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2008 May » cool as
cool as
May 30

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We took a 12 hour sleeper train to Varanasi,riding in 1st class air conditioned splendour (compared to the hellish journeys we were yet to endure).

It took us almost an hour of wandering through the narrow crowded streets of Varanasi in 40 degree heat to find our hostel. There were lots of groups of police men with rifles scattered throughout the streets which are teaming with life. Varanasi is a very religious city where hindus can be cremated at the Ghats that line the Gangies here so that they can escape the cycle of rebirth. Our hostel is just down the road from the main crematorium. We passed one body being burnt as we headed out on our travels after lunch at the hostel.

There are about 20 Ghats along the Gangies which we strolled passed. As with Delhi we didn’t have to walk far before someone starts trying to sell us something, give us a massage, take us on a boat ride etc… The sun was really beating down so we escaped to the back streets and proceeded to lose ourselves for a couple of hours. Encountering Bulls, packs of dogs and monkeys along with a multitude of the great unwashed Indian public.

The next morning we took an early morning boat ride (5am) past the Ghats along the Gangees in Varanasi. A wonderful sight to behold to be sure. After being advised that it was unsafe to walk the streets near our hostel after dark we decided to leave a little earlier than 12am as planned and treat ourselves to a chilled afternoon besided the pool of a decent hotel before making our onward journey. We headed out in the taxi at 12am headed for the Train station. The roads along the way were cobbled and our one eyed driver prefered to stradle the middle of the road stopping to get a small chain of flowers for safe passage from the god of the road. He asked us if we did the same in England, so we explained that we relied on Seatbelts and headlights rather than faith to help us survive!

When we arrived at the station there was a sea of people laid out accross the station floor. We looked at the information and realized that a lot of the trains were at least 6 hours late. We had arrived at 1am and our train was meant to depart at 2.30am so we braced ourselves for a long wait. We found the 1st class air conditioned waiting room and blagged our way in, only having 3rd class tickets. So we spent 2 hours in the lap of luxury before an inspector came and checked our tickets. Then it was down to the dirty platform to wait with everyone else.

The train arrived at about 4.30am in the end so we settled into our tiny bunks sharing the same space with 9 people that Darrell and I had to ourselves in our 1st class carridge on the way down. We eventually arrived in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal at 5pm and had a quiet meal on the rooftop terrace of our hostel looking out accross to the Taj. The following day we awoke early and headed to the Taj which was every bit is good as I was expecting, a truely awe inspiring site. After that we ran around the other atractions, of which there are many. And well documented in my photos.

We got a 4 hour sleeper train from Agra to Jaipur that evening. After falling asleep we were awoken 11 hours later to be told the train had been canceled and we were back in Agra. There is a tribe of people called the Gujjas who had blocked the trains and roads with their guns and pulled up the tracks so we could not get through. After checking the news we decided to give Jaipur a miss as it was uncertain if we could get there or out again with the uprising going on so we attempted to get a 1st class air con bus to Delhi. They were canceled so we eneded up on the locals bus with an open window instead of aircon. It was a hot sweaty 6 hours before we got to Delhi we headed straight to the airport and attempted to secure a flight to Bombay but had to wait until the following morning. The flight was delayed by a couple of hours but we got there eventually.

Bombay or Mumbai as it is now known, is a lot cleaner than Delhi. Which is really not that hard. If you imagine a cesspit combined with a landfill site populated by beggars and hawkers then you will be on your way to imaging the charming streets of India’s Capital.

Mumbai was a nice excursion, although it was no easy ride we did manage to take a boat to Elephanta Island and saw some amazing carved caves surrounded by hundreds of monkeys. We also went to a National park where we saw (cadged) Tigers as well as a Lion Roaming free. There was also a lot of great old buildings left over from the British rule.

written by Allister \\ tags: , , , ,

May 20

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Bahá’í Lotus Temple
Bahá’í Lotus Temple

The rain was lashing down on our last day in Delhi. Undeterred, we jumped into an auto-rickshaw and headed to South Delhi. On the way the rain cleared but it did not stop Darrell from getting soaked as we sped through a deep puddle. Fortunately for me Darrell absorbed the brunt of the blow. We were dropped at the Lotus temple but were beginning to feel hungry so we made our way to a Hari-Krishna centre for a nice vegetarian buffet. Darrell did not want to be rude and took a modest portion I was hungry though and piled my plate high.

