A Travellerspoint blog

One Week Down.

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So I have been here in India just over a week. It has been an incredible start to my travels and today as I sit in Mumbai YWCA (which I would highly recommend) I am looking forward to my trip. Of course there have been moments of self-doubt and trepidation but India is intense and often otherworldly. I am now feeling a lot more comfortable.

The streets seem quieter, less manic. Crossing the roads no longer feels as terrifying and now I have one night bus and one night train journey under my belt, traversing this vast country seems infinitely more do-able. Even heaving Mumbai renewed its appeal, it helped that we are staying in touristville this time. I managed to buy a mobile phone and in Fab-India I bought myself three cotton Kurtas (read tents), the appropriate attire for solo female intrepids.

It helped to have guidance. Thanks to the girl from Seattle, the train journey from Aurangabad went with half the anguish it might have done. I am now sitting on the train to Goa which I negotiated my way on to with ease, it’s an 11 hour ride, and I expect to arrive at about 6.00pm. That the scheduled time anyway, who knows what the actuality will be. The train to Mumbai came in only four hours late. We can forgive that one though, as only the day before a water pipe over a bridge collapsed on to a train killing 22 people, and the tracks had to cleared.

I am really looking forward to chilling out in Goa. Having kindly agreed to let me stay, Thornton’s house sounds perfect. I was most excited to discover that I will be looked after not only by a housekeeper but also by Basmati, the dog. Hooray I get a dog for two weeks! I could not be happier - except if it were a baby tiger that needed bottle feeding.

I am convinced that Goa is the way to go-a...sorry couldn’t resist. The train has foreigners on it and everything.

Posted by saraintrep 02:46 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Ajantha & Ellora, Aurangabad, Maharastra, India

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Dating from around 2nd century BC to 600 after C, these Buddhist, Hindu and Jain temples carved into the rock face are an incredible sight to behold. The surrounding countryside, verdant after the monsoon, is also breathtaking.

The journeys from Aurangabad were nerve racking to say the least. Swerving round corners, potholes, goats, buffalo and the occasional dog, I now had a daytime view of Indian roads and can’t quite work out how there are so many people still alive here. Overtaking is literally just driving into oncoming traffic. Ducking back into the lane, invariably behind a huge truck, at the last minute. I am so surprised my back coped. It was like being at Disneyland! On the plus side, the open windows meant that my skin is now beautifully exfoliated.

We passed through lovely countryside and ugly villages, street markets selling cloth, coconuts and vermillion-red custard fruits. One forgets that many people still live in one room mud huts, humbling to say the least. They also paint the horns of the bulls, whether simply for decoration or to denote ownership we could not quite make out. The effect is peculiar with some horns painted like flames or the Indian flag. The people I was travelling with could not understand why I was still so excited to see every animal that we passed and I am sure my running commentary of “oh look a baby goat!” etc; got wearing for all but me.

Arriving two hours later at Ajanta, the fun really started. To get to the buses that take you to the monument, they have built a ‘shopping plaza’ that you have to fight your way through, being offered all manner of crap – sorry but it is. Things to dust. Also the surrounding hills are filled with quartz and amethyst which are pressed upon you at every turn, they cannot understand that I might not want to hulk rocks around for months on end. “No” does not mean no. Yesterday at Ellora I ended up buying a ‘jade’ necklace (sometimes the guilt takes over) which I will never wear, so if that sounds like something you might like let me know.

Once at the bus depot, the scrum to get on board reminded me of people trying to flee war-torn areas. The fact that there were five more buses waiting was of no consequence and I felt I might be ripped limb from limb.

As with everything I have seen so far in India, there are not that many foreign tourists, so the domestic tourist market had flocked to Aurangabad for the Diwali and school holidays. They came to see the monuments just as we had, but another huge attraction for them, was us.

Families want to have their photos taken with you, and push a young child up to ask “please ma’am one photo?” Then everyone gathers around for this wonderful memory to take back to the village. This was mainly fine and even though we look red and sweaty, wearing what can only be described as pyjamas, they seemed very happy with the results. I am just happy they will never be seen on Nick’s flickr! Constant questions of your name, country, occupation and marital status are fired at you. It, actually, is not that annoying, but I did get cross with a group of 30 school boys who each wanted photos on their own cameras. Another woman called Lakshmi asked us how we kept our skin so soft and white!

