|Edwin's Indian Rail Adventure 2016... |
|Welcome to the story of my visit to India, September 1st 2016. |
My name is Eddie, I live in Nottingham, UK, and I am aged 64, so far as I can remember...
I was unsure about making this trip, as I have had a few health problems in the last year, and am feeling a tad less robust than before.
After some mental debate, I decided to take the plunge, after all, what is the worst that can happen? They do a rather nice funeral service at Varanasi, so I hear !
I flew from Birmingham to Trivandrum, via Dubai, same as last year's visit. The flight from Dubai to Trivandrum was full, a big surprise, as it was half empty last year. I did not sleep very well the night before I left home, and I was rather tired on arrival in India.
The idea behind arriving in the south, Trivandrum was to see the monsoon greenery, and maybe a little of the monsoon deluge itself.
Very quick immigration check, I had a regular visa rather than an e-visa, as I expect to stay longer than 1 month.
Quite surprised to find that India requires scanning of hand luggage after Immigration control, before you exit to the baggage claim area. A long wait for my bag to come through and then I was free to go.
A quick visit to the "pre-pay" taxi window, a pre-pay system where you pay the driver??
I had thought to try the Chaithram hotel where I stayed last year, as it is near the train station, and cheap, but instead splashed out on a little luxury for my first night in India instead.
Very nice hotel, clean and modern, with good wifi connection too.
I had just reached my room when the phone rang, it was reception to tell me that a general strike had been called for next day, September 2nd, and there would be no taxi or bus transport operating, and shops and businesses would be closed too...
Not feeling too chuffed with the prospect of walking to the station with my luggage, I was also concerned about whether my train would even be running. In India it is best to go with the flow, so I had a sleep and put off worrying about things that I would not be able to change, and left events in the laps of the multitude of Indian gods!
I did not venture out on my first day here, simply due to fatigue. I slept and relaxed in air-conditioned comfort.
Friday 2nd. September.
I awoke to an eerie calm, and thought for a moment that I had gone deaf! No, old chap, just the strange lack of constant honking and hooting of traffic that is the norm in India, which was due to the strike taking place.
Looking out, I could see folk walking, a few private cars and motorbikes, but no taxis, auto rickshaws, buses or lorries.
This area has a left-leaning electorate, so the strike call was upheld much more than in some parts of India.
I had a very nice breakfast and took a walk to the station to scout out the train situation, as well as to check the walking distance. It was not far after all, so that was good news. I bought a few bottles of water at the station, as most shops were closed, and the rail staff confirmed that the trains were not affected by the strike, which was more good news.
(Left alone, these Indian gods do help out, it seems... )
Saw quite a few hammer and sickle red flags flying, and a well organised demo of workers marching for better wages.
With no transport and everything shut, it was not a day for going out and about, so back to the hotel again.
I arranged a late check out, and set about re-packing. Despite wishing to travel light, I seem to have even more junk with me than last year!
Leaving the hotel with my wheelie cases, I had only walked 200 yards when an auto rickshaw pulled up with an offer I could not refuse. I was pleased to see others beginning to buzz around as evening came, I don't condone blackleg strikebreaking!
Sitting on the station platform, supping a masala chai, I was surprised to see my train being shunted in so early.
This is my first 1st class air-con Indian train ride, and although I have a ticket, the seat/berth number is not announced for 1st class until a few hours before departure.
I found the ticket inspector, and after he and several employees went into a huddle, I was given a two person room, lower berth. Best of all, the upper berth is not occupied, so I have the whole room to myself, a real luxury on Indian trains!
I was expecting the berth charts to be pasted beside the train doors, as in the past, but this was not done today.
My coach is the first on the train, just behind the engine and generator car. I put my luggage into the room and with half an hour before departure, stepped down to take a few photos of the platform and engine. I noticed the signal change to green, and with a blast of the horn, my train started to move! I was lucky to be near a door and got back aboard without trouble. Yes, dummy, the phone time display was set a half hour slow! Probably I messed it up changing time zones yesterday when I was tired, or maybe it was those Indian gods again, annoyed that I had not thanked them for smoothing my path thus far!
One drawback to being in this position on the train is that there is a strong smell of exhaust fumes in the coach from either the generator or engine. I gather that the engine changes from diesel to electric further into the journey, so that will narrow down where the fumes come from... they are most unpleasant!
Food is served soon after we set off, a slightly posh version of the second class fare, presented in china bowls rather than foil containers. I was very happy with the food, I chose the vegetarian option for all meals. The evening meal starts with soup and bread sticks, followed by a main protein item, such as paneer curry, with dahl, rice, chappaties,
curd, and finishing with ice cream, the latter I did not eat.
Breakfast is cornflakes with hot milk, and some vegetable cutlets with diced cooked veg on the side.
The second day breakfast had some rice mounds with nuts in, and some rather sweet bright orange mounds of unknown ingredients, together with the cornflakes.
Each meal was similar, although there were minor variations to the ingredients. Lunch on the last day was great, with a dry brinjal "ladies fingers" curry.
Rather an odd experience for me to be alone on a train in India, they are often quite sold out. I did enjoy the experience, a slightly gentler introduction to India I guess!
Outside the land was very damp, green and lush in the south, clouds and mist hung over the mountains, many waterfalls seen, rivers in full flow.
I did not get to see the monsoon downpours I was hoping for, maybe it was just as well!
Moving northwards, there is a change in the climate, but still very green and fertile looking at this time. I did see a small amount of standing water in some fields, but nothing that could be described as a major flood.
I am becoming accepting of things that were startling to me on my last visit... the huge amount of rubbish lying everywhere, the train catering crew throwing bags of rubbish from the train.
I often stood at the open train door as we sped along, and found that although I could clearly see the rubbish, I was somehow blotting it out, it didn't upset me so much... maybe that is what Indians do?
It seems important to remember that no mater how colourful, exotic, challenging, strange, and fantastic India is, it is real, it is a land where folk live out their daily lives... somehow, to "try to understand India" is a pointless thing, better to just observe and enjoy, I think.
Those fumes stayed for the whole journey, and rather spoiled the 1st class experience for me. Although they probably helped me to sleep soundly, I can't afford to loose many more brain cells!
Up Next... "How to pay taxi prices for an auto rickshaw, without even trying" !
IS THAT A 5 DOLLAR SHAKE YOU JUST ORDERED?
H. Nizamuddin station serves the south of Delhi, and it is where my Rajdhani from Trivandrum terminates.
Porters jump aboard the train even before it has come to a stop, and try to get your business. I was happy to accept the offer... there is a steep bridge to negotiate to reach the taxi rank. Haggling is required to get a fair price... The porter started at Rs 300, and we settled on Rs 100, probably still more than I should have paid, but worth it to me.
A taxi offer before we even get to the footbridge is a bit unofficial, once we get out of the station he suggests Rs 700 to get to my hotel near New Delhi station. A slightly long negotiation includes him suggesting I go to a different hotel, he will take me for "Indian price only" and he will get commission... (who will foot the bill for his commission I wonder quietly to myself?)
I got a taxi last year for Rs 250, so I was not going to pay more. Eventually he gave up on me, and one of the crowd of “helpers” said “I will take you for Rs 250” Great I think, I have won this small battle! Not so! He turns out to be an Auto Rickshaw driver, not a taxi. So I paid a taxi price in the end, for an Auto Rickshaw. India wins again!
Not a problem, I find auto rickshaw trips to be slightly terrifying, but never boring.
The drivers do have an amazing ability to find any tiny road space, to squeeze between cars and buses, and although it all seems chaotic, it kind of works well, mostly...
I was pleased to remember the location of the hotel, and after guiding the driver through the bazaar road, we arrived in due course. (Odd to be in due course, we were heading for Delhi...)
Check in straightforward, just the usual passport forms and signatures. “Pay when you check out”. Suits me!
I was shown an unsuitable room at first, but the second was much better... I can get the full benefit of the passing traffic honking every 30 seconds, in case I doze off...
Only joking, I tend to get used to the “neighbourhood hubbub” which recedes into the background almost unnoticed, except for the occasional shrill blast or a louder shout than normal.
The gent who shows me to my room asks if I require any beer, and I think, “why not?”, and order a couple of cold Kingfisher beers to put in the fridge for later. 10 minutes later, I feel much refreshed, having liberated the first one.
Arriving on Sunday evening, I just bought some bottled water and chilled out in the hotel.
Most museums and major monuments are closed on Mondays.
I took a walk through the main bazaar road up towards New Delhi train station, as I wanted to book some additional trips. I love all the variety of small shops selling brightly coloured tat. I called in to a money changer, but he wanted to deal in an unlighted dingy office, so I backed away from him. My second attempt was better, and I changed some sterling for only 13% less than I would have got before “Brexit”... Grrrr !
I was asked for my ticket by someone as I got near the station, and I recognised some scam in the offing. I simply told him to “F*** Off” and walked on. Good job he was not a plain clothes policeman!
Got my tickets sorted out at the tourist department, it was fairly busy which was a surprise, as it is still quite early in the tourist season.
I assisted several lost souls who did not know about taking a numbered ticket, and filling in the “carefully placed out of sight” forms. I only knew myself from my visit last year.
A great service to one and all would be a “greeter” who could point folk in the right direction from their arrival at the department.
Funny though, the folk I helped just ignored later arrivals, even though it was obvious they needed the same guidance... They probably thought it was this weird old bloke’s job!
I walked from the station into the centre of Delhi, Connaught Place, and tried to shelter from the sun under the colonnades of Mr. Lutyens grand design. I had a good walk around and then thought of food. I noticed a branch of the united coffee houses and stepped inside. Last year I ate at another branch, and became ill... I honestly don’t know that it was from that meal or not, but felt I needed to confront my fears of getting ill again head on.
I was expecting a snacky type place again, but this was very up market, with lovely chilly air conditioning.
Very varied menu, but rather pricey too. I had a most enjoyable meal, in the company of much posher folk than me, and of course, I did not get ill... I hope to go back again tomorrow.
I only had a small meal, and a bottle of water, very nice, but it cost almost as much as a night in my hotel... which is where the title of this comes in, from the film “Pulp Fiction”
when John Travolta is stunned by the price of a milk shake !
A well fed stroll back to the hotel and a few hours chilling. I had another wander around the streets nearby later, snapping many pics of all and sundry, then back to the hotel for a fairly early night.
Today I went to the National Rail Museum, by auto rickshaw. My third visit, I love the old relics rusting away in the sunshine! One can almost see how the mechanical beasts worked, the rods and cylinders, the engineering... Rather different from today’s sleek trains.
Another reason for this visit was to purchase the elusive Great Indian Railway Atlas, which I am pleased to say I accomplished.... Hmmm, now, where shall I go next... ?
Tomorrow I anticipate a small amount of culture, and a large lunch !
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE...
Yesterday, when I went to the rail museum, I was taken there and back by an auto rickshaw driver who quoted a sensible fare to start with... When buying, I do feel concern about being seen as a “mug”, although probably all tourists are seen as such. It is something to do with my self-esteem I think, rather than any need to save a few rupees. I try to watch others buying fruit, etc, and look what they pay, to establish a base price, then feel happy to pay a little more as “tourist tax”, but not 3 or 4 times more.
Anyway, the same driver is outside my hotel this morning, so we set off for Chandni Chowk, just opposite the red fort, a popular market type area of Old Delhi with a variety of shops.
Huge flocks of goats and a few sheep are tethered at the roadside, with the sellers sitting nearby. I did not see much buying and selling, but I guess business gets brisker towards lunchtime...
I had a look in the gates of the Jamid Masjid mosque, said to be the largest in India, and was amused to see a “Saga Tours” old folks luxury tour bus outside... Their air conditioned chariot looked quite appealing as I walked by on foot.
Narrow twisting lanes run back and forth here, with certain types of businesses all in one lane, such as silversmiths, shoe merchants, etc. Maybe it keeps prices stable, as you don’t have far to go to compare them... On the other hand it could make it easier for a “cartel” of similar firms to maintain higher prices?
I like “quirky” souvenirs, and was rather taken by a shop selling the most tacky, plastic table coverings, many with lurid fruit designs. I did not buy, but later in my trip I plan to come back to Delhi, so may well do so then.
I had bought and eaten a couple of bananas earlier, and was now ready for lunch, so back to the United Coffee House. As I got down from the auto, a couple of touty chaps tried to steer me away from my goal with miscellaneous offers, but without success... I need food, now!
Slightly earlier than before, only the downstairs section is open.
I chose a Malaysian style dish and very nice too, lots of crunchy veg in a peanuty sauce with rice. I tend to mostly think traditional local Indian dishes will work out better in India, but this was very good food.
I had just left the restaurant and walked on when a touty gent began pointing behind me. Looking around, I was astonished to hear a chap say “I think I may know you, are you Ed, from India Mike” ?
Turns out I was in the company of Lachie, “Unclelach” from I.M. forum.
I was rather surprised by this meeting, a genuine case of “worlds colliding”, the virtual world of I.M. and the real world of Delhi's Connaught Place !
I explained that I was just on my way to change some money, so we walked to the same place I had used a few days ago, avoiding "advice" from touts once more. I disappeared up some dark stairs, while Lachie stood “shotgun” outside.
Lachie is a frequent visitor to India, and had just arrived the night before from travels in other exotic places.
