Juanito’s Travels 50 yr backpacker – Pushkar, India 1995 & Bangkok 2023, Mexican visas & changing plans pt22

In 2023

My ambition to have finished writing about my 1995 trip before starting my actual 50 year backpackers hasn’t eventuated and I find myself in Bangkok, Thailand, by a swimming pool, polishing off a Chang beer bought from the 7/11 for just 39 baht kept cool by my Bernie’s Kai Kai, Torres Strait Islander stubby holder I brought with me for just such occasions, with a MacBook in my lap not even 24 hours into our round-the-world trip, aka the Gira Mundial , which started with a few rough patches at Bangkok airport when we tried to get a visa on arrival for my wife who is travelling on her Mexican passport.

bernie's kai kai stubby holder

Our research showed that she should be able to get a visa on arrival in Thailand for 30 days and we based our plans around that. It turns out it’s not as easy as that. Firstly Mexicans travelling on their Mexican passport can only get 15 day visas for Thailand and also need to show an exciting plane ticket. I was ok as I am travelling on my Australian passport which means I get 30 days on arrival without filling in any forms. But of course I can’t leave my wife!!! After much convincing that we would indeed leave  after 15 days to go to Laos by bus, the immigration guy stamped my wife’s form and she got her visa. Luckily we have e-visas for our remaining South-East Asian countries (Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia) and the Laos one didn’t specify a date of entry so we could go there a bit earlier than we planned so my wife can be within the 15 day visa timeframe. Which, the immigration guy reiterated, must be kept otherwise we’d have to pay 500 baht per day of the overstay. The visa-on-arrival costs around 2200 for Mexicans. We had planned to visit Thailand for 5 more days, so the penalty would only cost slightly more than getting another visa-on-arrival and keep to our original itinerary, which I did contemplate, but my wife is very much the stickler for rules, so in the end, we’re going to Laos 5 days earlier than we had planned.

But that was yesterday. Today we’re lounging about on poolside deckchairs after having spent the morning at Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace looking at the most amazing architecture you could ever imagine. Dazzled by the beauty with every turn of the head, sitting in front of the Emerald Buddha not allowed to take photos just contemplating the room, and the littler Emerald Buddha that dominates the place even though it’s only around 60cm tall. Then wandering some Bangkok riverside markets, tasting the most sublime chicken red curry you can imagine, buying a hat for myself, which was sorely missed in the hellish heat on April in Bangkok – it’ll be over 38 every day we’re here and even though I wore a shirt down to the pool I can’t bear to have one on even as I type. Not trying to convey some sexy image, just can only wear the bare minimum amount of clothing at present to retain the socially accepted level of decency at a venue frequented by all ages. Also pretty desperate for a swim, but waiting till I do a bit more of my blog so I don’t feel I’m too far behind with it for the remainder of the journey. But anyway, such a wonderful, though almost hellishly hot day makes the visa troubles and the long flight, and everything worth it! And once through immigration, even though we were zombified level tired, we still managed to get a SIM card, book a Grab taxi, get to our hotel and all that without being totally ripped off – as I had been on my first trip to Thailand. Interestingly enough they still, 27-28 years later, have warning signs about people in regards to gem scams. I guess the model still works, why fix it!

Anyway, back in 1995, in India, on the way to Thailand, but still a few more days away (back then)…

In the morning I went over to the Belgian couple’s, who I’d shared the elephant ride with the day before, at the hotel. As I said, they had their own driver whom they offered to drive me to the bird sanctuary. Well, in the morning I rocked up to their hotel and they informed me that the driver had been annoyed that they diverted from their plans and had gone to Jaipur where he had had to sleep in his car, so he was pissed and was refusing to take som chippy with him in the car. So, at the last moment, the plans were changed, I wasn’t going to the Bird Sanctuary and had to find a plan B, or just stay in Jaipur, I guess, but I didn’t even contemplate it at the time.

The only other idea I had was from Steve who had mentioned Pushkar, so I just said thanks to the Belgians and good luck and I headed with my backpack straight to the bus station and made my way to Pushkar. Which you can read about here so I won’t elaborate any further. But for me, in 2023, I’ve almost caught up with my 1995 trip! Just one more leg (apart from Pushkar to go!) which I’ll make a new post for in the coming days while also trying to keep up to date with the actual, as it is happening now (or at least when I’m writing) Juanito’s Travels, 50 year backpacker trip AKA el Gira Mundial!!

And I will even start doing some more photos! Though the mystery of the written word without the millions of pics has something going for it as well. We have definitely lost the art of looking and reflecting now we can outsource our pictorial memories to our cameras. Our camera phones both promote mass tourism and will also be the death of the places we visit, if we’re not careful. Us humans are historically rarely careful enough though.

Wat Phra Kaewroyal palace Bangkokgrand palace BangkokAnd yes, the pants are super que fashion!

Juanito’s Travels 50 yr backpacker – 1995 Jaipur. Rajasthan, India, this guy Steve from Australia, a Belgian couple, elephant rides and a dead tiger on a floor, pt21


I was woken just before dawn by the conductor. They were so efficient these Indians, and super polite, I was constantly feeling like a regal gentleman, even though I was clearly a hippy with just a few dollars to his name. “Mr Royston, your stop is soon”, he said. And I woke up and looked out the window at the pre dawn light as we pulled closer to Jaipur and the Indian guy scoured and the British guy remained sound asleep.

Maybe 20 minutes later I was outside looking for a rickshaw to take me to meet Steve, who wanted me to meet him at another cheaper place he was staying by himself before we headed to the place he’d read about in his Lonely Planet that he invited me to come along to so he could share the cost. He’d written down the address of the place he was staying on a bit of paper which I unscrambled and explained to the auto rickshaw driver.

There was hardly anybody on the roads at this time. It was dusty. the place was just waking up. The cows were sitting under trees. People slept out in the open here and there. The pedal rickshaw driver drove around a bit past a few crossings and then back down some of the same street until I eventually spotted the name of the hotel Steve had told me about and got him to stop there.

