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.