Bahá’í Lotus Temple, is shaped like a lotus bud with 27 petals, the temple is one of Delhi’s most popular attractions and is one of the magnificent monuments ever made from concrete. The inside is extremely spartan and is meant to be a place of quiet contemplation, which is quite hard as there is a continual torrent of visitors passing through the building . The Lotus temple did remind me of another monument close to my new home in Sydney. See if you can spot the similarities.

written by Allister \\ tags: , ,

May 19

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Humayun’s Tomb
Humayun’s Tomb

On the second day in Delhi, Darrell and I decided to take up the hotel managers offer of a complimentary breakfast and made our way to the rooftop terrace in eager anticipation (or slight trepidation) of what was to come. We were presented with a silver tray containing a bowl of cornflakes, a banana, French toast (eggy bread if you come from the North of England) washed down with some very sweet chai.

After breakfast we jumped into an auto-rickshaw and headed to Humayun’s Tomb in south Delhi. The ticket salesman was slightly reticent about handing back my change and had to be prompted several times before reluctantly handing over my money. Humayun’s Tomb was very impressive, one of the best I have seen, it is one of Delhi’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Set in immaculately maintained grounds it was an awe inspiring site. The centerpiece is the eponymous tomb of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor. Building starting in 1562, it was the first major Mughal structure in the city and has been described as a predecessor or prototype of Agra’s Taj Mahal.

After Humayun’s Tomb we jumped in another auto-rickshaw and decided to head out for a big meal. We got our driver to drop us down the road and doubled back on ourselves to loose the him. He was clearly angling for a commission from the restaurant and had spent the entire journey recommending places to eat and stores to visit. The interior of the restaurant was fairly plush in comparison to the places we had eaten in so far, in fact it looked like a High Street Curry house from England. We ate heartily sharing three dishes between us along with plenty of rice and naan bread.

After such a large meal it was time to head back to Paharganj for a wander and some drinks. We tried a couple of the local bars, there were only two anyway the third one in the guide book no longer existed. The first bar we arrived in was a wood paneled windowless corridor that had somehow managed to squeeze in about ten tables and about forty customers. Despite the number of people and their close proximity the atmosphere was somewhat lacking. We stayed for one drink of Kingfisher Strong (between 5.5% and 8% alcohol, they were not very specific) before deciding to take our chances elsewhere. The next bar on our list, in fact the only other bar on our list, was a lot larger and had a nice rooftop terrace but it was all but deserted and looked to be about to close. So we drank up and tried the restaurant we had visited the previous night where they were kind enough to surreptitiously served us alcohol in ceramic mugs. On ascending the third staircase and arriving at our destination we were told that they had just closed.

The social scene in Delhi looked to be alluding us. Resigned to a quiet night we made our way back to the original wood lined hobbit hole. The place had livened up slightly and we chatted to some Americans and an English girl we met there. Whilst the girls were visiting the toilets the bar staff came over and told us that they did not like the girls because they were too loud. It was definitely a male oriented culture in India, no native women were anywhere to be seen after dark. Darrell and I were starting to feel the effects of our Kingfisher Strongs, definitely closer to 8% than 5.5% alcohol I believe.

written by Allister \\ tags: , , ,

May 18

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Street life in Paharganj, Delhi, India
Street life in Paharganj, Delhi, India

After a few hours of much needed sleep Darrell and I awoke to our first full day in India. Deciding to skip the complimentary breakfast offered by the hotel and find something more authentic and interesting elsewhere. We settled on Connaught Place in New Delhi as a good place to get fed and formulate a plan of action.

