A Travellerspoint blog

March 2009

A Dosa The Ganges

I apologise for the title!

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We arrived in Varanasi at about 10:30am on the 26th. The overnight train we were on ended up providing me with the best nights sleep I'd had so far, so I was happy. Adam had also slept well, it was a good beginning to this new city.

As has now become our routine, when we arrived we booked our next train ticket, which is to Gorakhpur, on route to Nepal. The trouble we had in Delhi now seems like a distant memory and travelling by train in India really is a trouble free experience.

We found our guest house in a guidebook we bought in Jaipur and as we were in no rush we decided to take a rickshaw there. It ended up being quite a long way and we were weighed down with our backpacks, so we began to feel a little guilty as the poor rickshaw driver struggled in the heat. However as we travelled along we were distracted from these feelings of guilt by Varanasi, and we both commented on how we had good feelings about the place. As we got closer to our guest house these feelings only increased.

The Sahi River View Guest House which is where we stayed was down in Assi Ghat. The Ghats of Varanasi act as access points to the Ganges and we seemed to have stumbled upon an especially quiet one, which really did make change from what India had offered us so far. The guest house itself was hidden down a little alley which added to the peacefulness, it also provided great views over the river from the roof top terrace.
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Despite the better sleep we'd had on the train, we did indulge in an afternoon nap and when we woke we found 'The Cafe at Home' and sampled our first taste of South Indian cuisine in the form of a Dosa which is a very light stuffed pancake, very tasty indeed!

The next day we began to explore Varanasi properly, we had wanted to begin this at about 6am and go and see the people bathe in the Ganges but when we got down to reception we realised we were locked in and couldn't bring ourselves to wake up the staff who were sleeping on the floor. Instead we headed up to the roof and viewed from a distance.
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A little later on we decided to walk from our quiet Ghat up the river towards the centre of Varanasi. The whole way is lined with steps that go up and down and then steeply rise at the sides into the old city.
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During our walk I was almost crushed by a stampede of cows, everywhere you go in India there is always a cow! We walked all the way to the burning Ghat, this is where Hindus come to be cremated and there are huge piles of Sandlewood all around. It is quite a spectacle to behold, and it is one that will have to remain in our memories because you are not allowed to take any pictures.
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We then headed into the old town which is comprised of very narrow alley ways which throb with people. Feeling a little more relaxed in Varanasi we decided that we would do a spot of shopping, so we bought ourselves a scarf each, after a bit of negotiating!
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After that we had another Dosa which cost us the princely sum of around 10p, and then made the long walk back to our guest house.

In the evening we headed down to the river again, we'd read in our guidebook that it is a Hindu tradition to light candles and send them out on to the river on little leaf boats. Immediately we got set upon by some children wanting to sell us these tiny vessels, and stupid old me couldn't resist giving a couple of them an English 2p and penny. Of course then we were surrounded by a whole host of children wanting the same thing and were followed pretty far up the river by one boy in particular. There's nothing quite like saying no to a child fifty times to make you feel bad, even if you know in your heart that you can't help everyone. In the end it turned out that the leaf boats were not really that pretty to look at, there were only a handful of them at different points along the river and they lurked close to the shore where the rubbish gathers. That said the Ganges is far cleaner than I ever expected it to be, although I don't think I could ever be persuaded to go for a dip in it!

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The next day we caught the train to Gorakhpur, which was delayed by about an hour and a half, although as English people we can hardly moan about late running rail services. We arrived at our destination at about 8:30pm and decided to just get a room opposite the railway station because we'd read the buses to the India/Nepal border left from near there. It proved to be a little more tricky than we'd anticipated because most of the hotels were full, we guessed this was because Gorakhpur serves as a transitory place and people just need a conveniently placed bed for the night before they move on. The next morning we were up at 5:30am and on the move again.

We are now in Kathmandu, so once we have had a bit more of an explore I'll let you know what we've been up to.

