Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Last Day In India

Today was another sick day. We were up for a lot of the night, me with blocked sinuses and Michael with the news that he has sulphur burps, a telltale sign that he has giardia. During a conversation at 4.30am we decided to skip the sunrise today and turn our alarms off. In the event we didn't actually get any extra sleep, and were wide awake again at 6.30.

After lemon pancakes outside our room we set off in search of 'Pharma World' to get some medication for Michael. Still surprised at how cheap and easy it is to get what would be prescription medicines back home.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Last few days in India

Another early alarm call, but this time it's not for a train, it's to watch the sun rise over the Ganges. It's a short walk down the steep steps, and even at 6am there are already plenty of people around, and almost as soon as we step outside we are offered a boat to watch the sunrise from. We decline repeatedly despite the hard sell. Instead we find a spot and set up the iPhone on the mini tripod. There is plenty of entertainment from the family of 5 puppies and their mum who is still sleepy. Michael is in puppy heaven and comes home covered in dusty paw prints. There are groups of women bathing in the Ganges. Bathing fully clothed and then spending some time changing into a dry set of clothes.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Back to Varanasi

Michael was board of me sleeping so at 8am he decided it was time I was awake, eventually tempting me outside with the promise of food.

We have been moving so fast that today needed to be more relaxed so after a terrible aloo paratha, half of which was fed to a baby goat on the way back to the hotel we took advantage of the hot water to get our laundry done.

At lunchtime we met up with a friend of Michael's called Sophie who he had met while travelling in India 4 years ago. She now lives here full time and so we had a nice time talking to her over some momo's and yet another bowl of dal.

We headed out again mid afternoon and I got to see a bit more of Bodhgaya, yet another side of India, this place is full of tourist and Buddhist pilgrims and so full of tourist restaurants (hence the bad breakfast) and tourist shops Andrew more  beggars. The streets are still dusty and full of rubbish as Bodhgaya has its fair share of dogs and cows and goats but there is much less traffic and much less pollution so it has a very different feel to it and it is quite a relief to be somewhere less hectic. We walk to the giant Buddha where there are tourists arriving by the bus load. And then head back in search of yet more food, that is enough touristing for us for today. More momos and more dal, with a little lone puppy for company under our table. I buy some biscuits on the way home but make the mistake of not putting them in my bag for the walk. A little girl comes running up to me and points at them, I open the packet and give her one and she takes it and runs off, her sister then appears hand open and hopeful so she gets the second. Michael takes the packet of four remains biscuits and hides them in his pocket to ensure we don't loose anymore.

Back in the room and it's still light but Michael is done and after reading for all of four minutes he is soon passed out asleep next to me.  

Wednesday, 22 February 2017


Michael was board of me sleeping so at 8am he decided it was time I was awake, eventually tempting me outside with the promise of food.

We have been moving so fast that today needed to be more relaxed so after a terrible aloo paratha, half of which was fed to a baby goat on the way back to the hotel we took advantage of the hot water to get our laundry done.

At lunchtime we met up with a friend of Michael's called Sophie who he had met while travelling in India 4 years ago. She now lives here full time and so we had a nice time talking to her over some momo's and yet another bowl of dal.

We headed out again mid afternoon and I got to see a bit more of Bodhgaya, yet another side of India, this place is full of tourist and Buddhist pilgrims and so full of tourist restaurants (hence the bad breakfast) and tourist shops and more  beggars. The streets are still dusty and full of rubbish as Bodhgaya has its fair share of dogs and cows and goats but there is much less traffic and much less pollution so it has a very different feel to it and it is quite a relief to be somewhere less hectic. We walk to the giant Buddha where there are tourists arriving by the bus load. And then head back in search of yet more food, that is enough touristing for us for today. More momos and more dal, with a little lone puppy for company under our table. I buy some biscuits on the way home but make the mistake of not putting them in my bag for the walk. A little girl comes running up to me and points at them, I open the packet and give her one and she takes it and runs off, her sister then appears hand open and hopeful so she gets the second. Michael takes the packet of four remains biscuits and hides them in his pocket to ensure we don't loose anymore.

Back in the room and it's still light but Michael is done and after reading for all of four minutes he is soon passed out asleep next to me.  

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Whole Day Waiting for a Train

Today we spent almost 12 hours waiting for a train.

The alarm went off at 4am, Michael was up first and then I sleepily tried to get dressed. Despite the fact that the beds in the hotel were rock hard, I had slept surprisingly well. Just about conscious and packed up to leave and Michael discovers, though the IRCTC website, that our train is running late. Over 9 hours late, in fact it has only just left Delhi, which is 900km away. Back into bed, back to sleep hoping that there won't be further delays.

Check out at the hotel is at noon, so we make the most of having somewhere cool and peaceful to wait, though this confused the boys at the front desk, as we had told them we would be leaving at 5am. We head back over the the Laxmi restaurant from yesterday, the one positive from this delay is that we get to try their food again, this time opting for a thali and eating far too much.

Eventually we have no choice but to head to the station and watch as the delay gets longer and longer. We find a mercifully quiet spot by the Foreign Tourist Booking Office, Michael heads off for supplies and cash, and I try not to let my stress levels increase with the frustration of it all. There is a lone lizard on the concourse and we gasp as he nearly gets squished by a passing foot. This prompts Michael on a rescue mission to get the little fellow to safety, which then prompts the woman sitting next to us to tell Michael he must now wash his hands.