We adjourned to a coffee shop and sat for a while, chatting and swapping travellers tales, as one does. I found Lachie a very interesting and entertaining chap, and was able to pick up a few tips on places to stay for future visits. I took a photo of the two of us together to prove that I was not dreaming the meeting, but sadly my camera got nicked a couple of days later, so you will have to take my word for these events!
Next day was leaving day, I arranged a late check out as my train was departing at 6.40 PM, and meanwhile took a stroll up to the New Delhi station again to book more trains.
I bought a small bottle of scented oil, in order to smell a little less musty on my two night train ride to Chennai!
Re-packed and checked out, I refuse to pay Rs100 for the short auto ride up to the station. A bystander suggests a cycle rickshaw, so I go for that instead.
“Pay what you like” he says, then gets down and a young kid strains at the pedals to cart me to the station. Feel embarrassed by this ride, but I guess it is money earned.
Porters at the station offer to carry my bags to the platform for Rs 100, but I decline, thinking to use the escalators... Serves me right for letting some young kid strain on that cycle rickshaw, now the escalators are not working, so it is a very heavy slog up one step at a time, to the footbridge, and the same down to the platform again. Instant Kharma !
Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play...?
Coming down the stairs onto the New Delhi platform, I knew which platform to be on, but had no idea which end of the train my coach would be at.
Unfortunately, some of the overhead indicators were not working, which confused me further!
I managed to sort it out, and grabbed a photo of the train as it pulled in.
The Grand Trunk Express, named after an historic north south route, was such an evocative name that I wanted to ride this train, even though there are newer, faster expresses in the timetables.
My coach was a HC1 which is a two part coach, containing both first and second class sections... I was in 2nd class!
The coach had seen better days, although the first class section looked quite a bit nicer than my section.
I had a side berth, together with a top bunk, which was not great from an age or luggage storage point.
I asked the ticket inspector if there were lower bunks available, and he said to ask again in the morning, nothing available before then.
Dinner was available at Rs100, which I accepted. Quite a good meal of rice, chapatti, dahl, and a paneer and chickpea dish.
My side berth companion, who had the lower berth, had pre-ordered a meal to be delivered to the train at a certain stop. His meal looked good, and he said it cost Rs 250, I don’t know if that included any delivery charge, or that was extra.
Feeling well fed and rather tired I decided to turn in, so I made up my bed with the two clean sheets and the blanket provided. I locked my cases to the base of the lower berth, loops are provided for this purpose. I don’t always bother with doing this, but being in a side berth, it was more in view of anyone passing along the corridor than in a regular berth. Climbing up, I decided to have a listen to some music, so fished out my headphones and mp3 player from my little bag of “valuables”, I closed the curtains and drifted off to sleep.
Waking up at some point later I was aware that the curtains had been moved, and was stunned to see my bag of important stuff was missing! At first I could not take it in, I could not believe such a disaster had really happened... but it had.
I was unsure what to do, my first worry was for my blood pressure medications, among others. Should I alight early and try to buy some, or just carry on to Chennai? Would I be ok not to take the tablets for another 36 hours, could I even get them in India?
I had also lost my camera and photo’s taken on the trip so far, my good smart phone, my less good Tesco phone, as well as all my rail tickets, my notebooks, pens, my brand new Great Indian Rail Atlas, even my signature sun hat. Doubt if Unclelach would recognise me without it now!
On the plus side, I still had my suitcase of dirty washing securely fastened beneath the berth.
I decided to continue on the train, and hoped the interruption to my medical regime would not create problems. I was aware that Nick from I.M. lived in Chennai, I was scheduled to meet him during my visit, and felt that he would be the best person to give me advice on where to obtain my medications on arrival.
I slept again and awoke in the morning to a pretty deserted train, I am not sure when most passengers got down, it seems that this train is not often taken end to end, but passengers board for shorter sections. I think I was the only person in my coach to start in Delhi and leave at Chennai!
I chose the omelette and bread option for breakfast, quite nice, priced Rs.40 I had several cups of coffee at Rs10 a time. The “cups” are quite small ! Lunch and dinner were similar meals to yesterdays evening meal, and were priced at Rs100 each.
Mid afternoon a group of lads boarded. I find it hard to judge ages, but think they were probably early 30’s. The Ticket Inspector asked me to change berths to a lower inside one, which suited me, in order that all six lads could be in the same area. Much shouting, card playing, gambling, and general high spirits from that group did little to lift my spirits, but instead added to my low mood.
Although I was shocked by this loss, this turn of events, my mood did start to improve. I was quite surprised to find a carefree mood developing, a sort of “nothing left to lose” so chill out feeling!
There is a feeling of insulation afforded me with my bag full of western medications. Not having them for a few hours brought me a little into line with all the millions of locals who have to do without such items.
I treated myself to a proper taxi from Chennai central station, from the pre-pay booth, rather than the usual auto rickshaw, and was soon in my hotel.
I dashed off a message to Nick, fortunately my laptop was hidden amongst the dirty washing, and then set out to buy my medicines. I was lucky to see a chemist very near the hotel, and bought items that were as near to my prescriptions from home as I could find.
Nick came over in the evening, we had a bit of a chat and then went for a nice meal. He invited me to attend an “Idol Immersing” event at a nearby beach the next day, and also to hear some Indian music and singing in the evening, which I did.
The Idol Immersion event consisted of lots of local districts creating their own giant Indian god statues, bringing them to the beach in a procession of trucks, and then placing them in the sea. They are meant to be soluble, but some looked rather more glass fibre than papier mache ! All the while there are announcements, firecrackers, drumming, dancing and bell ringing going on. Quite a carnival air! Nick kindly lent me his camera so I could grab a few pics.
A series of loudspeaker prayers or announcements was being made, and at some point a guy came up and said to Nick that he had been spotted and was being praised for wearing traditional local attire...
Nick went up to the platform and received a blessing from a sadhu monk person, which was nice!
In the evening we attended a music event, Nick drove us there. Boy! A very good driver, I could not cope with such a mass of traffic, animals and humans, all keen to chuck themselves in front of his car!
The music was interesting, it turned out that the original concert had to be postponed, so we were attending something else.
One of the trio of instruments was an earthenware pot, a proper musical instrument, which made an astonishing range of sounds for such a basic concept.
We finished the evening off with another nice meal, and Nick kindly dropped me off at my hotel.
Monday morning I headed for the train station in a auto rickshaw. I was puzzled to see the driver slow right down behind a cycle cart on a hill... The driver put his foot on the rear of the cart, and revving up, he gave the old bloke a free boost up the hill! I needed to see about getting my train tickets replaced. I was able to do this with relative ease, given the Indian liking for bureaucracy, and considering I needed seven tickets.
On the way back, I got an auto from the station pre-pay booth, and they sat a blind guy in beside me too, whom we were giving a free lift to help him out.
Sadly the auto driver got a bit tangled up in traffic jams on the way back, which was not much fun, sat stationary amongst a mass of engines pumping out exhaust gas for ages!
This afternoon I walked to a nearby camera shop and purchased a replacement camera.
The lady who served me was good fun, and she checked it was in working order by taking a snap of me in the shop. Yes, I am pulling a funny face...
Back to the hotel and a bit too tired to take Nick up on his suggestion of another music event.
Tomorrow evening I head off to Rameswarum, a bit of land that juts out in the sea towards Sri Lanka. There is an interesting temple there, and a rail bridge that crosses quite a long span of sea, so I hope that new camera will perform, I must read the instructions sometime!
THE "BOAT MAIL" TRAIN TO RAMESWARUM...
On my previous visit to Chennai, I had been inspired to visit by Paul Theroux’s description of the “ice house”, a place where ice was stored after being shipped from America, in the days before refrigeration. Unfortunately, I had chosen to visit on a holiday day, so it was closed.
This time I chose to visit during the 3 hour long lunch break, so it was closed again. I think fate is telling me something... Probably to do more research next time !
As before, I crossed the sand to the sea instead, and sat a while watching the surf, before the heat drove me to seek shelter.
The hotel owner in Chennai kindly allowed me to use my room free of charge for this last afternoon, so I was able to check out much later and head straight for Egmont station, which serves trains to the south of the city.
I arrived there by auto about 8.30pm, plenty early enough for my 9.40pm “Boat Mail” train departure. The name a reminder of the former sea crossing between India and Sri Lanka.
I had arranged to leave my larger suitcase at the hotel, until I return in a few days, which was a blessing. I checked online which platform I would need, and there was a bright neon indicator board confirming I was in the right place.
Purchased some water and a packet of crisps, more to get some small change than to satisfy hunger pangs. Having bought the crisps I sat and ate them. I stood up to put the bag in the bin ten feet away, and my seat was immediately taken by someone... I can see now why folk just drop their litter!
A couple of trains departed from the platform, then ours was shunted in. I had checked online the composition of the train, and knew my coach, HC1, was towards the rear.
I was the first to reach my coach, I was allocated an upper berth in 1st class room “B” one of four berths in that room. I booked a 1st class as it was the last e-ticket available at the time.
My companions were an elderly couple, who spoke “Indian English”. We managed to exchange a few words, but between different accents and background noise, it was mostly smiles and nods. Another younger lady was in the other upper bunk, she spoke less accented English, so she helped the conversation along. The two women spent the time chatting after they discovered they lived in the same town.
A very attentive young man was our coach attendant, and put all the others so far to shame, he was very keen to help make up the beds, and came and announced when our stops were due.
This train has no pantry car, and the only vendors that came through were chai wallas who boarded at a few station stops. Felt a little odd not to have offers of food of some description, possibly this was due to the late evening departure time.
I had plenty of food and water, so no worries.
Strangely, there were no loops under the bottom berths to secure baggage to, on this train. Maybe because there is a door lock to 1st class cabins, which we didn’t actually lock.
I secured my case to the fold out table bracket, and kept my important stuff in secure trouser pockets.
Not a great nights sleep. Quite pleased when the other 3 alighted at about 7.30am, as I had the cabin all to myself now, and could lounge about and still enjoy the views.
Passing through areas of rice cultivation, we eventually came to more dry sandy soil as we reached the coast. I noticed many trees that looked drought ridden, all the lower sections of leaves looked grey and dead, although this may just be a normal part of that type of tree’s growth cycle.
Spotting the sea in the distance, I went to the train door and opened it in order to grab a few photos as we crossed the bridge to the island. Very strange sensation to look down from the open door, and see water flowing under the train. As well as the single track train bridge, there is a road bridge and the remains of a previous bridge, which was destroyed in a cyclone.
Auto to my hotel, driver spoke good English. After protracted negotiations, as usual, I paid more than locals do, but sometimes it is worth remembering that I am arguing over a paltry 20 pence extra!
My hotel is about 3km away from the main temple. The hotel describes itself as a “pilgrim hotel”, but despite this, it is quite a posh place, if a little devoid of personality.
Although tired, I decided to visit the temple and make my way there in an auto. Very hot today, I am leaking gallons from my skin! I have taken to carrying a small towel with me, to mop my face and head, as some locals do.
The temple here has a large number of bathing tanks, where pilgrims take a ritual dip to expunge their sins, or to bring good fortune. The large outer towers which are covered in statues of deities, are painted a yellowish sandalwood colour, rather than the riot of colours seen on some temples.
One leaves footwear outside, and after a rudimentary security check, one is admitted to the interior. Photography is not allowed inside, and some areas are off limits to non Hindus. One feature of the temple are the long main corridors, supported by many carved stone pillars. Some of these are brightly painted near the entrance, but left plain in other areas.
The floor is rather wet all through, from folk using the bathing tanks, and the experience underfoot was not good, with rather manky strips of uncomfortable wet non slip matting. I did not stay over long and emerged to reclaim my sandals, with feet considerably dirtier than when I entered.
I was sad not to be able to photograph the interior, so took a few shots outside, then had a stroll to the nearby sea shore, where some folk were enjoying a dip. Many fishing boats at anchor here. I have been looking for a sun hat to replace the one stolen, and parted with a modest sum for a silly straw version, but which at least protected my balding head from the fierce heat. Quite a traditional seaside selection of tat on sale to entice the pilgrims, and me. I gave a few rupees to an old woman who was begging nearby.
Back to the hotel for a shower and a late afternoon sleep, which was achieved, despite the music blaring from a loudspeaker nearby... I think there is a Hindu ceremony going on today, much loud music and chanting everywhere!
Return train trip to Chennai...
I had a very good nights rest, and awoke rather later than is usual for me. I took my time packing, enjoying the a/c in the room. This hotel has no wifi in the rooms, only in the lobby, so I managed without it for the short period I was in Rameswarum.
Noon check out, but train not 'till 5pm, so I sat in the lobby reading for an hour or two, before venturing out. I had only gone 20 feet when one of wheels on my case started to disintegrate, fortunately, it is the smaller lighter case. An auto screeched to a halt as the driver saw me. His existing passenger was bundled into the front to sit with the driver, and I was given the back seat. It was not too well fixed in, so I had the interesting feeling that I might fly out of the auto, with seat and luggage, at every tiny bump and corner. Thankfully, we arrived at the station unscathed.
I sat and watched the world go by, a welcome breeze was blowing through the station, so I felt quite comfortable.
A gent nearby struck up a conversation. The family was visiting the temple from Bihar. He mentioned that Rameswarum was a very important pilgrimage site. Their train was due to depart before we had chance to talk much more.
