The Indian Journal: October 2000 – January 2001
India (called in Hindi Bharat) a country in southern Asia occupying the greater part of the Indian subcontinent; pop. (est. 1991) 859,200,000; official languages, Hindi, English; capital, New Delhi. Of the many other languages spoken in India, fourteen are recognized as official in certain regions; of these, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu have most first-language speakers. The history of the subcontinent began in the 3rd millennium BC, when the Indus valley was the site of a fully developed civilization. This collapsed c.1760 BC, when Aryan invaders spread from the west through the northern part of the country. Consolidated first within the Buddhist empire of Asoka and then the Hindu empire of the Gupta dynasty, much of India was united under a Muslim sultanate based on Delhi from the 12th century until incorporated in the Mogul empire by Babur and Akbar the Great in the 16th century. The decline of Mogul power in the late 17th and early 18th centuries coincided with increasing European penetration, with Britain eventually triumphing over her colonial rivals. British interest had begun in the 17th century with the formation of the East India Company, which in 1765 acquired the right to administer Bengal and afterwards other parts. In 1858, after the Indian Mutiny, the Crown took over the Company’s authority, and in 1876 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. Limited autonomy was granted under the provisions of the Government of India Act (1919); a system of diarchy was established whereby British governors headed provincial governments consisting of British-appointed councillors and Indian ministers selected by governors from locally elected officials. This system met with opposition, led by Mahatma Gandhi, and was replaced in 1935 by full provincial autonomy. However, rising nationalism eventually resulted in independence in 1947, at which time India was partitioned, Pakistan being created from mainly Muslim territories in the north-east (now Bangladesh) and the north-west. A member of the Commonwealth, India is the second most populous country in the world.
I decided to travel to India roughly a month ago. I had planned previously to travel to India, but my lung collapsed some weeks before the departure date, making it impossible for me to fly. Over a year later here I am about to try again. This time I have a good friend who is travelling to India with me. What follows is a brief and abrupt account of what happened.
I departed from Cooktown, which is the closest airport to where I live:
October n. LOE. [L october, also Octobris (sc. mensis month), f. octo eight: orig. the eighth month of the Roman year. The meaning of -ber is unkn. (cf. September etc.).] 1 The tenth month of the year in the Gregorian calendar. LOE. 2 Chiefly Hist. A kind of strong ale traditionally brewed in October. E18.
Tuesday 10 October – Kuala Lumpur
- Cooktown early. Flight ten to eight, arrived Cairns a quarter to nine. Taxi to Esplanade. Some shopping, traveller’s cheques. Flight left at ten to two. Airbus A330, 2/3/2 seats. Arrived KL xxx, bus to Empress Sepang Hotel. Slept well, hotel good.
Wednesday 11 October – Delhi
- Breakfast at hotel. Changed $20 Australian dollars to Malaysian Ringit, and caught a bus and train into Kuala Lumpur. Very clean and efficient train. Went to the world’s tallest building, but could not go to the top as the tour was booked out. Lunch at the hotel. Flew on the same type of Airplane to Delhi, arriving around eleven PM. Ric changed $US50, of which I got half. We got on a bus from the airport to Pahar Ganj (the main cheap tourist area of Delhi). Halfway there the bus driver tells us to get off into a rickshaw, as this is as close as the bus goes to Pahar Ganj. We comply, and a few minutes later a policeman stops the rickshaw and tells us that it is not safe to go to the Pahar Ganj area, as there have been Muslim riots. Fortunately Ric sees that we are close to the Pahar Ganj and we walk the rest of the way. There are no riots; it is all a scam to get tourists to go to certain expensive hotels. We stay the night at Hotel Ashoka Ocean, paying 150 rupees for a double. It is not too bad but quite hot.
Thursday 12 October – Delhi
- I do some shopping in the main bazaar at Pahar Ganj. I go to an email place and email back home. I changed $US50 (at 45.6 rupees to the dollar) and payed back Ric his half. It is very slow but only costs 10 rupees per hour. I also went to a big market near to where we were staying, called Palika Plaza in Connaught Place. We booked a bus to RISHIKESH, which we boarded at 9:30Pm. We were made to sit up the front with the driver. We tried getting angry and demanding a seat, however it did no good. It ended up being not too bad as the driver was quite insane, often driving straight into oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road, and I got a good view of all the excitement and near accidents.
