An Indian experience
Trip Start Jan 10, 2012
1Trip End Feb 04, 2012
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DAY 1: MUMBAI.
An Indian in a bright red-orange turban looked a red eyed Kevvie up and down at the immigration office. Kev's eyes are red because of allergies, but the rings in his mouth and longer hair interested a lot of people. Eventually he put the stamp on the passport and now we are in India.
I am totally surprised to find my name in bold letters as we walked out of the airport; they remembered to send a taxi for our midnight arrival. We are hurled into the taxi and dropped minutes later in front of a dilapidated building. The rooms inside looked surprisingly clean. We are sharing the sleep space with two girls from Norway; it did not take long before all are snoring away the little that is left of the night.
The Norwegian girls shared some of their goodies with us for breakfast; they would have been
We walked to the Indian Gate and saw the Taj Mahal hotel. We ate at a local restaurant and I
There is no tin food except beans, but the street food is so cheap that we will be able to live on that.
DAY 2: MUMBAI
We slept well, but we have to move to another hotel today and here we get our first Indian
We took a taxi to Indian gate from where a boat took us to Elephanta Island. If you pay 10 IR
on either side. There are five noteworthy caves and the first is the best developed. There are a lot of stray dogs, cows and monkeys around. The monkeys take water bottles from the people and can open the caps with ease to get to the water.
As we approached the Indian gate it was lit up and a big orchestra was playing music and a lot of couples enjoyed the vibe. We went to the Leopold Cafe and ate an enormous western meal for R240 including cool drinks. This was one of the more expensive restaurants.
We took a taxi back to the hotel.
MUMBAI TO AURANGABAD DAY 3
(Mumbai to Aurgangabad 7 h 5 min 374km)
Early morning we went to Victoria station to catch our train to Aurangabad. Even at four in the morning the taxis are lined up and we have no problem to find one. Little groups of sleeping
We found our train with ease and cannot believe that the AC train is in fact airconned. The trip takes seven and a half hours, but we covered only 374 km. At each station sellers enter the train and shout chai-coffee and sell numerous goods. They do not announce the stations and the names are not always in English, but we finally arrived at our destination.
Some info on toilets....on most trains you will be able to find a western toilet, but normally this toilet will be in a very bad hygienic state, since normal Indians does not know how to use these (they might know how, but they normally make a total mess), you might want to take the Indian toilet option. This a good option on dry land, but in a train this is a bit unstable...well I suppose if you want to be in India you have to do as Indians do....the experience could be described as educational?!?!
At each station you will be met by a tout as soon as you get off the train. They know when the
AURANGABAD AND ELLORA DAY 4
(travelling by taxi )
We travel in style the next morning to the Ellora caves when we decided to hire a car for the day for R200. The bus might have been cheaper, but wasted a lot of time. The 34 caves built at different time periods have a surprise around every corner. We start our visit by seeing the 5 Jain caves built between 800-1000AD, and then visited the 17 Hindu caves built between 600-900AD. Cave 16, the Kailasa Hindu temple is the biggest and was build over a period of 200 years by 7000 workers and was built in awe of Lord Shiva. The whole structure was dug out of stone and is at least 5 floors high and really impressive.
Lastly we went through the Buddhist Temples built 600-800AD. Especially cave 10 has the most detail and impressed us a lot. We were surprised that till the last cave we were never bored and that a surprise where waiting around each corner.
We ate real Indian food at the caves...here even the tomato sauce is hot chilly tomato sauce!
A quick stop at a weaver shop where they weave on site was appreciated as we could see them weaving and we could ask questions.
The next stop is at Daulatabad, a fort built in the 12th century. This "city of fortune" was built around 1328 by Sultan Mohammed Tughlag. He let the whole population of Delhi walk 1100km to this site. He decided that the main city in India should be more central, but after a few years of building they found that there was an acute water shortage at Daulatabad and the entire population had to return to Delhi. The fort is built on Devagiri (the hills of gods) which is 200m high. 750 very steep steps lead you to the top of the hill. Werner and Kevin sr. did the trip to the top returning nearly as the dead. There are guano deposits in some of the buildings and Kevin jr. decided it was not worth it....I went as far as him.
The tower of the Moon is also located here where they held prisoners.
After a real cuppuchino we are ready for more adventure. We are still looking for a supermarket. Found one and are again very surprised at how very cheap goods are here in India.
AURANGABAD TO ADJANTA DAY 5
To get onto the bus to the caves proved to be a challenge. You have to move assertively with the bundle of people. Indian people are used to being in a bundle and they operate easily with natural ability and can just somehow slip in front of you with the greatest ease. We were literally standing still while they fill the bus in front of us. Fortunately one of the officials took charge and let everybody fall in a line.