I bought the usual bottled water for the train journey ahead, and took a few snaps of the station while I waited to board. Being at the rear of the train on the way here, the HA1 coach was now towards the front, so I headed there. These Indian trains are pretty long!
I spied my name on the door chart, and was pleased to see that I had a lower berth for the return journey. B cabin, 1st class section again. I was the only passenger in my cabin as we pulled out of the station.
I soon made my way to the door, in readiness for the bridge crossing again, and took a few more pics... Open sea is not the most interesting scene, I fear !
Shortly I was joined by a jovial portly gent, and we chatted on and off until it was time to sleep. He had worked in Dubai, and other middle eastern countries for an American company, and also spent two years in London.
Although married, he seemed to have an eye for the girls, according to his tales, and had very much enjoyed his former “international” lifestyle.
He explained that he was working on a project to create a restaurant brand where each dish would contain natural ingredients to enhance the sex drive, and so to bed... he was at pains to mention that these ingredients, if consumed by a man without a partner, would not lead to ladies being attacked!
He gave me a non aphrodisiac banana from his dinner, at least it had no noticeable effect, thankfully!
A very enjoyable and entertaining encounter!
We were joined by two others later in the evening, one of whom decided to watch video without headphones late into the night, and early in the morning. Twat!
Arriving back at Chennai Egmont station at about 7am, I try to get an auto to the hotel for the same amount I paid to get there... Bloke insists it will be Rs.200. I stuck at Rs80, and found another guy to do the trip for that. Hooray, saved a few pence!
Saturday 17 Sept 2016.
On Saturday morning, I took an auto back to Chennai Central station, as I needed to book another train ticket. To use the Foreign Tourist quota, one has to present a photocopy of passport and visa. I remembered where to get this and went straight there, it is upstairs in a ramshackle building near the station, which is mostly home to an astonishing range of second hand book dealers, mostly of a technical, non fiction nature.
A few people were waiting at the photocopy shop already, then disaster... The machine conked out!
I was lucky to find another place open on the ground floor and after a short wait I got the necessary.
On now to the Foreign Tourist office, which had several folk waiting ahead of me today. One Indian gent was trying to persuade the lady to issue him tickets, she was refusing as he was not a tourist, but a local person.
Sadly he kept up the pressure until she gave in, a case of obtaining privilege by dint of being of wealth or upper class birth... Very upsetting to see, considering the hoops that the lower orders have to jump through...
I obtained my ticket, and returned by auto to the hotel.
There has been a lot of upset in Bangalore this last week, with long running tensions over water sharing between two states boiling over into rioting and many vehicles set alight. TV seems to fan the flames of public opinion here, rather than simply reporting “news”. Much emphasis on alleged wrongdoings in public office, and what can only be described as “smearing” the different factions that the TV channels don't support. Some Tamil Nadu registered vehicles were burnt in Bangalore, and Tamil Nadu people roughed up.
A backlash was that a rail blockage was called for by some Tamil parties, known here as a "Rail Roko"... No matter what the grievance, the public body of the railways is often targeted, often by farmers and political factions.
Sunday I decided to pay another visit to the temple that Nick took me to see on my last visit. Last time I had an appointment to meet up with some rail chums the same evening, so the temple visit was a bit rushed.
A straightforward walk from my guest house to the temple area, about 2-3 Kms.
I was pleased to see a shop selling timepieces on the way, as I needed to purchase an alarm clock to replace the alarms on my lost phones. The good news was the clock only cost Rs110, the bad news is it looks like one has to dismantle the clock when the battery needs replacing!
I enjoyed a walk around inside the temple walls, this was much more welcoming and fun than the Rameswarum visit. One leaves footwear in the care of a person near the entrance, then goes hot foot to the nearest shade, the unshaded ground is very hot indeed, underfoot!
Colourful deities are everywhere on the buildings, as well as a couple of idols which seem to be awaiting rejuvenation. Some of the statues look a little confused, or maybe that is just me!
A couple of young ginger kittens were within, and had the most astonishing "amber" coloured eyes to match their fur. I tried to grab a photo, but they were too camera shy.
The area outside the temple has many shops and stalls, selling visitors all manner of small statues, most seem to be plastic. I saw some clay items too, which looked like small lamps, and reminded me of the clay cups one used to get served chai in, some years ago.
There is a huge sunken "tank" of water outside the temple, with steps down to the waters edge. At one time these tanks supplied water for all purposes, before the advent of mains water. I believe the tanks were "topped up" by the monsoon rains each year, some may be fed by rivers, although I have not seen this.
Time to go to the hotel, and it is too hot to walk back, so I grab an auto.
I spend the late afternoon packing, and getting sorted for tomorrow's early start. I don't trust the new alarm on it's own, so I booked a wake-up call too!
Packed everything last night, my alarm clock did wake me, and the guest house guy phoned at the correct time too. I was lucky to hail a sensible auto driver, or at least one who quoted a sensible fare. We stopped in at a filling station, quite a few autos there getting an injection of LPG.
My train was already in the platform at Chennai Central, so I made my way to the correct coach, another of the half and half coaches, a mix of 1st and 2nd class. I got aboard, but was told to get off again as the coach had to be swept out. I guess this train arrived from Howrah yesterday, but no point in sweeping it out before now...?
A couple of guys pushed a motorised pressure washer up to the train, in order to give the toilets a wash out. The machine failed to produce more than a drip at a time, so despite having the huge water container right there, they did not think to use a bucket to rinse the toilets, they just pushed it away again!
Eventually we got the nod to board, I sneaked on via the 1st class door, and made my way through to the 2nd class, as folk were bringing huge amounts of luggage onto the train.
One chap even had an A/C unit, turned out he was moving to a new posting, and had about a dozen boxes to store on the train. I stood my ground and would not let him put stuff under my lower side berth, as the upper berth passenger would need the rest of that space.
The upper berth guy arrived, and was a tad standoffish. Happily he soon took to the upper bunk for a sleep, so I was able to spread out a little... (We are supposed to share the lower berth for sitting on during the day.)
I have given up feeling affronted by what initially felt like rude behaviour, and am starting to push and shove to get an advantage too, such as when boarding. It seems expected, and does not seem to cause offence, as far as I am aware. (Excuse me while I remove this knife from my back... ).
Departing from Chennai at 8.45am, the first offer of food is breakfast, I go for the omelette and bread. This is priced at Rs. 50, which is slightly more than on most trains, but I felt this to be a much larger meal, so worth the extra few pence.
The train has a pantry car, the pantry staff come through with chai and coffee, bottled water, and take orders for lunch and dinner.
Almost all in my coach had food from home, so I was the lone “lunch” eater.
This was very nice, I chose the “veg” option, again a larger meal than some, and once again priced a little more, Rs.120 rather than the usual Rs.100. I took this train in the opposite direction about 5 years ago and the food was very poor quality, but today’s meals were above average for train pantry food.
Very fertile landscape outside, huge rice paddies almost the whole way north.
I noticed many water buffalo had a white bird or two standing on the ground near them. It was explained to me that the buffalo disturbs grasshoppers and other insects, and these birds are looking for an easy meal. Most of these buffalo also have a darker bird perched on their backs, those go for any bugs the buffalo may have on their skin!
One of the few non pantry vendors to board the train was a woman selling masala chaat. She had a very sweet voice, which made her sales pitch sound more like a song.
A while later I got into conversation with a retired gent from the steelworks industry. He mentioned that the retirement age in India is 60, which surprised me, I imagined that it might be even later than in the UK.
We had a good chat about several subjects, and touched on the troubles in the news in Bangalore. He felt one of the problems was that folk tend to identify themselves as Punjabis, or Tamils, or Bengali, rather than as “Indian”. He felt such troubles were often stirred up for political gain.
At one point our train halted on a high bridge, and looking down I saw young lads shouting up for coins to be thrown down. I threw a few rupees, don’t know if they found them in the sand. Might be a fortune to be found there with a metal detector!
The chap who was moving jobs was always complaining about the chai, demanding a full cup each time. I was quite pleased when the train jolted and his wife got a soaking from her full cup! He was talking of complaining about the staff giving short measure, so I asked him if he only complained about his social inferiors, or did he complain about corruption at higher levels too. He stopped talking to me after that!
I felt he was a smug bully, so wanted to take him down a peg or two.
Our coach was about 3 from the rear of the train, and was subjected to horrendous jolting from time to time, snatching and then being pushed from behind. It felt as if the coaches behind us were unbraked, and behaving like those troublesome trucks that Thomas the tank engine had issues with, pushing and shoving!
At some point in the night the direction of travel changed, when we arrived in Kolkata we were 3 from the front, and that made for a much smoother ride.
I had a pretty good sleep on the train, having chained my cases beneath my berth, and with valuables in my secure trouser pockets.
I did spend some time at the open door with camera at the ready as we sped along, but did not get many shots.
I was asked to photograph two ...err, let's call them “ladies” at one station stop!
At Howrah I made straight for the pre paid taxi booth, which worked well. The bit that didn’t work so well was that the taxi driver seemed to have no idea where he was meant to be going. After asking several people for directions, we arrived at last, after a confused Ambassador taxi journey!
I do like to see the Ambassador cars, there seem many more in Kolkata than elsewhere. I notice that there are no auto rickshaws in this area, although the local newspaper mentioned several that were involved in fatal accidents, so they must ply in certain areas.
My Kolkata hotel gets quite a good write up in one of the guide books. It is presented as an old fashioned place, spotless rooms, with a bar, lofty ceilings, and fans throughout, rather than air conditioning. Sadly, I do not think standards of cleanliness are too high, my room, although very spacious is rather grubby, and reminds me of the sort of places we stayed at back in 1983. Spending only Rs.100 on cleaning materials, plus some elbow grease would make a big difference, as would a lick of paint.
I made an error of judgement in booking here, having been advised to get an A/C room, the temperature last night was too high for much sleep, the ancient fan just churned the hot air, rather than giving a good blast of cooling air.
I am only in Kolkata for 24 hours. I guess a little later in the season the weather will be more comfortable for non A/C rooms, and it is cheap !
Kolkata to Simla, (or somewhere Shimla) and Delhi.
I was a little harsh describing the Kolkata hotel. Being over tired and over hot probably made me a bit over critical! I did have two very nice meals there.
The hotel had 24 hour checkout, which means that if you arrive at 5am, your check out time is 5am next day, rather than the more regular noon check in and out in western hotels.
I arrived about 11am, and checked out at 5pm the following day, so was charged for two days, which was as expected. I chose a cheaper hotel exactly for this reason!
The hotel guys hailed an old Ambassador taxi, and negotiated a correct fare for me. There was another passenger already in the cab, who shifted into the front seat.
Heavy traffic all the way, we went into a very congested market area which had mostly pedestrians and two wheelers to drop the first passenger off. The taxi had a walking pace collision with a cycle rickshaw at one point... Much yelling and gesticulating later, the two vehicles parted again. No harm done, these are both very sturdy vehicles!
Crossing Howrah bridge, we arrive at the station. There are many small shops inside, selling a range of food, books, cosmetics, and many miscellaneous items. I limited my purchase to a couple of bottles of water, and some pre-packed nuts. I have some biscuits and other food items with me too, just in case...
There are several good seating areas at the station, and I was lucky to find an end seat, so could place my bags to the side. Fans provided a welcome breeze, and many vendors passed by with offers of chai, chaat, shoeshine, and even a zip repair service for broken bags! Busy station, lots of commuters as well as longer distance travellers... I felt sorry for passengers waiting for a train which had its departure put back several hours ’till almost midnight. I was slightly concerned until I saw my own train departure correctly displayed, 19.40 .
The first train ride we ever had in India, back in 1983, was from Delhi to Kalka, the
“1 up” Kalka Mail. Although re-numbered, this train I was boarding tonight is that same Kalka Mail, which first ran in 1866. For sheer nostalgic reasons, I was pleased to be taking this same train all the way to Kalka, and then the toy train once again up to Simla, or Shimla as it is called nowadays.
I have a side lower berth again, this coach seems newer than some recent ones, and is in a clean and tidy condition. I was pleased that the upper bunk passenger had no luggage, and went up into his bunk straight away, and had gone by morning.
The catering on this train is by the same company that handles the Trivandrum Rajdhani, “Meals on Wheels”. I ordered the veg dinner and was informed it would be Rs130. Just Rs.10 more than the Coromandel Express, decent, but somewhat less content.
I was so tired that I dropped off to sleep straight away and had to be woken later to eat my dinner.
I notice a young guy is being escorted through the train by some police, ticketless traveller, or something more, no idea. Quite a number of these RPF staff aboard, the Railway Protection Force is a separate police force, and have offices at many stations.
Very sound sleep that night, dozed on ‘till about 9am!
Nice omelette for breakfast, Rs.50 again, but once more the food is not quite as plentiful.
I also had the lunch and evening meals, priced as before, and enjoyed the food.
I spent most of the journey dozing off and on, and even missed the Delhi station stop through being asleep.
We were woken around 4am at Chandigarh by the coach attendant, which is about 30 minutes before Kalka. I had a quick freshen up and we soon pulled into Kalka station.
I had plans to leave my big suitcase here at Kalka, in the luggage cloakroom, but I was unable to locate the facility, if indeed it exists. Consequently, I was one of the last to arrive at the “toy train” narrow gauge platform.