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 04:43 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Jaipur & The Little Known Taj

Part Two

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Our train trip to Agra was only slightly delayed and we arrived about 11am. We decided on the way that we would sort out our next train ticket when we got there, so headed over to the reservation office and booked our ticket to Varanasi for the next day. Apart from the Taj Mahal there isn't a lot to see in Agra and the train didn't depart til 9pm, so one night would be plenty of time.

We had got the name of a guest house from the man who owned the one we'd stayed at in Jaipur, so told the tuk tuk driver to take us there. It was in the Tajganj district of Agra, which as it's name would suggest is very close to the Taj Mahal. From the roof top of our hotel, you almost got an uninterrupted view of the impressive building, for some reason they'd obscured the view even more with a parasol tied to a wall but nevertheless you could pretty much see it.
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The rest of that day we just chilled out, we'd been up at 4:45am and we were going to be up early again to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise because apparently it's very beautiful. Another early night.

We were down at the East Gate entrance to the Taj Mahal at 5:45am, we were told though that you could not buy your ticket til 6am and that you could not enter til 6:20am. Which struck us as a bit odd because sunrise we thought was just after 6. Anyway we waited patiently, it rained a little for the first time so we were a bit concerned that we weren't going to get very good pictures but it cleared up quickly. Getting in we faced very rigorous security, a pat down and then a good bag search. Adam and I both got rejected initially for having ipods (the reasons were not explained) and we were sent off to put them in a locker. When we did make it in and we first glimpsed the Taj Mahal I was slightly disappointed, I think I just always expected it to be bigger. With more time though, once the sun broke through the clouds and you got a closer look at the patterns which have been created with the marble, there is no denying that it is a very beautiful building.
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We left and went back to the guest house, we had to check out at 11am but our train wasn't til 9pm, so we paid 100 Rupees for a single room. I had avoided Delhi Belly but got struck down with Agra Aggravated Abdomen and so was thankful for a base. We decided later that we hadn't taken enough pictures at the Taj Mahal and we wanted get our money's worth, so we headed back for a second time and made sure our visit was well documented. This time during the bag search we found out that tic tacs are also a prohibited item and are not to be used inside, we couldn't quite figure that one out!
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Our train ticket to Varanasi was a little confusing, there were codes printed on it that we didn't understand, so we asked a guy at the guest house to take a look. He told us that we were in fact on a waiting list and hadn't actually got a seat definitely reserved, something the ticket seller failed to tell us. We tried to check on the internet but the website was having problems, so we headed off to the train station early to find out the position. Another surly ticket man (yet to meet a truly nice one) informed us that we were on the train, and so drama was diverted.

We caught the night train and are now in Varanasi and will update again soon,

Adam & Laura

Posted by LauHot10 23:32 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Jaipur & The Little Known Taj

Part One

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Our train to Jaipur left Delhi at about 12:30pm and we arrived approximately 7 hours later, already I seem to have lost a handle on the time and the day. The train trip was really good, despite the seats being a tad uncomfortable after a while, numb bum was a bit of a feature. We couldn't complain though as we had it very good compared to most. We were in second class with air con and in a sleeper cabin. We could have laid down but both decided to sit up and watch the passing scenery, we were also trying to fight the jetlag which was proving a little more troublesome than we'd expected.

The train was delayed, so we arrived in the dark which made things a little more tricky. Also they didn't announce any stations so we did begin to wonder if we'd missed our stop but thankfully no. We got there and were immediately set upon by a whole host of tuk tuk drivers, we picked one after a lot of gesticulating and banter on both sides. He took us to the touristy area and we had a look at a few guest houses and finally decided on The Heritage Inn. This was a big mistake, I've never stayed in a noisier hotel, there was a hole in the wall and you could see right through to the next room, which became occupied by a family with a screaming child at about 1am. Next morning we headed over the road to a more basic but much more homely feeling place, the cheapest and best room we've had.