We head over to the platform at around 4pm and wait as two other trains pull in and then out of our assigned platform. I am paranoid that after waiting for eleven and a half hours for the train we will miss it due to a last minute platform change, and sure enough we are moved to platform 4 minutes before the train arrives. So relieved to be finally in our seats and heading to Gaya. We had chosen this train to avoid a night time arrival, but it's already getting dark so now we have no choice.  Four and a half hours later we are off and into one of the many waiting tuktuks for the 40 minute drive to Bodhgaya.

Michael headed to the hotel he stayed at four years ago and luckily they had one room left. Again it's by the front door and the beds are rock hard but I am just grateful to be no longer waiting for a train.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Allahabad to Varanasi

Allahabad station is by far the nicest station I have visited in India. Actually it is probably much the same as all other stations here, but it was relatively deserted so it felt much more pleasant than the others I have visited. After our early morning walk to the station we found out that our train was delayed by about 40 minutes, a bit of a pain but not too bad for India. We connected to the wifi and waited on the empty concourse before making our way to the empty platform and eventually boarding the half empty train. This train was the sleeper train from Delhi and even as we got on at around 9am there were still people sleeping in their bunks, it felt a bit strange as a lot of the bunks were still made up and occupied, so it felt like we were walking into someone's bedroom.

We arrived at a secondary train station in Varanasi and negotiated hard for a tuktuk to take us to Varanasi Junction, the more central station a few kilometres away. After the relative peace of Allahabad station Varanasi was a shock to the system, dense crowds and many many drivers trying to get our attention. Me gettting annoyed as they would only talk to Michael, when I said 'no' they deferred to him to see if he would overrule me. He wouldn't dare!

Into our tuktuk and inch by inch through the traffic and the din. Horns beeping in vain and our driver shouting to passers by as we went, soon someone joined him on the front seat, a bit further and another two jumped in. So there are now six of us in this tiny vehicle. Michael and I and our bags in the back and three more passengers in the front with the driver scrunched up by the wind screen practically sitting on one of their laps.

As we near Varanasi Junction the traffic seizes up again and it is really hot. The air is so thick with all the fumes we can hardly breathe, there is a cart being pulled by a cow in the middle of it all, hot, tired and miserable. There is a yellow mini bus with many more people than seats. So many people that the back door can't close and is held shut by a man standing at the back.

We finally get let out and make our way into the station to try and book the rest of the train tickets we will need in India. People sleeping everywhere, we pick a route through the bodies and then get directed back outside to a separate building. This ticket office is much smaller than the one at Delhi and there is only one clerk, but there are far less people waiting. We sit on sofas and once our form is filled in Michael gets to work helping out some Japanese tourists that can't work out what they need to do, it's quite funny to hear them repeatedly groan in understanding in unison as Michael communicates what information goes where. Tickets bought and more tourists helped by Michael we set out to find a hotel close to the station, as we have a 5am train to catch in the morning. Past many many tuktuk drivers outside the station and Michael is once again impressed by my ability to ignore them while he feels compelled to have a conversation with each who engage him, even though we don't need a ride. One tells him that we can't have a hotel here and we have to go to the tourist area in the old town; I think he is trying to be helpful but it sounds like he is saying that these hotels are only for Indians. We wave them off but one guy keeps following u,  trying to help us find a hotel even though he doesn't know where it is. Maybe hoping to get a kickback from the hotel. Finally we are directed to the place we are looking for, down a side road and after one wrong turn we find it. We get the room next to the reception, which is fine for us but bad news for the boys manning the front desk as they were using it to watch TV in.

A recommendation from the hotel and we head out for a late lunch, realising we haven't had a really good meal since before we got ill. Well we order up a feast once we find the Laxmi restaurant tucked behind a small roadside temple in the vague area of where the boys said it would be. Roti and pilau rice with a tardaka dhal, potato curry Varanasi-style and raita. Back to the hotel to sleep it off and then into a tuktuk to take us to the old town.

Strangely Michael was here exactly four years ago to the day, and he is feeling nostalgic as he heads straight back to the guest house he stayed at before. There are so many people packed into this part of the city, it is hard to make our way through the streets, the shops are bigger and stacked full of bright coloured saris. We fight through the crowds avoiding getting dragged into shops and also trying to avoid the scooters that are ignoring the fact that this area is closed to traffic. Away from the throng and down some of the shit-covered side alleys, no peace here, the streets are only 6 foot wide but we are sharing the space with cows and yet more wayward scooters beeping to may their intentions clear. Finally down to the ghats and we are a bit before sunset so we take as seat high on the step and watch the world go by for a while. So many tourists that the pressure is off us, although the selfie requests still come. There is a young guy, don't catch his accent, with John Lennon glasses who sits down to have a smoke with a Baba. There are boats going by on the water below filled with both western and Indian tourists. It's getting busier as more people arrive for the Ganga Aarti. As we will be back in Varanasi later in the week we decide to give it a miss tonight and instead take a slow walk through a number of ghats. Michael has brought some biscuits, so he feeds puppies and cows and monkeys and goats. The goat, keen for more, decides I might have some so he starts aggressively following me until he is chased off by some helpful spectators. Too tired to carry on we head back to the hotel, alarms set for 4am so we can catch the train to Gaya. The 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

