The flight was uneventful and I arrived in Perth with SB there to collect me, 78 days after leaving.
Highlights of the trip have to be making it over Thorung La, visiting Potala Palace and travelling back through India. This trip seems to have last a long time and I am glad to be going home, even if it is just to change into some clean clothes 🙂
I caught the airport shuttle to the airport and as I didn’t have to check back in, wandered through duty free, getting SB some cigars and some moisturiser for myself and a book. I then headed to the gate and checked in and then boarded on time. Finally on the way home.
The taxi arrived on time so I said goodbye to Kathy and hoped that she had seen enough good things in India to not hate the country too much and I headed to the airport for my 4am flight. Getting there and settling into my seat near the gate. There were lots of announcements as the flights started to be getting delayed or cancelled due to fog in Delhi. My flight was delayed as the incoming flight was diverted to Mumbai, which didn’t bode well. Eventually we left Delhi 6 hours late and therefore missing my flight to Perth.
In Dubai we were given new boarding cards for 14 February and sent to a hotel for the night. Emirates were extremely organised, once we got to Dubai, unfortunately in Delhi it was a total shambles and there was just no information or communication.
The hotel was nice and the food was plentiful. However, I was shattered and pretty much slept for my stay.
Last day in Delhi and India, which as usual has me feeling sad and depressed and already making plans to come back.
We headed out to breakfast at Rama’s where Kathy started feeling sick – so I walked her back to the hotel, where she is going to rest up today so she is okay to fly tomorrow.
It is my last day and I drugged myself up and headed out. I walked back down Karol Bagh market and caught the metro (yep SB will be impressed) to Rajiv Chowk and found a coffee day and chilled out making my plan of action. SB has done my check-in for my flight home and I can’t believe I fly tomorrow and will be in Australia on Saturday. This trip has flown by and as usual, there is still so many places I want to see that I could continue travelling but I miss SB, so it is time to go home.
I caught the Metro to Chawri Bazaar walking around Old Delhi towards the back of Jama Masjid past all the tiny shops selling everything imaginable before heading back gthrough an alleyway, where I don’t think they get many toursts due to the stars, this eventually connected through to Chawri Bazaar Road where I wandered through all the paper shops that make the most intricate hand made invitations, along with a vivid collection of hand made papers – that came in every shade and texture you can imagine. I couldn’t decide so took that as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be.
I continued back towards the Metro catching the Metro to Central Secretariat (India Gate) and walked up to the government buildings.
There is a huge contingent of press etc here but am unsure what they are there for, maybe something to do with the Prime Minister who has been in hospital with a heart attack, so continued up towards the Palace which was closed to the public so walked back down the other side of the street before continuing on to India Gate itself.
I talked to a lovely Sikh tuk tuk driver who wanted to know my thoughts on the Sikh Temples, but was disappointed I hadn’t actually stayed in the pilgrim rooms at the Golden Temple, which I thought were only open to Sikhs – he then wished me a lovely day, why other tuk tuk drivers can’t be like that, I will never know.
India Gate was open so I got to have a good walk around avoiding the plethora of photo salesmen.
I had just sat down to take in the atmosphere when I was spotted by a large contingent of schoolgirls who asked all the usual questions, but also focused on what degree I had completed and what subjects were interesting. Explaining about Australia and how everything is measured by how much you spend. They were impressed I had some Punjabi suits but they like to wear jeans not the traditional outfits anymore. I told them they all looked so much nicer in their school uniforms instead of in western clothes, but I think the consumeristic patterns of the west are now deeply ensconed. I doubt whether there are many countries in the world that haven’t been convinced the western lifestyle is ideal, but then I doubt whether many people I know would guy anything without a label and little consideration of its environmental impacts. They were having a day trip to Delhi and although it was a hindi school they attended some of the girls spoke very good english and even attempted to teach me some hindi words. On leaving I was then inundated by a group of schoolboys who wanted to know my thoughts on Indian cricketers, the IPL and the losing Australian team.
I had arranged to meet Kathy at the Museum of Modern Art but she is still feeling ill and just had enough, so I continued on alone, chatting with all the nice people that were saying hello. Most people I spoke to just kept reassuring me that India and particularly Delhi is a safe place which I don’t doubt for a second. I explained that Australia has fundamentalists as well and it is the minority that ruin it for the majority.