Friday 13 October – Rishikesh
- We arrived in Rishikesh early in the morning. It was quite cold. A foolish Indian off the bus tries to charge us Rs10 (10 rupees) for letting our luggage out. We refused to pay and eventually got it-free. We stayed at the Hotel Rajdeep at Rs150 for a double. A nice and clean, but somewhat basic hotel. Ric washed his undies down the toilet by accident, and then I washed one of my socks down as well.
Saturday 14 October – Rishikesh
- We walk to Rishikesh proper where Ric changes some money (which takes hours at the bank of India). I send an email that costs Rs50 per hour, but is a lot faster than Delhi. We stay at Rajdeep again, and meet two women who were on the plane with us. We book a bus ticket north.
Sunday 15 October – Gangotri
- We get up at 4:30 AM and make our way to the YATRA BUS STAND where we get a bus to GANGOTRI. There is no legroom in my seat so I have to go and sit up the back of the bus with a Dutchman and a Canadian man (there for the same reason). It is a 13-hour trip, with a 1-hour stop for lunch. The road is very steep and we risk falling off the edge all the time. We arrive in Gangotri at 6:30 Pm and get a double room for Rs100. There is no electricity but it is nice and clean. It is very cold in Gangotri. We have a nice curry and rice for dinner. It is slightly difficult to sleep due to the high altitude.
Monday 16 October – Gangotri
- An uneventful day. I had jam and chapattis for breakfast, and some chocolate. The snow capped Himalayas can be seen in the distance. I get dry lips from the cold and have a fitful sleep.
Tuesday 17 October – Gaumukh
- We left Gangotri around 9 AM on a 6-hour (19KM) trek to GAUMUKH, the source of the Ganges. It is nearly 4 KM high. We were both very out of breath due to the altitude, and it was also very cold. We slept in a Baba’s tent only a few hundred metres from where the glacier turns into water. It was extremely cold, and we were very tired from the altitude but could not sleep well because of it. The forest station on the way up charged us Rs50 each, which we found out later they had no right to do.
Wednesday 18 October – Gaumukh
- We “donated” Rs200 each to the Baba and walked back, which only took 4 hours as it is down hill. All the water that had been running yesterday had frozen. I had a sort of cold-water wash, too cold for a proper one. We had an argument with our hosts as they said that we had not paid for last night when we had. A priest also tried to rip-off Ric and charge him Rs100 for putting a red string on his hand.
Thursday 19 October – Rishikesh
- We boarded the bus back to Rishikesh at 7Am at a cost of Rs155 each. We arrived in Rishikesh at 8PM after a “nightmare” trip looking down 300 foot cliffs only 1 foot from the wheels. We caught an auto-rickshaw to the bridge, then had some cornflakes at Ram Café. We got a Rs50 (for both of us) hotel room with very thin mattresses, however it was the cheapest I ever saw. A bit sore from the bus trip.
Friday 20 October – Pahar Ganj
- Cornflakes for breakfast, then to the bus stand and catch a bus at 9:15 for Delhi. It took 6 ½ hours. We then caught another bus to CONNAUGHT PLACE and went to the bank to get some money. I went and sent an email.
Saturday 21 October – Pahar Ganj
- I went to CONNAUGHT PLACE MARKET where I bought a short-wave radio and a torch, and then I went back to the bank to get some more money out.
Sunday 22 October – Pahar Ganj
- I met an Australian man in the café whilst having breakfast and he came back to our room and talked for a while. I emailed and managed to find a torch bulb for my torch, very rare in India. We walked up to a really big Hindu temple and had a look around.
Monday 23 October – Train
- Went to New Delhi train station, booked ticket to Varanasi. Left on train to Varanasi at 1:15 PM. It took 13 ¾ hours. We got a bit squashed, 4 and 5 (6 and 7 at one stage) people in my side (supposed to be 3). However it was okay when we followed the sleepers out.
Tuesday 24 October – Varanasi
- We arrived Varanasi at a bit past 3 AM. Auto rickshaw to Hanumans Ghat, slept on ghat steps. Got room at place in morning, 100 rupees for double. I e-mailed for 30 Rs per hour. The connection was not too bad. Ric paid for the room.
They were some fireworks at night, which sounded like a revolution.
Wednesday 25 October – Varanasi
- I went shopping for blankets, but couldn’t find any good ones. There were some more fireworks at night.
Thursday 26 October – Varanasi
- I awoke sick. I tried to eat some cornflakes, but I could not. I lay in bed all-day only getting up at night, when I felt slightly better. There were fireworks all-night until 1:30 AM.