At the bottom of the caves you can hire a carry chair to take you up the steep steps, some people use the opportunity.
There are 24 caves at Ajanta, all of them Buddhist caves. The setting is beautiful. It is in the shape of a horse shoe in the river valley and in summer there is a waterfall and even in winter it is green. There are ancient paintings in the first few caves and they restrict the visit to 10 minutes. In these caves there are artificial light in some, which make photos more dramatic, but also makes the experience less natural. The caves are more repetitive than those at Ellora, also because they are all Buddhist caves. The two we like the most are the one that is not finished yet and the very last cave that has the most detailed carvings and all the different Buddha's that we saw in Thailand (reclining Buddha, etc.) We had a wonderful picnic at one of the closed
We visited a mall. Malls here are mostly for clothes, electronic goods and jewelery shops. Supermarkets are still none existent and banks are also outside the malls. Kevin buys an Indian shirt which he loves. At Bombay hotel we drink beers and eat Indian food that makes your eyes fill with tears and that not necessarily because of joy.
In the middle of the night we are rudely awaken by the hotel owner who wants us to lock the door.!?! Beds in India are regional. The beds and pillows in this region is very hard (type of coir mat).
JALGAON TO VARANASI DAY 6
(Jalgaon to Varanasi 1 day 4 h 48 min OR 21 hours 25 min 1112km)
At 5 in the morning it is confirmed that we will have place on the AC 2 tier train and we are very glad. We buy food at a place near the train station. All walking space at the strain station is again filled with sleeping bodies this early in the morning. They stare openly at foreigners and many want to take a photo of us. Werner is extremely popular with his blond hair and he has to pose the whole time. They are also very interested in Kevin's lip rings, and girls also want photos with me. And then the train arrives....
We have to find our couch, but this is a long train and before we walked half the length of the train in search of our couch it gives one hoot and then started moving off...so we all ran and just had to jump onto the moving train into the nearest available open door. I found myself in a sleeper class couch with heaps of friendly people. I thought that you would be able to walk from couch to couch, but because of the different classes of coaches this is not possible. In the mean time I was entertained by a singer who was very upset I did not give her a tip for her singing, an old woman and a young guy who could speak English. Eventually I phoned Kevin to hear if they are at least on the train. They where, but all separated. At the next station where the train stopped for a longer time we were reunited and found our couch. The cattle class coach was much more interesting!! It is chaos in our AC couch. People sleep where they want to and not at allocated spots. The only one that sleeps in the place allocated to him is Werner and he was the one who did not have any space on the booking yesterday. We travel through hilly country, but we are all tired and sleep through most of the day. At each station Kevin gets off to buy some or other food...only one portion at a time and so we taste different Indian dishes all the time.
The train is like one big dorm, the people snore in one big choir and the train stops at many stations, so you wake up, sleep, wake up, and sleep. We eat a lovely dinner on the train. We only ordered one for the four of us to taste since previous experiences were at times not good. An Indian shared our sleeping space and he explains the different foods to us. When you order a Thali it means that you will get 4 -5 different dishes including chapattis and rice. This is a great chance to taste the food. We liked the paneer dishes. A vegetarian dish with big chunks of cheese. Dahl is also tasty, but the curd (something like buttermilk, just worse) is not our favourite
After dinner we set our alarms for four o'clock when the train will arrive in Varanassi. The train is late by 2 hours. The journey thus takes 23 hours and we found the GPS coordinates to the station in Varanassi to make sure that we get off at the right place. I love technology!
At the station at Varanassi we get a taxi at a prepaid taxi stand (this is advised in the guide books) but the taxi driver is a cheating tout who explain that the hotel we booked is in the worst possible area and he will take us to a much nicer place. We tell him to take us anyway so that we can decide for ourselves. He gets to the place and indicate the guest house is through there – pointing to an alleyway (the old town is a maze of alleyways). He explains he will take two of us to the guest house but two must stay at the taxi to make sure nobody steals his taxi in this "very bad area". He escorts Kevin and Kevin to the guest house along impossibly winding alleyways, while Werner and I “guard” the taxi. Luckily Kevin has his favourite GPS gadget on which gives away the tout's scam (his route zig-zagged all over) and could take us back to the guest house. We decide we are safer in this “bad” area than with that scamming bastard. He is openly disappointed that we decide to stay, still not knowing how we caught him out.
