Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas!!

And a Happy New Year!

Wishing everybody all the best. Hope the snow's not TOO heavy :)

It ain't half hot over here, still never mind, eh?

Hope Santa brings you something good.

p.s. I just found out that it did actually snow, it was just a joke honest!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Murky Mumbai

I managed to get a ticket down to Mumbai from Ahemabad. I recently found it you can check availability online, so I looked up the train and the news was not good, no seats for the next week!

It seems to be that the website doesn't include the quota set aside for foreigners though, so I was able to get a ticket anyway.

It was my first sleeper train, and while I didn't get much sleep it wasn't too bad a journey, however I did arrive at Mumbai feeling knackered and not in the mood for another big, noisy city. I think I slept most of the first day in Mumbai as I was feeling lethargic.

I felt better the next day and set off early to the train station to get a ticket to Goa.
The main backpacker area (i.e. where the cheaper hotels are) is called Colaba, it's actually a lot quiter than I expected in that area. I thought it would be like Pahar Ganj in Delhi, all hectic and full of touts, but not too bad, or maybe I'm getting used to waving away the touts.
After about an hour of wandering about I finally found the Victoria Terminus (VT) train station built by the British and now renamed CST. Very grand and ornate for a train station. Still when I got there I realised that I had forgotten my passport and so jumped in a taxi to the hotel and back. I then joined a queue of only about 6 people, but everybody seemed to behaving problems and taking 10 minutes each. I though I was going to have problems with the trains to Goa being fully booked up, but when I finally got to the front of the queue I got the train ticket in 2 minutes. Don't know why everybody else was taking so long.

I had decided just to head off that night down to Goa, so I only had the day to look about Mumbai. However despiting setting off at 08:00 it was lunchtime by the time I got my ticket. I decided to head across to Elephanta Island departing close to India Gate which took longer than expected to trundle through the murky Mumbai waters and so the afternoon was also gone.
Elephanta Island have rock cut caves which the scientists and historians don't seem to know to much about. I had a quick look about this strange place. It is mostly hindu gods that are carved, so if you can't tell your Krishna from your Shiva its all a bit of a mystery.
It has pillared halls and decorative animals.
Back at the bay, people lurked silhouetted in the muddy harbour.

My train for Goa set off at 23.00 and the 2nd class looks absolutely mobbed, not where I fancy being for an eleven hour train journey. You get guys approaching you asking to check your ticket. I was having none of that! They'd whip your ticket off you in a flash I reckon, not sure what good it would do them though. When the ticket man arrived he has a list of names to check the seats against.

I was in the upper berth this time, a bit less space than before, but at least there are straps at the side of the bed, to stop your tumbling out.

Finally I arrived in Goa, where I shared a taxi to Panaji. I stayed there a night, and then headed down to Anjuna beach where I am just now. I stayed for one night in the first guesthouse I found and then had a look about. I moved the next morning to a nice guesthouse on the beach. I think I'll be staying here for Christmas and New Year. I think it will be nice to be in one place for a while and not have to pack your bags and arrange tickets every few days, so I'm looking forward to it.

I'm off go-karting this afternoon, there is about six of us, so we should have a good race.

Monday, December 06, 2004


I arrived at Ahemabad after another long bus journey from Udaipur.

I was close to getting scammed again, but just escaped it!

I got a taxi to the travel agents from where the bus left. The bus was an express bus (5 hours) leaving at 08:00 as my ticket said.
I showed my ticket to a guy from the travel agency who said to wait here for the bus. In India different travel agents sell bus tickets for the company who actually runs the bus, all kinda confusing and with little comeback if something goes wrong.

There was a bus already there going to Ahemabad waiting there but when I asked about it I was told that was the deluxe bus and cost 300rps, my ticket was 180rps. I could pay the difference if I was in a hurry, otherwise the bus would be here at 08:30, even though my ticket said 08:00.
Just as the bus was about to leave, and the travel agent was indoors I showed my ticket to the guy at the bus waiting, where I promptly got onboard.

I get the feeling that if the travel agent had seen me he would of shouted (in Hindi) to not let me on without paying more money! And as everybody seems to get a cut of the comission it would of been in his favour to make me pay. Or maybe I'm just getting paranoid!!

Still I was happy to get onboard the express bus, as I had seen other agency sell tickets for the 08:30 bus, which took another hour or so.

So when I arrived at Ahemabad as the bus guy had thrown my luggage in the hold I didn't have a chance to find a hotel from my guide book.
So I ended up standing in the bus station reading my guide book, with four or five taxi drivers surrounding me watching intently and sometime throwing in suggestions for their hotels.
Anyway once I had selected my hotel, one driver seemed to be chosen based on my hotel choice. So he took me to the hotel for a reasonable 20rps and I don't even think he got comission as my hotel was the stated price. I was very suprised! However the hotel was a bit of a dump and I resolved to look for a better place tomorrow.