Friday 27 October – Varanasi
- In the morning I walked to the burning ghats. I was ripped off 60 Rs. I walked to a Moslem mosque; it was very hot on the way back. There were some more fireworks at night. I think maybe I’m getting a cold.
Saturday 28 October – Varanasi
- I walked to the train station and bought a book “Trains at a Glance”. On the way back from the train station I was conned into going into a silk seller’s shop. I decided to go to place. It is a bit complicated involving two trains and two buses. I will try to leave 11:30 PM Monday. I sent e-mail and the connection was very slow, it actually took one-hour 15 minutes. I have slightly blocked sinuses.
Sunday 29 October – Varanasi
- I did nothing much. I bought some Pringles, which are very expensive in India. My cold does not seem to be eventuating; I only have lots of phlegm on my chest.
Monday 30 October – Train
- I went to the train station to book a train at 8:30 AM. It cost 10 rupees to get there and 15 to get back. It was 140 rupees for the train. I booked out of my hotel room, 300 rupees in full paid. I caught an 11:30 PM train that was 90 minutes late, departing at 1 AM. I arrived in Satna at 7 AM. I am now travelling alone without Ric, who is still in Varanasi.
Tuesday 31 October – Satna-Khajuraho
- I arrived at 7 AM. I booked a 50 Rs bus. The bus was near new; plastic wrapping was still on the seats. I left at 9:15 AM taking 4 hours. I paid 50 Rs for a room with three beds. I paid 10 $ US for a ticket to see temples, very expensive for India. I stayed at the Hotel New Bharat lodge. To Brussels of the train had had enough and were flying home. I had an okay dinner of spaghetti plus vegetables. I worked out my finances (I have spent $412 approximately so far). Probably on track I hope. The room has attached shower and toilet (Australian style toilet but no flush of seat, and the shower has no rose).
November n. OE. [((O)Fr. novembre f.) L November, also Novembris (sc. mensis month), f. novem nine: orig. the ninth month of the Roman year. The meaning of -ber is unkn. (cf. September etc.).] The eleventh month of the year in the Gregorian calendar. Also fig., w. allusion to the cold, damp, or foggy days considered characteristic of the month in Britain and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.
Wednesday 1 November – Khajuraho
- Some local Indian boys drove me around on a motorcycle, showing me all the temples. I checked out of my hotel at 12 noon. I caught a 90 Rs bus at 4 PM, and also paid five Rs luggage charge. I arrived at Jhansi train station at 9 PM. There were no English signs, only Hindi. I booked a normal ticket to Agra, which cost 71 Rs. I slept on the station until 2 AM so as to not get to Agra too early. I hopped in a sleeper on the train anyway, and had no problems.
I arrived at Agra 6 AM then caught a 20 Rs rickshaw to the Tag Ganj.
Thursday 2 November – Agra
- I had 20 Rs cornflakes for breakfast. I then got a 50 Rs hotel “Shajahan”. However there was no water as they use electric water pumps and when there is no power, or early in the morning the water has not been pumped up to the roof. I went to bed early.
Friday 3 November – Fatehpur Sikri
- I went to the Taj Mahal, which was free as the Moslems were rioting demanding that it be free. I then got a bus to place, leaving at 10:20 AM. It was a three and a quarter hour trip. I looked at the free temples, as it was $10 US for the others. I left at 12:40 PM in a private car. I moved hotels to Gulshan Lodge for only 25 Rs per night. It is a double room with a speed-controlled fan, not too bad. I went to Agra Fort but as it was $10 it was too expensive. I stayed up until midnight talking to a few people on the roof. I got the e-mail of the Hong Kong man «edit» who gave me the free ride back from Fatehpur Sikri.
Saturday 4 November – Vrindavan (Brindavan)
- I had a good breakfast for 15 Rs at the hotel. I then caught an auto rickshaw for 20 rupees to Idgah bus stand. From there I caught a 9:40 AM bus to Mathura. It was a one-hour 20 minute trip not too crowded arriving 11 AM. I then caught a five Rs tempo to Vrindavan. The local boy helped me locate Tulsi Nivas hotel, but I could not find the manager. My feet became sore from wearing thongs, so I had to wear my shoes. I walked to the ISKON centre and got a room just passed there for 50 Rs, very basic, not even a mattress. I looked at the temples and chowmein for tea. I had some kind of lung pain (hopefully just indigestion) so I went straight to my room at 6:30 PM. I slept well even though I do not have a mattress, not waking until 9 AM.