I was barely able to stay awake. I sat around in the garden of the hotel under some trees with monkeys in them, clutching anything small enough for the monkeys to take as they would take it if you turned your eyes for a few seconds. The hotel had a bit of a restaurant happening outside. I was hungry and ordered some chai and whatever else they had on offer, perhaps some more chapatis, or even corn flakes and yoghurt. Steve showed up in a bit and looked up at the monkeys. “I hate those monkeys, they take anything”. He has remained as charming as when I first met him in New Delhi. He had his bags ready, he seemed pretty confident I was going to come. I wasn’t too fussed to be there, but Jaipur was an improvement on New Delhi in terms of the sound, and even had more trees and the like. It was almost suburban where we were.

We made our way to the famous hotel from Lonely Planet. I just wanted to sleep. When checking in I kept yawning.

“Cover your mouth when you yawn”, the man at reception barked.

“What, sorry, I have been travelling all night.”

“Only illiterate people don’t cover their mouth when they yawn”, he said.

‘Sorry”, I said. A few moments later, I yawned again and was so tired I forgot to raise my hand to my mouth in time. This time the guys just glared at me. We got the keys and I went sheepishly off to the room.

The room had two beds and I immediately lay down on mine after taking my shoes off and just lay and rested. Steve asked what I was going to see in Jaipur.

“I dunno”, I said, “I don’t have any guidebook or anything, I wasn’t really planning on being in India at all, so no idea, I’m gonna rest a bit first before doing anything.”

“I’m going to go to look around a bit.”

I waved him off and got in maybe a half hour power nap which left me slightly more refreshed. I got up and looked around the hotel. It had a beautiful garden that included a peacock and some fine roses. It was kind of fancy, much more than I’d be able to afford anywhere else in the world. Still it was a bit of a stretch in my meagre budget so I could only do a maximum of 2 nights there I figured.

I found Steve in the garden smoking a cigarette and drinking some chai. I sat down at the table with him. He had his Lonely Planet sitting next to him on the table closed. I pointed to it.

“Do you mind if I take a look at your guide?” I asked.

He looked at me as though I had asked him to donate a kidney. “You should have bought your own rather than bludge off someone else”.

“Woh, ok” I said. Not sure what distorted sort of childhood this guy Steve had but anyway I wasn’t going to argue.

Steve seems to regret his outburst and a minute or so later tries to explain himself. “I met a lot of people with no money in India, trying to take advantage, that’s all”.

“Up to you mate, I don’t mind”. I said. It’s funny the things that stick in your head over the decades, like some guy called Steve who wouldn’t lend me a Lonely Planet, while so many other details are lost.

He was a weird one that Steve. I got up and went back to the room to freshen up. What I really wanted was a shower. I didn’t have the energy to engage with Steve over his fancy Lonely Planet book. I had a prejudice against Lonely Planet, in my mind it wasn’t for real travellers anyway. Real travellers just went with the flow. In 2023 I’ve drawn on them extensively because they provide some great tips. I even contributed to one, helping edit the Ireland guide (I think in 1997) while doing a placement for my university writing and editing course.

But back in 1995, I had a shower and got into some fresh clothes, it always seems like a layer or dirt was scraped off your body whenever you showered in India. There was just so much dust, and in New Delhi the added smog. It will be an amazing transition when they have electric auto rickshaws and electric cars zooming around the streets.

I sat back down on my bed. Steve came in a bit later. He apologised and handed me the Lonely Planet guide to have a look at. I wasn’t too proud to take it and flicked through for some ideas as to what to do for the day. I saw there was a fort on a hill outside of town.

“This Amber Fort sounds good”, I said.

“I went there yesterday”, said Steve.

“Cool, well I might head off there. Do you want to catch up for dinner late for something.”

“Sure”, said Steve.

After a bit more resting I made my way to the fort. Jaipur was a pretty pretty city (the first pretty used in the sense of quite – when I travelled with Corinne years earlier she was struck by the phrase ‘pretty ugly’ thinking it must mean pretty and ugly at the same time, rather than quite ugly. In some ways Jaipur was also pretty ugly. It had beautiful buildings dominated by this marvellous pink colour but also its ugly side, rubbish, dust, grime, a wall where men just pissed out in the open and the urine ran between their legs into the gutter. Of course it also had its cows, I loved the cows.

When I got to the fort I spotted a line for elephants which were taking people to the top of the hill to visit the fort. In 2023 I’m more aware of the welfare of elephants, and my wife and I are planning a trip to an ethical, non-riding, elephant sanctuary in Laos. Back in 1995 I was super keen to jump on the back of one and make my way up the hill like a Raj on a tiger hunt. And it only cost around 120 rupee return – about a $1.20AUD maybe, based on more recent exchange rates.

The line was kind of like those at a theme park where they had to fill a carriage and they have a spare seat and they yell out for anyone who is there by themselves, like they sometimes do on lines to get on roller coasters at Movie World and other theme parks on the Gold Coast. A couple had climbed onto an elephant and were waiting to depart. The mahout called me up and asked whether I wanted to ride with the couple.

“Is that ok with you guys?” I asked the couple.

“Yes, that is fine.” they replied.

So I climbed on and we rocked back and forth, and side to side, as we went slowly up the hill. As soon as the elephant had departed there were at least two hawkers, who seemed to be officially assigned to the elephant, who tried to sell their wares on the way up the hill, yelling offer after offer. One was selling bracelets, scarves and other knick knacks, the other string puppets. I had no room,  or interest, for either in my backpack but ignoring them, saying no, saying I wasn’t interested had zero effect on them, they were like super-hero level hawkers in India and the word ‘no’ had no effect on them, only a sale would stop them. At least the puppet man, who followed us the whole way up the hill. I think he started trying to sell the puppets for 400 rupees and by the time we’d gotten to the top was offering them to us for 200, or maybe even 100. It is like when you go to the supermarket and you see all these signs everywhere saying everything’s 50% off. Yeah, that’s only because you jack up the prices by 50% first every now and again. I’m sure this guy went on to be a consultant for Coles and Woolworths.

