I was around 20 years old when Rosa (a good friend of mine) and I had rather spontaneously decided to go to India. It turned out to be a backpacking trip made of nightmares. Rosa lost her passport (or didn’t have one), we missed a plane in Istanbul and I ate something which gave me such a running stomach to the point where I had no clean clothes and was walking around in only my swim trunks.
India was not the sunny, yoga beach loving place I had expected it to be, maybe I just did it wrong? Not only that but have you ever accidentally promised someone to smuggle diamonds? Because Rosa did! This is that story:
I can’t remember what city it was, it was a big and dusty one with a big train station. Rosa and I arrived there on our way to the beach. Our plan was to only stay a night and then travel on, so we just wanted to find a hostel close to the train station, take a shower, eat some food and sleep. Our Lonely Planet guide book did not say much about the place, so when a scooter taxi driver told us he knew a hostel close by, we agreed and went with him there.
Rosa and I climbed on his scooter with both backpacks, the three of us were sitting really close. At the beginning of the ride, I was trying to keep track of our direction so we could easily find our way back to the train station the next morning, but I was soon distracted by the nice driver who was joking and telling us about the places we drove by and about India in general. I had the feeling that I had finally actually met someone from India, after traveling for weeks and mostly just speaking to fellow western travelers in hostels.
The hostel was not close by the train station, I think it maybe took us an hour to get there, I don’t know – we had a really good time the three of us on the scooter. When we arrived, he offered us to go see some old ruins the next day. This sounded like a real adventure, we agreed the beach could wait another day and arranged to meet with him outside the hostel the next morning.
He took us outside the city, it was actually a really exciting place to visit and we spent the whole day there. On the drive, we had brought beers and food and had a great time talking about his country, Denmark, politics and all the big questions – you know those conversations you often have when traveling and meeting new people on the other side of the world. In the evening he invited us to hang with his friends at their house, it was a great party, they had beer and cigarettes and considering our small backpacker budget, we certainly enjoyed their hospitality.
The next morning, we were so hungover, in India it’s real tough in all the heat and dust, so we spent most of the day enjoying the air conditioning of the hostel. When the sun was starting to set and Rosa and I started to feel a bit more alive, Rosa with a rusty, hoarse voice told me half laughing that one of the people at the party yesterday had asked her if we were up for smuggling diamonds for them. Rosa being in a fun and games drunk mode had said yes, just to see what would happen. I was a bit more nervous, but hey it was a big city and we had already started packing to leave the day after – they would not find us, and I was really looking forward to that cold beach.
But not long after someone knocked at our door – it was our friend the driver. He was less chatty, more sombre I would say, he asked us to go with him to settle the agreement.
We both had the feeling that it would be best to go with him. He took us to the same place as the evening before. There were a lot of men in the house, they all carried weapons, some even machine guns. Rosa and I were both very quiet, not really knowing what situation we were in, and definitely not knowing how we would get out of it.
Our driver “friend” took us to a room which contained what I would best describe as a gangster boss. He had a calm, slow voice and he explained the job “opportunity” to us. We would fly back to Europe, with diamonds in our luggage, and in Germany we should hand them over and receive our payment, which would be more than enough money to have a significantly better backpack trip if we ever wanted to return back to India. Even though he presented it as a job offer, and it kind of sounded exciting, I had never smuggled diamonds before, I felt that Rosa and I were not cut for this kind of job. Actually I was starting to get scared, I had never had a job interview with guns included before. The gangster boss expected us to say yes, although I vaguely tried to say thank you but no, but he got very angry and no longer spoke slowly, he told us that a deal is a deal and Rosa had promised to do the job. The door behind us was closed.
I tried to speak to Rosa in Danish so we could make a plan on how we could get out of this job offer, but Rosa was nervous and swearing in English and the boss type did not like us speaking in Danish together. So I started instead to negotiate with the boss on the terms of our job offer. After some time we came to an agreement, the boss and his friends, including our friend the driver all looked very happy, and offered us a beer to shift into a friendlier mode. After the recent developments I could really have used a beer, but instead could only think about getting back to the hostel and hopefully find my way to the train station.
They wanted us to sleep at their place before we should start our job the next day, but I convinced them that we needed to go back and get our things.
As soon as Rosa and I entered our room at the hostel we very quickly and silently packed all our stuff, opened the one tiny window and crawled out on the flat roof at the hostel. I felt like part of a game but somehow more nervous cause of the actual real-life consequences.
We found a small ladder on the wall and climbed down into a small alley between the buildings. I was not sure which way would lead us to the front of the hostel – with our captors waiting, or even how to find the train station. We started to walk without saying a word, trying to be as invisible as you can be when you are a tall, almost blonde danish man with his pale redhead best friend walking beside him. We walked for most of the night, I was constantly nervous that one of our colleagues would find us, but we made it to the train station.
The station was bigger and louder and more crowded than I remembered it. The line for a ticket seemed endless, but we had no other choice but to stand there and wait. I was very aware that the gangsters would be searching around the train station to find us. We were vulnerable standing out in the open, waiting in the line covered in both dust and paranoid sweat. Oh how I would have loved to be at that beach instead of only now just buying a ticket. We managed to make our train without seeing the diamond smugglers, but we decided to extend our journey across India to make sure we threw our possible pursuers off the scent. We couldn’t remember how much information we had shared with the scooter driver, so it was better to play it safe, luckily we did get to see much more of India in the process.