The dark desolate streets that we had ambled down last night were now completely transformed. The narrow lane to our hotel was not much wider than one person but seemed to accommodate a steady stream of pedestrians rickshaws and motorbikes in both directions. This narrow lane spilled out onto one of the main roads through the Paharganj. It was not all that was spilling out onto the road, an all too public urinal greeted us at the end of our lane. Announcing its presence to our nostrils long before we caught site of an elderly man happily relieving himself in full view of every passer by. We walked along the decaying rubbish strewn streets, taking in the sights, sounds and smells, all of which were an assault to the senses. We passed people pissing against walls, which had eaten away the brickwork from waist height to down to the pavement. The public urinals no longer seemed such a bad idea. Junkies sheltered under blankets smoking or shooting heroin. Buses, Cars and auto-rickshaws whizzed passed, exhausts belching acrid fumes into the already fetid air. Bicycles and motorbikes filled every available space between the other vehicles, all passing within millimeters of one another.

We were continually approached by people trying to sell us things, beg money or get us to go with them to the “official” tourist centre. After surreptitiously consulting the guide book we were jumped on by a middle aged guy who took it upon himself to become our guide and walked us to a rather bland americanized coffee shop. Hungry and already weary of the streets we settled in and tucked into a muffin and can of cola. There is nothing like the authentic experience of another culture and this was nothing like authentic, except perhaps in America. We had a chat to a young guy who came from Katmandu and warned us of the dangers of taking advice from strangers and told us to only go to the official tourist offices for our information. We thanked him for his sage advice and decided to head on to Old Delhi.

On leaving the coffee shop our new friend followed us and made it his mission to ensure that we found our way to the “official” tourist center. He wanted to meet up later to party so Darrell took his number, which we had no intention of ever using. We thanked him and went inside where we were ushered into a cubicle. The guy inside attempted to sell us a tour, Darrell and I looked at each other and realized we would have to toughen up if we were to actually see the sites and not get taken in by every passing chancer. We politely declined his tours and high tailed it out of there.

We took an auto-rickshaw to the Red Fort in Old Delhi. The traffic in Delhi makes Bangkok seem positively genteel in comparison, we were both happy to arrive at the Red Fort in one piece.

At the Fort there was a huge queue of about 500 people snaking away from the entrance. Darrell and I joined the end and got ready for a long wait. After a minute or so a small boy approached us and told us we had to buy our tickets from the booth down some nearby stairs. I went to investigate his claim, expecting to find another tour agent. My skepticism was ill founded and it turned out that the kid had been telling the truth. Although his motives were soon made clear when he asked for five rupees for his valuable service. I told him I had no change and fobbed him off saying I would give him some money when I came out of the Fort. I procured the tickets and re-joined Darrell in the queue. I was pleased to note that Darrell had moved a lot closer to the entrance and it only took us another ten minutes until we were passing through the Lahore Gate under the watchful eye, and probing fingers, of the Indian security forces.

The Red Fort was built from red sandstone fort for the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (who also built Agra’s Taj Mahal) to serve as his ruling palace. Completed in 1648, with intricately carved walls. The rooms have been stripped of objects and the marble inlays are long gone but it is still an impressive sight.

On stepping out of the Fort we were soon leapt on by assorted salesmen along with the kid who had shown me where to buy a ticket. I gave him a rupee for his perseverance whilst Darrell gave in to temptation and made his first purchase. After much haggling and trying on all of the guys stock Darrell finally bought a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off his head.

The time had long since passed to find something to eat so we decided to make our way to a restaurant. We walked around for a couple of hours trying to find a particular restaurant recommended by our guide book. Along the way we passed what looked like a dead body, we did not check his pulse but he had attracted a fair number of flies and seemed to have forgotten to breathe for a considerable time. No one else around seemed to be particularly bothered or to even notice so Darrell and I shrugged our shoulders and carried on.

Darrell decided to give some children we met along the way a dollar. Two of them ran off with it whilst their companion followed us for the next half an hour attempting to appeal to our better natures and receive some more of our money, poor deluded fool. After an eternity of wandering the streets we did the sensible thing and asked a police man and were eventually tucking into a much needed Chicken Tika, which was very good. After that we crossed the road to the Jama Masjid, the biggest Temple in Delhi and were forced into skirts so as not to offend the gods with our knobbly knees.

