A friend of mine who’s a regular in India says; “everyone should go at least once” and I agree with that wholeheartedly. He doesn’t even like cricket really, but God, if you do, there isn’t a better place in the world to be. This was my second trip to India, but the first to experience cricket, I have to say it was definitely in my top few holiday experiences; cricket loaded adventure. So much is owed to the Aussie Cricket Team as without their efforts early on in the series, I wouldn’t have gone. I booked one way flights months earlier but had intentions to ditch it if we were getting walloped. At 1-1 and right in the contest, the deep buried love for my boys arose to the surface. My excitement fired up “Dave” on Reddit, an Aussie expat living in Saigon. Didn’t think he would actually turn up. That was emphasised by me writing him off when he first mentioned it on the thread:
No accommodation, no travel insurance, no medical shots, no worries. Bec’s a big planner when going on holidays so I took this opportunity to plan as little as possible. All I had was flights when I left, I booked an AirBnB for Kolkata during my stopover in Kuala Lumpur. The accommodation was basic in furnishings, but a fully self contained top level apartment at only $22 a night, you’d have to be high maintenance to complain. Joydeep the host was a fucking “ledge” too, only 3 levels down in the same building he was extremely accommodating, checking me in at the absurd time of 2.00am. I was up early the next morning checking out what Kolkata had to offer. A 10 INR ($0.20), 6 stop metro ride to “Esplanade” had me in the heartbeat of the city. Being a cricket trip, the first thing I noticed was the big lights of the famous Eden Gardens. As an Aussie Eden Gardens is probably more infamous than famous, regardless, it got the cricket juices flowing. Got some help from a local guy who took me to a little restaurant for breakfast. Told him “I don’t care what it is, I’ll try it, I just want to eat where locals eat”. He didn’t let me down, I had two plates of “Chana” including a couple of “Paratha“, bottle of water and it was all under $2.50.
Being mostly “planless” I wandered over towards Eden Gardens. Wasn’t very far down the road when I saw the mighty “Sukchar U. F. C.” cricket club warming up for their match and ducked over to inspect the facilities. As usual it was fucking dry as a Nun’s cunt and looked like it would rag at right angles from ball one. I bowled a few and whacked a few down the ground before moving on to Eden Gardens to see if I could have a peek inside. The security were nice enough to let me get in there and have a sticky beak. Quite weird being the only patron in the stands of a big ground like that, got to check out the facilities just roaming around until I got the boot. Shame that I couldn’t get to ground level as probably would have pushed the limits and gone out on the hallowed turf.
In the shadows of Eden Gardens there were tonnes of cricket clubs. From memory it was a Wednesday and there were hundreds of young (some school aged) men playing cricket. It wasn’t school holidays, they were allowed to have the day off to play, lucky cunts. I pulled up a chair to watch some 2nd grade “Cricket Club of Bhawanipor” action. The boys were interested to know what I was doing. We chatted for a while as their match was delayed due to a wet outfield. Umpires called an early lunch, the captain and coach offered for me to have lunch with them which I couldn’t turn it down. @Relaxer_ said it looked like shit, that’s because he eats caviar everyday #ballerlife. Personally I thought it was quite good, free feeds always taste that bit better too. I had to head off before the end of the days play but the boys had their opposition reeling after sending them in on dust bowl 5/45, hope they got the job done.
Had a round of golf at Tollygunge Club in Kolkata. Like a lot of things in India it was fuck around just to get on the course. I had to hire cart, pay green fees, hire clubs, buy balls, buy tees and load a food and drink card in 5 different places rather than at one counter. After almost giving up, I got out there with my caddy that I was forced to hire. I found out he was worth the $7 though when on the 4th tee I “shanked” one hard left in the water and he ran off after it, meeting me 10 mins later on the green with my lost ball. I was lucky enough to join with a member of Tollygunge just before my second shot on the 5th. He was an investment banker who spent 3 years in Melbourne. It was excellent to play with him as he knew and had access to members benefits; fresh coconut water on holes 6 and 15, lunch and lemon drink at the halfway club house.