Sunday 5 November – Pahar Ganj (Delhi)
- My lung appears to be okay. I went bead buying. I saw at least 15 air-conditioned tourist buses in one group. I left the hotel at 12:30 and got a five Rs tempo to Mathura. I waited 2 PM at the train station catching a 4:45 PM train for 50 Rs. It was a two-hour 20-minute journey arriving at 7 PM. I got a small place for 50 Rs called Vidyapeeth or “Hakak Stones” or something. It feels like home being back in Delhi. I had macaroni cheese for dinner at place cafe. I sent and checked e-mail, printing out mums address list. I got a go to bed. I e-mailed at the 10 Rs place, which was not too slow.
Monday 6 November – Pahar Ganj
- Beans on toast and cornflakes for breakfast. I walked up to Connaught Place and stayed there for hours. I bought 150 Rs earphones. I went to Keventers Place milk bar and had a milk shake and had a vegetable burger. I went to Citibank and withdrew 10,000 rupees. I still have 68,624.38 Rs left. I bought 10 postcards for 20 rupees. I looked at pressure stoves. I booked a ticket for Jodhpur tomorrow. I spent 30 minutes in the silk shop plus 20 minutes with the Kashmiri. Oh well it is a cheap room. I did 2 hours of e-mailing at the cheap place and wrote postcards and mums letter. I also bought a 25 Rs Bible.
Tuesday 7 November – Pahar Ganj-Jodhpur
- The Kashmiri man came and tried to get me to pay 150 Rs for my room. I refused and only paid 100 rupees. I left the hotel at 9:30 AM. I e-mailed and then went to the Post Office where I posted one letter and nine postcards. I then walked through old Delhi to the Delhi train station. I arrived one hour early and the train left on time. It was a 12 hour 35 minute trip arriving at 5:50 AM in Jodhpur. The train cost 225 rupees. It was okay, after 3 PM – it wasn’t too busy although I had a perverted bunkmate.
Wednesday 8 November – Jaisalmer
- I got on a bus from Jodhpur at 6:30 AM. It was a four-hour 50 minute journey. I got a hotel room for 35 rupees at Jaisalmer. The bus cost me 92 rupees. I had an amazing (by Indian standards) lunch. I found an ice cream shop, and had a soft serve in a waffle cone, and a chocolate cake from a German bakery. I got blocked sinuses and it hurt to raise or lower my head. I had an okay dinner.
Thursday 9 November – Jaisalmer
- I still have blocked sinuses. I had cornflakes and milk (twice) for breakfast. I lay in bed reading my Bible/dozing until 3:30 PM. I then got up, listened to the news, packed and prepared to leave the hotel. I felt sick and went to the toilet, feeling immediately better afterwards. I also bought some more toilet paper. I paid for the room and the hotel man gave me a lift on his motorcycle to the bus stand. The bus cost 142 rupees, left at 5 PM, and took 10 hours and 20 minutes to get to Ajmer. The journey was uncomfortable due to the bumps hurting my head because of my blocked sinuses.
Friday 10 November – Ajmer-Pushkar
- I arrived at Ajmer at 3:30 AM. I caught an eight rupee bus (one half-hour) to Pushkar. Due to the many people (because of the camel fair) accommodation was very scarce and very expensive so I caught another five rupee bus back to Ajmer. After much looking I found a 60 rupee room which was very small but okay. My sinuses are still blocked, maybe a little better. I met another pervert in a Jeep. I went to Pushkar and walked around, looked at the camel’s etc. I came back at 6:30 PM.
Saturday 11 November – Ajmer-Pushkar
- I bought milk powder and Chocos for breakfast. I then went to place again, where it was extremely busy. I was nearly trampled. I e-mailed but the e247 server was down. On a city bus on the way home I was pick-pocketed. I think I would have had < 250 Rs in my wallet, plus my pen. I met an American/Indian. On the positive side I had the best lunch I have yet had in India. It was an “eat all you can” buffet.
Sunday 12 November – Bharatpur
- I left Ajmer at 7:30 AM and caught a 7 hour and 30 minute bus to Bharatpur. I went to the train station but they did not have any computer booking facilities available. The bus cost me 130 rupees. I got a room at “Babble Guest House” for 50 rupees. I bought a bag of milk, full cream, extremely good milk, better than Australian milk. I finished off my Chocos, very nice, tasted like it was with cream. I will go to bed early at 7:30 PM.
Monday 13 November – Bharatpur (Keoladeo Bird Park)
- I went to Keoladeo Bird Park at 6:30 AM. It was very cold. There are notices all around warning of a Tiger, which has taken up residence in the park. Little signs showing how to tell a tiger dropping and what their paw prints look like and what to do when it tries to eat me.
