India – part one

We’ve been in India over two weeks now and now that the seemingly compulsory train problems, sickness problems and getting ripped off (very minor compared to some – only a couple of dollars on the often dodgy airport pickup) have all been and gone, we are having a marvellous time.

It all started in Delhi and things were far from rosy.  While I enjoyed the sights (Red Fort, Old Delhi, Connaught Place,     Bahai Temple, Qutb Minar, Jantar Mantar) none, with the possible exception of the beautiful Bahai temple, really blew us away at all.  Even after all our middle eastern and African travel there was still a bit of an adjustment to make (as I said last time, perhaps 4 weeks in England contributed to that) and the smog, millions of people, cars, stray dogs, cows, pigeons, rubbish everywhere, etc just set us on edge and we didn’t  really enjoy the place that much.  Just when an exit was in sight (an overnight train to Varanasi) Kate got very sick.  She dragged herself to the train station only for us to discover that the train had been cancelled due to fog (a big problem on winter nights, though it is difficult not to call it smog) and we were trapped.  Probably for the best as Kate had a shocking night and wouldn’t have enjoyed the toilets on the trains as we later discovered.  We gave up on Varanasi (time constrained) and made for Agra the next day when Kate was up for it, knowing we were going to see the Taj Mahal helped.

Things were not so rosy at the train station however, after negotiating the huge crowds (what else would you expect, though luckily we never had to travel near peak hours) we found out our train was delayed several hours, we went off for dinner and came back to find a further delay so we waited some more (a funny incident happened about this time, I got into a small – and what would become frequent – conversation with a guy on the platform asking the usual stuff about us and our trip. As the conversation wound down he asked me “Mac (Matt is very hard for them to understand) are we friends now?”, I was a little bemused (we had spoken for maybe 2-3 minutes) but answered “yeah, sure, why not.”  “Well, can I have your mobile number?”  And so we exchanged numbers and maintained a very strange dialogue for a few days via texts – up until I lost our phone.  The highlight being him imploring Kate to send a message to a girl he met on the train who he fell in love with, Kate was to tell her what a fine person he was and to convince her he was a great guy.  Interesting.)  Anyway, the train arrived, we jumped on and found our seats/beds.  It was now midnight but we knew that the train should arrive at Agra at 3am so we decided to stay awake until then, which we did, but no sign of a train station… And then we both drifted off in our separate bunk beds where we couldn’t see out the window.  We woke up regularly but no sign of any train station at all and by this time (about 7am) we had assumed we slept through our stop and would have to backtrack and just jump off.  The train pulls up at a station and we are set to jump off when the name  sounds familiar – it’s on the way to Agra.  Happy (sort of) we stay on the train until it pulls in at Agra at 10.30am – a mere 10 or so hours to go 200km, but the fog was to blame again.  This left us a little unsure about our travel plans and seeing so much if this was the way the trains ran – a tour loomed as a real possibility, but we thought we would try the trains again before making that “drastic” decision.

Anyway, we were in Agra after all that, more than a little tired.  After a nap it becomes clear that now I’m not feeling so great either so we take it very slowly in Agra.  We  of course saw the Taj, which was as fantastic as we had hoped – such a beautiful building, and so, so many tourists, foreign and domestic alike.  In fact, perhaps not surprising considering the population, domestic tourists always outnumbered the foreigners – usually by about 10 to 1 wherever we went. I like that.  We also saw the “Baby Taj”, a smaller, earlier tomb, Agra Fort and took a taxi ride to nearby Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned city, complete with obligatory palaces, beautiful.

We then took a train (and tempted fate by it arriving at 3am again, but not a problem this time) to Sawai Madhopur to see Ranthambhore National Park, the only place in Rajasthan that still has tigers.  Touring around Rajasthan seeing all the palaces and the like, it quickly becomes clear why there are so few tigers left – the maharajas absolutely loved their tiger (and other large animals) hunting and there are photos, heads or whole skins everywhere you go.  But we wanted to see some in the flesh so booked in for two “safaris” around the park. But even with the backup trip we still had no luck, they are pretty scarce and it is a large park. It was still a lovely park and a great way to see deer, monkeys, boar, peacocks, and all sorts of other birds as well as some nice flora too, and to listen to fellow passengers’ tales of the tigers they had seen that morning…

From here we took the train to Jaipur, a cattle class ticket this time, we couldn’t find a seat but a nice young fellow found us some seats (that belonged to other people, they didn‘t mind too much) and it was quite fun watching them play childish games to pass the time and the like.  About half way there everyone started running around, hiding valuables and pretending to be asleep, we were told to hide our ipods.  What we were told is that a group of “bisexuals” roam the train and offer to bless you, for a fee, if you don’t want to be blessed they “show you something you don’t want to see” or take something of value until you pay them.  As curious as this made us, we decided feigning sleep was the best course of action and so they passed us by and everyone “woke up” again.  We shall never know.

Jaipur was great, very big, but great.  The big drawcards were the old, pink city with shops everywhere selling all sorts of amazing stuff; Jantar Mantar, one of 5 observatories built years and years ago around India (Jaipuir is the best preserved) that are truly awe-inspiring creations; the City Palace, typically sumptuous and luxurious; a fantastic old cinema, with a great interior, where we saw half a bollywood flick; and Amber Fort, the best fort we have seen so far (out of a large field).  Oh and some western eating options (pizza hut and McDonalds both got a look in) appealed as we were both still struggling with food, not so anymore. Food is a major highlight of this trip, it just takes some adjustment.

From Jaipur there was another train, another drama.  We were at our hotel printing our tickets, time running out, jumped in a rickshaw and headed  to the train station.  We got there and I realised that the mobile we had bought was back at the hotel, as we got to the platform though, that thought disappeared as our train was there and moving. So, in true India style, we ran along and jumped on the moving train.  Wrong carriage of course (the trains are huge), but we chatted with people in the carriage before changing at the next station (another run and jump affair) and we were away, minus the mobile.  The train was headed to Bikaner, one of two desert towns on our travels.  The main attraction for us was a fort in the centre of town, which was pretty great, a lot of people also go to do desert safaris by camel, but we had decided a while ago that we had ridden our last camel for a while…  We also had lunch at a rather luxurious hotel (Rajasthan is famous for it’s old heritage hotels) that Kate’s parents had stayed in a few years ago – very nice.

Almost forgot!  We took a side trip from Bikaner to the small town of Deshnok to the Karni Mata Temple.  A long story involving reincarnation but basically they believe that the rats in the temple are holy descendants of a god and so are given free run of the temple.  We had a (quick) wander around in amazement before we had to give up.  A truly strange sight, but a touch on the uneasy side.  Being rats the temple isn’t the cleanest either, their favoured corner is a hideously messy section but they are all over.  You could also buy rat food at the front of the temple but we didn’t see any need to encourage them further.

I could write another blog this size about the strangeness of India, but I might leave that for another time.  Needless to say the constant noise (traffic honking, music from temples, loud conversations, loud everything), spitting everywhere, men urinating everywhere, cows all over the place, stray dogs roaming all around (some supposedly carrying Rabies), and always people, people, people takes some getting used to.  But once you are used to it, India is fantastic.  A shame we have “only” 3 weeks left.

Here are a lot of photos.


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Thanks a ton to write so much in your blog about the journey and experience you had in my country India. Whatever you have written tells a complete story about any foreigner in this country. I agree. Hope you will visit again.

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