The couple I was sharing the elephant with ended up being Belgian. Well they also started off being Belgian. They didn’t suddenly change as they went up the hill in line with the puppet prices, perhaps starting as Swedish and working their way down through Denmark and Holland until they declared they were actually Belgian. That’s no reflection on the value of Belgians, and these ones were very, very nice. They were newlyweds and had decided to go on a trip to India for their honeymoon. They were smiley and very friendly and we chatted about our trips and where we were off to next. They had a plan to visit some bird sanctuary and of course I had no freakin idea.

In 2023 my wife and I listened to a podcast from some newlyweds who were commercialising their love by making a podcast about their honeymoon. The episode was about Chiang Mai, and they kept mentioning they were newlyweds and that they had met other newlyweds and blah, blah, blah, the usual inane shit. My wife and I are constantly on honeymoon and we don’t go making podcasts about it. I did start this blog though I guess, but that’s different. I don’t think anyone reads it and I’m merely hoping for posthumous fame, like Franz Kafka when they discovered his work and published it. It was genius. That’s all I want, people to find this when I die and say, wow, he was a genius. So just after vanity not money. I do have my principles.

I don’t remember a great deal about the Amber Fort. I guess that’s why, in 2023 we take millions of photos of everything, so we can look back and look at them and say, oh yeah, I must have visited this place and that place because I have all these photos of it. Back then in 1995, I just experienced the place, and for the most part left that back in the 90s. I do remember some room of mirrors and some beautiful architecture, and sitting and looking out at the value below looking at the view, the reddy soil, the acacias, the vultures riding the thermal winds, and the monkeys scurrying over the Parapets, the tourists walking through the place taking photos. I think I was too tired to take it all at the time. Though that happens sometimes, when you visit places. When I went to Italy with my daughter we visited Pompeii, which is amazing, but we just wandered the streets aimlessly and were kinda too tired to see how amazing it was. That’s travel.

After our fort tour, the Belgians and I got back on our elephant and headed back down the hill, with several more hawkers in tow. At the bottom, I went and bought the elephant a mango and fed it to her and patted her trunk. She didn’t seem too unhappy, no less unhappy than many of the poor Indians in India at the time. Just trying to survive. The Belgians invited me back to their hotel for a drink. I was like sure. We headed back.

Wow, these Belgians were staying at a super fancy place. It was quite literally an ex palace of a Raj. They showed me their room – don’t worry this is a g-rated blog and this is not about to degenerate into some sordid offer a threesome with the newlyweds. They were, and as far as I know still, happily married. They were just being nice and Belgian – I don’t think I’ve met any other Belgians so I’m assuming their whole country is full of nice people. Whether or not they are into threesomes, I don’t know, it’s not for me to judge, and if they are it doesn’t in any way diminish their niceness. Anyway they had a fancy four poster bed and even a real dead tiger as a carpet on the floor.

Ok it was a real dead tiger, I think it had been dead for quite some time and when it was killed attitudes were very different, so I’m not sure why you would throw out a perfectly good dead tiger skin. And besides, India has recently reintroduced cheetahs back into India and the cheetahs are even having babies, so let’s focus not he presence. I must admit the tiger did look freaking awesome.

The Belgians seemed cornered that I had no plans so they offered to take me with them to the bird sanctuary they were visiting the next day. They had hired their own personal driver so they could offer me a seat there. I was like sure and we agreed to meet the next day.

I went back to the hotel and Steve and I went out for dinner. I told him of the elephant ride and the plan to go to the bird sanctuary. He said, ‘looking at some birds is a waste of time’. I’m not sure what his plans were, I think he may have mentioned that he was going to Pushkar or something before heading back to New Delhi and back to Australia.

We chatted a bit more and ate some more dhal and chapatis. Steve went on about how grubby India was, he didn’t like the place, the rubbish in the streets, the peeing wall, the constant hassling of the hawkers. To an extent I agree, the intensity of the place was driving me a bit crazy as well. But Steve, he really hated the place, I just found it tough to handle. Steve had a greater appetite than mine and ordered around 6-7 chapatis to my 2-3. We went back to the hotel, and the next day went our own ways.

When I got back to Australia I looked up Steve. I rang up his house and his mum answered. She told me he’d killed himself. Seems he’d gone to their holiday home somewhere and shot himself. I’m not sure she was as detailed as that but she may have been. I guess it wasn’t just India that was too much for him, it was life in general. In retrospect he must have been very depressed. I felt for him and his family. R.I.P


Juanito’s Travels 50-Yr-Backpacker – 1995 New Delhi to Jaipur, India on a train to meet Steve, or whatever his name was, the Aussie guy, Pt20

Map in hand, I headed to New Delhi railway station. I had plenty of time, the train didn’t even leave for another 2 1/2 hours or something, I felt super organised.

From the map it looked like I probably;y just needed to walk a kilometre or two, so after getting there I thought I’d just be able to relax and have some more dhal, and perhaps a mango lassi and another chai, perhaps my fourth or fifth for the day, as I waited.

I couldn’t quite figure out the direction of the map so I asked a gentleman with another fine moustache for some help.

“Excuse me sir, I was wondering if you may help me find the railway station.”

He stopped and asked, “Indeed, where are you going to?”

“Jaipur” I said. “According to the map the station should be around here somewhere”.

“Jaipur? I travelled there many times. This is not the station you want, the train leaves from a station across town.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Totally certain. I travelled to Jaipur by train many years. Every month I would go there, the train departs from old Delhi station. It is across town.”

“Oh! How long does it take to get there?”

“Maybe 40 or 50 minutes. When does your train leave?”

“In around 2 hours, so I better get over there.”

“That should be fine.”

“Thank you”, I said.

“You’re welcome, enjoy your time in Jaipur, the pink city, it is very beautiful”.

He waved me down an auto rickshaw (the smoky ones with kerosene or petrol power) and explained to the driver where I was going, after some negotiation he agreed on a price for me and I thanked him again and headed off.