I walked back up Janpath and caught the Metro to Karol Bagh stopping at Rajiv Chowk for a quick coffee before continuing onto Karol Bagh where I wandered through the market finding a man doing mehindi so treated myself to having my hands dyed with henna patterns. It is so fascinating to watching it being done, although you have to keep your hands straight and no touch anything for a little while after, which I almost managed to do.
I got back to the hotel and while waiting for my hands to dry, Kathy decided to come out and have dinner with me, so we wandered around and had a dinner at a local western restaurant. Back at the hotel we ensured taxis were ordered and I settled down to watch TV and stay awake and let Kathy sleep.
Feeling a bit better we got in a taxi for the 10km ride to Ajmer. The ride wasn’t far and was certainly slower than the bus. Ajmer has a large lake and many pretty temples, worth a look if you have time.
We got to the station and had a short wait for our train. We boarded our carriage and there were people in our seats who moved. In the meantime Kathy absolutely freaked out as it is a compartment with bench seats and beds above. She was expecting a luxurious 2 bedded compartment to ourselves. I feel terrible she hates India and everything about it so much but I can’t afford the Palace on Wheels and the Oberoi each night, but in hindsight she should of done that and I should have caught up with her during the day. I thought the carriage was clean and we had clean pillows and sheets. It was definately much better than the 2AC from Kolkatta to Delhi which had a small cockroach problem. I slept in my bunk for a bit of the 8 hour journey to Delhi.
We arrived at Delhi near Karol Bagh and got a tuk tuk to our hotel (Hotel Unistar). This hotel in no way resembles the brochure we saw in Agra and the look on Kathy’s face was priceless, I think she thinks she is in hell. On the plus side, the bathroom was clean and it is really only for 1 full night. We had booked a twin room, but had to wait for the hotel boy to separate the bed and re-make them and get the requisite tip.
As we were still feeling very ordinary we got soup and rice for dinner. The place next door does an absolute roaring trade constantly turning people over with both take-away and sit-down meals. The soup was delicious and we ate watching tv in bed.
Another downside of the hotel is that it is constantly noisy, however I slept well until the racket got too unbearable in the morning.
After an awful night things did not improve as we have both been stricken by a stomach bug. So we spent the day in bed or nearby. I managed to get up in the middle of the afternoon to buy some water and then go out again to get some biscuits, but each time was exhausted when I returned and had a snooze.
I arranged for a taxi to take us to Ajmer tomorrow – after the last bus trip Kathy refuses to get back on another one; and it is a long walk when you are feeling shithouse.
From the limited amount I saw of Pushkar, it seemed really nice and laid back, there were no hassles and there seemed a lot to see and do, with several good hill walks. The hotel was nice and quiet, basic but had plenty of space and clean, although not touristy. It is obviously off season as all the restaurants etc we walked by were empty and although there are tourists here they don’t look like the 5 star type we have seen so far on this leg of my trip. You can understand why people come here and drop out – makes me want to grow dreadlocks and join them, not being very realistic am I?
Up and at breakfast earlier, even having our bags packed and in reception by 0930. We checked out and got a tuk-tuk (they all seem to be putting their prices up each day) into Hawa Mahal.
They have a new audioguide so we got one to share and wandered through the building. It was like being in a three legged sack race as the headset cables weren’t very long, so you had to be aware you weren’t pulling each others head off. The audioguide was good explaining the history and the symbols of the Hawa Mahal. This monument is also under restoration and the building will certainly look good when it is finished. We finally handed in our audioguide set and headed outside to get some pictures.
Being invited to a rooftop by a gentleman who, yep you guessed it, owned a little shop that he would love us to visit. The photos taken and Kathy having purchased something from the shop we headed out along Tripoli Bazaar, pricing some tiffin containers, eventually I bought an unusually patterned one for home. We caught a tuk-tuk to the hotel and had a small chill out before we headed to the bus station.
The bus is certainly not “deluxe” but it is a sleeper and there is nobody booked in the sleeper compartments, so we could bring all our bags on the bus and put them above us. The bus left on time at a rapid rate of knots. The journey was meant to take about 4 hours, but we were early. The driver didn’t hang around doing the usual manic overtaking tactics – which scared the absolute pants off Kathy who refuses to take any more buses. So back to trains we go. I suppose I have caught buses before and even though it still is scarey, there is sometimes no other way to get to where you want to go.