India is Really Hard

This morning in Allahabad was hard. We took a rickshaw the 6 km to the fort, however as it is currently in use it is not actually something you can look around. After some confusion we drive to an area called Sangam, which is the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. It is a very holy place to Hindus, and they come here to wash away their sins in the holy water. Michael explains that every twelve years there is the Khumb Mela and the place is filled with 100 million people, camped in fields and bathing in the rivers in shifts over many days. I am naively thinking that today will be a peaceful experience and that there will only be a handful of people here. I am wrong. It is vast and dusty and there are thousands of people here. Firstly there are the pilgrims, arriving in their clean cars or rickshaws like us, dressed in their beautiful immaculate clothes, visiting the temple, taking a boat to wash in the river, and feed the seagulls flying overhead. But then there are the people that live and work here. The rowers and boat owner, taking people out on to the rivers, the stall holders selling food and souvenirs and jewellery and huge empty bottles so you can take home your own holy water, or the hawkers that follow you around carrying things that you don't want or need but they just won't take no for an answer. The monks with their long grey beards and long dirty robes, asking us for money but we don't really now why, there are the drivers milling about waiting for their passengers to return, and then there are the beggars, the women sitting to the side of the roads waiting to be blessed with food and money, there are the blind and crippled with hands open waiting to receive, and then there are the children who just follow you and tap your arms and sides relentlessly. And it's these children who broke my heart this morning. We both seem to have a group of seven or eight children surrounding us at all times, dirty hair, dirty clothes, bare feet with a stainless steel bowl held out to make their requirements known. This is how they spend their days from when they can walk till they are about five, and it is just so hard to comprehend that this is all they know. They surround us and follow us and we don't really understand how this is a thing. Are they abandoned and alone? Are their parents nearby? Have they been sent out to beg for the family, or are they employed by someone who is profiting from their cuteness and vulnerability. I think about the children I know who are under five and all that they have and all of the opportunities they are given and that they have a warm bed to sleep in every night and food in their bellies. These children have nothing. And they will probably grow up to have more children who will also have nothing.

Seeing all these children and babies begging really got to me, we have seen them every day since we arrived, they seem to be on every street in every city, but today the sheer number of them was overwhelming. I felt rude and uncaring as I couldn't do anything for them. They wouldn't be interested in talking or playing, they have been taught to have one agenda and that is all that are allowed to have. and I feel guilty and helpless and then more guilty for being upset as what right do I have to shed a tear for them as I will soon go back to my comfortable life and forget they exist like everyone else.

India is full of absurdities, and as soon as we had got back to the city we visited a huge British cathedral, quiet and peaceful sitting in the middle of a large traffic circle.     Only 6km away from the Sangam but it seems like a million miles.

After Michael spent some time arranging our onward travel for tomorrow we ventured out again to the city park a short walk away. Through the old city and under the railway bridge. Dodging cow shit and cows and dogs and busses and scooters as usual, repeatedly declining rides from rickshaws and occasionally replying to the people who greet us. A quick stop for some chaat, an unidentified pastry crumbled into a bowl and covered in all manner of sauces and spices. Not bad, not my favourite, but happy to try something new again, this one seems to be a Kerala style.

The park is busy, but spacious and provides a nice buffer from the dirt and noise of the streets. Yet more selfie requests and we make our way over to the big Victoria monument and the far side. We stop and sit on a wall and it's here that we stay for the next 90 minutes, many a selfie and a long conversation with a young local student with whom history and politics are covered and there is a crowd of 20 to 30 listening at any one time. Yet another spontaneously wonderful exchange.

Saturday, 18 February 2017


We are leaving Lucknow one day later than anticipated. We pack up our room and make the short walk to the bus station. The early morning crazy somehow a little less crazy than the east of the day and night. Utter confusion at the bust station as all information is in Hindi, eventually we get directed to the right place to buy a ticket for the right bus and we are soon in our seats waiting for the departure. The bus seems to creep out of Lucknow inch by inch, albeit as very loud jolty creep. Slowly weaving through the traffic and cows and dogs. At one stage there is total grid lock at a small traffic circle as one bus has broken down and two other busses, including ours seem to wedge themselves in a kind of stale mate, still pushing forward even through there is no where to go. Much confusion and gesticulating and shunting and the broken bus manages to move backwards out of the way and we are one the move again inching the rest of the way out of the city. The rest of the journey is heavily punctuated with sharp sudden breaking and constant honking on the horn, five hours later we pull into Allahabad bus station. We dodge through the crowd of waiting drivers with relative ease and find a spot for lunch. It is a strange little cafe which seems to want to be a diner, the kitchen is out on the street and there are deflated heart shape valentines balloons. We order a strange combination of onion pakora and paneer chow mien which turns out to have no paneer on it. Micheal goes out to the counter to order a sprite but what arrives is a kind of potato puff pastry.

The usual hot tiring stress of trying to find a hotel, the first one is full, the second one is full and they inform us that there are no rooms left in the whole of the city. A little more searching and then under the railway tracks to the old town and we find an ok place where Michael manages to negotiate  a discount for a pre payment.

A quick turnaround and we venture out to walk around the chawk, the area is much like any other Indian city street only there are many more stalls and shops packed together. Passed a tiny brand new baby calf, it seems to have been tide to a pillar on a short length of rope, poor thing, but at least that will stop it from wandering into the path of a tuktuk as it will not have got its India street smarts yet.

The usual array of goods on display. And the usual chaos and tangle of bikes and tuktuk and cows and dogs. We end up buying a stacking tiffin. It will be useful to carry food on these long train journeys.  

