with us all comparing bites, bloody good job Midnight wasn't here, 3 of us who hardly ever get bitten had 50 plus bites each. Unbelievable Jeff.

Anticipation in the ground for the carnage about to happen, BUT alas, despite the mega attacking line up we have, and a 5th day pitch, and the fact that you rarely get India in a position like this at home it was decided to plod along for the whole of the first session. We could not lose from this position over night unless an Indian played a miraculous 4th innings innings. Personally I was very disappointed. Cook and Hameed showed no intent, tough on Hameed I know and Cook should have been the aggressive one but this is Test cricket, not about personal milestones.

Anyway Cook got to his personal milestone of his 30th test ton, Fannie's around for a bit longer after lunch then declared leaving India 310 off 53 overs. So no one scored at more than 3.5 runs an over and we left them to get 310 at 6 an over on a pitch England said was getting harder to bat on!!

So the bowlers try their best to blast and winkle a few out and succeed getting them 6 down with 10 overs left. Kohli and Jadeja get through to the close 140 runs adrift. Adil Rashid had a pretty good game getting 7 in the match but still bowls lots of 4 balls. Ansari very disappointing and bowled dross in the second innings where he should have loved the position he was in.

Missed opportunities for England from my point of view. Cook you said a braver man would have left India 240 to win. I didn't meet anyone who said that total. Most were saying 280 by lunch, which we could have easily achieved with our line up. If you don't go for the jugular out here when you have a chance it may come back to bite.

Anyway we could have been 1-0 down in the series but we are not, so a better start than lots had feared. Lots of very good personal achievements too which is promising.

Later that evening Manoj took us to a local themed Rajkot village for some more great food, some local dancing, of which unfortunately Mr B, Freddie and myself were dragged on stage to participate/ruin. High wire acts, puppets, comedians were all here and it was a great way to spend our last night in Rajkot.

We had an amazing time here, with once in a lifetime problems to deal with and saw a great Test match and Rajkot's first ever. The ground and everyone in Rajkot, especially Manoj made our stay here a memorable one. Also the thousand selfies that the locals are addicted to will long live in the memory. Will definitely return given the chance.

Now on to Vizag.


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