I went to the train station to try and reserve a ticket but the office had closed at 14:00, as it was Sunday, and it was now nearer three. When I say it was closed, it was closed in a way that only an Indian office could be closed. There was one member of staff remonstrating with everybody that came in that the office was closed! Still I managed to get a reservation form from him. For some reason forms can only be got from behind a counter. Usually at the train station you see people shoving their way to the front to get a form from staff whilst they are dealing with another customer. Sometimes you think they are making things awkward just for the sheer hell of it! Being all very British and unaccostommed to jumping to the front of the queue and shouting at the staff for a form, whilst they are dealing with someone else, it takes me ages just to get a reservation form. You need to sharpen your elbows if you want to get ahead in India!

As trains must be reserved at least 24 hours in advance, and my train was leaving at 22:00 then on the Sunday I couldn't get a train till the Tuesday night. This led me to think about the hotel situation, if I could find a hotel with 24 hour check out then I may as well go to a better hotel tonight, instead of tommorow. So I checked into a new hotel at 21.00 on Sunday where I should be able to stay until 21.00 on Tuesday and catch my train. It's still just two nights with the advatange that I have a room up until my train. Well I think thats how it should work out!

I went for to a fancy restaurant last night called Agashiye at the House of MG (

It was more posh than I expected! There was a set price of 300 rps for the menu (100 rps more than my guide book said, still keeps out the riffraff!!) which changes every day.

I was led to the rooftop where the starter was served. I don't know what half the food was though! After the started I moved through to the main outside dining area, which had mosiaced tiled seats which reminded me of ones I seen in Parc Gaudi. There I was and waiters covered the table in food! I couldn't believe how much there was. I had a main plate with 2 bowls of soup, a veg dish and some potatoes and peas. There was also curd, poppadoms, parantha and another form of bread. Also a bowl of herbs and spices to add, a large bowl of something that looked like turnip, a small bowl of fancy decorated food and a coconut drink. I think I'm forgetting another couple of dishes.
When I finshed anything a waiter immediately appeared offering to top it up! And then can another waiter with a giant bowl of rice turned up, ugh too much. Although still a small room for some ice-cream with came with about 8 bowls of decorations like nuts, raisins, etc.

I finally waddled back to my hotel and flopped on my bed. Definitely the fanciest meal I've had in India!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Udaipur Mark 2

The French toast was proper French toast mmmmm.
Now that the suspense is out the way I'll tell you why I've got a blister on my finger.
I was walking past a shop looking at the instruments and I saw that they do lessons, so I decided to take a quick sitar lesson, although things in India never seem to quite that straightforward...

The shop I was looking at was shut at the time, when a young man saw me looking at the signs for lessons and led me off to his "brothers" shop. I arranged at this shop to come back in 30 minutes. The young guy, Krishna, suggested we go for a quick tea. I mentioned that I wanted to post a letter so we went for tea and then try to find the postoffice. After whizzing through the streets on the back of his new motorbike, I got to the postoffice. The man said that I couldn't post the CD, as it would get smashed under the stamp to be put on the envelope, even though the CD is in a plastic case. Maybe one day I'll be able to post the CD home. I'll need to get more cardboard and box it up first.

Anyway, as we were quite far from the music shop he suggested we go to the other branch. (It all seems so obvious now in hindsight) So I ended up taking a lesson at a different shop.Later I got a tour round some of Udaipur on the back of Krishna's bike. He wanted 200rps for fuel, I didn't mind paying him for his time as the bike ride was fun, but he insisted it was just to cover his fuel costs, yeah right.

The sitar lessons was good no that I could play anything, but it was interesting to give it a go. I at least learned how to sit with the instrument properly. The hardest bit was that for are supposedly to look only at the back of the neck for the fretting and not peek over the neck to see where your fingers are. Also on your right hand you wear something akin to a paper clip for plucking, it also cuts off your circulation though.

I later walked past the orignal shop and they guy was asking why I didn't turn up, so I explained how I got taken to his other branch but ofcourse he didn't have another branch.
I later bumped into Krishan again, he was wearing red jeans and a blue jumper so easy to spot. I dragged him back to explain to the orignal shopkeeper about what had happened. It turned out he was cousins with the orignal shopkeeper. Well that's what their story was, I'm none the wiser. Still at least I got my sitar lesson in the end.

I also visited another fancy temple and saw the famous lake palace hotel although the lake unfortunately was a bit dried up. Next went to a museum which had grand stained glass windows for the maharaja. At night you could see a distant castle on a hill illuminated but it kinda looked like it was just floating in the night sky.