Although I had a ticket with a coach number and a seat number, there was no indication of which coach was which. I found my name on one coach chart and got aboard. I claimed seat 8, which was on my ticket, but it seems it was now the wrong seat. I was eventually allocated another seat 30 seconds before the train started. Despite being a small train, there was quite a lot of space for luggage, much more than on the Matheran toy train.
Snacks are included with this train, the Shivalik. We were served tea and biscuits to start, and then a meal was loaded later at Barog station.
I was seated opposite a young doctor and his wife, and their daughter. Sadly the daughter had a disability that affected her in several ways. It was heartening to see the love and care given to the daughter by the parents. They explained that one of the daughters special teachers was an Austrian guy, so the daughter was thinking I was a teacher too, as a European.
Another young woman was part of the same family, and gave the same care and affection to the youngster. I found this young woman quite mesmerising, such good looks and a natural manner. Apart from the views outside, the view inside the train was very pleasant for me too.
The train starts to climb as soon as we leave Kalka, and winds back and forth around and through the hills. One feature of this line is the number of tunnels.
At Barog station, around the half way point, the attendant disappears off to the catering kitchen and returns with a box of meals. Some passengers get down for few minutes to stretch their legs and take a few photos.
The sights from the train are stunning, long views down to the valleys below. I take several shots, some from the open door, but the slight mist hides much of the detail that the eye can pick out.
We wait at another station, Jutogh, while a down hill passenger train passes. we have a few minutes here, and I spot a woman taking my photo. I strike a pose, which amuses her, and she allows me to snap one of her in return.
I am confused at first on arriving at Shimla, but discover later that the station has been much enlarged in recent years, beyond that which I remembered from
I am delighted to spot a luggage place at Shimla, and drop my big suitcase there. I have to sign a form that I have no money or jewellery in the case! I was told they close at 5pm, and to return with my chit and Rs15 before that time. They asked if I wanted to leave both cases, but I said no, this other one is full of money and jewels, which raised a big laugh!
Gosh, the walk from the station up to the Mall area of Shimla is so steep! I had to stop frequently to let my poor old heart slow down again, it was pounding away. I won’t pretend to be very fit, but in my defence it is at nearly 7,000 feet and I did have my roller case to pull too!
I had a stroll around, it was nice to see the old style buildings still preserved.
Quite surreal to spot the church after seeing so many temples and mosques everywhere in recent days. A few more western tourists seen here also. Many Indians looking very well dressed, promenading up and down in their "Sunday Best".
I take a seat at the old bandstand, to shelter from the sun, and am pleased to feel a cool breeze blowing there.
I sit a while, munching a few snacks, and watching the folk passing by.
I get several offers of hotels, but as I am going back down to Kalka this same evening, they fall on deaf ears.
I like the fact that Shimla is high in the hills, with great views, but the train ride was the attraction, as well as wanting to see Shimla itself again for those
After another stroll around, it is time to head back towards the station. Downhill this time, much easier. There is a sizable army base in Shimla, and I am amused to see a “Sherwood Officers Club” building, as I live in the Sherwood district of Nottingham City.
Bit of a wait until my train departs, I enjoy snapping a few pics of the “railmotor” a sort of bus size rail coach, which departs ahead of our train.
The confusion over the seats is repeated for the down hill train, but I am more awake now and get my luggage aboard and find a seat anyway.
Trip down is the same as coming up, with tea and snacks, and a small meal provided at Barog again. Darkness falls early, so most of the ride down is without the views.
The transfer to my Kalka to Old Delhi train is easy, and I am soon dozing in my berth. A RPF guy asks me to be careful of leaving any phones charging overnight, as they are a target for thieves. I assure him I will be careful, and after setting my alarm for 5.30am, next thing I know it is morning, and the train is due to arrive in Delhi.
Quite pleased to negotiate a Rs50 fee for a porter, but I cheered him up with an extra Rs20 tip!
Auto to my Paharganj hotel........and so to bed ...
My 2016 tour of India finished after I got back to Delhi. I relaxed in Delhi, bought another Indian Rail Atlas,chilled out for a few days, and then flew home to the U.K.
Thanks for reading!
(If you wish to read my last year's trip, please click on the link. The first part is a duplicate of the above, but the original 2015 trip journal starts about halfway down the page, just scroll down!)
My name is Edwin, age 63... I hope this journal may be of interest to someone... A sort of what not to do guide! I know less than nothing about locomotives and such, so I am not a train spotter, but I enjoy long train rides, daydreaming, looking out the window, such a nice way to get around, I think.
The photo below is from my first trip to India, way back in 1983.
Flew 16th Sept 2015 from Birmingham U.K. to Trivandrum in the south of India. I wanted to start in the south as it was the tail
end of the monsoon season, and I fancied seeing the place when it had the lushest vegetation.
Prepaid taxi from the airport into town was Rs.350.
Nice to be back in India... Palm trees, girls with flowers in their hair, honking of traffic.
My hotel turned out not to be a good choice. Very tired and run down - the building, not me - but it was opposite the train
station, and so handy for my 1st train trip.
After a short rest I headed out for a look around. I walked quite a long way, and bought some batteries for my camera.
The shop was run by George, who let me take his picture. He mentioned being a Christian when I quized him on his name.
Took many pics of the streets, got carried away with the differences to Nottingham !
I took a prepaid auto (3 wheeler "autorickshaw") to the Zoo, fancying a bit of quiet away from the traffic by now...
I don't like zoo's, but it was a nice calm place to reflect on my 1st day. Pleased to see signs up about not leaving
litter, and I had to pay a " refundable deposit" against not leaving my plastic water bottle inside the zoo.
Walked back to the hotel, too long a walk in the heat to be honest, but pleased I managed.
Passed a big used bookstall, and an art college, with statues and clay heads on display in the overgrown grounds.
Heat overcame me on the walk back, and I dived into a KFC for some air conditioned respite. I ordered a sort of potato burger
and chips... rather too much potato in one meal, I didn't think that one through !
I passed "Spencers", an old fashioned store which had evolved into a sort of mini supermarket. I bought a few items as
back up for my first train ride next evening, biscuits, cashews, crisps and some apples.
Next morning I had breakfast in the Indian Coffee House next to my hotel. This is a nationwide chain that became a workers
co-operative when the original owners wanted to shut it down. This particular construction was a rather strange design, a
bit like a spiral ramp to a car park, but with seats on the slope. I learnt later that it was designed by a UK architect, Laurie Baker, who piloted sustainable designs.
Seated with two local guys and I followed their advice. 2 masala dosa which are thin crispy rice pancakes filled with spiced veg,
and a hot coffee... £1 only !
Noon check out time, so I left my bags at the hotel and had another wander around. There is a small temple just outside the
station, which seemed popular with passers by. I sat in the shade nearby and watched as several folk prayed and put money into a
Time to go and headed over to the station and by luck sat on platform 1 in the right area for my coach. Indian trains are often long, and there can be
a scramble to get on and find space for luggage... If you are at the wrong end of a 26 coach train it is not going to a relaxing
start to your train ride.
I purchased a few bottles of water while I waited, and also sampled my first masala chai of this trip.
The Rajdhani to Delhi
The Rajdhani express are some of the fastest trains on Indian railways.
There are several classes of travel available on most trains, I tend to try for AC2 class where possible. This provides an
air conditioned coach with open compartments... the compartments can be closed off from the corridor by curtains as required.
The arrangement is that each compartment in AC2 has two sleeping berths on each side, lower and top, and there are two again
across the corridor. The person having the upper berth has claim to sit on the lower berth during the day. The seat back folds
down at night to make a wider bed to sleep on.
Rajdhani fares include the meals, and after a 19.15 pm departure, I was ready for mine!
Pretty good food I thought... We were given a 1 liter bottle of water and a sealed juice drink on boarding. Dinner followed
with a small soup and bread sticks. Rice, curried vegetables, dall, chapatties... very tasty, if a little thin on content.
My only companion at the start was a middle aged doctor on the opposite lower bunk. He was attending a conference in Mangalore, and would
leave the train before I awoke in the morning. We chatted for a while, and then turned in for the night.
As a "senior", I usually get my preferred berth, the lower. Less hassle for those night time bathroom visits...
Good sleep, followed by early morning tea... Someone brings a tray with a tea bag, milk powder and sugar sachets on. A second guy
brings a cup, and a third follows up with a flask of hot water. A long process, but it works!
Breakfast is either veg or non veg, as are all meal options. My choice, veg, consists of two small veg nuggets and a couple of sad potato
chips, plus two slices of white bread. Tasty, but not over filling.
The attendant responsible for my coach offered to sell me "whisky" even before breakfast arrived... "I have some"! he said proudly.
I declined his offer as the sun was not yet over the yardarm
Meals provided were similar thereafter with minor variations to taste: Trays with rice, curry, dall, chappaties for lunch
and dinner, the veg nuggets for breakfast. The non veg options seemed to be omlette and bread for breakfast, and two boiled eggs
in a curry sauce to replace the veg curry.
This train has a pantry/catering car so meals are heated on board... on some trains the staff take your order and the food
is then recieved from a station stop further down the line.
Most Rajdhani station stops are for 2 minutes only, but there are occasional longer stops. I got down several times to take a few pics,
and bought some bannanas too.
Scenery changed as we moved northwards, from mountains and lush palm trees in the south to the dryer plains of the north.
Rural scenes that can't have changed much... tilling fields with a plough and oxen, folk heading out into the fields for work
before it gets too hot. an old lady leading a cow on a rope...
The catering staff are all small and thin build, and dressed in black uniforms with a "meals on wheels" logo on the back, they
remind me of a band of ninja's! Quite assertive ninja's who don't seem over happy with their life. I was shocked to be looking out
as they threw two full bin bags of used plates, cups, and rubbish out into the green countryside as we sped along.
Looking at the amount of other trash littering the trackside, it must be a daily event.
Arriving at Delhi, the ninja leader stands in front of you with his hand out for a tip. Rs100 seems to be the going rate for
the full end to end journey...
Some fellow passengers, one on their first train ride!
The second half of the ride I am accompanied by 3 Indian gents, who spread out around the bunks. One fancies himself as a
Bollywood singer... he has many, many, (too many!) filmy songs on his phone, which he plays for everyone, and joins in the
singing also. He mentions that he has read the book that I am reading and asks what I think of it. "Tokyo Cancelled" is by an
Indian author. I said I found it rather incomprehensible, he said he found it so too. Funny to think that of all the books I could
have chosen to bring, it was a book known to a fellow passenger. When I had finished it, he asked me to sign it and said he would donate it to a library
for poor persons. Dunno what they might make of it.
Arrival at Delhi, we come to a stop at H.Niz train station. A porter, known here as a "coolie" enters the compartment almost before the train comes to a halt.
Espying a foreign tourist he grabs my heavy luggage and moves it out onto the platform. I confess to having rather more luggage with me than is sensible for a solo traveller. One very heavy case, one smaller case, and my own bag with the valuable stuff.
So begins a multi pronged verbal attack on my wallet! I try to negotiate a price for the baggage to be carried... I know it is far too heavy for me to manage up the stairs, but I pretend I don't need him. Anyway, we find common ground, more in his territory
than mine. Next item in the battle is to get to the "pre-paid auto-rickshaw booth". I ask to go there, but several " taxi helpers" and
Mr. Coolie himself say "no such thing here, at airport only..." Long story a bit shorter... It does exist.
There was a longish queue at the pre-pay kiosk so I accepted a taxi offer from a rough looking bloke in the end. Rs 250 (£2.50p).
Very agressive driving, but we arrived safe in Paharganj and found the hotel with relative ease..
Pre-pay booths aim to protect passengers from getting over charged, you pay fixed amounts at the booth according to your distance/destination.
The hotel check in guy does not look me in the eye, but my room is there for me. Nice room, A/C, clean and basic, bathroom, window, fan, mini fridge.
Yes... all good. Time to rest up!
Thank you Mr. Drews for your good recommendation.
Next morning, I realised that 21 Sept had been my sisters birthday. After a snack breakfast, I walked to Connaught Place. I was a bit too early,
as not many businesses were open yet.
Walked around and got into conversation with an Indian guy, who gave me a restaurant recommendation.
I had a wander down Janpath to see if I could find the hotel we stayed in back in 1983... Couldn't see it at all... was somewhere
up one of the many staircases that lead up into any number of weird and wonderful businesses...
One of which was a money changer,
got a good rate and no commision, 6Rs better than at the airport.
Walked back to hotel, passing a police traffic checkpoint. One or two officers were stuffing bank notes into their pockets,
they looked very happy, as if they had got an extra "payday" out of the motorists they stopped...
Felt quite "done in" with the heat by the time I got back, and was very thankful for the a/c and fridge!
Fell asleep for a couple of hours, then went out for a look around the streets near the hotel. Bought 2 shampoo sachets and 1 clothes washing powder sachet for 7Rs... that is 7p !
My Shampoo and washingpowder vendor:
Bought a few bannanas and water, etc. Got caught out in a sudden downpour just 100 yds from hotel... took shelter under shop
canopy. Streets soon awash with goodness knows what. Had good shower when I got back!
There are dozens of small shrines to the many dieties:
Although I have been to Delhi several times, it has always just been to "pass through", not a destination in itself. Next day
I took an auto to the Delhi Red Fort. Very warm weather again. Fort looks impressive from outside, inside is a large garden,
with several pavilions dotted around. The fort is said to have the same architect as the Taj Mahal. It was used as a soldiers
barracks by the British in the 1800's and a lot of the buildings were damaged at that time. Restoration has occured since.
