Friday, November 25, 2011


Showed up at the Post Office yesterday.  I had a big white box with a print I'm sending home and a small shopping bag.  Waited for twenty minutes to get to the front of the line.

The guy behind the counter looks at my box and my bag and says, "You can't send a box like that.  You have to have it covered in white cloth."

Me: "Ok.  How do I do that?"
Post Office Guy: "Take it to a tailor."
Me: "What about this bag?  Do you sell boxes?"
Post Office Guy: "Yes.  I'll go get one."

...ten minutes pass...

Post Office Guy: "We're out of boxes.  Ask the tailor."

I go to the tailor.  They find a box.  I put my small items in and wait half an hour for them to sew up the two boxes.  They give me a marker and I add my address.  I go back to the Post Office and wait in line for another twenty minutes.

Me: "I'd like to send these two parcels, wrapped in white cloth."
Post Office Guy: "Your 'from' address needs to be in India."
Me: "I don't have an Indian address."
Post Office Guy: "Do you have any Indian friends?"
Me: "No."
Post Office Guy: "Talk to that lady."
Me: "Okay."
That Lady: "Just put an Indian address."
Me: "But I don't want these items returned to India if there is a problem."
That Lady: "The rule is that the address is from India."

I put the address of my hotel.  I wait another twenty minutes in line.  I send my parcels.

That was yesterday.  Today I tried to figure out how to get from here in Kochi to Hampi.  I approached the receptionist at my hotel, which is also supposed to function as a travel agency.

Me: "Can you help me book a ticket from here to Hampi?"
Receptionist: "This month?"
Me: "Yes."
Receptionist: "There are no tickets.  Go to the train station."

Okay.  I get into a rickshaw and go to the train station.  I find the main ticket window at the station.  I wait in line until I get to the teller.

Me: "I would like to book a ticket to Hampi."
Teller: "Talk to that other teller."
Me: "Okay."

I wait in line.

Me: "I would like to book a ticket to Hampi."
Other Teller: "Go to the reservation office across the street."
Me: "Okay."

I go to the reservation office across the street.  I wait in line until I get to the teller.

Me: "I would like to book a ticket to Hampi."
New Teller: "You have to go to Bangalore first."
Me: "Okay."
New Teller: "What date?"
Me: "As soon as you can get me into an AC car."

The teller searched around on her computer.

New Teller: "You can go on the 30th."
Me: "Okay.  Now what about going from Bangalore to Hampi?"
New Teller: "Go find a reservation form.  They're at window number nine."
Me: "Okay."

I go to window number nine.  I get a reservation form.  I fill out my personal info and wait in line again.

Me: "Here's my form."
New Teller: "You didn't fill it out."
Me: "I need your help to know which trains I want, and which dates.  I thought you said I could get a seat to Bangalore on the 30th."

The teller searched around in her computer for a bit.

New Teller: "Yes, Bangalore on the 30th."
Me: "So what about going from Bangalore to Hampi?"
New Teller: "Go talk to the people at the inquiry office."
Me: "Why do I have to go talk to the people at the inquiry office?"

The teller shrugged and stopped answering my questions.  This is a skill anyone who is in India picks up (I do it to rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers all the time.  They say, "Just look!" and I pretend I didn't hear).  So I go to the inquiry office.  Guess what comes next?  Guess.  No.  Really.  Guess.  This is an easy one.  I waited in line for a while.

Me: "I need to go from here to Hampi."
Inquiry Office Guy: "There are no tickets."
Me: "Ever?"
Inquiry Office Guy: "No tickets."
Me: "There must be tickets available at some point.  When's the soonest I can go?"
Inquiry Office Guy: "You can buy a waiting list ticket."
Me: "Waiting list tickets are worthless.  I want a confirmed seat."
Inquiry Office Guy: "No tickets."

At this point, all the other people waiting in line jumped into the conversation.  They babbled on for a while saying things that I did not understand.

Guy Behind Me In Line: "You need to talk to the teller at the main station."
Me: "I have already been there.  They sent me here."
Guy Behind Me In Line: "You should talk to the teller at the ticket window."
Me: "She sent me to this guy."

Further discussion with the Inquiry Office Guy ensues.

Guy Behind Me In Line: "You should go to the next office over, to talk to the area manager."
Me: "There's another office?"
GBMIL: "Yes, I'll show you."

We go to the next office over.  We find a room where a bunch of people all listen to GBMIL explain that I need to get a train and then finally a lady says to me:

Lady: "You should come back tomorrow."
Me: "Tomorrow?"
Lady: "Take your chance tomorrow.  Then if you don't get a ticket, the morning after that."
Me: "I don't want to keep coming to the train station every morning.  I'd like to know how to get a confirmed ticket to Hampi."

More consultation.

Dude: "Well, we can't get you a confirmed ticket, but if you buy a not-confirmed ticket we promise that tomorrow we'll make it a confirmed ticket."
Me: "To Hampi?"
Dude: "No, to Bangalore."
Me: "But I'm going to Hampi."
Dude: "We can't help you with that ticket.  We can only help you with a ticket to Bangalore.  You'd have to get off the train and go find someone else to help you there."

I imagined repeating the rigamarole I'd just been through in Bangalore and started thinking to myself that there had to be a better way.  A bus maybe.  I don't know.  Anything.  So I left the train station and took a rickshaw back to the tourist part of town.  I went to about ten different travel agencies.  All of them with big signs in their windows saying, "TRAIN!  BUS!  CAR!  FLIGHT!"  I said, "I need to get to Hampi," to each one.  They all replied, "Take the train."  I said, "There are no tickets.  Is there another way?"  They all said, "No."

At that point I went to lie down for a while.  I'd had enough.  Tomorrow I'm going to see what else I can think of.  I need to get out of here and apparently that's going to be hard.  It's stuff like this that keeps people on the beaten path...try to step away from it and the hassles multiply so fast.  Hampi isn't even that far off the beaten path.  Far enough though.

Seriously.  India needs to buy more trains.

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