At Pushkar we got a tuk tuk to the Peacock Holiday Resort (swmming pool and all). We have a 2 roomed apartment which is clean and quiet, although there is no sign of any lakes. After a drink, we dropped off our bags and decided to walk to Pushkar lake which is in the centre of town and a 5-10 minute walk. After walking about 1 minute, we gave up and headed back to the hotel and dosed up on DEET, there are a million gnats around and you are worried to even breath. We then retraced our steps, finding that the DEET had no impact whatsoever. We found Pushkar Lake and walked around towards the Ghat but there is some sort of festival where you need to take off your shoes and as I only have one pair, not keen on the look of the guy who is meant to look after them, so we decided to walk around the road and duck down one of the other alleys to the ghats.
The town is surprisingly quiet and chilled out. Everyone keeps telling your how you will be hassled, but we certainly aren’t. The big plus for Pushkar there are hardly any cars and only a few motorbikes which adds to the relaxed feel.
There is quite a range of shopping and unbelievably quite a lot of things we haven’t seen so far. The shopkeepers aren’t pushy either and tell you whether it is fixed price – what a pleasant change.
We walked half way around the lake and settled on dinner at Raju’s Rooftop Restaurant for night views of the lake (this restaurant is recommended in the Lonely Planet). The lake is having some serious groundworks and it looks like something is being built in the middle of the lake. I wonder if they are going to also clean the lake which is putrid and obviously a breeding ground for gnats – of course the truckloads of pooing cows doesn’t help. As the restaurant was on the rooftop, there was a nice breeze which kept the bugs at bay and we had a nice meal looking at the reflections on Pushkar Lake. We left the restaurant and wandered back to the hotel nice and leisurely, picking up a few souvenirs along the way.
We headed back the hotel for hot showers and to do some clothes washing. We both really like Pushkar, there seems to be lots ot see and the feel of the place is really relaxed – fairly similar to Hampi for me.
A lovely sleep-in and I was actually awake and up first – a miracle, but then I had been up a fair portion of the night reading. It is nice and sunny with a soft breeze, so breakfast on the hotel rooftop was lovely. As it is Sundays shops open a little bit later here so we had a relaxing start to the day before catching a tuk-tuk to New Gate of the old city and walked through the street stalls and shops making some purchases and having a wander getting prices.
We continued along stopping to have a snack at LMB which was so nice we made a booking for dinner tonight.
We continued up the street, turning onto Chandpol and visiting Jantar Mantar which is obviously undergoing some restoration work as can be seen by all the women sitting there beating the cement to make it smooth. India has a huge population which is involved in manual labour, so although it does make sense to see the women working, it must be absolutely back breaking work.
We went back to the City Palace to visit the museum to find the voucher for the museum was for a different museum not the one in the palace where the ticket was purchased – confused, we were. We left disappointed and also managed to avoid the men playing music to try and get their cobras to stand up – why anyone finds that fun, I have no idea, one of these days you hope the cobra’s turn around the bite the annoying music players.
We decided to walk back to buy Kathy a white top we saw earlier in the day and had not actually seen anything as nice since – miraculously we found the shop and got the top and even more miraciously I found the exact coloured bangles I wanted for Steph and Adelaide.
We caught a cycle-rickshaw to the ATM (it turned out to be quite a way) and I just never get comfortable with the tinniest thinnest man you know cycling me around, sometimes having to get off and push. So we caught a tuk-tuk back to the hotel where we changed and headed back into town to have dinner at LMB, which actually turned out to be a bit disappointing. The service however was fantastic, one of the meals we ordered was a bit hot and Kathy had a glass of water and a waiter from quite a way over the other side of the restaurant saw us and came over and took the dish away, having some yoghurt added and brought it back once it was milder. Kathy is enjoying the food as it is so different to any of the Indian she has had before – not a curry in sight.
Back at the hotel we packed up nearly everything ready for our move tomorrow.
There is breakfast included in the hotel, so I caught up with Kathy for that, but wasn’t feeling too well, so took some headache tables and retired back to the room to leave Kathy to head out to Amber Fort for a tour. After a couple of hours I felt a bit better, so headed to the bus station to buy our “deluxe” bus tickets to Pushkar for Monday.
Kathy did a tour at Amber Fort and really enjoyed the guide who took her away from the main tour sites and she then bought a beautiful painting in the art gallery there.
As we were meeting up at 3pm at the City Palace, I headed into the city a bit earlier and had a quick snack at LMB on Johari Bazaar and wandered to the City Palace picking up a few gifts along the way.