Back to the newer side of town and Michael feeds the coffee biscuits we bought in error to a tiny puppy with a broken, yet wagging white tipped tail. Some fries and a Fanta from McDonald's and we instantly have regret wanting Indian food instead. Back, through the dark  to the hotel for the night. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

One Day, Two Trains

Woken for the 20th time during the night to find out it is close enough to morning that I shouldn't bother trying to go back to sleep. The thin, hard mattress hasn't offered much comfort, and we are both aching. Down off my bunk to sit with Michael for the last hour before we arrive at New Delhi Station. Out of the window we see many little makeshift houses that have been erected between the tracks and the buildings next to the railway line; there isn't much space, but lots of families are obviously living in these slums . There are children sitting right next to the tracks eating their breakfast, and everyone on this huge train has a view of these families going about their mornings. There is no sanitation, so where there are gaps between groups of homes, on areas that are too rocky to live, these people are using that earth as their bathroom, man after man squatting to do his morning business, genitalia dangling in full view of the train. I wonder what the poor women have to do. Suddenly the smelly toilets on the train don't seem so bad.

Back in Delhi once more and it's straight up to the Foreign Tourist Ticket Bureau. We take our number, fill in our form, and then one of the two ladies calls us up. 8am is clearly the best time to come here, when all the other tourists are still in bed. We get our tickets for the same day to Lucknow, but the train doesn't leave till 1.10 and doesn't arrive in Lucknow till after dark. It is not ideal, as it is always more stressful arriving somewhere in the evening. There are less rooms available, and after 36 hours non-stop travelling we will be tired and stressed, but I would rather that than stay in Delhi for any longer than we have to.

We have just under 5 hours to wait, so we head out towards the Chaudni Chowk in search of some breakfast. The streets of Old Delhi are starting to come alive and men are going about their business. Shops are being opened, chai is being brewed, deliveries are passing on carts pulled my man or cow. Everyone is in a rush to get somewhere. We arrive at the road that leads to the Red Fort and end up eating in a canteen cum sweet shop that Luis and I found on our first day in India, three and a half years ago. It's kind of a fast food place, but we get a chance to put our bags down for a bit.

Refreshed and fed, we try and visit the silver quarter, but apparently it doesn't get going till noon, so a slow walk back to New Delhi station via the Jama Masjid mosque where we sit on the steps and watch the tour groups arrive one after one. No photos inside as I refuse to pay the 300 rupees for the ticket for my camera.

More time to kill back at the station so we just end up crouched on the overhead walkway waiting for our train to be announced. So far our luck with Indian trains on this trip has been amazing and we have experienced no delays, and this train too pulls onto the platform a full half an hour before it's scheduled departure so we have lots of time to find our seats. Thankful that we are in the luxurious (it's not actually that luxurious) 2ac class as we watch the crowds on the platform rush towards the unreserved carriages.

I don't get train etiquette on Indian trains, in fact I don't think there is train etiquette, it's more a case of do what you want, sit where you want, leave your bags where you want, eat what you want and make as big a mess as possible and definitely don't respect anyone's personal space. Like the time this afternoon when I woke from a very quick nap to find a woman sitting on my feet!

A slow 8 hour ride with a little rest, but mainly lots of discomfort, and we arrive in Lucknow just a little after 9pm, the Indian couple sharing our compartment offering to share their food with us. It smells amazing but we decline as we are only 12 miles from the station and won't really have time. The usual crazy welcome at station. Lots of people wanting to help us with transport or finding a hotel. It is impossible to think with five or six people shouting prices and hotel names, Michael gets the brunt of it and is more polite than me and so ends up having conversations that he doesn't want to have. I am more blunt with my 'no's' but you have to repeat no thank you at least 10 times before they finally give up. Across a pedestrian walkway and then down the busy street that we think leads to a cluster of hotels. Offers of help that we don't want every step of the way, a lot of the hotels are more than we need and out of our price range but we stumble down a side street into a smaller establishment. Lots of discussions about rooms and prices and questions about how long we will be staying. We are both too tired to think clearly so we go round in circles for a bit. Eventually we end up in a huge room with a balcony and most importantly a clean comfortable bed. Checking in takes as long as it usually does in India with a big book to fill in and copies of our passports and visa to be made. We order some biryani as we haven't eaten properly since our breakfast in Delhi. We are in the room just after 10pm but the food doesn't arrive till nearly midnight. Eventually we get the hot water working so I had a chance to wash away the two trains. Michael then sat down at the chair by the table, only the seat of the chair was only really held in place by a whisker, so he fell straight through to the floor. It was funny from where I was sitting on the bed, but when I got up to help him off the floor I got the full view I really couldn't stop laughing till I cried and my stomach ached. Poor Michael. The biryani was delicious when it arrived and then finally to bed after 40 hours with no proper sleep.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Another Travel Day

Today we leave Gujarat, and catch a sleeper train back to Delhi, but first we have to get back to Ahmedabad. Photos in the hotel with the driver before we start the long drive back. We make good time -- despite the many herds of cows and water buffalo in the road -- nearing the outskirts of the city at around 1pm. Our train isn't till 5.40pm, so we have a little time to do a bit more touristing before we need to be at the station. We ask to go to the Adlaj Step well and on the way we have an unexpected stop at the strangest temple I have ever been to. It is an artificial mountain, a couple of stories high. We deposit our shoes and follow the arrows;?there is a quick security stop where I am told I am not allowed a pen, while Michael is allowed in with his pen but has to turn his phone off. Very bizarre. We follow the white tiled switchbacks through the fake rock, and then we catch up with a couple of Indian guys who point us through a low archway. We end up crawling on our hands and knees up hill through a tiny man made tunnel, emerging into the daylight a little further on. Another tunnel and this time the floor is wet so I don't really want to crawl, instead we have to kind of crouch and walk at the same time. Then a blessing and a bright red dot on our foreheads; Michael's lasts for the rest of the day, but mine seems to come off in minutes. We are also given a coin for good luck, which Michael seems to need, as he bashed his head coming out of the second tunnel.