Oh well, I thought, I’d still have enough time for a dhal and chapatis when I got to the station and checked my bags in and in about an hour I had arrived. I wandered casually onto the station and looked around for my train, clutching my train ticket for the travel agent at the fancy hotel. There were not too many English speakers around but after 10-15 minutes of searching I found a train conductor who spoke English and showed him my ticket.

The train conductor looked at my ticket and looked at me, and rocked his head from side to side in the familiar Indian way and said, “This train is not for foreigners, you need to go to New Delhi station. This is old Delhi station. Why did you come here?”

My face went pale, I replied “I was walking to New Delhi station and I asked someone for directions and he said he always took the rain from this station, not the one I was walking to.”

As usual a couple of interested crowd members gathered around to watch the confused foreigner who had gotten lost. It was like watching reality TV I guess. The train conductor shook his head and clicked his tongue and said, “this train is just an Indian train. The train taking tourists leaves from New Delhi station. What time is your train”.

I told him that it was now about 1 hour away.

“Hurry!” he declared, “if you go now you might make it!”. A rickshaw driver was somehow privy to this conversation and motioned me to jump on his rickshaw. I stood by it for a few seconds and haggled over the price to the station. You didn’t want to sit down until you’d negotiated a price, otherwise you may end up paying anything. The negotiations were rather rushed, the rickshaw driver was getting almost as nervous as I that I would miss the train. He agreed on a price and I dived on and he tore through the streets at record speed.

The rickshaw driver could have easily been a stunt driver for a James Bond film, he weaved around cows, people, narrowly missed trucks and did everything short of using wooden planks to jump over the crowd. He was an absolute legend. I just sat back waiting for us to hit something, my life was in the hands of Ganesh, any other god who’d wager for it. I looked at my Mickey Mouse watch – I haven’t mentioned that before so I may not have had a Mickey Mouse watch with me, but I did own one at some stage and I did need a way of telling time before having an iPhone so it’s quite possible I did have Mickey on my wrist.

The train was due to depart in about 20 minutes. I had no idea of whether we were getting closer but I feel like we didn’t stop for anything.

“You’re doing really well!” I yelled over the noise of the engine. I wasn’t sure we’d make it in time, but ten minutes later we were there. As we approached I carefully counted out the amount of rupees we’d agreed upon and then added about a dollar’s worth more. He deserved whatever little extra I could give.

I jumped off the rickshaw as it slowed, handed him the cash, he went to give me some change, and I was like keep the change please, and I put my palms together in reverence at his super-human rickshaw driving abilities. I ran into the station, frantically asking whoever I could get the attention of for the directions to the platform I ran along, and several train conductors stood together around a clipboard. They saw me coming and motioned for me to come towards them. I ran over to them, panting.

As I approached the man in charge of the clipboard yelled to me, “Mr Royston”. Royston was my middle name so I knew it must be me. “Yes!” I yelled back as I got nearer.

“Hurry”, the train is about to depart.

“Sorry, I’m so late, I was told to go to old Delhi station. So I had to rush back here.”

“What sort of person would tell you to go to old Delhi?”

I reached the train conductors and handed the man with the clipboard the ticket, he looked at it and then said, “this is your carriage, hurry!” he shook his head “why would someone tell you to go to old Delhi, that is a local train, not the tourist train”, he was in disbelief as to how someone could have done such a thing. I could see it was a genuine mistake, but now I never trust directions. Google maps is the only one you can rely on, the rest is mere suggestions.

I jumped on the train, a few moments later it was pulling out of the station. I looked out of the window at the train conductors, there seems a sense of pride on their faces that they’d got the tourist on board. Nowadays I’d put a clapping emoji on a picture of them and post their picture on instagram, back then I just slumped in my seat and let the adrenaline subside as I watched them disappear as the train pulled away from the station.


I had a sleeper carriage, first class A/C – it was still only $5 or $6 and had saved me another night’s accommodation. It was around a 7-8 journey, so I’d get some rest, before arriving early in the morning. I was sharing the berth, if that’s what you call them, or was it just a carriage, with two other men.

We got to talking a bit. One of the guys was a British Indian businessman on a trip over and the other a local businessman who didn’t speak any English. So the British guy translated for us. I don’t remember much of what we chatted about, perhaps where we were from, what we do. I remember the British guy saying the other businessman was very surprised when he told him that they had to clean their own houses in Britain. “What, no servants?” the guy had said, and we laughed a bit before I said I better get some sleep.

A few hours later we pulled into a station. I was still a bit peckish and asked whether there was a chance of getting something to eat. Of course there were people selling wares on the platform and I think I managed to get something to eat, and also a chai in a clay cup. The train stopped for a few minutes, enough time to drink the chai. I asked the British guy what I should do with the empty clay cup and he said, “just throw it onto the platform, they will collect them and make more” and chuckled a little. He was a jolly man.

So I wound back my arm like I used to when playing baseball at high school and pitched the clay cup onto the platform, narrowly missing the head of the conductor and others around before smashing into small bits on the platform.

“Sorry!” I yelled. The British man chuckled again. “You don’t know your own strength”, he gently lobbed his empty cup onto the platform.

There was the usual array of kids, families, women with children, dogs, cows and the like around. A man watched as his young daughter peed on the tracks away a bit. The air was still very warm, almost without a hint of chill. I went back and rested some more.


Juanito’s Travels 50-Yr-Backpacker – 1995 New Delhi India, free to do what I want Pt19

Sunny Guest House New Delhi 1995


Having broken from my hotel owner’s shackles, by paying my outstanding debt, I was free to do what I want(ed). I managed to keep $100 from the $200 I was sent from Australia from the hotel scam guys’ pocket in the morning, I found my way to Connaught Place and booked myself in at a backpackers – at Sunny Guest House. I have virtually nothing I’ve saved from this trip, but I’ve managed to fish out the business card from the guest house with its warning, all too late now:

Do not believe the story of Auto Rikshaw & Taxi Drivers Come directly to Sunny.