The unbearable heat hampered my enjoyment of the amazing sites. Shade is thin on the ground in India and a hat is my next must-have purchase.

I have posted some pictures for you to see. They are fairly boring and can never do justice to what should be one of the wonders of the world.

Today is Friday and I can proudly claim one week in India. I take the sleeper train to Mumbai tonight and then to Goa on Sunday.

Posted by saraintrep 04:45 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sisters doing it for themselves....are they crazy? Discuss.

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Last night I went to find people. I went to a restaurant recommended by LP (Lonely Planet) armed with a book and determination.

Sitting down near three people who were to be chatting away, seemingly having a whale of a time, I tried to look interesting and not too desperate – they didn’t seem to care... but then I spied another lone girl.

I went over and asked if she would like some company, internally mildly amused by how salacious that could sound, she did want company and I was soon to realise just how much.

A lovely girl from Seattle she has been travelling alone since June and I mean ALONE. Having done almost the exact reverse of my trip, she is due to leave India for Europe in five days. She told me how she has met hardly any people, spending almost the whole trip completely by herself. I could see how much this has affected her and know that I was starting to feel quite lonely after just five days.

We sat and chatted for ages and agreed that we would do Ellora caves together on Thursday as I had already planned to do Ajanta on Wednesday 21<sup>st</sup> with the Americans I met in reception on checking-in. This girl has had a really tough time and I admire her bravery at sticking with it and pushing on from place to place. Admittedly she has had friends to stay with in some of the locations which I don’t really, but it has left me wondering about my own trip. Assurances that I will meet people now feel a little less concrete, apparently the recession has affected the backpacker trail everywhere in India and South East Asia, the concentration of people just isn’t there.

Her experiences of India alone have made me question some of the things that I was planning and it looks like six months may be way too optimistic. I do believe that you make your own luck in life and I am perhaps a touch more outgoing than she is, after all I approached her, but I am going to have to get out of deep dark India and back on the trail. Except that trail seems a little elusive in Southern India.

My plan is – head to Goa. Although not really my cup of chai, Goa ought to have a fairly steady stream of tourists and I mustn’t forget that she was travelling out of season. I need to stay down south because now meeting up with Lucy and Michelle feels like a lifeline.

Posted by saraintrep 04:43 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Brave or Stupid?

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There is a fine line between the two, one I don’t want to get the wrong side of.

Waiting for the sleeper coach to Aurangabad I had been surrounded by families. However, now on board, looking at my one bed cabin (top bunk), I noticed that it was just me and a whole load of men. I started to worry; such a situation had not even occurred to me, the glossy pictures at the bus booking office had lulled me into a false sense of security.

I decided that if no other women got on, I would get off, screw the £20 fare. Just as I was getting all my stuff together and was steeling myself to demand my rucksack back, six Arab women came on board, I immediately felt safer. One of them looked like she could pack a hefty punch so I gave her my most winning smile – we were now friends.

I started to settle in, got into my silk sleeping-bag liner, attached my bags to the rails and still feeling apprehensive, and began to accept my lot. Then I needed the loo. In my desire to get to the coach pick-up point on time I had forgot to go and had naively assumed there would be a loo on board. But we had already set off.

As we left Mumbai, in a blaze of fireworks celebrating the New Year, I now started to worry about the journey. I hate car journeys, hate being on the road. I much prefer the train but that had not been an option. I had been a little gung-ho perhaps. Keen to leave the oppressive heat and confusion of Mumbai and start my trip proper and hopefully meet some people, I had not thought through all possible avenues. And, as anyone who knows me well will attest to – I do worry, over analyze and work myself up into a tiz.

I was feeling genuinely scared. I had no ideas about Indian roads, except that they probably are not great. Would we go careening off into a ditch? Maybe hit an elephant? I had heard that the lorry drivers drink at the wheel, maybe they would plough into us and I would get speared by a tree (I don’t know where the tree had come from, but I didn’t want to be speared by one or anything else for that matter.) If anything did happen, what would I do? How would I contact help from the side of a motorway in central(ish) India? How do you contact your insurance company from a grotty hospital in the middle of no-where? Who would tell my mother?