The step well, when we arrive, is full of tourists and a European woman is busy having her picture taken with lots of people. We use the distraction to slip past the crowd and into the depths of the well. It is much like the Kadi Ni Vav well we visited 6 days ago in Ahmedabad, only much bigger and with more safety in mind, as you are not simply able to climb all over this one. The walls are beautifully carved, but we don't get to admire them for long as we are soon surrounded by girls asking for photos. Michael gets to watch this time as various children are pushed to stand next to me for pictures, our driver turns up and I think he is here to save us, only he starts arranging the children too. Eventually away and on to our last stop, Gandhi's Ashram, the place where he lived in the 1920s. It is a tranquil, spacious place in the centre of the hustle and bustle of Ahmedabad. We find the rules of the ashram interesting; some quite extreme, but others we should all live by. There is also a wall of quotes about Gandhi from all sorts of people, from Martin Luther King to Albert Einstein. Much like Gandhi's place of birth, it is a really thought provoking place to visit.  

Finally it is time to say goodbye to the driver as he drops us off at the station. We are a little early, so pop into a little Sikh restaurant for a thali. A quick look from afar at some shaking minarets, then as we are walking up the stairs to find our platform a German guy falls into step with us, quite nervous about catching the train. Michael explains to him how things work and he wanders off down the platform in search of the right place to stand for his first class carriage, while Michael wanders off to find the toilet. On the platform I am suddenly surrounded by a huge group of people and so shuffle along the platform to find a bit more space. There is the usual chaos on the platform, beggars moving from person to person, hand open and hopeful, hawkers making sales, and travellers waiting to board their trains. Just as the train before ours pulls away a man comes running down the stairs followed by a laden porter and frantically shouting to his wife who is further back up the stairs trying to pass some people. The train is crawling at this stage but slowly gaining speed. More shouting and the wife finally reaches the platform, at this stage I am starting to get stressed for them, the wife is slightly older and doesn't appear to be in the best shape and I have visions of her falling under the wheels as she attempts to board the moving train. By this time an official looking guy has turned up too. The wife makes a grab for the hand rails as one of the open doors goes by, but sure enough she isn't quick enough and the train whips out of her reach. At this point the official looking guy takes control and stops them from trying again, the train is simply going too fast, we watch carriage after carriage go past and my proximity stress is still high. Finally the end of the train is in sight, and everyone is shouting to the guards at the back of the train, frantically gesturing for the train to slow down, but the train is gone. Everyone on the platform is deflated for the man and his wife missing their train, but then it slows and suddenly stops 100 meters further down the platform. There is a quick cheer and then the man, his wife, the porter, and the guard go running down the platform to board the train. I am both relieved and amazed.

We catch our train with much less excitement, and settle in for the next 14 hours! As soon as the train starts to move the refreshments start to arrive; first a litre of water each, then a sandwich with a blandly unidentifiable filling, some lentil snacks, and an extremely dry chocolate muffin. Later we are given breadsticks with butter and then tomato soup. That is followed by a dhal, channa masala, rice and chapati. Then, after I have braved the bathroom and cleaned my teeth, the ice cream arrives. There are some really nice guys in our compartment, they are very friendly and one remarks that we are the first foreigners he has ever met. We chat to them for a while, and then everyone starts to put the beds down for the night. Michael has made my bed up with sheets and blankets, even turning down the corner, and I clamber up to the bunk -- much more elegantly than on the last train -- and prepare myself for a fitful night's sleep. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Wonderful Gujarat

My mood had somewhat improved by this morning, so much so that we left the hotel an hour before we were due to leave to take a walk down to the Gomti Ghat on the Gomti river. There were two reasons for this, first we had kind of run out of time the previous night, and secondly I had some misguided idea that the ghat would be quiet at 7 o'clock in the morning. It wasn't. There was a throng of people already on the steps of the ghat and down by the water. Groups were lighting lanterns to launch on the river, others just taking photos, and of course there were more photo requests for Michael.

Just a shortish drive today to Jamnagar, stopping just outside the city to visit the Swaminarayan Mandir. The grounds of the temple were beautifully kept; manicured lawns, symmetrical flowers beds, and not a scrap of litter. The temple was really nice too -- and just as immaculate -- the carvings were pristine and I particularly liked the inlayed floor, a subtle flower design.

In Jamnagar we took a walk round the Lakhota Lake. There is a gated walkway around the lake which offers some protection from the noise, traffic and endless cows outside. I was also pleased to see that the cows here had lots of greens to eat instead of just rubbish. The lake was pretty peaceful. Lots of birds, and some sculptures and information boards. The museum at the centre of the lake was covered in scaffolding and closed for construction work, as things so often are in India. We found a small exhibition at the far side of the lake holding the strangest collection of things I have every scene in one place. An aquarium containing mainly goldfish, an emu, various other birds kept in bare dark cages, some paintings, some photographs, and few textiles and some brass locks. You never know what to expect in India. Back round the lake and past the crumbling old fort as well as the Balihanuman Temple where there has been continuous chanting since the 1960s

Back to the hotel for a rest, this week of constant travel is starting to catch up with us. Some confusion over plans with the driver but ultimately he went back to napping in his car. Then we set out just before sunset to the lake once more; we pay our 10 rupees each to get into the inner pathway and this time the park is buzzing, this is obviously the place to be on a Sunday night. Hundreds of families walking together and children playing in the little playgrounds, there are pools where the fountains have long since stopped working and a huge stand that must hosts events at some point in the year. Michael spots a tree full of sleeping fruit-bats and by the time we reach it they are waking up for the night. Stretching their wings as they hang before taking off into the darkening sky. There are groups of swallows swooping past too and it feels like quite a magical place.