Oh well, you live and learn. Tuk Tuk and rickshaw drivers can be dodgy for sure, my wife and I didn’t even bother taking a tuk tuk in Bangkok when we were last there on the 50-year backpacker trip, which I have managed to write about in a future post, which is where all these posts are leading to! So be patient. I also warned my friend Fyyaz who was in Bangkok the last few days to steer clear of the tuk tuks! Especially while drunk. Which he was. I hope he went for the dodgy tattoo idea I suggested to him though. Fyyaz did accompany us on part of our Vietnam/ Cambodia leg of the 50-year backpacker journey. I haven’t quite gotten up to that bit yet, I’m currently stuck in Laos (post 30 I think), but it will come! One day.

Okay, now, back in 1995.

The backpackers cost me around 100 rupees a night, maybe even 200, perhaps even less, I can’t remember exactly, but that was still only something like $2-4 a night so with my $100 I could still easily afford at least 10-14 nights in India. My next chance to get a flight out of India was still about a week away where Thai Airways said I might be able to get a seat on a flight to Bangkok. Thai Airways had guaranteed I could get a seat in another 10 days though, if they couldn’t find me one sooner. So I had to budget for 10 days, plus keep a bit leftover for my time in Thailand – the next leg of the journey – which may be another 2 weeks. I knew I’d probably have to lend a little bit more money from someone to get me through that period, but I’d see how far I could get with what I had in my pocket now.

Having bought some cheap street eats for as low as 20 rupees (around 40 cents AUD) over the last few days, I knew it could be done. Some dhal and chapatis, from memory, cost around 20-30 rupees, or 40-50 cents depending on how many chapatis you wanted. I was fine with 2-3 chapatis per dhal. Chai cost as little as 4-5 rupees (maybe 8-10 cents AUD). For breakfast I ended up having corn flakes with yoghurt made from the local street cows, for around 20 rupees, so full of cardboard and marigold goodness – it was actually very good! And then there were activities and transport. Entry into temples was mostly just a few rupees. Motor rickshaws didn’t cost that much, often less than a dollar. Sometimes you’d even get a cycle rickshaw, pedal powered solely by human effort, which was even cheaper, perhaps half that. If I was careful I could make it.

I ended up with a rough daily budget of around $7-10, including travel and accommodation, which would be very tight, but doable. I stuck with my cornflakes for breaky, dhal for lunch and chapatis for lunch and dinner, one piece of fruit a day, and about 5-6 cups of delicious milky and sugary chai, mostly from chai wallahs with a kettle brewing in the gutter, and occasionally a mango lassi.

A few words on the dha (which spell check keeps telling me is spelt ‘dal’ but I keep  ignoring it – no AI gonna tell me what to do). I ate what the locals ate. I’d find a place on the street set up with a few chairs, open walls and presumably some iron or something for a roof. You sat and ate your dhal in a little bowl, an almost creamy mixture of beans and lentils. You ordered a chapati from the guy with the plate of chapatis walking around. You rip off a bit of chapati and dip it into the dhal and eat the chapati with the dhal. Then the heat hit you. The spicy heat, a level I’d never experienced before nor since experienced since. My mouth and lips tingled, my throat went numb. The only flavour in the end was spicy heat. My eyes bulged and watered, I sweated profusely, I’d almost trip out with every bite. Then I’d take a sip of water, take a breath and try the next scoop until I’d finished my little bowl. If I’d splurged on a lassi I would sometimes take a sip of that to relieve the pain. I never went for naan, they cost extra. I never got rice, also extra. Almost every day I did that twice a day.

At Sunny’s I got a bed on a roof, again with no walls, just some sort of iron roof overhead to keep the rain out. There were maybe 30 beds up there. The shower and toilets were also up there on the roof. The shower had a door and was enough to get you clean. I didn’t drink the water but I did brush my teeth with it, using my tea tree toothpaste which I figured killed any bacteria in the water. Downstairs there was a little dining area where I got my cornflakes and yoghurt and my chai of the day.

On the first day I went to the Thai Airways to see what chance there was of getting on a plane. They said not to even bother checking for at least 5 days when there might be a chance of a vacant seat. Along the way I found a fancy hotel that looked like it had nice toilets, so I just wandered in there and used theirs. It became my main place of toiletry when I was in New Delhi and I’d make a special trip there at least once a day. The place also had a little train booking agency.

With no plans on what I should do in New Delhi I ended up taking a pedal rickshaw to Gandhi Park, to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial, and just hang out. There was an array of activities including many earwax cleaners who would pour things in your ear to clean them of their wax. I hadn’t had much trouble with earwax but Delhi’s pollution was wreaking havoc with my nose, and at the end of the day  I’d have a thick wad of black snot that you could have lit like incense. I gave the wax people a go, apart from the wax they burnt your ear hair. Being 27 years younger back then I didn’t have a huge problem with ear hair. Now I’d happily go to the park every now and again for a good ear burning. They just used a lighter and their adept hands for the practice.

Also going on in the park was yoga and a lot of shoe shining. I had my shoes shined at least twice a day while there, but my Italian Scarpa boots would look almost as dry and dusty as they had been before the shines just 2 or 3 hours later. I sat down and warded off the throng of Indians trying to sell me their wares, they were persistent and very common. As soon as I walked out into the street from your accommodation or got off your rickshaw I’d have at least 3, usually 4-5 people following me around with bracelets, knick-knacks and the like. I never bought anything but that didn’t stop them trying. It drove me crazy after a few days, as did the intensity of the place. There are billions of people in India, like literally a billion people. People are everywhere, the noise is intense, the only time I felt I got any respite was when I was back at the guesthouse or inside a temple, and then as soon as I walked out the door, or gate, the intensity would come crashing down on me.