The next day I decided to visit Shilpgram an arts & crafts village. There was musicians singing and playing.
Also some female musicians swung bells round their arms rythmically clanging all whilst balancing pots on their heads! One man was painting an elephant on the side of his shop. Whilst back at the entrance a large group had begun to perform with lots of dancing and noise.

And in case your wondering where all these places are here's a map.

The purs

Jodhpur was orginally home to the Brahmins who liked to paint their homes blue, this is still very much in effect and provides a mesmerising view at sunset. Also it looks spectacular when illuminated at night.
I thought I would attempt to shake off the tuktuk driver as they take commision from your hotel and therefore the price is increased. I asked to get dropped off at the clock tower but he took me to a hotel anyway! Still the hotel didn't look too good, so I left to find one on my own, much to the drivers bemusment.
I had spotted a sign shortly earlier for a hotel I had heard of in my guide book, so I followed the signs but they were full. Luckily there was plenty of other hotels in the vicinty. As I was wondering about with my backpack another tout soon latched onto me. This hotel was a building site, so I just walked back out. It might actually of been okay past the hall, but I managed to shake off another tout!
I then found a place to stay, the Sunrise Hotel. I opted for a room with a balcony (not much view though!) which was a mistake as I paid more for a noiser room, still live and learn, eh?
Besides being a blue city the other thing which immediately stands out is Meherangarh, a huge impenetrable fort rising above the city. Just one look at it and it is no suprise that it has never been captured. Besides having great views back over the city, there was also an interesting musuem with an audio guide telling the history. The musem contained some large fancy chairs for carrying the important people, as well as various other artifacts such as swords and weird statues. In another room the emperor's ceiling was decorated with disco balls. Outside the fort has detailed marble lattice screens and inside stained glass windows. From the top of the fort you can get a good view over the surrounding landscape. Also on the roof, wheeled cannons dominated the surface. When I was there a part of the fort was being used for shooting a Bollywood film. It seemed to have hundreds of people behind the scenes all milling about. Then all the tourists were taking pictures of the actors and actresses dressed up in period costumes, annoying the film people. Although it did lend a medeival feel to the occasion. And here is a photo of a wall.
Just about every hotel claimed to have the highest rooftop restaurant in Jodhpur. I think I went to the highest one, where I had a strange chow mein. If Heinz made chow mein this is what it would of tasted like. It seemed like chopped up sphagetti in tomato sauce rather than noodles were used.
I was planning to take a train down the line to Mount Abu, but after getting confused at the train station a change of plan.It seemed that the only train would arrive at some unearthly hour, besides the weekly train, all the way to Bangalore, which left yesterday.
So with that in mind, I decided to head to Udaipur, which meant another six hour bus journey, hurrah!
Udaipur has a famous lake palace (suites only $900/night), unfortunately a drought means the lake is pretty much dried up.
Strangely, a lot of the hotels have nightly screening of Octopussy, which was partly shot in Udaipur!
You can tell when your in a more touristy spot, as most menus have continental food, pizza & burgers, and shops selling english books. Looks like a good place to swaps some books, they get heavier carrying them around after being read.
French toast is on the menu here, but will it be sweet American French toast (yes such a thing exists) or proper French toast (not as eaten by the French, though)?
And on that cliffhanger, I'll end!

Camels and Cuisine

Onwards to Bikaner. I arrived late at night by train. The train was strangly empty in my posh "chair class". There was about sixty seats between four people. This class is air conditioned. i.e there are lots of big fans on the ceiling making the carriage cold. I was assigned a seat almost directly below a fan, but moved back a bit. Just before the train left I spotted a book seller, so I grabbed The Brethren by John Grisham. The choice was pretty much between Grisham or Clancy!Still it made the journey go quicker.
I was reading through my Lonely Planet trying to decide where to stay and thinking the train should of arrived by now when a man ushered me off. Because of the lights inside, tinted windows and darkness outside I didn't realise I had arrived. Also I was looking out the wrong side of the train!
As I exited the train station, the usual descdending of touts began, as the autorickshaws drivers get commision from the hotels, they are keen for your business. The first guy had a card from a hotel I had read about and so I was whisked off. I even managed to bargain down the room from five hundred to four hundred. Not bad when I just wanted to sleep. (I was later to learn of people staying for three fifty, so I've still to improve!)
The next day, I just had a lazy day and wandered around town and then ate in the hotel restaurant. I came across a disgusting pond which you could hardly see the water fir the plastic bags, the smell was horrible, it was stinking of sulphur.
The hotel has a good resturant, so I've tried a few bits and bobs.Aloo matter seems to be pea curry as far as I can work out.Missi roti seems to be like a flat dry bread. I thought is would be a dough ball like in my guide book, but I don't know what the missi bit means and roti is just bread. (Turns out I had roti mixed up with bati)
Also I had stuffed paratha, which I'd had before at a roadside place. Not quite as nice here, or perhaps I wasn't as hungry!Finally I had potato raita which is like yoghurt, good with pulou (flavoured rice), but not much use on its own. Its a bit like just the sauce from a meal.As you can see I'm slowly learning a bit more about the cuisine. Still haven't found where I can get a beefburger though :)
I was chatting with a couple of English guys (Richard and Mike) who are travelling through India, one has motorbiked from England and he's the sensible one!The other just jumped on the back of his bike!
Like a lot of people they are heading down to Goa from Christmas, definitely seems to be THE place to be at Chrimbo, so I think I'll head down that way myself. Another possible option is Diu (another former Portugese colony) but it is in a bit of a dead end.

