India 3: "Dry County"
The first time we went out for a meal in Ahmedabad, Steve and I were in for a surprise. Steve tried to order a beer and we were told that alcohol is illegal in the state of Gujarat! Gujarat was the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi in 1869, and he believed that alcohol was a major social evil and a cause of many of the world's problems. In deference to that, the state of Gujarat made it illegal to possess or consume any form of alcohol.
- Take your passport to your hotel front desk, between 11am and 6pm (no earlier and no later)
- They produce a document that proves you are resident at that hotel, along with dates and a reference to your passport number.
- They also provide a photocopy of your passport and Indian visa.
- Locate a licensed "liquor shop". These are few and far between, probably only 2 or 3 in the whole city. We found one at Cama Hotel, just 5 minutes walk up the road from our hotel.
- Enter the liquor shop, which will most likely look more like a library reading room than an off-licence, with a few solitary spirit bottles on the shelves and a stack of beer crates.
- Decide what alcohol you want to consume in the next 7 days. You are allowed one bottle of spirits, 3 bottles of wine or 10 large bottles of beer.
- Fill out some paperwork for the state government with your contact details, purpose in India, and sign to confirm that you will not sell or redistribute the alcohol.
- Take the paperwork to the government licensing official's desk at the other side of the room. He will most likely make a bit of a fuss and charge you double the official rate, before stamping your paperwork and issuing you with a Visitor's Permit "to possess and use foreign liquor for personal consumption"
- Sign the permit and have it stamped. You will have to bring it back and renew it every 7 days.
- Take it back to the liquor sellor who will then issue your box of beer or alcohol of choice and stamp your permit and passport to ensure you do not get more than your weekly allowance.
- Carry your box of Fosters home to your hotel.
- Feel rather self-conscious as you realise you are blatantly carrying something down the street in plain sight which is a banned substance the general population can't get hold of.
- Breate a sigh of relief as you get it back to your hotel room.
- Do not take the alcohol to dinner at your hotel. You will be reminded that consumption of alcohol in public, even with a permit, is illegal.
- Resort to joining your colleague for a hotel room to drink the beer as you watch American films or Indian pop hits.
- Eagerly take your first sip, and then sigh with disappointment as you realise Indian beer tastes disgusting.
- Recall something you once heard about how beer in India has glycerol added as a preservative. As one blogger put it, "A couple of tastings was enough to confirm our initial suspicions that any chemical used as an active ingredient in soap or as an anti-freeze in car radiators has no business in beer. Not only does the glycerol cause huge bubbles to form in the beer, it gives you a headache the next morning out of all proportion to the amount of beer you consumed the previous night."
- Place your thumb over the bottle and invert it upside down in a glass of water.
- Watch as a huge quantity of glycerol pours out of the beer into the water (because glycerol is heavier than water). Hold it for about 2 minutes until the bulk has gone.
- Right the beer and pour.
- Drink it, find that it tastes a little better, but wonder if it was worth the effort!
- Repeat every seven days
Blogger's note: A couple of people have commented that my blog posts are quite long - I guess they are hard to read on a computer screen. So I am going to try a different approach and write a few shorter topic-based posts like this rather than using the daily journal approach. Feedback welcome as always.