As I was sitting down on a bench, my ears fresh and hygienic, I looked around for a chai as I ignored the beggars and the vendors. I saw a man cutting hair or something and asked with a nod of my head and a point to his glass to ask where I could get one. He nodded his head and a few minutes later a kid came over and poured me a chai. I felt like a king as I sipped the deliciously sweet and milky chai – in a proper glass mind you, not some polystyrene cup, a proper glass. After my chai, perhaps the 3rd or 4th for the day, I made my way to the Gandhi Memorial. I remember it being simple, with some flowers and a flame. I looked it up on wikipedia and the image seemed to align with what I remember. I had another few moments of peace as I reflected in front of it, then headed back to Sunny’s.

Back at Sunny’s, in the bed next to me I found a fellow Australian. He may have been there in the morning but I didn’t notice him. He seemed very uptight and basically all round unfriendly, with a bit of a suspicious sneer, still he initiated a chat and asked whether I wanted to go look at some sites. We went to the Red Fort – my second trip, the sad cobra was still there, and other cruel animal acts that I hope they’ve since banned. Steve, which I think the guy’s name was, wanted to film with his fancy video camera. They tried to charge him at the gate but I suggested he just say he wasn’t going to use it and to just go on in. That worked and he could film for free.

At least I think that was Steve, I may have suggested the same to the German guys I met earlier. Who knows.

Steve was heading to Jaipur that afternoon and asked if I wanted to go with him. He was a bit tight and I think really wanted to know if I’d share the cost of a room with him, it wasn’t as cheap as Sunny’s but I think still ok for my budget at maybe $5 if we shared, so I agreed to meet him there the morning after next. I had nothing else to do and there was no chance of getting on a plane to Thailand for at least another 5 days, so it sounded like a bit of an adventure. Later that day I went back to my favourite lavatory in my fancy hotel and got the guy at the train booking station to book me a sleeper train – so I’d save money on accommodation for the following evening. I think I just spent the remainder of my time in Delhi, sitting around Sunny’s, though I feel I must have visited somewhere else the next day just to fill in the time, perhaps just wandering around the Connaught Place area and stopping here and there for some dhal and chapatis, chai and fruit.

Oh I also had to cash some traveller’s cheques at some point. I think the Western Union had given me most of my $100 in travellers cheques for some reason that is perhaps lost now in 2024, but made perfect sense in the mid-1990s when we couldn’t just get electronic Money transfers and the like. For whatever reason I had to go to an exchange place to exchange my traveller’s cheques for real money I could spend. I think I had $80 in travellers cheques in different USD denominations so I could get a little out at a time. I went into this fancy place and waited in queue to swap my travellers cheques. I watched some Japanese tourists leaving the exchange window with a plastic bag full of rupees, like they were carrying bags of bricks. My rupees would have been lucky to fill my wallet. I got to the window and I handed over my travellers cheques to exchange, and then the guy asked for my passport, I cringed a little and then handed it to him, he examined it, and unlike the immigration guy, he spotted the visa was over 3 months out of date. He looked at me with a great amount of suspicion and a frown in his brow that was also clearly under his manly black moustache.

“We cannot exchange these, you have no valid visa for India.”

I thought he was about to call the cops on me as he looked around the room, so without saying much more than another little whimper, I grabbed my passport and travellers cheques and got the fuck out of there. Around the corner and down the road a bit I paused, and took a breath having walked very quickly, just below a job, around the same pace as an Olympic walker, reckoning the immigration police weren’t on my tale just yet. I was like, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, in my head. Was I back to having no bloody money again. I calmed myself down and looked up and saw that a place across the street had a sign that they exchanged travellers cheques. It looked dodgy and had no Japanese tourists with wads of cash, more of a convenience store/ traveller agency/ ad hoc business. I went in there and decided to give that one a go with a smaller cheque. They didn’t even look at my passport and just handed over $20 worth of rupee. Quite the little fortune for a backpacker in India in those days.

“On second thoughts”, I said maybe I’ll exchange a few more. My heart relaxed a bit from its pounding, poverty narrowly avoided again.

After that I went back to Sunny’s, probably after getting another chai, and perhaps these peanut things covered in some sugary syrup which I’d been finding around the place, had a shower,  packed my blue backpack and headed off to the station.

Which you would think should be relatively straight forward, but which turned out to be an adventure in itself.


Juanito’s Travels 50-Yr-Backpacker – 1995 New Delhi India without a visa but with a little scam Pt18 (not pt IX of Star Wars)

New Delhi India Street 1995

March 2023

There’s risks with nostalgia. Stuart, from the biodynamic farm, Inisglas, I first stayed on when I visited Wexford, Ireland, told me: “never look back”. I perhaps interpret that as never hold onto the past. Anyway Stuart said lots of things and was against floppy discs and technology in general so I will ignore Stuart and go back to reflecting on a trip from 27, now 28 years ago. Though Stuart did have a point of the need to move forward. Sometimes I want to try and recapture the spirit I had back then in 1995 rather than move on. But I also like to remember.

Patrick Leigh Fermor looked back on his trip walking from Holland to Constantinople in the early 30s in a trilogy starting with A Time of Gifts. That was a nice reflection, not trying to change the past, just remembering. It’s a nice slow read with some interesting details of the past. A Time of Gifts wasn’t published until 1977. That was the year Star Wars IV: A New Hope was first released in cinemas.

Star Wars IV: A New Hope is a very good film. One of the best of all times. It has a very simple story, lots of action. It had the character of Hammerhead, the best supporting character ever to appear in a film. I wrote a fan fiction featuring him in a story I wrote: Cuba: with Hammerhead the star of Star Wars: A New Hope.  I bought an action figure of Hammerhead in the late seventies when I went to Toombul shopping centre in Brisbane with my grandfather. My cousin Alistair told me I should be getting all the main figures before I started getting the more obscure ones. But Alistair’s family was rich, I had to choose more carefully, and I couldn’t go past a dude with a head like a hammerhead.