There have been requests for photographs  as we walk but once we reach the far side of the lake again an excited boy runs over to meet us calling me aunty and Michael uncle. He shakes our hands and uses his best English to ask us what country we are from, then a group of boys runs over, all excited to talk to Michael and have selfies. A group of girls forms around me and before I know it I am smiling for photo after photo with different groups of people. A small crowd has formed and it is the most bizarre feeling ever, and I can't stop laughing at the absurdity; I mean it is wonderful that we are being made to feel so welcome, but we are are just normal people on holiday. Nothing special. Then the babies start to arrive, one is thrust into Michael's hands and he sort of holds it out in front of him like it was a football, then it is handed over to me for a second photo. This starts a procession of babies being handed to me, some willing, some confused, and others downright fearful of me. We must have been there for half an hour, and eventually I make our excuses to leave, as I fear that we are being eaten alive by the mosquitos from the lake. I end up having to pull Michael away from the group of boys that are hanging off his arm shouting for one more selfie. We are almost giddy from the silliness of the situation and from how lovely everyone is being to us.

Dinner was two types of street food that I hadn't tasted before; a broken samosa covered in a sweet tomato sauce and peanuts, and a little further down the street a plate of slices of bread roll covered in all sorts of sweet and savoury sauces. We think these are local dishes to Jamnagar, but don't know for sure. Back to the hotel, still high from the wonderful evening. 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

India is hard

Today India got the better of me. It was a number of things contributing to my short fuse. First I was stressed as we left half an hour late, not really a problem but the tourist part of me started panicking that we would miss something or that we would have to rush later in the day. This had me on edge from the get go. Other contributing factors included the endless number of puppies we saw in the streets in  Dwarka, today's destination, all dusty and just skin and bone, and the children working digging a trench in the street outside our comfortable hotel. The beggars, young and old, at every stop we made, some crippled and some just children, dusty and hungry and banging on the car windows as we drove off with the windows up and the air con on. In India the face of poverty is everywhere. In Porbandar we saw a cow and her calf eating from a bucket, I assumed someone had fed them, but when we took a closer look we saw the bucket was full of string and rubbish. Michael ended up buying 6 bananas to feed them and the fussy little calf made him peel them first. There were endless requests for photos again today, I re-instated my rule of saying yes to girls, women and children and no to men. Michael is nicer than me and so will have a selfie with everyone who asks. And then there was the man on the boat who took photos of us non-stop for 10 minutes without asking or even saying hello, he would just put the phone in selfie mode and take a picture of himself with us in the back ground. I mean, he didn't even try to hide what he was doing, the first couple of pictures didn't bother me but by the end of his little photo shoot I was really getting annoyed. Speaking of the boat, why did everyone packed onto this tiny vessel think it would be a good idea to spend the whole of the thirty minute journey across the harbour throwing nuts and puffed rice up into the air for the seagulls circling above to catch and to bring a rain of poo down on our heads. It's been a long, wonderful, infuriating day in India.

On the plus side we ate more delicious Indian food, took selfies with a huge group of children on a beach, visited the house where Ghandi was born, went to an endless number of temples, saw a giant Shiva statue, and I had a beautiful young Indian woman tell me I was beautiful. Michael introduced the same girl to the Star Walk app and then she shouted across a huge group of people to tell him she had found the moon, Michael made friends with a large number of cows and I even gave one a pat! Oh and I nearly fell off the bed laughing when Michael got undressed and found a huge cockroach in his pants.

Friday, 10 February 2017

India is Endlessly Confusing

Today was very confusing, for much of the day we didn't know what an Earth was going on. We noticed that we haven't seen a Western tourist since we left Ahmedabad three days ago, and even there they were really sparse. This turns out to be a blessing, but also a curse, it is wonderful to think that we are travelling to places not many Westerners venture to, and it also means that we are somewhat of a novelty, with lots of curious stares until we smile -- and most of the time that smile is returned -- lots of people wanting to have photographs with us, and lots of people wanting to talk to us and find out where we are from, if we like India, how long we are hear for, and where we are going next. And lots of people wanting us to interact with their babies and toddlers, whether they want to or not. One little two year old, towards the end of the day, looked absolutely petrified at the prospect of shaking Michael's hand, even when he crouched down to two year old height. I did a little better and got a quick hand hold and the hint of a smile which then turned into a cheeky smile and a blown kiss. The only really down side is very little information written in English, so we often don't really understand what we are visiting or where we are allowed to go or what is going on at all really. Today we learnt just to have faith, and even in the depths of confusion and misunderstanding we end up having wonderful experiences.

The day started off as per what has become our usual routine. Alarm, breakfast, this time of aloo paratha, and then down to meet our driver to depart for the next destination, which today was Somnath which is on the coast of the Arabian Sea.

First tourist spot was Triveni Sangam, which is the confluence of three rivers; that is two actual rivers and one spiritual river. There is a long ghat where people come to wash away their sins and free themselves from the cycle of rebirth. We take a walk along the ghat past the cows and dogs and hogs. It is actually really pleasant, apart from all the animal waste and the vast amount of litter in the water.
We then walk to a couple of temples, and are made to feel very welcome even though we feel a little unsure if if we should be there.