Varanasi is a very special place. It is dirtiest in the very early morning. After sunrise they clean the streets and after 10 the place changes completely into a colourful amazing place. We walked along the Ganges River and visited the many Ghats along the way. Our first encounter with the burial ceremony is also on our first day. Bodies must be cremated within 24 hours of death. A group of family carries the body on a stretcher chanting "Rama, Rama, Rama...." as they take the body to the burial site. Five “units” of sandle wood needs to be purchased in order to burn the body right there on the edge of the river. The family also needs to buy the “flame of Shiva” to light the fire. This flame has been kept burning in a tower near the burning ghat for over 3000 years (apparently). They have to pay a lot for the holy flame (bit of a rip-off). You may not take photos at the ceremony. At least 200 bodies per day, 24 hours of the day are burnt at Varanasi.
Most of the bodies burn out totally, but a male's thorax and female’s womb area does not always burn away totally. These parts will then be thrown into the Ganges. Children, babies, pregnant woman, lepers and people killed by cobras are considered holy and they are dumped into the river weighed down by rocks. They also, as part of the ceremony, burn the body's lips to ensure he/she cannot lie to Shiva in heaven. They also believe that if you are cremated and thrown into the Ganges you will not be reincarnated again as this is the last level of reincarnation and you will now go into heaven to live forever. We thought reincarnation was a great way to live forever, but apparently not in India.
VARANASSI DAY 8
After a lovely breakfast at the German Brown Bread Bakery we decide to go the new city. We suddenly realize how wonderfully calm and quiet the old city is, because we walked right back into India in the new city. The noise of hooting is astounding. The business - the vibe, the colour...it is amazing!
I buy reading glasses at an optometrist who wants to test my eyes with ancient equipment on the spot. We go for a rickshaw (bicycle taxi) drive to one or other junction to find a card reader, as Kevvie's card reader broke and he needs to backup his amazing photos on the computer. We ate a Thali at a restaurant where teenagers are having a party. They had a lot of fun bursting balloons and making a mess with the cream cake. We each get a piece of the cake!
We take another very exhilarating rickshaw journey back to the guest house. Kevin takes a nap and I took a warm shower. The boys return very exited after a photo shoot with the famous Elephant Baba. They had tea with him and even smoked some weed with this holy man that looks like an elephant (one of the holy symbols of the Hindu faith). They even have individual photos with him. They had to pay for the privilege of course, but Kevin announced later that evening that he already made a deal with the Mahala magazine in SA to let them publish some of these photos exclusively.
Again we visited the German Brown Bread Bakery for real western pasta....sometimes we have to eat normal food as well.
VARANASSI DAY 9
VARANASSI DAY 10
Kevvie and I get up early and walk to Assi. We are looking for someone bathing, because he
After breakfast we start packing and store our stuff at Prabu's hostel and now we start buying. Clothes are so cheap here. We enjoy bargaining about everything. Werner does extremely well. He pays less than half for every item, I tend to pay half of the asking price. We pay for 2 rickshaws to take us for an hour drive each. To sit on a rickshaw is very enjoyable. You can really enjoy the surroundings without having to worry about who is going to bump into you. It is way more relaxing than trying to walk. You also get further in a shorter time. We were involved in two crashes while being on the rickshaw, but it was mere mishaps, which involved a lot of
We have trouble finding the usual list with our names at the train station. After a while we find the tourist office and even they do not know from which platform the train will depart. You will only know 15 minutes before departure; it will be announced in Hindi over the loudspeakers. OK?!?! This time we are more prepared. We ask in which direction the train will go, where the A1 couch will be; answers to the question differ, but after asking 5 people 3 answers are the same and we decide to trust in the majority. Kevin and I am together with an entire family, mom (gynecologist), dad (a doctor), grandma (housewife), grandpa (retired professor in history) and a girl of 14 and a boy of 8. There are 6 beds of which two belong to me and Kevin....try to do the maths on this one.
Little brother showed us how motion sickness look like just when we are ready for bed and this is when grandma took change of the entire family. She seems to be boss in this household. I am just glad I put my shoes far away and fortunately he missed all of us. Kevin and Werner are together and they enjoyed a few chess games before bed time. I myself have to visit the (moving) hole in the floor 6 times that night with a rather upset stomach. To squat in a moving train is a bit of a challenge, but I am glad to announce that I survived this ordeal as well.
AGRA DAY 11
The room is a 4 bed dorm, well that was according to the website. It is actually one bed: two double bunk beds. Werner and Kevin joked about cuddling together since it is so cold. The room is very cheap, we now know why...it is next to the kitchen. Fortunately the kitchen closes at 9 and we really had very few problems, except maybe early morning when it opens at 6:30.
We decide to visit Agra fort. A New Zealander in Varanassi said that Agra is a place where you can only spend a day and we are booked for three. We found that there is way more in Agra and it is a great place to spend a few days. The pollution is bad especially in winter, but the sights are magnificent.