 Star Wars IV brings back wonderful childhood memories that I love to reflect on. I still have a Hammerhead action figure (even with the original weapon), along with a Jawa and Greedo. Now in 2023, I am faced with the nightmare of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, one of the most disappointing films I’ve ever seen. EP VII was okayish, EP VIII got worse and was a waste of however long it took to watch it, maybe 2 hours or something. Then came Ep. IX: a confusing nostalgic homage to a great trilogy that began in 1977, and has still, yet to be surpassed. A New Hope brought so much hope. Then the hopes were slowly destroyed. Years later the originally released trilogy was followed by a prequel trilogy which did have their moments, they were ok, even looked like they were going to be good, but then Annikan just walked around being grumpy and frumpy all the time like some petulant child and in the end it just got shitter and shitter. And then came the abyss of the trilogy sequel, where the only stars were those from the 1977 film, including two non-human, non-droid stars, the Death Star and the Millennium Falcon. Those began the era where the writers couldn’t get away from their nostalgia for what was once good, where not one new idea was created, where they created another Death Star, like they had been stuck in the tractor beam of that original Death Star since 1977, which meant the best they could do was now create a new Death Star which was now the size of a planet.

The sequel is full of characters who die and then come back to life and save lightsabers from being chucked into fires and having chats with their sons. Where Palpatine comes back to life and wants to take over the universe again and the character Stoke or Snoke or something was really Palpatine. Where all the actors can do is keep yelling out “Poe!” or whatever. They’re always yelling! When Luke yelled it sounded like he was yelling for a reason. When the new ones yell I’m left asking: What the feck are they yelling about? And they just keep flying around to places to find some triangle thing which will show them how to get to some other place they need to go to to destroy a new star fleet filled with star cruisers which, like the Death Star, can destroy whole planets, but like there’s heaps of them, thousands or something – must be cheaper in CGI to just make one and then copy it hundreds of times.  I couldn’t tell you how Ep. IX ends, I’ve struggled to get halfway through it and not sure I can bear the pain any more.

But enough of the horrific side of nostalgia and back to my own reflections of adventures past, in the lead up to my new adventures in a few weeks.

1995: Maybe November

After the 20 odd days in France at the Vipassana meditation centre, and hitchhiking from Paris to London with Beth,  it was time to try and make my way back to Australia.

My Thai Airways ticket had options to stop in India and Thailand on the way. I had to stop in Bangkok, even just to change planes. India was an optional stop. All I wanted to do was go home, but when I booked my ticket in Paris, at a travel agent, before the time of online bookings, before leaving for London, they only had a seat available to New Delhi, India, where I’d have to wait at least a week before getting another seat from India to Bangkok, then Bangkok to Melbourne. I’d at least only have to spend one night in London before heading off.

I had about £80 to cover the 16,800 kms from London to Melbourne. I spent around £10-15 staying a night in London. I probably got a slice of pizza for a couple of pounds. I had to get out of London otherwise I’d go broke: Down and Out in Paris and London. London felt that way at the moment, I felt I had a pretty good time in Paris. I always love Paris. My friend Howie wasn’t too impressed with it. He also thought Laos was so-so. I’ll be finding out about Laos at the end of April (2023).

My first leg back to Australia via New Delhi posed another challenge. My visa for India, which I got before leaving Australia, had expired. It was one of those ones that went from the day you stamped it and this one lasted 3 months. The three months were up about 3 months or so ago. I looked at getting another visa but it cost £20 and would take 2 days to get. I couldn’t afford 2 more nights in London or the £20 for the visa. Figuring if they caught me in New Delhi they’d deport me towards Australia I thought I’d just risk it. I wasn’t too worried about deportation at that point having almost been deported the first day arriving in London at the beginning of my trip.

I got up early the next day and was heading into the tube somewhere around Earls Court, perhaps Earls Court station around 5.30am. I think I had to wait a little until the first train to Heathrow. I looked at tickets out to the airport and it cost something ridiculous like £12. Maybe it was only £6, but it felt like a fortune at the time and any amount I spent meant breaking a precious  £ note and getting coins which couldn’t be converted to rupee in India. Even though it would take a big hit from my remaining funds I couldn’t bring myself to jump the gate. Better to get out of the place with a little less money than get arrested on the way to the airport.

They didn’t ask to see my Indian visa when I was checking in to the plane with my blue backpack, and by mid-morning I was heading in the right direction on my final legs. I was out of Europe.

I slept a fair bit on the way to New Delhi and I didn’t feel too bad when I got there. I lined up for immigration when I arrived and a big scary looking man with a big hipster – before hipsters really took off 20 years later – moustache looked at my passport, he looked at me, he looked closely (apparently) at my expired visa then looked at me again, then without a word he stamped my passport and let me enter India. I shrugged my shoulders. ‘Whatever’ I thought, if they let me in, that’s on them. Now I’d just have to wait it out in India for a week or so. At least it was a place where my remaining £40 could get me somewhere. But of course it wasn’t going to be that easy and I was about to fall for another small scam, within my first minutes of arriving. This wasn’t a scam of the scale I’d had in Bangkok on the way over to Europe but it still cost me a bit.

I walked out of the terminal and was hit by the heat and the haze of dust glowing with pinks, purples and oranges of an Indian sunset. I was entering what seemed to be the largest, most chaotic car park in the universe. There were thousands and thousands of cars, and even more thousands of people, cooking things, selling things, yelling at each other, yelling at me, trying to get me to take a taxi. I was pretty sure there were a few donkeys and perhaps an elephant in amongst the throng. There were a lot of cows and dogs for sure.

I chose a taxi about 50 metres from the exit. I asked the driver to take me to the backpacker area which I knew was around Connaught Place. We drove along a very long dusty road, there were more cows, many more people, and more dogs around.

“Sir, that area of Connaught Place is dangerous at the present time. We have Hindu/ Muslim troubles. It is not safe. I can take you to a nice safe area, with nice hotel”.

It was before the times of the internet so there was no way to check if there really was Hindu/ Muslim troubles. I kind of doubted it, and felt a bit like a scam was coming on, but figured I could probably cover a hotel for a couple of days while I waited for the $200 to be sent to me from Australia via Western Union, which I’d asked my family to lend me before leaving Europe. So I went where the guy took me.