Whilst we were there I had to pose for about 20 photographs with Indians, who had probably never seen (such a handsome) white man before! Darrell was telling them I was David Beckham but I think he was just jealous that they didn’t want their picture taken with him. We also met a couple of friendly muslim priests who did not mind posing for our photos.

That evening we decided to find a bar for a much needed beer. They were few and far between and only two of the restaurants in the area had a liquor liscence. It felt as though we had already been there a week after so much visual stimulation, and my nose worked harder in one day than in the last 20 years. The odor is extremely overpowering. All in all it is a great experience though, good to be somewhere totally different to anything I have seen before.

written by Allister \\ tags: , , ,

May 18

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Paharganj
Paharganj, Delhi, India

We finally set down in Delhi in the early hours of Sunday the 18th of May. We could not land as scheduled due to bad weather and had to circle for an hour or so. I drifted in and out of sleep whilst Darrell got increasingly nervous, especially when the plane began to shake and breathed a big sigh of relief when we touched down safely.

We cleared customs without any incident and made our way towards the Airport exit. Darrell did not want the hassle of finding a hotel when we arrived in Delhi so he booked one in advance, on arriving at 2am I was glad that he had. The last thing either of us wanted after our long flight from Australia was to go on a mission to find a suitable place to rest our weary heads. So we scoured the signs held by the hundreds of eager faces that greeted us on the other side of the airport gate. Darrell’s name was conspicuous in its absence. Thinking that we could easily have missed it in the melee, Darrell went back for a second circuit but our driver was no where to be seen. Darrell tried calling the hotel to no avail. On closer inspection of the booking details he realized he had messed up the dates and booked in for the night before!

After a bit of half hearted haggling we found a driver to take us to the hotel. It was an eye opening journey. Delhi’s roads were blanketed in dust which was whipped up and blown around in our wake. Even at 2.30am the roads were busy. Huge trucks, battered cars, bicycles and auto-rickshaws all vied for space on the motorway. Horns were very much in effect, used to make other road users aware of each others presence. Possibly also to make the go faster or move aside although this did not seem to work. The horn was also utilized as a substitute for the use of mirrors.

Our driver asked us for a cigarette, which we were happy to furnish him with and keep him on side. Unfortunately we did not have a lighter and the one from his ancient automobile was no longer in place. Undeterred he stopped half way round a roundabout to get a light for his cigarette from a passing peddeler. With his cigarette now lit he proceeded to pull in at a petrol station and puffed away as the car was gassed up. Darrell and I decided to get out the car and stand back at that point.

We were dropped in the rough location of the hotel in Paharganj at about 3am and pointed in what we hoped was the right direction. The streets were overflowing with rubbish, people with limbs missing and mangy dogs were laying in the doorways and gutters. After walking up and down the street several times we were shown the way to our hotel by a helpful street urchin for the bargain price of one American dollar. Once there we hammered on the door for 5 minutes almost losing hope in ever making it to bed. Eventually a disheveled overweight man in a string vest and shorts shuffled into view. We explained that we had a room booked but he did not seem to understand or take in any of what we were saying. After a little while it seemed to dawn on him that he was working in a hotel and we were there looking for a room. We had dragged him out of bed in the middle of the night so I suppose his confusion was justified. He took our details pointed us in the direction of the stairs and we were away. The room was as good as I could expect, there was a shower room and flush toilet en-suite and a small TV on a shelf. The tiled floor looked as if it had never been washed and dusting was obviously not high on the list of priorities in this establishment. There was an old air-con unit stuffed into the small space once occupied by a window, it worked though which was a god send in the humid hot sticky night.

written by Allister \\ tags: , ,

May 17

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On Saturday the 17th of May, my friend Darrell and I set off from Sydney on a two week trip to India. We had meticulously researched the countries many sites of historic and cultural significance, (i.e; read the lonely planet and wikipedia) and planned our itinerary accordingly. We were well prepared, expecting delayed and cramped transport, continual harassment and unsanitary conditions. However, we had not made a contingency plan should an armed tribal uprising bar our path. Something of an oversight on our part.

written by Allister \\ tags:

May 16

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I have been AWOB for too long.

That’s what Warren Ellis calls it: “Absent WithOut Bloggery”.

written by Allister