Back to the car and the driver takes us to the place where Krishna is supposed to have ascended to heaven; again it is very pleasant, though the temples here are relatively new and so not that interesting, and again we don't have a very good understanding of the place despite the one English information board we find. Back in the car and a 7km drive to another site which is supposed to also be the place where Krishna ascended to heaven, with the very same sign in English. There are many more people here, a large group of woman chanting under a shelter and some people being served food, a shallow step well with bright green water which somehow manages to sustain three turtles, and a new temple that appears to be under construction, with bamboo scaffolding inside and out and some workmen toiling away.

In the evening we arrive at the main Somnath temple. An important pilgrimage site and more confusion for us. As we arrive the driver tells us that no bags, cameras, phones, wallets or belts are allowed inside, this is a problem for us as we are carrying all of the above as well as our passports. We wander past all the stalls outside the temple and try to orientate ourselves. There is a security gate checking that everyone abides by the rules. With limited information we eventually navigate checking our bag into a cloakroom, getting through security, leaving our shoes at the shoe counter, getting through the second level of security, and finally into the temple complex. It is very serene, despite the large number of visitors and, I assume, pilgrims. We spend some time looking out over the Arabian Sea before visiting the temple itself. A little more security and a long queue to do darshan and puja.
Michael and I take a seat outside with our backs to the setting orange sun and watch the colour change on the temple as the light fades.

Once we have retrieved our shoes and our bag we find a little outside restaurant for some South Indian supper before our driver suddenly seems to appear from nowhere to take us back to the hotel.  

Thursday, 9 February 2017


Today started very much like yesterday except we are in a different hotel in a different city. Today we wake up in Bhavnagar and it is a mad rush to get down to the car for 8am, as Michael set his alarm to silent so we sleep right through it. Breakfast of toast (black on one side and bread on the other) the we meet our driver and head west to Junagadh. For the first half of the journey the roads are pretty bad, pot holes and gravel in places and the constant confusion of overtaking and being overtaken while avoiding cows and dogs.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Thirty Five Hundred Steps!

NB. A dohly is some kind of seat attached to two bamboo sticks for carrying one human via the use of two or four dohly-wallas!

It is 9.20pm. I have just had a freezing shower and crawled into bed. I am too tired to write, the day went something like this...

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

This is India

The day didn't really get a started till 3pm. I mean, it actually started at 8am, but a series of frustrations and issues meant that we weren't properly out and about until 3pm. Mystic Gujarat, where we booked our tour, didn't open till eleven, so after we arrived at their door a little after ten we found we had an hour or so to kill; we walked along the Ashram Road and then along the river for a bit, surprised to find a modern promenade rather than old ghats. Tour finally booked we were on our way at three. First stop a snack as we hadn't eaten since our breakfast of aloo paratha. We make a beeline for a stall on the Asheram Road who had been so friendly every time we have passed; he lined a dish with news print and then ads four little brown fried balls with some red onion and baby chills. They are so good, we didn't find out what they were called, exactly, but they were a spicy, herby kind of bread. So good! And even nicer as he insisted we didn't pay.

Monday, 6 February 2017

A Travel Day

Today was a travel day; I never look forward to travel days, but then they always turn out to be more enjoyable than I anticipated. Michael and I have a strange dynamic when it comes to stress and travelling; I always stress about catching buses, trains and planes, whereas he is never phased by this and instead gets stressed about finding accommodation, while I am, usually, laid back about this.

True to form I was agitated this morning, I didn't try too hard to haggle with the tuktuk driver over the price to the bus station, and I had us arrive a full 45 minutes before the bus was even due to leave. This being India the bus was running late, so we had a full hour to pass on the dusty street waiting to board the bus. As usual there was a lot going on, and a lot of it didn't really make any sense. We enjoyed watching some dogs play in the street, and Michael noticed that one of them had been neutered so we guessed it must have gone through Animal Aid Unlimited. Michael found a stall selling a bowl of rice for breakfast and some biscuits for the road and I concentrated on not needing the bathroom after walking in and straight out of the only facility around the bus station. When I say facility I mean it was a small concrete room with a concrete floor, so you can only imagine the condition it was in, as I cannot bring myself to describe it. Eventually our tickets were inspected at the office, and then new hand-written tickets were issued before, with a sudden great sense of urgency, we were ushered over to the bus hat had just pulled up. Grateful again to only have one small bag each to carry on while the Korean couple also travelling to Ahmedabad had to heave their huge, overloaded backpacks into the underbelly of the bus.

This bus was our second choice, the AC bus advertised to take three and a half hours ended up not running today, so we settled on the non-AC bus advertised to take five and a half hours. It was cheaper, but we would have rather have had the extra time in Ahmedabad. My heart sank as I climbed up the high wooden stairs into the dirty bus; instead of seats there were bunks, two levels of beds, doubled to the left and singles to the right. Two people were squeezed into each single, and goodness knows how many people were on each double. Luckily about a third of the way down the bus the bottom row of doubles ended and were replaced with seats. So thankful that we weren't going to have to sit cross-legged on a dirty mattress for the next 6 hours, although I did feel bad for the elderly women in saris climbing up to the bunks above our heads. The journey itself was pretty uneventful, it was slow and we stopped about 20 times to pick up more passengers, so it took about an hour to leave Udaipur, before which I even managed a little bus nap. We stopped at a 'resort' at about the half way point, and luckily the toilets were just about usable although, again, I can't bring myself to describe what I saw in them. Michael bought us two delicious samosas for lunch before we were off for the second half of the tedious crawl to Ahmedabad. The landscape became slightly more green and less dirt, and we watched many a Tata truck, brightly painted and decorated to please the gods go hurtling past. We passed little shanty camps on the side of the road, homes made out of branches with ill-fitting plastic coverings, and I could not help but wonder what circumstances lead a person to have no choice but to erect their makeshift home so close to this dirty, busy road.