Entry to national monuments like the fort costs Rs 250 for foreign tourists, £2.50p. The bonus is that there is often a
seperate ticket window with no queueing for foreigners.
Hunger drove me back to Connaught circle, I wanted to find the Indian Coffee House branch, which between us the auto driver
and I managed to do. Being pretty hungry, I ordered far too much food. Enjoyed it, and bill came to around £2. Quite a
struggle to get any auto driver there to understand where I wanted to go, back to my hotel... I made it eventually !
An afternoon rest seems a good plan with the heat, and so to bed again for an hour or so. Later I took a stroll up the
main bazaar road which leads directly to New Delhi rail station. Many more younger western "backpacker" tourists here,
and also more beggars targetting them, and me! A lot of tourist tat for sale in the shops, I bought a small bottle of
rose scented oil for £1, trying to make myself smell a bit fresher, given that I am soaked in perspiration within 5 minutes
of leaving my hotel!
Lots of Indian tourists shopping here too, so it's not just foreigners getting ripped off!
Next morning I walked up to the rail station and found the International Tourist Office, upstairs at platform 1.
The procedure is a bit different from my last visit, you are now requested to take a number as you enter, and fill out a form
detailing which train, dates, etc, you desire.
Somehow the display shot past my number without stopping, but I managed to barge in somewhere. There are about 5 or 6 desks
open to deal with requests, and they say it is open 24 hours, 7 days a week.
September is quite early in the tourist season, so it was not busy, It took me only 20 minutes or so to book two trains, both of
which were sold out, save for the tourist quota I was able to tap into.
From the station I decided to visit Qtab Minar. I was quoted Rs 170, which I thought was a total rip off... despite my
protests they insisted that was the fare. OK, I want to go, let's do it...
Turns out that it was miles away, and not near the red fort as I thought. Well worth Rs 170, I gave the bloke a tip on top
of his pre-paid voucher!
Same again Rs 250 to enter. No bags allowed here or at the red fort... I show my bag at both places... the guards nod,
wave me and bag through... Begining to feel like a Brahmin... above the rules that the lower orders have to obey !
Qtab Minar very impressive, tall minaret with much decoration, and many ruined but attractive buildings. Tombs, Mosques,
Madrassa, arcades and gardens. Ancient special non rusting inscribed iron pillar. Many pics taken!
From here I realised it made sense to incorporate my pilgrimage to the rail museum into the ride back into town, so I
got an auto there.
Place even more run down than on my last visit, but I took several pics again. Very hot.
Another auto back to town, and late lunch again at the Coffee house, before returning to hotel for a rest.
Late start to Thursday, decided to go back to the station and book more trains, might as well while I am in Delhi.
Even less busy, desk open without need to take numbered ticket. Guy makes error with dates on connecting trains...
good job I was awake to spot that. Easy to do as some trains take three days or more to complete a journey.
Back to Coffee house for lunch.
Walk back through the main bazaar to my hotel, buying a few banannas and water en route. Start to feel a little unwell
during the afternoon, which develops into a full blown Delhi Belly attack during the night. Damn !
Friday morning I am not sure if I am going to be well enough to leave the hotel and board my next train this afternoon.
I decide to buy some over the counter antibiotics from local chemists, as recommended in guide book (Rs 70). I ask if it is possible to stay an extra day at the hotel
due to illness... luckily they say I can. Much mental debate and umming and erring about best course of action follows...
I can see that I should go if I can, with train and hotel booked already for my next stop. Fortunately, I start to feel up to moving... fingers and legs crossed!
The front desk guy is surprised when I want to leave at 4pm, but kindly, he only charges me half a day for the extended stay.
I tried very hard to eat safe food, and had seen many of the hotel guests use a couple of local eateries opposite,
but I turned my nose up at them as being "just for tourists", with no locals seen to patronise them... Muggins here got ill, pretty certain from the Coffee House food,
while those "gulible western tourists" had no such problems! One seldom really knows for sure, but I will not be eating at
the Coffee House place when I go back to Delhi later in my trip.
Funny how life balances things out: I was quoted Rs 100 for a few hundred yards ride up to New Delhi station. "OK, I have heavy cases,
I don't feel well, lets go". Guy stops short... "I can't go in as I don't have the right type of uniform/badge"
"Great, you agree to bring me, then get involved in a scam where you want to fetch a coolie for the last 100 yds?
Only Rs 250 for the coolie you say, plus Rs 100 for your services...?" Grrr! I just pay him off and drag my cases over by myself.
Fortunately, I have looked up the platform number in advance, and there is an escalator up to the overbridge.
I ask a clean cut young man to mind my big case while I take my smaller one down to the platform... he agrees, then follows me
down, carrying it for me. He said he was pleased to help. Although he looked to me about age 15, he was a soldier in the armed forces!
Cheers dude, that act of kindness wiped out the nasty taste left by the rickshaw driver and re-balanced my view of the universe!
The Train to Bhubaneshwar... follows now!
Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani Express.
My AC2 coach position was shown by an overhead indicator on the platform, although the train was not there yet. Couple of very poor looking old ladies begging...
I gave my change to the first one to reach me.
Train pulls in and it is not as busy as I imagined it might be... I am the only one in my whole compartment! Suits me, as I
don't realy feel up to conversation. Armed soldiers also on this train, patrolling back and forth.
Nice to have daylight for a while as we head off. The staff on this train have very little grasp of English. The catering guy asks
me something, but I have no idea. I say "Veg" but that wasn't it... I think he wants to know where I am getting off... I show him
the ticket, but although he pretends to read it, he cant. We agree to differ and he withdraws.
Brickmaking is evident in the area, with several kiln chimneys seen. Lots of construction going on outside Delhi. We are running very steady
for a Rajdhani, but eventually pass a slow local electric commuter train and pick up speed, crossing over a wide river. I
notice tall modern light arrays at one point... turns out to be a container depot, the only tidy modern facility seen!
I notice a little box under my berth, marked "rodent control". Yeuk !
Images flash into view and are gone past almost before they register... folk camping on a station platform, with smoky fires
and cooking pots in the evening gloom, cloth tents... I don't want to photograph these poorer people like some voyeur, but I
do want to remember as much as I can of what I have seen... The human spirit shines through... it is the courage and fortitude
that I see and would like to record, celebrate, but it feels as if one is humiliating poor people with a photo of them...
The meals on this train are similar to the ones on my first train trip, but the coaches are not in such good condition as the
Trivandrum train. Feels more relaxed in some way. I managed to eat a little rice and dall, but nothing else this evening.
My compartment remained empty except for myself and the rat bait. Several visits to the bathroom during the night!
6.40 am Chandra Bose junction tea and biscuit is served. A little latter I am half asleep at another station, and manage to
convince myself I have just seen a sign saying "Change here for Gommorah". Before I can do a double take it is past. Sod it!
Pretty, primordial landscape for a few miles, fringed palm trees and vegetation looking very primative, somehow.
More soldiers get on the train with machine guns and pistols. They show more interest in the 1st class coach next to mine than
anywhere else... maybe a vip needing protection ?
Kharakpur Junction, the train reverses direction here with the engine on the back end. Several trains arrive as we get the signal to go,
lots of folk from them running to try to get aboard, some do, many get left behind!
A portly gent asks if I am journalist, he has seen me jotting notes from time to time. He is some sort of senior policeman. I didn't
quite grasp what branch. I pretended to extended my wrists to be handcuffed, he said he was not involved in that stuff...
The coach attendant spoke a little English, but had been too shy to speak to me by himself. The three of us compared life
in the UK and India. The coach attendant volunteered that he earned about £50 a month, was married with a young child.
He was eager to know about wages in the UK. Me saying that the minimum wage for anyone working in the UK is more than £50
a day was a shock for him. Problem is that one cannot easily explain that the cost of living is so different too!
As we reached Bhubaneshwar, he asked me to take his picture, but he is not looking that relaxed! He insisted in carrying my bag
off the train for me, and emphasised that I should not pay more than Rs 50 to get to my hotel. He talked to the coolie too and
negotiated a lower price. Cheers coach attendant, a good guy to remember amongst the rogues !
Next update : Konark Sun Temple and Biggus Dickus, as Monty Python might say...
The train coach attendant has spoken to the “coolie” luggage porter guy, and negotiated a price for carrying my two cases to the auto rickshaw stand. It is a very long platform, and the porter puts both the bags on his head. I am sure he is getting shorter as we walk along!
Very heavy bags... both with wheels ! Why not wheel them 95% of the way, and just carry them up the stairs to the over bridge? Poor bloke asks for a few rupees extra at the end. I paid up, and he staggered off for a sit down.
Shortish ride to the hotel, it turned out to be a tourist development hotel... thankfully a lot better than the one in Trivandrum.
About 10 staff on duty behind the desk... it turns out to be a “training” hotel for staff too.
All good, filled in guest registration form and paid by card with no drama.
Huge room, huge bed, tired traveller still unwell, traveller hits the sack zzzzzzz.
Felt much better next morning after a good rest. Not very hungry, so just a cup of tea. Hotel has kettle and tea and coffee facilities. Two bottles of water are provided gratis, and there is a mini fridge too. Bliss !
Main reason for being here is to see the Sun Temple at Konark, although I later find there are many other interesting temples in the town itself also.
The tourist office was a waste of time. I asked about bus tours to Konark, and the guy just prods his computer keyboard a few times. Not sure what he was trying to print off, but his printer did not work. After about 20 minutes I got up and pointed to a big poster they had in the office “ World Tourism Day 2015”... yes, it was that very day!
No worries, I asked among the taxi drivers near the hotel, and a price of less than £15 was agreed for my own individual car and driver for the return trip. Probably it should be less, but to me it was a bargain, and an easy (possibly the only) option. Being early in the tourist season, there probably would be more coach trips available later in the year.
Bhubaneswar is a popular place of pilgrimage in it’s own right, as well as being the biggest town near to Konark. Puri is another nearby Indian tourist spot, with the Jaganath temple there. (Jaganath is a large idol, and is pulled around on a huge wheeled cart... where our big lorry description comes from... Juggernaught )
Passed some time in the museum, good stone statues and historical info on the area.
Next day I set off for Konark. Pleasant drive towards the coast. The Sun Temple is impressive, sadly it was being “conserved”, so was covered in bamboo scaffold rods at the time of my visit.
I was pleased to see several very rude sculptures in the stones... India has a conservative attitude to public affection nowadays... In the past, folk bending over backwards to celebrate life and creation seems to have been set in stone.
The ride back was enlivened by us travelling the wrong way along a dual carriageway for a mile or so. Thankfully it was not too busy with on coming traffic, and we got back on to the correct side unscathed.
Kettling... I was still being careful of what I ate, but after finding another mini supermarket near the hotel I bought some eggs, as well as a plug - in mosquito zapper.
I was able to boil the eggs carefully in the kettle, and so enjoyed some plain unspiced food.
One of the main temples in town itself is a Hindu temple called the Lingaraj.
Lingam, broadly speaking, describes the symbolic upright male contribution to the continuation of life, an eternal celebration of spring time, carved in stone.
Raja means king, as far as I am aware, so it could translate as King Dick, maybe?
Non Hindu’s are not allowed in, but there is a viewing platform which gives a good vantage point.
Several lesser but ornate and ancient temples are nearby. I am stunned to note an ugly bent light fitting just nailed onto the beautiful stonework. Probably it looks better in the dark...
One thing that has puzzled me happened again here once or twice. Often, seeing my camera, strangers, mostly young lads, ask me to take their pictures, on my camera... Now why is that? I show them the picture, they are happy, but I have a picture I don’t want ???
I know that often Indians like to include western tourists in their snaps, but this seems odd? Not as if they are asking me to email them a copy... anyway most have phones that can take pics if they want one!
Tried a few items from the hotel menu, food not great, but tummy starting to get back to normal.
My next train ride is a two nighter to Mumbai, leaving about 4pm. The hotel receptionist says I can stay in air conditioned comfort in my room for an extra couple of hours, no charge... Just what is needed !
Next up: Konark Express to Mumbai...
The Auto rickshaw driver has the good grace to look sheepish as the hotel doorman
asks, on my behalf, the fare to the station. Rs 60 he says with a grin at the doorman.
No problem, I am quite happy getting overcharged if the fare and his "tourist bonus" is still only 60p ! That included my cases too!
On arrival at the station, I find a porter (don't like the coolie description...) and explain it is just the one case, just over the footbridge bridge, I will carry the others. This works well, and we are both happy. My train is already in the platform. It is a very long train, and my coach, the single AC2 on the whole train is quite near the front. I set off along the platform, intending to beat the rush to store luggage, etc, but find that the doors to the ac coaches are still locked. Now that I am at the far end of the platform, I am a long way from the stalls selling biscuits and water, etc.
Quite a crowd on the platform, but this thins out when another train arrives on the adjacent platform, and many board that.
I was able to perch in the shade, so was quite happy. About 15 minutes before the train was due to go, the attendants opened the doors... I was one of the first to board, and found my berth easily, it was number 1, Lower.
The coaches on this train were older and quite grubby. I noticed a few odours from time to time, even before we started, although the toilets themselves were clean,
A couple of gents and a lady upgraded from ac3 and joined my compartment, and a heavily made up lady plonked herself on my berth too. Although Indian, she was as much bothered by the heat as I was. It took a long while for the ac to kick in, but eventually it brought the temperature down. I switched on the overhead fan in the meantime.