I found the entrance to the City Palace near Jantar Mantar and tried to settle in and wait for Kathy, but there was an endless stream of touts, still I help my ground and after a few missed directions Kathy finally found me and we headed inside. Kathy did the audiotour and I tagged along, more interested in the textile gallery which shows some beatuiful fabrices with real gold and silver embroidery, just beautiful. We had a refreshing drink at the Palace Cafe where the service was absolutely dismal before heading into a new area (Diwan) to look at portraits of all the Maharana’s (although strangely, not their wives). The room was lovely with a massive chandeler (apparently the second biggest in India), it didn’t tell us where the biggest was?
It was getting late so we caught a tuk tuk back to the hotel where we did a quick back-up of Kathy’s photos and then had dinner at the hotel, ordering a glass of wine which turned out to be awful and sweet, I think the waiter me be on a commission as he kept on and on about it. The waiter kept asking if it was okay and we said no, but I don’t think they understood or wanted to understand. The food however was very good, especially the Shahi Paneer (will need to find that recipe when I get home).
Up early and into a tuk tuk to the bus departure point. There was a hotel and restaurant (of sorts) next to it, so we had a light breakfast before catching the “deluxe” bus to Jaipur which was comfy and wasn’t full, so there were seats for all and nobody sitting on the floor or roof. There were a few other tourists, but mainly Indians. The journey was bumpy because they are extending or widening the roads, so the bus had to keep swerving to whichever lanes were open, although if they reduced the manic speeds to something bearable, we would constantly think we were going to fall over.
The landscape is predominantly rural with lots of green crops in the ground. We stopped for a short break before boarding the final leg, arriving into Jaipur only slightly late.
We got a tuk tuk to our hotel after saying he knew exactly where it was and would we like to book him as a guide. Getting into the hotel, we find he has dropped us at the wrong one, so we used the free hotel shuttle tuk-tuk (kind of like a giant golf-cart) to the other hotel – the guy was never going to get us as clients if he has a worse sense of direction than us.
Our hotel is very nice with all the mod-cons, including hair dryer, restaurant, bar, swimming pool etc. After quickly dropping off our bags we got a map from reception and directions to Chandpol to visit the markets. Unfortunately the hotel may be nice, but the reception staff just lack any form of focus, way too busy on their mobiles or talking to their friends who also seem to have taken up residence in the hotel lobby.
On reaching Chandpol we walked up through the street looking at all the lovely vegetables and spices for sale, stopping along the way to have a freshly cooked samosa which was delicious. We walked past mountains of spices and very fresh vegetables and piles of garlic cloves, all set up on the ground along the roadside, at one of the stalls there was even a huge monkey helping himself to some snowpeas – gross I hate monkeys (along with cockroaches, rabid dogs or anything else that may bite).
We walked back down the other side of the street, buying some anklets and bracelets and then decided to try and find the silver area so of course ventured down the totally wrong street, whereas a guy offered to give us directions and of course then offered to take us to a jewellery wholesaler. Luckily I have Kathy here to do all the big shopping and take the hard sell off me, so after a while I headed back to the hotel as I had a cracking headache and was starving and had just seen enough jewellery for one day (never thought I would say that). Kathy did some purchases and then the guy offered to tell Kathy her fortune, so she finally got back to the hotel hours later all stressed about getting back as the tuk tuk driver didn’t know the way and took her to the wrong hotel again – but after a shower, clean clothes and her hair dried with the hair dryer life was better.
We got up early to enjoy the sunrise at the Taj Mahal, which was considerably quieter than when Scott and I were here two years ago. There were some very bizarre security changes i.e. you can’t bring in an ipod and you couldn’t bring in my daypack, but after I got grumpy they changed their mind on the backpack – not the ipods for the girl next to me though. We wandered through the complex and watched the sun rise. This is the second time I have been here and it is still a wonderful monument and awe-inspiring.
Our driver dropped us back at our hotel for a quick breakfast before we headed out to Agra Fort to spend a few hours. There is considerable renovation work being undetaken within the fort and it was very well maintained and nowhere near as much litter as before.
We left there and did the obligatory visit to the marble showroom where Kathy bought two marble inlaid elephants. Next up was a visit to a textile factory where Kathy again did the honours and purchased some shawls. My shawl I bought in Amritsar two years ago and which I paid only Rs800 was quoted here as Rs5000, so that shows how much things have either gone up or they are ripping you off.