Stupid, I had definitely been stupid.

Not to mention the fact that I <em>really </em>needed the loo. To take my mind off my sorry situation I listened to Adam &amp; Joe podcasts but they make me laugh, not great when you need the loo. I forced myself to fall asleep. only to be woken up by the fact that I was going to fall out of my bunk because of the speed we were going around the corners. I gripped the bars, praying for my ordeal to be over.

We made a toilet-stop by the edge of the road but only the men got off and there was NO WAY I was going to join them out there in the dark unknown. Pulling down my trousers and showing off my white bottom! Not today – no way Jose.

So, berating myself I soldiered on (which meant I lay in my bunk thinking up improbable and detailed horror stories of what could happen to me), trying to read Richard Dawkins by torch light. Luckily I feel asleep again.

Actually it was quite comfortable, if a little cold. I resolved not to do any more travelling alone. I would just latch on to people from now on.

Next stop, I looked out the window to see a service station. Oh joy! I scrambled my stuff together and leapt out of my bunk, several of the women were also going this time but that didn’t matter I had held on for six hours... It was the most disgusting facility but I didn’t care, not even about the funny green bugs flying around my head, a quick check for spiders, and relief.

Back on the bus and not long to go now. I looked around at the other passengers, families – who must have got on at a stop I was unaware of, lots of women and some men. I felt better, had a long drink of water and anyway only three more hours to go. I gazed out at the stars listening to Rufus Wainwright feeling less alone.

I am sitting now in my hotel in Aurangabad. I already met some Americans in reception and am in a clean room having had a very hot shower. I now conclude that I am neither brave nor stupid – it was just a bus journey.

<span style="color:#ff00ff;">Footnote: That was yesterday morning (20/10/09) and I have just (21/10/09 11.30pm) seen on p.1180 of Lonely Planet’s India guide: </span>

<span style="color:#ff00ff;">“Avoid night buses unless there is no alternative, as driving conditions are more hazardous and drivers may be suffering from lack of sleep”</span>

<span style="color:#ff00ff;">So it turns out that I was stupid, perhaps a little brave and absolutely naive – you live and learn I guess!</span>

Posted by saraintrep 05:41 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Colour

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India assaults your senses. Apart from being unbearably hot and humid, it can be filthy, smelly, shocking but it is oh so colourful. The women float about like brightly coloured ships adorned in fabrics that shimmer as they walk. The men are much more drab on the whole, but last night for Diwali they too dressed up in their Jewel coloured finery.

I am pleased I saw Diwali. The pavements decorated with intricate Kolams or Rangolis (colourful rice-flour designs) and little oil lanterns everywhere, even outside my hotel room, guiding Lord Rama home. I went down to the seafront to see the fireworks, spectacular and loud. With complete disregard for Health and Safety they were let off 10ft from the crowds and often shot off horizontally banging in to buildings and cars!

Today I saw my first white people, coming from London which is so cosmopolitan you don’t notice the diversity. Also it is strange to be the minority, especially a minority of one.

I have so far felt very safe; the people are in no way threatening and try to be very helpful. This morning at Mumbai Central train station a teenage boy took it upon himself to help me. Seeing as I had absolutely no idea where to start in the chaos, I wouldn’t even have found the information desk. As he led me out of the station, asking where I was going, I felt reticent about following him but he gave me the correct information that I was actually at the wrong train station. He found me a taxi drive who spoke English, and when I tried to tip him he refused instead offering me 10 rupees!

That taxi driver then recommended that I take a bus not a train to my next destination which I have booked – sleeper, A/C overnight to Aurangabad for £20. He then took me on a city wide tour where I took in the slums, the vast laundry and the high-up gardens overlooking Mumbai, where there is a cool breeze.

Today I leave Mumbai, headed first East then South hoping to get to Kerala for the 2nd week of November.

Posted by saraintrep 05:18 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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