Even though the coach was a bit run down, I felt a little familiar bubble of happiness
as we edged out of the platform...
The solo lady spent the next hour or so yakking on her phone, mostly in English. The other 3 seemed tired, and after treating themselves to a chai each, they lay down for a nap.
On this type of express train, the meals are not included. There was a pantry car on the train, and the staff will come through asking in advance if you require a main meal. They also patrol back and forth with water bottles, snacks, soup, chai or coffee. In the morning, the breakfast options were sold as they pass through, not pre-ordered. As well as the train guys, who might be a franchised outfit, there are other vendors who get aboard at the longer station stops, selling books and all sorts of weird and wonderful items.
The dinner and lunch trays on this train were great ! 3 different dal/curry dishes, chapattis, rice, curd and even a raw vegetable "salad". Delicious ! I did not eat the salad or the curd, but the rest was very tasty ! The staff asked for payment after each meal, and these were all priced at Rs 100 That is just £1 ! I got the impression that these guys needed to sell their food, so it was done well, whereas the Rajdhani crews were basically dishing out the food and it did not matter as it was paid for anyway. Don't get me wrong... the Rajdhani food was 100% fine, somehow the slightly more "homemade" nature of the express food gave it an edge.
The phone woman got down from the train before dinner, so it was a peaceful meal !
I was feeling pretty tired, and decided to make my bed up, and retire. Just as I was settling down a guy asked me to move berths... I declined, as I reclined...
Slept but at Visakhapatnam the lights came on, people came on, and lots of chatter and food consumed. Drifted off to sleep again quite soon...
Good rest, and awake early. Saw a troop of monkeys by the track side, several seemed to enjoy sitting on the metal rail.
A beautiful iridescent Kingfisher in flight.
Warangal station, quite a large place. Bloke selling “idlies,” white rice steamed cakes, served with a spicy sauce. These were unappetising as the flies showed up on them against the white...
Bhongir, a stunning large fort can be seen from the train, perched high up on a steep barren rock. Dunno if it is a tourist destination, but looked an excellent location to defend from. From my short glimpse, the walls looked fairly well intact.
Lunch is served as we reach Hyderabad.
A lot of folk getting on and off here, and a new face joins my compartment.
He asks the “where from” question and we start to chat...
This breaks the ice for the young guy opposite, too, and the three of us chat about many different subjects, from refugees, to how safe it might be to visit Kashmir, as a foreign tourist. They both were quite surprised that the U.K. foreign office advises against most places there...
Aziz, the younger guy, is an engineering student studying in Pune, and the other guy is Ranjan, early thirties, an ATM expert for one of the banks. Ranjan decided that I looked a bit like Dumbledore from Harry Potter... cheers mate, I am not that old !
Both guys were keen to chat and advise me, and also to make sure I did not get into trouble in Mumbai.
Ranjan treated me to some bananas, as I mentioned that I had not seen any for sale, at a station stop, and also kindly paid for a chai too.
Dinner was good again, similar but slightly different to the night before. I noticed Ranjan was having the non veg option, which included a couple of hard boiled eggs in a curry. I offered him my curd, which he tasted, but said it was not good, so probably a wise thing for me not to have eaten it.
Pretty tired again by now, so said goodnight and turned in.
Aziz, who lived on the outskirts of Mumbai had left the train by the time I was woken up by the coach assistant. The train arrives into Mumbai around 4am, so I was a bit groggy at that time!
Ranjan helped me take my bags off the train, and we walked up to the main part of CST station. Fairly quiet at that time of day.
Ranjan had kindly asked several times if I would like to go to his home instead of waiting around the station. Although I had a room booked, it was not going to be available so early. I was touched by his concern for me, but said I would wait in the waiting area for a few hours.
I decided to wait in the waiting room, there were a couple of empty seats, but it looked as though many folk had spent a lot of the night there... individuals and families sleeping on the floor, or dozing in their seats. As time passed more and more people arrived and headed into what I though was the toilet area... Not so, this is a washing area only, toilets are elsewhere. I was impressed by the waking sleepers too, all of who went for a wash and teeth brushing, as well as a change of clothes in many cases... Quite an eye opener to see tired and dusty folk transformed into bright eyed persons in clean clothing!
I just sat there in my smelly travel clothes and hummed quietly....
At about 7am I decided to risk arriving at the hotel... if the room is not ready I can at least dump my luggage off...
Pre-paid taxi office is easy to find, and so I set off with a driver who has no concept that red stop lights apply to him ! Strange as the standard of driving in Mumbai seems quite high.
The room is ready, I am expected, it is just as advertised, and so to bed for a few hours rest...
MUMBAI PICS ASSORTED
Awoke about midday. This hotel is a little off from the usual tourist areas, in Lammington Road. Very easy check in, nice clean room. The prepay taxi cab fare was Rs 170 from CST station. Hotels seem to cater for either Indian guests, or foreign tourists. This place has a mix of both, which is interesting in itself.
I had arrived here on Mahatma Ghandi's birthday, so lots of businesses had closed for the day, and a holiday was declared for staff. This meant a lot less traffic, and was a gentler introduction to Mumbai than I may have expected!
The hotel provided a map, and I decided to start at the Gateway of India.
A gent with very red teeth from eating betel nut is my taxi driver. He is stunned when I agree his request for Rs 200 without arguing. He recovers his composure and we set off. A nice drive along the sea front with a welcome breeze blowing in. I spot young couples sitting close together with arms around each other on the sea wall. Mumbai is a more tolerant and cosmopolitan city than anywhere else I have been in India.
Preparations for the evening birthday event are taking place at the Gateway, with a raised stage, hundreds of chairs, posters and loudspeakers being set up. Young military cadets are practising their moves for the evening performance.
There are dozens of guys offering to take your photo, and they print it out there and then from mini portable printers they carry... very enterprising. I declined numerous offers, then thought "why not" ? Two pics taken and printed for just £1. My souvenirs of Mumbai !
The posh Taj hotel is adjacent to the Gateway, and is just as popular with the Indian tourists as photo material. As a western tourist, I can spot others easily of course... it is easy to forget that there are millions of Indian tourists moving around too, on pilgrimages or visiting relatives. One gets an idea of the amount of tourists visiting Mumbai from the number of ferry boats bobbing around in the sea, ready to take folk out to Elephanta Island, etc. A tiny percentage of tourists spotted when I was there were western, not one in a thousand.
I consult the map and head northwards. Walking in the heat I am soon sagging, and slightly lost... Indian roads mostly seem to have the names in Hindi, or not at all. (That’s my excuse for being dumb enough to have a map and be lost!)
I see a cricket match in progress, so I know I am still in India...
A taxi is the answer here, methinks. Soon back at the hotel, I realised later that I had not been far from CST station after walking up from the Gateway.
Good nights sleep, and time to hit the streets again...
I am in Mumbai for several days, and have enjoyed my time here. I came to India early, in September, which in retrospect was probably a mistake. I had wanted to get away from my routine at home, and to see the monsoon vegetation. The truth is that I had not anticipated just how warm it would be! I start to wilt after an hour or so, and my dark shirt is rimmed with white lines from the salty liquid pouring from my, err , pores.
Next time, I will wait for the season to start properly!
I enjoy just wandering around looking at buildings and sights that are different from back home, as much as seeing the grand palaces and temples. Sunday was a good day for this, as surprisingly to me, many businesses were closed and there were few crowds. I was out early, and took many pictures of the old buildings, without getting lost...
My pattern over the week has been similar each day. After breakfast at the hotel, I get a cab to the fort area, then walk around for some time until the heat gets too much. I visited the former “Prince of Wales” museum, very good, probably the best kept one so far.
I also looked in at the Art Gallery a couple of times, which has a weekly changing show by various artists. I met one artist, Mr Patil, and his family, who wanted me to pose for a photo with him. On this occasion his daughter took pics with her camera, not just on my camera!
Colaba is an interesting area for different styles of building, and with diverse ethnicity.
(Somewhere under that may be art deco styling...?)
One place mentioned in the guide book is the “Afghan Church”. Well, why not... I am on holiday, let’s have a look...
Very disappointing on arrival, seemed closed up and neglected. The church commemorates lives lost in an Afghan war in the 1800’s. Strangely, the plaque mentions women and children also, I am not sure how they got involved.
I was about to leave when the side door opened, and I was invited inside. Martin has been looking after the church for 25 years, I guess a sort of verger, and he showed me around.
A massive building for a large congregation, Martin said there were only about 20 nowadays, mostly from the nearby naval base.
One feature of the pews were the semi circular notches beside each place... these were for the troops to keep their rifles upright while they worshiped!
Before leaving home, I had reread Paul Theroux’s later book, his follow up to the “Great Railway Bazaar”, in which he mentions being introduced to the Prince of Wales and Camilla at a posh palace in Rajasthan... Well I was introduced by Martin to the very chairs that both of the royal behinds sat on when they visited this church on that same tour! Exciting stuff!
Rather more interesting was the visitors book, that showed several people visiting from abroad to pay homage to ancestors who lived in the area years ago.
If anything symbolises the west’s failures in both India and Afghanistan, this decaying western church in a Mumbai backwater is a good example.
One day I took the plunge and bought an Indian SIM card for my phone. Up and running in a few hours. Only downside so far is the continual stream of advertising texts from the network... in Hindi !
Pleased to find Lammington Road where I stay, is also the centre for the computer shops, so I was able to buy a new cheapo charger for my laptop. Slightly surprised that after selling me the charger, they tried to palm me off with an out of date banknote in my change. Sheesh, give it a rest!
The little shops and stalls sell an astonishing combination of items. One great place for kitsch ornaments and tat is the underpass from CST.
Why on earth would I, a foreign tourist of advanced years, desire to buy a pack of balloons that will inflate to about two meters in size? Full marks for trying, but non for realistic expectations!
A chain of supermarkets called Reliance that I found in Bhubaneswar has a big branch near the hotel. I thought I would stock up on some food for my train ride tomorrow, as I am not sure of the food options on that route.
Security here at the supermarket was the most thorough I have seen in India. Proper bag check. There are scanners and security at most stations, etc, but nobody is manning them, 90% of the time.
Maybe they were more worried about me pinching stuff than about bringing in something.. we may never know, but they insisted on sealing my bag with plastic tags.
Good Morning Rajasthan !
Today starts with me hanging out the door of my train, as we head for Jaisalmer.
I had this sort of image in mind before I left home, but to be honest, I envisioned a slow chug across the desert sands, this train fairly whizzes along at times, and also the desert is a little bit green rather than completely sandy coloured, due to the recent monsoon.
Very pleased with my Mumbai hotel, check out at 9.30 am, which seems common for a lot of Indian hotels. I waited in their rooftop cafe area ‘till it was time to go. One silly bird kept up a constant squawking and ruffling of feathers... I noticed it was challenging it’s own reflection in the window glass... Bird brain !
My train leaves from Banda Terminus, quite a long way out of the city. The original plan was to go by suburban train to the nearest station, then get an auto for the last half mile...
Original plans change drastically when confronted with heavy bags, very hot weather, and a reasonably priced taxi !
I found that asking for the meter to be put on, rather than saying “how much”? tends to be a lot cheaper. I left the hotel in the oldest cab so far, a very tired Ambassador. Not as comfortable as the newer small Hyundai cars, but a classic !
We seemed to just inch forward, the traffic snarl up even worse out of the centre. The driver took the newish bridge that snakes out over the sea, instead of battling the traffic jams.
A toll bridge, Rs 60 well spent ! One has chance to look at the Mumbai skyline from offshore on this road... many more tall skyscrapers than I realised when close in.
Bandra Terminus was fine, and I allowed myself to be grabbed by a very senior “unofficial” porter, who spoke good English. He explained that I could wheel my stuff myself, as there is an underpass, but he would be happy to “guide” me to my train.
He then insists on carrying one case!
Due to the sea bridge, I was over an hour early for my train. Sitting in the shade was fine, not a busy station, and no sign of any refreshments nearby again! Fortunately, I had a bottle of water with me. I could hear some Moslem prayers from nearby, maybe as it was Friday? Several young Moslem lads were larking about on the platform as I waited... one pressed a printed sheet of paper on me, dunno what it said, as it isn’t in English.
Very long train again, and I have berth number 1 again. Nice to be departing a bit earlier in the day, 2.30 pm, as it gives a little more daylight to see the world passing by the window, or at least a tiny bit of it.
Original style of coach again, bit old and tired, but it all works fine. This train has no catering facilities, but an unofficial guy arrives about 7pm and takes orders for “dinner”.
I bought several bottles of water at a station stop early on, can’t risk running low on that essential! No bananas seen, so it is packs of potato chips, biscuits, cashew nuts for tea, then the dinner bloke shows up after all. His food was not that great, tiny portions, and a bit more expensive than the regular railway catering options.
A few cockroaches roaming around this coach... yeuk, don’t like them critters!
Fair nights rest, a couple with a young baby wailing in the night, and the old bloke on the lower berth opposite talking to himself in his sleep were the only incidents of note, other than my Indian mobile phone bleeping with stupid marketing texts. Tesco mobile, you ain’t so bad after all...