First day in Jaipur we made it our mission to sort out our train ticket to Agra, after the trouble in Delhi we were pretty single minded. So headed straight for the railway station and within half an hour we had our ticket, job done! We then organized with a guy outside the station to be taken around the next day in a tuk tuk to see the sites of Jaipur.

It was his brother who took us round, he was one of the friendliest and most upfront people we have met. He only tried a couple of times to ask us if we wanted to go to a “factory” (shop) and look around “not buy,” they get commission if we go but we knew we'd get seriously hassled, so just said no. We went into the pink city which was pretty unimpressive, it's in quite poor condition and has been over run with traffic, rubbish and cows! We also saw an observatory, which was an area filled with strange shaped structures for measuring the sun and viewing the stars, we think. Then the city palace from the outside and that was enough, a royal ghetto which is where the royals are buried, this was a little more interesting and then the water palace which was pretty self explanatory and again not exactly awe inspiring.

After that we went to the Amber Palace/Fort which was definitely the highlight of the day. We walked up the stone steps which snake up the hill side and entered into a wide courtyard area. After paying the entrance fee you get free run of the inside of the palace. There were some great architectural elements to it and some pretty mosaics incorporating mirrors, also there were great views looking out over the red hills.
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We headed back to the guest house after this and had a bit of rest then went out in the evening and enjoyed the best curry we've had so far! Early night tonight as our train to Agra leaves at 6:10am and it's a 30 minute walk to the station with our packs.

Posted by LauHot10 23:23 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

An Englishman in New Delhi

and me too!!

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We touched down at Indira Ghandi International Airport at roughly 5:30am on Thursday and it was fairly painless to get through passport control, the man was a bit surly but he stamped our passports which pleased us both. There were a few nervous moments when we had been standing at the baggage claim for about 20 minutes with suitcases galore but no sign of our packs, they appeared though and calm was restored.

We weren't completely sure if we were getting the hotel taxi pick-up due to a bit of email correspondence confusion but there my name was on a piece of white A4 when we exited. It was a fairly straight forward journey into New Delhi, it does however quickly become obvious that there is a new road system which you need to get to grips with, i.e. there isn't one. Still we made it there in one piece and saw some wildlife along the way – mangey dogs, peacocks, monkeys and of course the obligatory cow standing in the middle of the street.

The first hostel we stayed in was The Smyle Inn, we were very grateful to reach our beds at 7am but were a little perplexed when the guy, after showing us to our room, then asked for our passports. We handed them over, too tired to argue and kind of presuming there would be a good reason, he also said he would bring them back in 30 minutes. This however did not happen, so our sleep was somewhat fitful and interrupted by the people of Delhi rising to loudly sell their wears.

Later after a bit of sleep we went down to reacquire our passports, which were just in a little cupboard waiting to be returned to us, once we had divulged a certain amount of info about ourselves; age, home address, etc. Then we embarked on to the streets and it was a slight shock to the system. We were staying in the Paharganj district of New Delhi, just off the Main Bazaar which is full of shops, all interwoven and shoved together. We of course immediately stood out like sore thumbs, especially me I suppose, with the very fair skin. For this reason people just don't leave you alone and you soon realise it is very difficult to know who to trust. It is easy to get past the people wanting to sell you things from their stalls but it gets a bit more complicated when people are trying to sell you something you actually want. Which for us was a train ticket out of Delhi. I think we both quickly realised that this wasn't going to be a place we could enjoy, mainly because of all the hassle you get. It is interesting to see how people live differently to you but it is difficult to enjoy when you can't even stand still for 2 minutes to soak up the atmosphere, without someone asking you where you're from and the following you, telling you to go here or there.