Our driver took us to a travel agent as we have decided to change the first class train ticket tomorrow night for a morning bus, so we arrive in Jaipur in the middle of the day and get extra time there to see the markets. We also got the travel agent to book our train ticket from Ajmer to Delhi and the hotel in Delhi. The travel agent also told us where the local Indians get their shawls etc, so we had our driver take us there and the savings were fantastic, even I splurged and bought a silk shawl. Luckily Kathy is there to ensure that the economy here in Agra is well and alive.
We headed back to the hotel as it was getting late, dropped off our stuff and headed out to the internet cafe to finish up some things before finally having something to eat.
A very early morning start to make out 06:15am train to Agra. We had a driver from the hotel who took us to the New Delhi Train Station and then there was some confusion over the internet booking etc, but that was all sorted and we found the train platform, not that you could miss which train we were catching as it was full of tourists. The train carriage was like a plane, food, papers, water, reclining seats etc. Very luxurious and the trip flew by.
We arrived in Agra to be collected at the train station by a driver sent from the Maya Hotel.
We arranged for the driver to also take us around Agra from the next two days (including I am sure all the obligatory factories and shops so he gets his commission) and checked into the Hotel and had a light breakfast. The hotel, although on a main road, is near to the Taj Mahal and has a lovely shaded courtyard.
We headed off on our sightseeing for the day. First up was Chini-Ka-Rauza, which is a persian-style tomb of Afzal Khan (member of the court of Shah Jahan of Taj Mahal fame), the tomb would have looked amazing when it was built and still had all it’s tiled mosaics, however, it is slowly being restored. Next was the baby Taj (Itimad-Ud-Daulah) which is still lovely and well maintained and one of the highlights of both my trips to Agra. We went across the river to get a view of the Taj from behind getting right down to the rivers edge, along with the camel touts or kids acting as touts.
Our driver then took us to the obligatory western style indian restaurant complete with dancing child and music – expensive and just so awful, but you have to put up with the good and bad. Of course then came the carpet factory – groan, but once I explained I was an unemployed uni student, I was soon left to while away the time by myself while Kathy selected a carpet for home. From there we were whisked to a gem place where again I did the student thing, leaving Kathy to purchase some gem stones and silver jewellery.
After our driver dropped us at the hotel, we ventured out on foot and ended up at the Oberoi Amer Villas. We wanted to have a look inside, but due to the security situation, we had to hand over our passports while they made many phone calls at the front gates to see if we were worthy of entry. Eventually we were escorted to the bar area and advised our passports would be returned later, so we settled in and ordered a glass of wine. We met a lovely couple from Scotland who were retired but had also just been to Nepal and did the Poon Hill trek. The view of the Taj at sunset was lovely and the hotel complex is just another world.
After two lovely glasses of wine, we caught a cycle rickshaw back to our hotel, where I am sure the cycle rickshaw wallah was hoping for a massive tip, but I am just too tight to worry about that. We ate at the hotel and had an early night as it had been a long day.
We did a quick pack for me and an almost 100% pack for SB and moved down to the room that Kathy and I will be sharing checking out of SB and my room. We headed up to Rama’s for our last breakfast together.
First up today was the Red Fort and a wander through the fort complex, which has deteriorated considerably since the last time SB and I were here, with less areas open or able to be walked on. We spent a few hours walking around the fort and grounds as the marble carvings were still impressive and you can only imagine how splendid this setting would be in the 1700’s. We headed back towards Chandni Chowk, stopping for Kathy to buy some handmade paper from the same shop as yesterday which SB is going to take back as hand luggage. We had lunch at Haldirams (where we had lunch yesterday).
We caught the Metro to Rajiv Chowk (Connaught Place) before getting a tuk-tuk to Jantar Mantar, the observatory which we had not visited previously (mainly because we couldn’t find the entrance last time). There is a similar observatory in Jaipur. This one, however, was interesting as you were able to climb the exhibits and get some interesting views, although there were no guides and the explanations on the signs were open to some interpretation, mainly due to the language.
As time was ticking by we caught the Metro to Rajendra Place and headed for the hotel so SB had plenty of time for a shower and a change into clean clothes, so he doesn’t stink the plane out and so he could get organised before his flight. He is taking home most of my cold weather clothes so my pack is lighter and more manageable, leaving some space for the shopping I hope to do.