I spy a banana seller at Jodpur, where we stop for a fair while. These trains are so long, it can be difficult to hear the engine horn for departure, just jumped on in time!
No one has tried to chat on this train, so I have been listening to my mp3 player at times, when not stood at the door with camera.
Family on adjacent train are all smiles on spotting me with camera, lady even comes to the door with her baby to make it wave.
Arrive into Jaisalmer on time. I was last here in 1983, so much will have changed, I am sure. Porter morphs into auto rickshaw driver too and takes me to the correct hotel... Sometimes I just need to pay up and not worry about getting ripped off, today was one of those times. Over bridge portering and taxi ride still only £2, hot and tired, I can take that hit.
Hotel seems fine, big room, 3rd floor, balcony... all good. Rest today, explore tomorrow...
Arrived on Saturday about 1pm. Nice room in the hotel. Just rested up for most of the afternoon, and ate a small evening meal in the rooftop restaurant.
Sunday I got going late in the day, and felt the full heat of the sun as time went on. The fort is interesting, as are many of the nearby buildings.
It is a good few years since I visited last, and I get the feeling that a lot of effort has gone into preserving and renovating the Havali's, the ornate merchants houses from the rich days of the silk road. As expected, Jaisalmer is much more commercialised than before, busier, many many more hotels and camel safari offers. However, the shopkeepers seem fairly easy going, a quick “no thank you” seems to satisfy their requests for your patronage... sadly, like many Mediterranean hotspots, almost every second building inside the walls is now a shop of some sort, aimed at the tourist rupee.
I like the Rajasthan folk, the women seem proud and capable, and will often look you in the eye, the men very upright, turbaned, looking regal a lot of the time.
Long lines of western tourists being led around by guides, so glad I am doing my own thing and can just stop and start when I feel like it.
Several couples and single tourists seem to have been “captured” by “guides” too. Yes they may have asked for a guide, but often they look as if they have had more than enough information !
“Where are you from” seems to be a psychological winner... very hard not to respond, at least I find it so. I mostly say “China” and either smile or wink. It seems to work without causing offence as it is an obvious joke response.
The other “tip” to put off beggars or persistent persons is to use the Hindi word for “Go”. That seems much more effective than a long series of “no thank you”.
I hope the word I use, pronounced “challo”, means go, and is not a swear word !
I gave this old girl a banana, she saved it for later and asked for cash for now...
at least I guess that was what she wanted!
So I thought I had re-traced my path back towards the hotel, but went wrong somewhere. Ended up fair way away. I asked directions, and not realising the distance I set off to walk back. That was a mistake in the heat! I got very overheated and felt very stupid at how far I had to walk. Very pleased to see the hotel room and the air conditioner too...
Chilled for the rest of the day.
Today, Monday 12 Oct, is my last full day here, and has been similar to yesterday. I chatted to my son back in Nottingham on facebook first off, then a shower and breakfast tea and biscuits. Tea was fine, biscuits covered in tiny orange colour ants, biscuit coloured you could say. Sadly, I did not notice the ants until on my second biscuit. They can sting the inside of your mouth if you don’t swallow them quickly. Funny enough I had just mentioned to my son that I was eating vegetarian here, and could do with some meaty protein !
My own fault for leaving the open pack in my case on the floor overnight.
Similar wander around again today, but I left the hotel earlier and did not get so roasted again. Rested next to a bloke doing shoe repairs, he spoke quite good English, and mentioned he was from the Punjab.
A large Rajasthan family all seemed to require footwear repairs, and they took the opportunity to rope me into the family photos... I felt a bit like a performing monkey at times as I was posed with all the kids, one at a time! They were a lot of fun though, and posed for me too.
Talk about dumb ! I had tried to note my route to avoid any long walks, yet still made the same mistake today. I think I need a nurse, sometimes!
Anyway, at least today I knew enough to get an auto rickshaw. Felt quite proud of bargaining him down to Rs 30.
Lunch meal upstairs at the hotel, quite tasty. Bought a fresh pack of biscuits, and now ready for afternoon cuppa and biscuits. I have my trusty travel kettle with me, and a supply of PG tips tea bags... milk powder is available everywhere, so all is well on the catering front just now.
This nice man sold me my emergency packet of biscuits:
This next pic is from my earlier visit to Jaisalmer, 1983, I am trying my Lawrence of Arabia look, with bedsheet, as I gesture towards Jaisalmer in the distance. One camel safari is enough, besides, my bedsheet is now a flowery quilt cover, and it wouldn't look good
Good nights sleep, despite the very firm mattresses that seem a feature of all Indian hotels, or at least the ones I have stayed at.
Check out is straightforward, and after the admonition to “give good trip advisor report”, I am offered a free ride to the train station in the hotel car. 10 minutes later they admit that the car will not start, so instead I ride out in less style in an auto rickshaw.
Auto guy mimes having a bad back so I unload my own cases. Not surprised mate, these roads jar my back too, couldn’t cope with driving on them for a living.
Ticket hall is mostly empty, just a couple of customers at the windows. I buy my unreserved non - a/c ticket to Lalgarh Junction, this train does not go the last few Km into Bikaner itself.
Fare is Rs 105, that is just over a quid, or US about $1.50, and that is for a six hour ride to travel the whole 200 miles. Must be over priced, as no one else on the train had any tickets, methinks...
Bought the customary biscuits and water from the station kiosk, and was invited inside to photograph the sales lads, and the biscuit display.
Took a couple of pics of the station, and the view of the fort from there, quite pleasant to sit in the shade on a cool fresh morning.
The basic accommodation was very much how I remember my train rides from 1983, and was perfect for this ride.
I would be a little concerned at trying to board at a station further down the line, but this train was not over full at any point. Yes, people were lying in the luggage racks and on the floors, but this was just to stretch out flat for an afternoon siesta.
(Above, I hold fellow passengers spellbound with stories of my trip so far.... )
Being the idiot aboard that I seem to have become, I chose to sit on the hot side of the train to start. I tried to shift to a better seat as a family left, but a big Indian guy rushed on board and sat in one window seat and put his bag on the other one which I was heading for.
I said I want to sit here, he said something in Hindi, I said I want this seat!! He had tried to save it for his wife, who got aboard eventually, but did relinquish it to me.
We broke the ice again soon when I smiled at the wife’s outlandish collection of toy gifts purchased as presents for some relatives. The guy spoke fair English, and I explained that I had sat in the heat for a long time and needed some cooler time. They were ok, and even offered me some bananas and apples. Despite looking prosperous and educated, all their rubbish went straight out the window, as did everyone else’s.
Made use of the loo as we neared Bikaner, fine, cleaner than the Rajdhani, but to be fair, probably it had less customers.
Noticed a few more brickworks as we neared Bikaner, and glimpsed a camel roaming free, and a few small antelope type critters. Lots of folk working the land, harvesting straw or hay, tending crops, and several small herds of goat and sheep, under the watchful eyes of a herder sitting in whatever shade was available.
Lalgargh Junction was a struggle. The only station so far without a single porter! Maybe few folk from unreserved trains use them, or maybe just not enough trains stop there to make it viable. Vicious stairs to climb up and descend again with those heavy cases! Grrr!
I survived. Auto rickshaw cartel all quote Rs100 to go to my hotel. No, too much, no, no... After some time I think I do actually need to get there, and give in. Most bumpy and jarring ride so far... has Bikaner collected all the worst road surfaces into one big town? Certainly felt like it ! I give the driver Rs100 on arrival and he hands me back Rs40 change. I must have got the one driver who was out of ear shot of all the other “quotes” !
Hotel seems nice, a little posher than some so far... a sort of wealthy old family home now resorting to a mix of home and guest business.
Had nice meal, and my second beer of the trip, chatting to a French couple who are fellow guests. He mentions getting a small part in a new film being shot in India, “Viceroys House” . Must see if I can spot him when it comes out!
Here for 5 nights, due to train schedules, so probably have upped the beer drinking average by the time I leave.
Wednesday 14th Oct 2015.
Tonight I am sitting outside in the open, I have my mosquito spray on, socks, and hat... (no, not just those). Bet I still get bitten !
I did not have breakfast today, as I was still full from last night's meal.
A map from the reception and a few directions later, I walked up to the fort.
What a stunning building! Very impressed with the whole place.
These guys knew how to build, and how to live in luxury. While I enjoy the sumptuous decoration and elaborate architecture, as when I visit stately homes in the UK, I am aware that it is built on the backs of the ordinary labourer, the ones that history does not remember.
A few photos will be better than my descriptions:
I now believe the requests for photo's to be taken on my camera, are a modern version of the "one pen lo" chants of earlier years!
I was taken aback to receive my first "hello" from a lone Rajasthan woman today, normally it is just the lads that communicate. I knew Rajasthan women were feisty !
The entrance to the fort holds two shrines, and many women seem to worship there. I know the Sati deaths are venerated, or it may be something else entirely.
There are several palm prints near the gates, of widows who followed their husbands into the afterlife by sati... Let's hope the afterlife was good to them.
The entry gates are massive, and have huge spikes... apparently placed to prevent elephants from being used to batter down the gates.
I saw my first camel cart today, and I also noticed a slightly different design of auto rickshaw. These seem to be the "stretch limo" of the rickshaw world, slightly longer, and often done up with an excess of flashing lights, possibly to make up for the others which run about at night with no lights at all!
This is a very dry region, and in a change from the usual power cuts, the water supply went off this afternoon for a few hours.
Although not part of my plan, I seem to have ordered a beer. Maybe it was part of the plan all along, and I was just kidding myself.
Just eaten a nice meal in the company of the French couple who are leaving tonight at 10pm by train to Delhi. Sensibly, they have kept the room for a late check out and enjoyed a good dinner before they leave.
Tomorrow marks my 4 weeks here in India so far...
An aside... (or perhaps the b side...)
Some jottings from my notebook, in no particular order...
Waiter at Junagarh fort cafe gives menu and walks off. Another guy arrives and I order coffee. He shouts and 1st guy returns to take order. The second guy sits down at my table, I guess he is some sort of supervisor. Eventually dawns on me is just a customer too!
Transpires he is a tourist car driver, sent to sit with the riff raff, (me!). He has a basic meal of chapattis and dal, his passengers, a well to do Indian couple are enjoying an elaborate meal on another table.
A young child begging on the train platform, the rest of his ragged family squatting nearby. Someone passed him a small carton of the juice we get with our Rajdhani train breakfast. The sheer joy on his face over such a small "treat" as he scurried away with his prize was priceless.
Taxi moves forward in the Mumbai traffic, driver goes off duty for 15 seconds, opens door as we move, spits out betel juice onto road, and he is back on duty. I think the road spitting is important... if everyone spat out the car window it would surely hit another car.
I would love to buy one of the strong chromed roof racks that all the Mumbai taxies have,
they look cool. Not easy to get it home, and anyway, I don’t own a car...
My daily taxi route back and forth in Mumbai took me past several pavement dwelling families, cooking, bathing, making ends meet. The younger kids naked and barefoot, but often looking happy, playing games, tag, messing around like kids all over the world. A woman there smiling at something out of my sight. A terribly polluted environment from all the road traffic.
Pilgrims of all description, coach loads with families, single old men wandering barefoot, searching, giving and receiving, food and blessings, offerings and prayers.
Temple bells, a salute to a deity from passers by . Cows revered, inner city ones frequently looking thin and out of place, the small town ones in better shape. Dogs everywhere, roaming or sleeping, often in pitiful condition.
A young man at the station, down on the tracks, doing his laundry and having a shower from the railway water supply. Great that he can get clean this way, not so great that hundreds of litres of water are lost to the ground from the gushing pipe. A bucket would save 99%, and still give the same results.
India seems to have bent the laws of physics, how do so many vehicles, pedestrians, animals all seem to exist on the exact same patch of road at the exact same time, and emerge again unscathed?
Is there any way I can get out of the lift which has come down from the upper floors to the ground floor before you try and get in... The laws of physics (and good manners) can only be bent so far !
Saw my first Dhaba Walla, the guys who collect food tins from the home and deliver to office workers. Great system, thousands of meals moved each day, 99.999% accurate service.
Several cricket matches in full swing on the Maidan even at 10 am, all adults in proper whites.
Mumbai driving school... "The Good Luck Driving School"... Hmm, all their cars are somewhat dented and scratched... Maybe need some skills as well as luck?
Where did all the Raymond’s Suitings and Shirtings signs go? Memorable as the most frequent signs everywhere, back in the 1980’s.
Saturday 17th Oct 2015
I arrived in Bikaner on Tuesday evening, and will be leaving tomorrow after 5 nights, on Sunday 18th. The 5 nights dictated by the train schedules, rather than stuff to see here.
Not done a great deal, apart from visiting the fort and a walk in the old town. One of the tourist attractions near here is the "Rat Temple". A fellow Brit, who I met here at the hotel, was keen for me to go there with him, but I declined, I am not that keen on rats, and you have to walk barefoot among them too.
Somehow, as I wandered around the city the other day, I felt overcome by the intensity of everything. I guess it amounts to a little travel fatigue...
I have taken a few days out, drank a few beers, eaten good food and read a few books. I am sad that the temperature has made it hard for me to just mooch about, but I guess 98F, 38C, at this time of year should have been expected.
My train leaves here tomorrow afternoon and I can't wait... next stop Chennai, or Madras in old money!
Sunday 18th Oct 2015.