If you do go to New Delhi then the place I would tell you to avoid is Connaught Place, or atleast be wary of it. There really isn't much there, we ended up taking a 10 rupee tuk tuk there because someone told us it was a good place, the centre of New Delhi, but when you arrive it may be bit neater but it's still full of people try to con you. There is a little green park which to us looked like a sanctuary, we just wanted to sit down and regain our thoughts. It's the first time I've ever seen a metal detector at a park, which beeped when I walked through, apparently you aren't allowed in with a camera. So then you just become part of the circus, people trying to take you to tourist offices to buy tickets at hyped up prices. All of them fakely plastered with the words 'Government of India Tourist Office.' In the end tired and hungry we gave up and went back to the hostel, that tuk tuk cost us 40 rupees though, “different time of day” apparently.

We had vegetable fried rice and singapore noodles for dinner, which seemed a bit silly but you'd be surprised how few curry restaurants (where you could actually sit down) there are. Then it was back to the hostel for not a great nights sleep, we were a bit jetlagged and it was fairly noisy. Sods law that when we had both fallen into a deep sleep it was time to get up, we had organised to stay in another hostel, The Cozy Inn, just round the corner. We'd looked at the rooms, which were brighter and cleaner, also the whole passport thing had put us off The Smyle Inn a bit. We'd arranged to be at the new hostel at 11am, so threw everything in our packs and trudged over.

The task for today was to get our ticket out of Delhi and initally we thought we'd head for Varanasi which is south east and on the way to Kathmandu. We made it to New Delhi Railway Station, taking the long route and incorporating a trip on the metro, which I'd like to say was planned. What happened next really set the tone for the day and had we not figured things out could have been pretty downheartening. I had read there was a tourist office at the railway station on the first floor where you could buy tickets, and also that people would tell you it had been destroyed, had moved etc etc. When we got to the station we headed up to the first floor and didn't see it, we tried to cross the bridge and were met by a man asking for our tickets by the ever popular metal detectors. Of course we didn't have tickets yet, he then asked us where we were going and we said we wanted the tourist office, he showed us some desolate area and said the station was being renovated for the Commonwealth Games and that the office was now in Connaught Place Block N. He even showed it to us marked on the map, then plonked us in a tuk tuk and agreed 10 rupees. Looking back it is easy to see we were being conned but at the time you just want to believe someone I guess, and it was on the map.

So we ended up back at Connaught Place talking to some guy who'd lived in England, Muswell Hill to be exact and wanted to sell us a trip including; Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi and Kathmandu for £135. Now in England that would probably be a good deal for the mileage involved but neither Adam or I felt happy about handing over that much money and it just felt dodgy. We ended up leaving, saying we needed a cashpoint and went in search of some other tourist office that was just down the road. It seemed a little more official, but still the guy there kept changing his story, he told us the person we'd seen before was corrupt though, so at least our suspicions were confirmed. He then told us we could buy our tickets from someone just round the corner, again we were not sure what to believe but we went to check it out. This guy told us that he could not sell us individual tickets, no one could but the people at the railways station, and he also said there definitely was a tourist office at the train station. He was more straightforward and didn't give us too much spiel. We decided to head back to the station and took a 40 Rupee tuk tuk there, this time we ended up at the main entrance and there we saw a sign saying Tourist Office down to the right. It's amazing that even with those signs people are still trying to tell you to go a different way. In the end though we found our way up to the first floor and managed to book our ticket to Jaipur (apparently there is a black out in Kathmandu so there is no point heading there yet – whether that is true we just don't know), for 560 rupees each which is roughly £8.

There was an immense sense of satisfaction when we left, knowing that we hadn't been conned and we'd got our tickets. We also then realised that the train station was only about 5 mins walk from our hotel and we could have had all of it sorted in approximately 30 mins. You live and learn though. We are now both full of our first curry and are pretty sleepy. Tomorrow (21st March) we leave for Jaipur at 11:45am from Old Delhi railway station and arrive at 5:40pm, we're travelling 2A (Second Class with Air Con).

That's enough babbling for now, I'm sure my entries will get shorter!

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 23:29 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

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