On to the Ranchi and what I came for, cricket! I met up with Dave from Reddit who was already in town and had met another Aussie couple Jay & Ruby. We ate at what would turn out to be our favourite restaurant in Ranchi “Kathi Kabab“. We had a couple of beers down the road to get acquainted with one another but hit the hay early to get up for day 1 in Ranchi. Upon arrival at the ground, it was a fuck around to get tickets (standard) as there was only one box office. If your gate entry wasn’t near the box office you had a bit of a hike each morning. Knowing there was no grog inside, we snuck copious amounts in to mix with our Sprite and Pepsi’s. I thought it was all over when one of the Ushers from the ground said “this is not good” as he watched me pouring Vodka into a Sprite cup from 2 meters away. In the end though, I don’t think he wanted to make it his problem to kick out the white guy.
Being only 4 years old, JSCA International Stadium has very nice facilities, spacious and clean. Winning the toss and getting on top early I was pretty vocal and it wasn’t long before my chanting and arm waving for boundaries had the locals firing back with some very poor banter of their own. Mostly though, they just wanted to sit near us and take not so subtle photos of us to show to their family and friends later. They could have just asked, we would have said “yes” to a photo majority of the time anyway. It sounds fucked, but we found out pretty quick that white skin will get you a long way in Ranchi. Lunch day 1 and a few of us were able to walk through multiple security access points without passes to have a buffet lunch in a corporate box. This became a daily thing on days 2-5 and we barely got a sideways look at any stage.
“I want a photo with Sudhir” was one of my brainwaves. A thrive of activity compared to where we were, the “cheap seats” where Sudhir was frequenting, didn’t stop cheering all day even though we were winning the battle on the field. We were told by guards “its not safe for you in there” upon trying to enter but forced our way into the action anyway. It was so much fun in with the locals, it’s the closest Ruby, Jay, John and I will be to feeling famous. We were mobbed, I reckon I took over 150 selfies in about 15 minutes, it was peaking. Pushing through to get to Sudhir, I got the shot I needed with him and after shouting “AUSTRALIAAAAAAA” a few times to whip the crowd into a frenzy I was out of there.
Next part in Ranchi is best summarised by the still frames I got.
So is this the last part of Ranchi too…
Draw, 1-1 still, on to Dharamsala we go with all series results in play. I don’t think you could pick two more different Indian cities than Ranchi and Dharamsala. One had barely seen any tourism in its time, the other was thriving with jet setters. With the cricket in town it was “Aussie cricket Bogans” meets “Buddhists on a spiritual journey”. I had drinks with Daniel who is a scorer for the BBC after we shared a cab from the airport earlier that day. Mel Farrell, Jarrod Kimber, Arya Yuyutsu and Adam Collins joined us and we cricket “nuffied” it up, chatting all sorts about the game played in heaven. Finding out we both had plans to climb Triund Hill, Adam and I teed up a trip together the next morning. It was every bit as good as TripAdvisor suggests.
Peter Lalor was really the catalyst for this trip after he assured me that “Dharamsala and Cape Town” were two grounds a cricket lover must get to. I’m yet to go to Cape Town but he was fucking bang on with Dharasmala, what an incredible venue to watch cricket. The security was a lot tighter there, no sneaking into corporate boxes, Christ I had to leave my hotel key and coins outside the ground. They tried to make me leave my phone and charger too, but I got shitty and the white skin played its part again as the locals didn’t get the reprieve I did with this issue.
Traveling with Dave was great. He’s one of those people that just talks to randoms and befriends them. It made for having a good crew and in Dharamsala our crew grew by 5 when John, Jess, Mac, Jem & Brian joined the ranks. For the whole trip we had a good crew rolling which definitely made the experience all the more enjoyable. All in all this rates in my top few trips away overseas, I love India, I love cricket and that probably helps, but even if you don’t love cricket; “everyone should go at least once”.