5 days in Bikaner was too long, although the train ride out was one of the highlights so far.
I had visited back in1983, and seen the camel breeding place at that time. It was a one night stop back then, and we did not include the fort, as far as I recall.
The hotel has been good, with nice food and a very reasonable room rate too. The main issue has just been the heat being a bit much for moving around in.
Check out Sunday 18th at 2pm. Hotel guy kindly assists with my bags to the station, which is only 200 yards or so away. I enjoyed the sounds of the loco horns nearby, day and night, although some non rail fans might feel differently!
Train is already in the platform, a nice modern looking train with the Rajdhani type red coaches, a welcome sight. This train only runs once a week, and is all air conditioned coaches only.
I took a few pics of the train and station, and boarded without fuss, once again, not busy in my coach.
I felt very pleased with life as the guards whistle blew, the green flag waved, the horn sounded and we were off... exactly on time.
The scenery similar to the ride from Jaisalmer at the journey start, with increasing vegetation as we moved south. I saw a couple of processions, led by someone with a red flag, seemed a procession rather than a demo, one of them consisted mainly of females, all very bright in colourful Rajasthan saris. Camel carts waiting to cross the tracks while the train passed, a missed photo op, one of many...
Cotton is grown widely here, seemingly started off in small well watered areas, a bit like rice paddy fields.
Some round buildings with conical straw roofs.
I was joined by a guy who wandered in from 1st class, a senior mining engineer. Interesting chat about coal mining, my impressions of India, and spirituality too... It is India after all. He said he was pleased to have 4 sons in his family.
Before leaving the hotel, my last breakfast was shared with a family on tour from New Delhi, a turbaned guy, his wife and one daughter. Maybe a more "modern" outlook on family size. The guy mentioned being an accountant, but said he was not proud of helping folk to "dodge tax"... His hope is that his daughter might become a doctor, and so be able to "offer service to the poorer people free of charge".
Dinner is a bit disappointing, not much substance to the dal or the curry, although the chapattis were hot and nice. I did read somewhere that the price of the lentils that are the mainstay of poor folk here have doubled in price recently, some say due to hoarding by middlemen. I think my dal had 4 lentils and a bit of thickener of some sort!
Tired, and so made up my bed early and soon fell asleep, after a few tracks from my mp3 player.
I was aware of others joining the berth during the night, but slept pretty well.
Day starts with a hot chai to get the juices flowing. It is not a massive portion of tea, not when compared to my 1/2 pint mug size back home... nevertheless, hot and most enjoyable. Breakfast is the now familiar bread and veg cutlet. The cutlets at one time years ago were cutlet shaped, but these are more of a round pattie.
Pretty well supplied with life’s requisites, water, chai, soup, biscuits, snacks, are all touted for sale on a rotating basis by the onboard crew.
The gent who arrived in the night turned out to be the same age as me, his wife was there but she did not seem to speak English. He mentioned that most of his children were in USA, doctors and surgeons, and he had enjoyed some extended visits there. He is a builder, and mentioned that corruption is the big problem in India.
As a builder, he may have to pay for certain “permissions” I suggested, he said that was so, but pointed the finger at senior civil servants, those who are in positions for many years.
They got down at Bhopal, and their place was immediately taken by a young lady.
Sravani is a senior journalist for a national newspaper in their Bhopal office. She was very good company for the afternoon, and pointed out several geographical and geological aspects of the landscape. With her excellent English, as well as 4 Indian languages, it was a pleasure to chat, the most I have spoken with anyone for the last four weeks!
Lunch is similar to the dinner, ok, but not great.
The train stops for a moment atop the bridge over the wide Narmada River, and I see folk far below, fishing and bathing.
At Nagpur, I noticed a single narrow gauge rail track at one side, the rails looked shiny, as though still in use. Most narrow tracks are being taken up and replaced by a standard wide gauge.
One can often see someone sitting in a track level den by the entry and exit to a major station, these guys are examining each wheel for defects as the train slowly passes them by.
A quiet night, no others in my compartment.
Morning finds us at Nellore, near the east coast. Chai and cutlets soon arrive. Lusher southern landscape outside. Saw a guy shovelling sand into an ox cart from a river bad, as the animals stood and waited.
Many houses as we pass Sullurupeta are very brightly painted.
TaDa ! (Well, it’s a station named Tada...)
Crossed another river and now in Tamil Nadu.
A few stops and starts and we soon pull into Chennai Central.
Rather pleased to note that this Super Fast express has covered the 2565 Km in style, arriving only 10 minutes late. Amtrak, eat your heart out!
Very long train, and very long platform... a few offers of portering and taxis were refused. Got an auto rickshaw driver who knew where he was going, fortunately.
Hotel seems fine, just plan to rest up this afternoon, and hit the town tomorrow.
Wednesday 21 October 2015
I have always enjoyed the Paul Theroux train travel books. In his later one, "Ghost train to the eastern star", he revisits Chennai, and mentions the "Ice House". Apparently ice was harvested from some lake in North America, in the late 1800's and shipped to Madras as it was called then. Astonishing that it was possible to do, and not have it melt away!
The former Ice House.
The building has long ago changed use, and is now a centre to commemorate Swami Vivekananda , a wandering monk who twice visited America, and spent some time at the ice house.
So I thought I would have a look. Closed today, special holiday! The outside looks nice, anyway.
Opposite is the Marina beach, so I had a walk over there instead. Very hot sand, felt like I was burning my feet with even the small amounts of hot sand entering my sandals... Oh for a pair of socks! (Yes it is 90 degrees, but socks and sandals always look so cool )
Several fishing boats pulled up on the sand, with their "long tail" outboard motors nearby. The beach sports several rudimentary huts and shelters, I guess the fishermen live there too... certainly, they would not want to leave their motors unprotected.
I rolled up my trouser legs and had a paddle, water very warm. Sadly lacking the knotted hanky for the full Monty... Waves make it unsafe for swimming, not that I would anyway.
A local beach cleaner gives me a quizzical look and poses for a photo.
I walked towards the lighthouse, and arrive at an elevated Mahatma Ghandi sculpture, looks good... Realise how his figure is so recognisable, worldwide... No need for any descriptive signs.
I have walked further than I intended and have passed the start of “my” road. I pass a coconut seller stall and decide on the spot to try one. These are drinking coconuts, the vendor hacks off the top with a machete, sticks in a straw, and you have a fresh clean drink. Afterwards, the nut is sliced in half, and the soft interior scooped out to eat.
I had attracted quite a good natured crowd at this point, and ended by taking a few pics of the vendor. I always ask if I can take a photo, most folk seem amused that I want their picture, rather than some grand architecture.
I had arranged to meet Nick for lunch, he is one of the regular contributors to India Mike, the travel site where this blog is hosted. An Englishman, he has lived in Chennai for many years, and was very good company. We had a nice meal at the New Woodlands hotel near my guest house, and he filled me in about how he arrived in Chennai.
Later we walked around a colourful market, and visited a temple too, also very colourful!
I had also arranged to meet up with some guys from an Indian train fan forum at 5pm, Nick and I just made it to the guest house at 5, and found the guys already waiting. Nick’s fame had preceded him, and by the time I had dumped my bag up in the room, they were deep in conversation about matters musical and rail website related !
We all adjourned to a local cafe for snacks and chai, and after advice about my next train ride, food options, we took a few photo’s and it was time to part company.
Interesting day! I appreciated everyone taking time to meet up with a complete stranger, and extending the hand of friendship... Travelling alone, that felt uplifting... Thanks Guys!
Chennai to Goa
My last full day in Chennai was passed at a lazy pace. I had taken a few photo's of people on the day before, and one person asked for a copy of his photo to be sent to him, by post. I don't like to let folk down, and decided the best option was to find a photo lab in Chennai, get it printed from my memory card, and drop it off to him before I left. Good fortune smiled on me, and I spotted a place while en route to Spencers Mall for a look around.
The Mall was disappointing, many shops were vacant, and touts stood outside open shops made it feel more like a market. I noticed several Orientals shopping there, I think there may be a sizable Korean population in Chennai?
Got the photo prints done and did a few of the coconut lady for good measure and dropped them off.
Lunch was back at the New Woodlands, and I ordered the thali again. An older Italian lady who spoke good English was seated at my table, dressed in Indian / Hippy clothing, and with white and red powder on her face. I think sometimes intrepid “travellers” don’t like to be confronted with the fact that there are quite a few other westerners enjoying India too... Anyway, she was not very interested in chatting... probably too far up her own Indian fantasy to talk with a westerner.
Had another mooch around the area that Nick guided me to yesterday, then back to my room.
Friday 23 October.
Somewhat cloudy start to the day, a welcome respite from the heat for me. I asked for a slightly later check out, and that was granted, no problem. Indian hotel check out policies vary widely, some have a fixed check out time of 9 or 9.30 am, early by western norms, and some operate a 24 hours system, if you arrive at 11am, then your check out time will be 11am. More expensive and larger hotels tend to be around noon.
The hotel manager asked me to step into his office as I was paying my bill, he was keen to get feedback about my stay. Had a pleasant chat, then he decided to help me arrange the auto rickshaw to the station. He said these guys won’t use the meter, but suggested to pay the meter price, plus 20 Rupees. Fair enough. After 4 auto’s sped away at his offer, one did concede to accept this... Once again, as in Delhi, he could not enter the station itself, and dropped me nearby, but said this upfront, unlike the Delhi rascal.
It started raining as we set off, I noticed an absence of window wiper, but the speedo was working... so many don't. I noticed the smell of exhaust clinging to my shirts more in Chennai than in Delhi or Mumbai... I think the other cities have changed the taxi and auto's to run on LPG, whereas many in Chennai seem to still use two stroke engines.
The Chennai Central station is quite satisfactory, but not of great architectural interest. Large seating area, and several food outlets. I stocked up on water, having previously bought a few snacks to eat on the train... I was pre warned that the train food options may not be too good.
Waited near my coach for the doors to be unlocked. I saw that even the baggage trolleys were decorated with flower garlands and palm leaves. Nick had explained earlier that part of the extended festival just finishing involved blessing items of machinery which "worked", which generated revenue. Several auto rickshaws had large banana leaf fronds tied to their sides.
The rain increased markedly as the train pulled out of the station, quite nice to see, to be honest!
This was to be my first side berth on this trip, and fortunately it was the lower berth. The coach was pretty tired, commissioned in 1997, and had windows smeared with some heat reflecting coating, which made the outside look rather weird, to say the least. I found sleeping on the join in the berth a little uncomfortable, as both halves were at slightly differing heights. I did not try the food on board, but several folk nearby seemed to be tucking in. I was not sure if the caterers who offered lunch, dinner, etc were freelance or from railway catering. Enjoyed several cups of chai in the morning. I got down at Hubli, and bought some more water and bananas... I needn't have hurried, as we were at the station for a couple of hours. The Loco kept starting and shutting down, so I guess there was some fault with it.
My local ale brewery in Nottingham is called "Castle Rock", so I was keen to get a photo of that station's sign board.
Two more engines were coupled to the front of the train at Castle Rock, I imagined at first to safeguard against the faulty one breaking down again, but the hills in this area are very steep, so the extra engines may always be added.. .
I missed my chance to photograph the best scenery on this stretch, as all the doors were jammed full of Indian folk keen to view the mountains and a spectacular waterfall.
Dunno how I got confused by the time, but I was quite unprepared for the Goa station sign "Madgaon" to suddenly appear outside my train window... get off the train, idiot!
A porter negotiated a fair price to carry my bags. One good feature of this Goa station is it has a ramp, so one could wheel the cases over the bridge, if only one knew that in advance...
Very civilised and well organised pre-pay taxi service, just Rs 300 to my hotel.
Good room, balcony, coconut trees outside the window, all very nice.
Sadly, I did not get time to enjoy much of Goa... I needed to visit to a local doctor, after which I chose to curtail this Indian trip, and return home.
The trip was planned to be open ended, and to be honest, I was already starting to think about the end point, regardless of events in Goa
Very strange now being back in my home... absolute silence, not one sound heard at all, suddenly it hits me how normal it had become to hear the Indian subcontinent at full blast, see it in full colour, and feel it at maximum exposure.
Thanks for reading this far... I hope to add a few general impressions from my trip in a day or two.
A few thoughts about my recent trip to India.
When I first visited India, back in 1983, the world was a softer place, at least for those of us from western Europe.
India was far less developed, indeed it had a positive desire to "go it alone", without the presence of Pepsi, Coke, or other non Indian brands. The language was old fashioned, a bit like slipping back in time to hear expressions last used in the UK in Edwardian times.
I was impressed by just how much stuff was re used, tins flattened for roof tiles, tyres cut into sandals, very little was discarded.
The spiritual side of India was in vogue, with guru's, ashrams, yoga, meditation, ayurvedic treatments, pilgrimages, ancient scripts and temples all paid respect by visitors.
Much of the above still applies today, but “Incredible India” has changed... Is India liberal, tolerant and democratic, or is it conservative, atavistic and authoritarian?
My view is that it has moved away from the former, and is becoming more of the latter.
Does it matter to the average visitor, after all, tourists are still flocking to Egypt for cheap holidays?
Probably not to the vast majority, but for myself, having felt what India was like 30 years ago, it does seem a major calamity.
The following website seems to be just about business sentiment, which does not concern me, but the article fully mirrors with my own concerns, and is much more eloquent than I am.