SB finally left in a taxi at 6pm for the trip back to Perth leaving us to fend for ourselves for 2 weeks – he did look a bit worried, but he is glad to be going home. We ventured into Karol Bagh and had a look at the stalls with Kathy starting her shopping frenzy. Dinner was at a local South Indian restaurant and an early bed as we have the 4:30am train to Agra tomorrow.
Rudely awoken from sleep we called for a taxi at 1:30am and headed down to reception.
We met an Iraqi gentleman who bought SB a beer and as he only spoke Arabic we gathered he came from Baghdad, liked Australians and Barrack Obama, didn’t like George Bush and his baby was killed in the war. Apparently he is here to see a doctor as he has a heart condition, although from the amount he smoked and drank not sure how serious it is. The taxi finally arrived at 2am and we got to the airport 40 minutes later as there wasn’t much traffic on the road. We got into the aiport and Kathy’s flight was early and she was waiting for us.
We headed back to the taxi and back to the hotel to have some sleep ready for a new part of the adventure and a hopefully an eye opening trip for Kathy.
We left the hotel at 09:30am and headed to Rama’s for the traditional breakfast before getting a tuk tuk to Connaught Place where Kathy changed some money and SB then had a look through some bookstores where he purchased some books and we caught the metro to Chandni Chowk and walked to Jama Masjid as it was lunch time it was closed to non-muslims so we waited and had a wander around and bought some bangles – let the shopping commence, thank goodness SB is taking home most of my stuff. They wanted to charge us to enter the Mosque and when we questioned the guy, it was changed to being a camera charge, so SB waited outside with the bags and we had a wander around.
We went to Chawri Bazaar where we looked at all the handmade papers which Kathy bought some samples of some absolutely beautiful paper. Chandni Chowk was still the absolute maze of people and some fascinating examples of electrical cabling we remember.
We walked to Haldirams for a snack and cold drink before getting the metro back to Karol Bagh and a rest before dinner. The weather in Delhis quite hot, but nowhere as humid as Kolkata.
SB woke up feeling a bit better but I woke up with a very upset stomach so I stayed in bed and SB headed out to Connaught Place to look at some bookstores but things were shut off as they were filming a Bollywood movie, so he returned to Karol Bagh and had a late lunch bringing me some curd and rice.
After a while we went for a walk around the block, heading back to the hotel for more drugs. I then headed out and bought water and we ordered some extra pillows.
After another snooze I went to dinner with SB and came back for an early night as we have to get up at 1am to meet Kathy.
Instead of arriving at 07:50am we got into Delhi at about 09:30am and got a taxi to the Hotel at Maurya Heritage in Karol Bagh, the room is small and our requested window is actually blacked out and you can hear the pigeons roosting just outside the window on the air-conditioning window and as our room is at the base of the stairs we can hear everyone coming and going.
Still we headed off and got something to eat at Rama’s and had a wander around to get our bearings before having a nap at the hotel.
We had a repack as SB is taking home my heavy thick clothes and some souvenirs.
We then headed out for dinner.
We had an early night as still tired after the train and SB is still really sick.
After a fairly sleepless night as SB has develloped an horrendous chest infection – never seen so much green snot come out of one person and it is really worrying, but going to a hospital in India is not on our list. We got up and left the hotel and managed to get a taxi straight outside. Thought we would have to walk a bit through the morning sounds of all the local mosques.
We got to Howrah and sat in the saiting area for our train to arrive. As usual the general class tickets had formed a massive queue all under the gaze of many armed army guards, but our carriage was more organised, so we boarded and locked away our bags. the conductor checked our tickets and we have the two upper berths, and the lower ones aren’t being occupied until Allalehbad which is during the night – he also reminded us to keep bags locks etc, obviously there has been issues on this train.
We settled in and SB went to sleep on and off for the remainder of the journey.
The scenery near Kolkata is all fields of rice and banabas etc, but as we go gradually inland this changes to corn and mustard etc. We are in an AC compartment as that is all we could get, so although it is sunny outside it is hard to judge what the temperature is – some people are rugged up in scarves and jumpers and some are in shorts and t-shirts. There is a food service available on the train which is okay, nothing fancy and means we don’t have to try and get food from the platform, we can just sit back and hope SB starts to de-snot. We have started him on some super antibiotics straight away, so hopefully they will weave their magic.
We both slept until being woken in Allahabad when some people got on and turned the lights on, but we managed to go to sleep again.
Last day here in Kolkata, so had a bit of a lie in.