Anyway, I'm just back from the desert!
I spent three days doing a desert safari on a camel. It was good fun, but probably a one off, as being bounced up and down on a camel is pretty painful, especially on day three.
I had looked up a safari agent and found the shop which was a good walk out of town, but when I told him, what hotel I was staying at he was relucant to do a safari. It seems to be the way of things in India. So I had to go through the hotel (although I suppose I could of change accomodation)
Still day one, we headed off early and got a jeep into a village on the edge of the desert. On the way we stopped at the Karni Mata temple, otherwise known as the Rat Temple!
As it is a religous temple, its off with the shoes and in with the rats. There is acutally not too many running about, although in the corner there is plenty of them hiding under a piece of wood. Also in another corner is a small bowl of milk where there are having a quick drink. So I joined them for a photo. Its good luck to spot a rare white rat, but alas not my day.Although I did nearly stand on one, but luckily for both of us, it escaped my crushing foot just in time.
Outside the temple there was statues of Maharaja, but as you can see I was still keeping an eye on the rats.

So back to the safari, we pulled up and there are two camels tethered to the trees,
For the first two days I had an English speaking guide, Wasim (perhaps more of an interpreter!) and two camelmen who's names I had difficulty getting my tongue round.
The senior camelman was wearing earings that would put the Beckhams to shame. Seems to be the style in Rajastan and particularly Bikaner. The muslim guide told me it was a Hindu thing.
After a bit of hanging about while the camels snacked, it was up onto the camel. The camelman made some tut tut noises at the camels and it jerkily dropped to its knees. I then jumped aboard by throwing one leg over the side and then hoisting myself level. Then I had to hold tight on the harness and the camelman tut tutted at the camel and it rose in two stage, back legs where you are leaning forward about forty five degrees and then back legs when its fully upright.
My first though was it's a long way down! Then it started moving and my next though was arrgh! It certainly takes a bit of getting used to but after a while you learn to relax which seems to help a great deal. So off into the sandy desert
Once you relax you can get into the swing of things. After a whle though I was quite happy to jump in the cart being pulled by the other camel.
By the end of the first day I was happy enough that I didn't have to cling on with white knuckles. I even managed a drink of water aboard a moving camel!
The first night we stopped at a dune and some tarpaulin was thrown over the cart for a makeshift tent. The night was a bit foggy but with a near full moon.
The desert wasn't quite like the pictures you see of the sahara with nothing but dunes, I had been warned not to expect this.They land was perhaps more like arid scrub with bushes dotted about and much of the land, although looking like sand, had been ploughed. At first I though my camel was hungry as he kepy veering off to nearby branches only to be pulled back in line.
Later on I found out that he was tring to lose files that gather around their face (must be very irrating)When we stopped for a break and the harnesses were freed, the first thing the camels would do is roll around like crazy in the sand to rid themselves off the flies, effectively washing themselves in the sand. Then they looked very contented (or dead)! As the sun began to set, the cook made dinner, and quiet fell throughout the camp.
Next day the camels rose somewhat reluctantly.

The camels would drink from a trough, where I half expected to see a slowly appearing figure approach and shoot the camelman from afar ("He drank from my well!"). We stopped at a concrete building for some lunch and some shade. After lunch we chose a path through the desert.
I had 24 bottles of mineral water for three days. I probably drank about 10 over three days, so no worries there. The second night we stopped and as arranged the guide left (I could of paid extra for another day, but I was nice and quiet without him)That night it was clear and I fell asleep under thousands of twinkling stars, simple yet memorable.
Next morning it was back on the camel for the twenty five km back to the village, however I was feeling somewhat tender so I spent most of the day lounging in the cart as a camel towed it across the sands, which was strangely relaxing just watching the world pass by. Still I was glad to be back on firm earth, and thankful that I hadn't done anymore days. (Some people do a fifeteen day safari to Jaisalmer) Three days in the desert was enough for me, I've even got souvieneers, three spider bites.