I left the hotel at 11 AM after staying at the bird park for 4 hours. I waited on the side of a road, with one Indian telling me that the bus wouldn’t stop and I had to take his rickshaw to the bus stop, and another Indian telling me it would stop and not to listen to the other. Typically Indian. The bus did stop, both Indians grinned at me and one hour and 20 minutes later I was in AGRA. I just wanted to get back to Varanasi as fast as I could. I tried to get a train to Varanasi, but they were all booked out. Not surprisingly as I was trying to get one with only an hour or two notice. This is also a popular route. I took a train to GWALIOR, planning to catch a connecting train from GWALIOR to VARANASI. It’s a very long-cut way to get to Varanasi – but that’s one of the joys of travelling in India. I didn’t feel like sitting in AGRA all day, so I just took the train. I left at 3 PM, taking one and half hours to get to GWALIOR. I sat with a group of National Service Cadets, who were all very interested to learn about my travels and meet an Australian. The GWALIOR-VARANASI train left at 5:28 PM, only 3 minutes late.
Tuesday 14 November – Varanasi
- The train trip from GWALIOR was a pleasant seventeen hours, much of which I slept. I really enjoy sleeping in trains. Something about the clickety-click and rocking motion is very soothing, especially in a hectic India. I arrived in VARANASI at 10:30 AM and caught a rickshaw from the train station to the main ghat. I made my way straight to the Shiva International and found Ric still staying there. It was nice to see him again. I went down the little alleyway, which serves as a main thoroughfare and checked my emails and sent a few (on a very slow 30 rupee per hour connection). I managed to get a little room below the one Ric was staying in for a low 40 rupees per night. It is hard to describe, it is a small room behind a temple, jutting out over the Ganges River.
- Ric is feeling a bit sick; he thinks he might have flu. I bought some cornflakes, 24 rupees for 200 grams, and 7 rupees for 500 mL of fine Indian milk.
Wednesday 15 November – Varanasi
- I had cornflakes for breakfast, followed by a nice quiet relaxing day. I didn’t do a thing all day, making a pleasant change from my hectic travelling of the past few weeks. Ric patted a horse’s rump and got kicked. He was fortunate to not get injured. He still has a slight flu.
Thursday 16 November – Varanasi
- Ric and I took a rickshaw to the train station to book tickets out of Varanasi. I was planning to go to CALCUTTA and Ric was planning on going to BOMBAY (MUMBAI) and then on to MADGAON in GOA. The ticket booking computer was inoperable, some kind of network problem, so it took two hours for us to book our tickets. We just sat in line with the rest of the tourists in the tourist booking office, and waited. And waited. It’s quite a common thing to do in India, waiting.
It cost 255 rupees to CALCUTTA and over 600 to GOA.
- After returning to the ghat area, I wrote an email to Sarah and Silas, and got one from Shan saying his Gramps was unwell. I also bought some butter, then to top it all off, I was bitten by a dog. It was a nice white fluffy dog, on a leash and all, which is in itself a very rare sight in India where most dogs are beyond mange. Fortunately (in a country where rabies is common), it only bit my shorts.
Here is a little bit about Indian Rail.
Many Indian trains have a “tourist quota” set aside for foreign tourists. The train station will sell you a book “Trains at a Glance” which lists all major trains and their departure times etc. throughout the whole of India. The June 2000 – June 2001 book cost 25 rupees, is 192 pages long, and comes with a free foldout map. If you really must know every single train, the 300 pages long Indian Bradshaw, which is published monthly, lists each and every single passenger train that runs on Indian Rail. Larger stations have separate ticket booking windows to deal with tourists and other minorities (such as “freedom fighters”). Ladies may barge to the front of the queue (and will do so). If paying in rupees, an encashment certificate must be shown (which is obtained when changing foreign currency into local currency) and a passport must always be shown to obtain a tourist quota booking.
There are three main types of passenger train in India. Mail, Express and Passenger. Express and mail trains average 50 km/h while passenger trains only manage to average 30 km/h. On most major rail routes, super fast Shatabdi Express and Rajdhani Express trains run. These average around 130 km/h, which is convincingly faster than trains in Australia. Very convincingly on sections where the track is slightly warped and the train gets up a nice wobble – at 160 km/h or so. I would tend to sit in the door of the carriage, watching the country going by, and hanging on very tightly.