The Agra fort is way better than the Red fort in Delhi (a UNESCO heritage site). Both were built
We went to the Kinarie Bazaar where Werner took the most amazing photos of street butcheries. They slaughter water buffalo and there on the street in a 2 x 2 m shop they cut the meat up, sitting on the ground using their toes as the third hand. They are all very skilled. We eat fresh chapattis, but somehow I lose some of my appetite in this meat corner of the bazaar.
After dinner we see a wedding march outside the hotel. Lots of noise escape from loudspeakers and lots of arcade flashing lights force you to stay watching. A whole generator on a tuk tuk follows the parade. The groom is sitting on a horse decorated to the max (he looks absolutely stressed) while his friends dance and sing! They procession is on its way to the bride's house. A wedding will stretch over 5 or more days. This is just the beginning of the party!
AGRA TO FATEPUR DAY 12
These buildings are huge and totally handmade. Kevvie took photos of some children using the umbrella and paying them in pencils. We bought more pencils the next day, but never had the same opportunity. Another of Sultan Jahan palaces was on display (we had to pay), where he has a section for each of his wives (one Christian, one Muslim and one Hindu) but we enjoyed the ruins that were for free more, although I must admit all is magnificent!
We are all very tired and the cold air of Agra and the pollution cause a few snotty noses at this point of our journey. We all slept reasonably well.
At the entrance they split us into a female and male side. There are normally more than 3 rows for men and only one for women. I am thoroughly searched from head to toe. Kevvie may not use his flash triggers here. They are very strict with the entrance, no food, each entree gets a bottle of water and shoe covers to walk on the marble floors. We decided to stay as long as possible; entrance for foreigners here is 750 IR.
The building is impressive from a distance and glows beautifully in the late afternoon sun, but I
We eat at a rooftop restaurant on the southern side of the Taj Mahal and see the sun set and
AGRA TO AMRITSAR DAY 14 AND 15
(TRAIN 3h Agra to Delhi and TRAIN 11 h 55min Delhi to Amritsar 514km)
The ceremony is kind of a theatrical affair. They show off, people cheer and sing and are generally patriotic. Guards march and show off and the more they show of the more they are cheered on by the crowd and the more they look like circus clowns.
After our visit to the Wallah border we are dropped at the golden temple, which is really
AMRITSAR DAY 16
We slept late and ordered breakfast using room service. We visited Jallianawala Bach where
AMRITSAR TO DELHI DAY17
(TRAIN 9h 40 min 514km)
The train jouney between Amritsar and Delhi was very weird. Kevin and I shared the sleep space with an Indian man and Indian woman, The woman asked the man to please let her be, but he was forcing his will on her. She even cried. We did not understand the conversation, but Kevin asked them politely to be kind enough to not embarras us...these sleeping benches are really quiet narrow, but they slept together for a part of the night. The fact that there were other people near only upset her and us!
In Delhi we walked to our hostel using the written instructions on the email and got happily lost.
The Metro in India is different. You have to buy a ticket so you get in line. Woman somehow have the right to jump the cue and they do so blatantly. (Later I had to buy the tickets.) Then you stand in line for a body search and your bag has to be scanned as well. Women and men have separate rows, 1 row woman, 5 for men. Then you stand in line to go through the gates with your token. Then when you get to the platform there are so many people that they force you on if you are half way on even if there is no space at all on the train.
I am not a shopper, I like to see new weird stuff but to let me go to a Levi shop or a Nike shop
DELHI DAY 18
DELHI DAY 19
When we left the zoo we saw why the travel book does not recommend it on Sundays as the rows where now endlessly long!!
For some unknown reason the metro is not working today and so we had to give up the trip to the Lotus temple in favour of more shopping in the streets near the hostel....the kind of shopping I do enjoy, hassle to get the right price and bargaining here and there.
DELHI TO MUMBAI DAY 20
(TRAIN 16h 5 min and 1384km)
Today we had to get from Delhi to Mumbai. We ate our last breakfast of Spanish Omlettes and hash browns at our favourite restaurant, I bargained on some earrings I saw yesterday and I bought some material. This was our last train and although it was not the longest journey, a none stop journey on which food was served . We did not know how much food, but we were in for a good surprise, we were treated from start to finish. There was also more space on this ride.....a good thing we did not start with this luxury otherwise the other trips would have been hell!
MUMBAI DAY 21
MUMBAY DAY 22 and 23
The next morning we were so tired we did not want to move and our plain only departed at 2:30 early the next morning. So we bought a day ticket each for the bus. We got in at one stop, and got off at the last stop, changed busses and did the same until our bums did not want to sit anymore, then we went shopping and lastly (since we could not return to the hotel) we went to see a real Bollywood movie (3 hours long!!!) in real old style, where they use a torch to show you your seat and give you intermission time halve way through the movie. We had to leave early to get to the airport and back to SA....What a jol!!