SB decided to join me on my visit to the Indian Museum which should have been so good, it was a beautiful building from the outside, but inside it is just rundown and badly in need of maintenance or even just a good clean and relabelling or the items on exhibit. There was some large exhibits but the lighting was so poor you could hardly see them. Some of the areas were closed for renovation, but when you have a sticky beak the areas look like they are beyond help. Considering the history here in India, it could be a magnificent museum showcasing these things instead of what has happened. We also expected a very large display on textiles or tribes here but couldn’t find that. However, in the very small painting gallery there were some-ones pen doodlings – so maybe I have hope of being exhibited one day. Bengali’s (Tagore etc) are famous for their artistic talents but there was nothing highlighting this. We left there a bit disappointed.
We had a snack and ventured to College Street via the subway and wandered through all the book stalls. There seemed like thousands, selling or attempting to sell textbooks back from the dark ages. There wasn’t anything SB particularly wanted, so we headed back to Park Street and had a browse through the Oxford Bookstore, but nothing grabbed SB’s attention so we detoured to the hotel for a quick pit-stop before hitting the road again. By now it was about 3:30ish so we walked to Hogg Street near New Market to try a Koti Roll at Nizam’s but it is definately not as good as the Koti Roll store on Park Street.
We decided to take a tuk tuk to Victoria Memorial for some sunset pictures, but no-one would take us. The traffic here does an about turn, not seeming to help but confuse the situation, so we legged it, making it into the Victoria Memorial grounds just in time for some sunset pictures. We sat on the lawns enjoying the relative peace and quiet until the guards started clanging the bells and blowing their whistles indicating it was time to leave. The guard nearest us let us take a couple more photos but that was it.
We joined the throng leaving the park and went back to the hotel.
In my madness today I had worn thongs as I didn’t think we would be going for such a long walk, so we went back to the hotel as I had to wash my extremely manky feet. We also sorted out our hotel as we have an early train tomorrow. We headed to the supermarket to get some supplies for the train and then headed out to a restaurant for dinner which was nice but not outstanding, finally arriving back at the hotel to pack and organised for the train tomorrow.
Kolkata is surprising, certainly not the city of abject poverty you expect or imagine. Yes there are people sleeping in the streets, but there is also a huge population. They are certainly clean as all you see are people washing at stand pipes or in the river and somehow they manage to portray privacy and decency, it is just different to our expectations. The level of beggars that we have seen is no greater than other countries, we have visited. People just get on with their lives. Outside the hotel in the late afternoon a guy picks through and sorts/separates the rubbish, don’t know where it goes but it isn’t left to rot on the side walks, so it must go somewhere.
Kolkata may not have the stunning sites compared to Delhi and Mumbai but it has a varied history that is seen in the different migrant populations. Westernised style here is also much more prevalent in clothing – it is unusual to seea teenager wearing tradditional dress – it is all jeans and t-shirts, not necessarily for the better as I sometimes think India has the worst jeans styles you can imagine.
After a hot, bothered and noisy night we gave up trying to sleep and headed out sightseeing.
We caught the subway to Rabindra Sarovar to a lake ringed parkland (according to the description in the Lonely Planet) whereas in reality it was a urine filled lake ringed garbage heap, talk about disappointment. We did a quick loop and gave up. I don’t understand why Indian men have to urinate next door to a pay per use public toilet which is clean and doesn’t leave the area with the acrid smell of urine. Same goes for the constant spitting even when there are signs “no spitting on walls” which are covered with spit.
So we got back on the subway (here is some good ideas with sections of seats just for ladies) and headed to Kalighat and the Kali Template. We were helped there by one gentleman and before you knew it we had a guide, who just wouldn’t go away. We made a hibiscus offering to Kali, after we left our shoes with a paid minder, buying flowers etc on the way. We passed the sacrifice point where goods are beheaded, and by the number of goats around, this is a regular event. Apparently this is to sate Kali. We then gave blessings to our families etc, and yep that was another donation. As we aren’t hindu’s we couldn’t visit all the temples nor take photos. However, it was all the usual manic rush and I don’t want any momentoes of the visit, the sad queue of goats all garlanded up for sacrifice and the huge number of cockroaches I stood on are etched in my memory just outside we had a snack of aloo and puri’s.
We did not visit Nirmal Hriday closeby which is Mother Theresa’s home for the dying destitute, due to the pollution, noise and heat we both feel and look crap so don’t want them to take pity on us.