When I got to the hotel I explained to them that I was waiting on money and could fix them up when that arrived in the next few days. I rang my sister and she even tried to pay for the hotel with a credit card. But it was 1995, and the hotel guys wouldn’t take a credit card, they wanted cold hard cash. There wasn’t even an ATM around to get cash transferred and withdrawn. So I just had to wait. The hotel agreed to put me up for an unspecified amount. I knew I’d be hit with an unrealistically high bill but I had a roof over my head for a few days, until my money got transferred, and it was a pretty good roof, a fairly decent hotel.

I did get out for a walk on my own in the early morning and explored the neighbourhood a bit. There were some guys making yoghurt out in the open street with milk from cows that were wandering around eating marigolds and cardboard from rubbish heaps. There was a guy with a dancing bear trying to get money from people. The kind of scene you see on those animal cruelty ads on TV – if you watch TV anymore. I got a photo of the first street I saw with a lady in a sari walking down it and a dog in the smoggy haze. Like today it’s a very polluted city. They need electric cars. Which I’m sure they’ll have by the next time I visit.

After the first night the hotel must have gotten nervous that maybe this hippy wouldn’t pay up. They kept a minder around for me to make sure I didn’t run off without paying. It was a bit awkward. The hotel took me around to a few highlights of New Delhi. I went to the Red Fort for a bit. There was a sad looking cobra in a little basket and a million people, cows, dogs, and perhaps even a donkey or camel. It was insane. The actual fort provided a little break from the craziness. I looked up and in one of those arched windows typical of Mughal architecture a woman was brushing her long silky hair oblivious to the throng of people and the noise down below.

A couple of young German guys arrived at the hotel and were staying in the room next to me.  I ended up buddying up with them a bit. I find the young Germans can be so enthusiastic and often bound with joy and energy – just like us young Australians (True Blue or otherwise – see previous post if you don’t get that bit).  One of the guys climbed over the balcony which was adjacent to mine and scared the shit out of me when he opened the glass door from the outside. I was ready to stab him with the Swiss Army knife I’d gotten from Corrine the year before, and which I always carried with me, which was even allowed on the planes in those days. He invited me out for some food. They wanted to go to some fancy place, but I still had very little money and had been going to the cheapest places I could find. I took them across the road, somehow slipping away from my minder and took them to a place that sold these vegetable patty things in soft white bread for about 4 rupees each – maybe 10 or 20 cents. I was really making sure the £20 or whatever I had left worth of rupees would last me until the money transfer arrived. I also had one traveller’s cheque left which was a small note, maybe another $20AUD. I don’t know what happened with the German guys, I think they were just there for a night.

The hotel guys kept taking me to the Western Union office to see if my transfer had come through. I didn’t tell them how much I’d asked for. When, on the morning of the third day the money still hadn’t arrived, they kicked me out of my room but said I could stay with the hotel staff workers. That was an interesting experience, they drove me around to an area of New Delhi I’d never have seen as a tourist, I suppose a typical local area. The workers all stayed in one room and we all had dhal and chapatis for dinner, sitting on the floor, just using our hands and the chapatis to scoop up the dhal. I was happy with that. There were about 4-5 hotel workers in the room. I think they didn’t just work at the hotel, they also worked for the hotel’s associated travel agency, but I wasn’t clear about that. I’d seen most of them over the last few days, often they’d be napping in the car they drove me around in, or napping on couches in the small travel agency office which they’d taken me to when they got sick of my money not arriving, to hang around. After dinner they rolled out some mats and the 5-6 of us slept on the floor taking up most of the space in the room. Years later my mum, son and daughter rented an AirBnB in Shinjuku, Tokyo which claimed to be able to sleep as many people in about the same space. Read more about the shonky Shinjuku  AirBnB and our trip to the snow monkeys.

Possibly on the morning of the 4th day when my minders took me to the Western Union office again my money had arrived! And I had my $200! I got some cash and the rest in traveller’s cheques I think. Well I must have ended up with a few more travellers checks – which would again pose a few problems over the next few days, but I’ll come to that.

With my $200 I could finally free myself from my minders. I went back to the travel agent and braced myself for the bill, knowing it would be a lot. The travel agent guy did some sums, adding up trips to the red fort, hotel accommodation etc, I’m pretty sure he was just Putin random numbers into a calculator that would add up to the sum he had in his head, and then he announced, “$200 USD”.

Having mentally prepared myself for this moment I unleashed a tirade of abuse: “You fucking scammers, there is no way that place is worth $200 USD, my father is a diplomat (posing as a semi-retired carpenter driving taxis on the Gold Coast) and you’ll be in big trouble.” I was playing a role I’d rehearsed in my head for days, make as much noise and fuss as possible and keep whatever money I needed to survive the rest of my Indian leg at least. “I don’t have that fucking money, I only have $100 AUD and that is all I will pay which is still probably double what I actually owe you scammers” and blah, blah, blah. I felt kinda bad as I’m not usually like that but I needed to look after myself. The lower level workers who’d shared a floor with last night just gathered around, interested in the entertainment on an Aussie going ballistic.

“Enough with your fuckings this and fuckings that, you are being a very rude person”, said the travel agent guy and he took the $100 AUD, form his lack of protest I could tell I was being well and truly fleeced even at that price, but less fleeced that I would have been so I was ok with that. After the exchange was done and the yelling died down I said, “sorry, I’m just tired and want to get out of here”. He just looked at me. But it wasn’t quite done. I still didn’t have my luggage. The boss guy sent a worker off to get it. I don’t know where it was but it seemed to take a long time to get it. I was starving so I asked if there was any food around. The boss guy signalled to one of the workers to go get me something. He came back with some dhal in a clay pot. I gave him about 5-10 rupees. I was starving so I just ate the dhal with my fingers. The boss guy looked at me and said, “without chapati, what a waste”.

It was an awkward wait around with the travel agency guys. They kept giving me dirty looks because of all my swearing and carrying on. It was worth it to have $100 in my pocket. When the bag arrived I headed straight to Connaught Place to find a cheap backpackers to stay. There weren’t any Muslim/ Hindu problems. At least none that made it unsafe at the moment.