Of course the bus dropped us off miles from where we needed to be, and as we came down the stairs there was a throng of drivers waiting to get our business. We hadn't even decided if we were going to try and get a local bus to the city centre, and it's impossible to have a conversation with each other when crowded by so may drivers asking were we are going. Eventually we engaged in the infuriating back and forth negotiations for price and after walking away to get a bus our price was finally agreed and we were ushered into somebody's tuktuk.

Ahmedabad streets are as busy as Delhi's, there are bus-only lanes to ease public transit, but it turns out everyone ignores that rule and uses these lanes anyway; we were even amused to see a few cows relaxing in the middle of these lanes too. Our driver was erratic and aggressive in his driving, that is until he got distracted by checking his hair in the rear view mirror, which happened quite often.  He would repeatedly spit out of the side of the tuktuk, and I was fearful that at the wrong velocity and angle it would come back in and hit me. We passed two wedding processions, and I observed that the person having the least fun was always the groom stuck up on the horse at the back. And then there were places when the traffic just didn't move at all, a complete stalemate, everyone beeping their horns and all the fumes making it impossible to breath, all moving forward inch by inch getting into an even more tightly packed jam. A policeman with a stick tried to sort out the mess, but seemingly made it worse.

Our first task in Ahmedabad was to sort out a tour for the next few days to see as much of Gujarat as we can, the only problem being that there is so much to see. First into the official Gujarat Tourism office, only they only offer one fixed tour and it doesn't leave till the Friday; back out to the street and twice across a too busy six lane road to find Mystic Gujarat Tours, only the whole time I had been looking for Mister Gujarat after mishearing Michael. A chance to sit down to discus options and then we really must find somewhere to sleep for the night.

Gujarat is a holiday destination for many Indians and as such it is slightly more expensive than other places. The first place we try has ok prices but is full, and the second place has a room but is twice as much as we want to spend. This leads to a comical negotiation. Eventually their bottom price is still more than we want to pay, so we head for the lift to leave. At the last second we are called back and the manager finally agrees to our price for two nights. It is still more than we want to pay but it is ok. We see the room and then go through the rigmarole of checking in, which means giving all sorts of information about us and our trip, and getting our passports and visas copied, and even getting our photograph taken. Michael confirms the price one last time only for the hotel owner to go back on his word and add an 8% tax to the price which he previously says was included. Michael had no fight left in him, but I wasn't having it. I very assertively told him that's not what he agreed to and we had decided to leave before he had accepted our price, he backed down pretty quickly knowing that he had been trying his luck. I insisted on paying for the room there and then, as I know if we waited till we checked out the price would have gone back up again.

Distracted by more research into what we want to see in Gujarat, and then what we want to do on the rest of our trip, before popping out and back across the big road for a 60rs (71p) thali for dinner. A bit spicier than tourist food, but still delicious, especially watching the chapati cooked over the red coals.

Laundry soap purchased on the way home so that Michael could wash through his clothes -- that still smell of dog and cow from his days at Animal Aid -- and he didn't quiet believe the 7rs price and tried to pay 70rs. Then water purchases from a friendly Sikh man who wanted to shake Michael's hand and we promised we would return to his shop for dinner the next night. More Gujarat research before sleep in our discounted room.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Animal Aid

Today we visited Animal Aid, a hospital and sanctuary for the street animals of Udaipur.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Many blessings in Udaipur

There was not much sleep to be had on the train, what with the snoring, the Nokia ringtones -- followed by loud, one-sided conversations in Hinglish -- the girl in the top bunk having night terrors, the train itself stopping and starting and juddering along, and the chatter of those that also weren't sleeping, I think we managed a total of two hours and two minutes sleep between us, and the two hours was just me.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Getting out of Delhi

After a good 12 hours sleep -- and when I say good I mean as good as ear plugs will allow when there is hammering and scooters revving and people chattering in the street below our window all night -- we wake to our first full day in India and the reality that we haven't yet got a plan of how we are going to spend the next four weeks. This leads to a slow start to the day while we study the 8-years-old Lonely Planet that we found downstairs in the lobby of our hotel. We have a dilemma; because there are many possibilities, but we only have a month, I don't want to spend too much time seeing anything either of us has seen before, and with five months travel in India already covered between us that excludes quite a bit.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

I have forgotten how to 'India'

It's been three years since I was here and I can't remember how to 'India'. Stepping out into the smog at New Delhi station, forgotten memories are resurfacing and I am both excited and fearful as I remember how magical, and how relentless, this place can be. First, there is the subtle smell, which becomes not so subtle as we walk, a symphony of exhaust fumes, incense and urine, with hints of damp dog and shit. There are countless rickshaw drivers smoking and touting for business, with no obvious system for who should get the next fare, scooters and taxis speed past in seemingly every direction to drop their passengers off, and there are people crisscrossing our path as we make our way. Travellers, porters, official looking people, beggars, and then a few people who seem to just be watching the world happen around then. The occasional ball of spit flying through the air and landing on the pavement and the hatching throaty, wheezy coughs from numerous directions. Then there are the people sleeping on cards and curbs. We have to make it from the Metro station to the other side of the main train station where the hotels are in the Pahar Ganj. We have both been here before, but neither can remember the best route. And then we recall how 'helpful' Delhi locals are, like the two men who told us we couldn't walk across the bridge as we didn't have a ticket, or the guy who told us all the hotels in the Pahar Ganj were closed and we would need a doctor's clearance to get somewhere to stay. No doubt he would have been able to help us with that, for a price.