We bit the bullet and continued sightseeing catching the subway all the way back to the other side of Kolkata to Belgachia station and the Jain Temple of Digambar Mandir which was an oasis of greenery and birds and five other people in the whole complex. These Jain Temples do not have a plethora of spooky eyed statues like in Ranakpur, but still the trademark beautiful marble carvings. It has a tall tower, like a lighthouse, next to the main temple complex which houses a statue. We discarded our shoes and ventured inside, where SB also had to leavethe backpack (no water) and his belt (no leather). Jains do not believe in killing any living being even insects.
We caught the subway to Dum Dum station with the plan of getting the overland local train to Dakshineswar Kali Temple, but at the train station the booking officer suggested it would be easier to get a bus from outside the station. Only snag, there were no buses due to some strike (and police action – 2 killed), so we had to walk to the next major road which was a heavily polluted walk in the searing humidity. Finally getting to the main road and with the help of a pliceman only a local bus that was hot but not too packed. So instead of Rs200 in a tuk tuk, it was only rs10 on the bus. The conductor dropped us off and another passenger showed us the entrance.
The Dakshineswar was built in 1807 and was where Ramakrishna started his spiritiual journey. The complex was undergoing some major paving reconstruction, but worse still there were monkeys. Anyway the temple was closed for the obligatory lunch break so we sat in the shade watching the queue getting longer and longer with people standing there with their flower sacrified. SB thinks they have a midday break so they can collect up the flowers and re-sell them in the afternoon.
We caught a riverboat to Belur Math. The boat doesn’t leave until it is full and I mean squished like sardines, full to the gunwhale, we couldn’t move, but finally got going. Thankfully spending the majority of the trip close to the shore not that you wouled want to go in the water – holy or not – it is just mankey and must be so polluted it makes your stomach heave just thinking.
We disembarked at Belur Math, the very swish and spotless headquarters of the Ramakrishnan Mission. No hoicking up gobs of flem or urinating anywhere you feel like it. There people do their worshipping in silence and style. It was therefore disappointing that there were huge signs everywhere saying no photos. I gave SB my smelly skanky socks and shoes and headed inside the main temple which is lovely and a beautiful complex suited to the ideals of Ramakrishna for unity of all religions. Built in 1938 the complex uses all styles of religious architecture without looking garish.
We left the main gate and boarded another local bus for the absolute bone jarring ride to Howrah, where the conductor again pointed us in the right direction. We caught a ferry to Babu Ghat and then SB finally let me splurge on a taxi to a restaurant for a cold drink and a snack of vegetable pakodas.
We headed back towards the hotel grabbing and eating a paneer and vegetable koti roll from a streetside stall and then we shared an icecream with fresh fruit before retiring exhausted and very dirty.
Breakfast at Radhini’s for basic but tasty Bengali food to start the day.
We headed back to Victoria Memorial to go inside the museum and look at the history of the British in Bengal and how the city developed. It was interesting and laid out in a rleatively easy to follow date order. Although you don’t get to see much of the architecture of the building inside as all the exhibits are on large partitions. We also wandered back through some of the gardens.
The day is starting to heat up already and feels like it is going to be a hot one.
We headed down Shakespear Sarani and found the Park Street Cemetary. It is strange to think that this was once the very outskirts of Kolkata. Originally opened in 1760’s it was closed about 40 years later as it was full. It is currently an area in need of some serious restoration. A lot of gravesites have crumbled until there is nothing left and this happens more and more after each monsoon. However, it is leafy and more importantly shady. There seems to be a lot of graves for young women who came to India and hardly survived more than a year here. You can only imagine the difference between Calcutta after it has just been founded and their home lives in England.
We left there and had a cold drink andcoffee in Tea2, which looks stuck in the victorian times, but had lovely high celings ensuring it stayed cool without a freezing air conditioner. We decided to call a halt to sight seeing and had a hot Koti roll from a hole in the wall stand, which was fantastic. SB had vegetable and I had paneer. We then went to update the internet and reformat some memory cards as yet again the camera has spat the dummy. SB headed back to the hotel for a lie down while I finished emails etc.
I wanted to see the Victoria Memorial at sunset, but by the time we got there it was over, so we had a streetside bel puri
and waited for the lights to come on and get some photos.
We headed back to Chowringhee we popped into a supermarket where I bought some water and then had a bengali dinner which was more spicy than flavoursome. I bought some banabas on the way home – Rs20 for 12 bananas.