There are basically two classes or rail travel, first class and second class. But within them, there is first class and then there is first class air-con. Then there is a slightly cheaper air-con two-tiered sleeper, followed by air-con three-tiered sleeper and air-con chair car. Second class comes in reserved sleeper, and unreserved. Unreserved is NOT recommended. Seats are wooden slats designed to hold four people. They will be holding eighteen. And that’s before you get on the train and try to find a place for you to sit. Second class sleeper, which is how I travelled most of the time, has two cushioned benches facing each other, each of which will have four people reserved to sit on them. The backrest folds up at night to make a bunk, there is another bunk near the roof, and the seat itself becomes a bunk. Thus six people can sleep in a berth, and eight can sit, and will hold reserved tickets for the seats, but this won’t stop their being anything from two to six more people squashed in. It is a constant battle to ensure one’s seat remains sittable.
For anyone that thinks India would have a substandard rail system, here are a few statistics:
Indian Railways are the largest rail network in Asia and the world’s second largest under one management. Criss-crossing the country’s vast geographical spread, Indian Railways are a multi-gauge, multi-traction system covering over one hundred thousand track kilometres, 300 yards, 2300 goods sheds and 700 repair shops. Its rolling stock fleet includes 8,300 locomotives, 39,000 coaching vehicles and 350,000 freight wagons. It runs some 11,000 trains everyday, including over 7,000 passenger trains. That’s more than 7,000 passenger trains, which carry a bit over 10.5 million passengers between 7,100 stations. Every day. It is also the world’s largest employer, with over 1.65 million employees! They carried 4.2 billion passengers in 1999 and predict a 60% increase for the year 2000. That would bring yearly passenger carriage up to about 6.7 billion passengers, or 18 million passengers every day.
When I was there, track quality was considered better than the equivalent British Rail.
The standard menu on Indian Rail trains, when I was using them was:
Indian Railways Catering Services:
Tea with tea bag (150 ml) Rs. 3/–
Coffee Rs. 4/–
Mineral Water (1 Litre) Rs. 10/–
Standard breakfast (Veg.) Rs. 15/–
Standard breakfast (Non-veg.) Rs. 18/–
Casserole Meal (Veg.) Rs. 25/–
Casserole Meal (Non-veg.) Rs. 30/–
Janata Khana Rs 6/–
Economy Meal (in refreshment room, i.e. at a station, not onboard) Rs 12/–
Veg. Thali Meal (in refreshment room) Rs. 25/–
Friday 17 November – Varanasi
- I had a relaxing day and just lazed about. Everything a tourist needs is situated along the one street just outside the door. This street is more like what we would call an alleyway, only about two metres wide and cobbled. It is lined with small restaurants and shops selling everything from cigarettes to fire works, and many other shops, some very tiny. There are a few radio repair shops, a few silk selling shops (VARANASI is famous for its silk) and a couple of cobblers. Some of the shops are nothing more than the space required for a man to sit. They pack them in as many as can possibly fit, and then put a few more in the spaces left over. Add to this all the buffalos that walk down the alleyway, which is less than two metres wide in many places, remembering that the buffalos haven’t been house-trained and you get what most westerners would agree is a real experience.
- There was a wedding party right next door to my room, just outside my window in fact. All the women made loud noises and much music until 2:30 AM. I did manage to get a bit of sleep though. Indians seem to really like bright lights; they use millions for something like a wedding. I have been getting up at 6:30 AM to buy milk; it’s only available between 5 and 7 AM and then again in the evenings. It is 7 rupees for full cream, and 5 for the others. All are 500 mL sealed square plastic bags, vitamin C enriched and stronger and creamier than Australian milk.
Saturday 18 November – Varanasi
- I had another nice restful day. Ric’s flu seems to be better. I did some washing in preparation for leaving on Monday, and the exciting event of the day, I bought another toilet roll for 36 rupees. Indians don’t use toilet paper. The vast majority don’t have flushing toilets either. A water basin with a dipper in it is provided, and a bucket to dip into, and also to flush with.
Toilets are at ground level; one squats upon them.
- The days feeding frenzy started with cornflakes for breakfast and an ice-cream and chocolate bar for morning tea, followed by chocolate pudding, cheese pizza and banana and chocolate pancakes for lunch. Some more cornflakes were eaten for afternoon tea, they are so scrumptious with the wonderful milk the Indians have. It really makes our Australian milk seem like dishwater.
- I went to bed nice and early at 8:30 PM, but next door woke me up with drumming and loud music at 4:30 AM. They are still celebrating their wedding. Ric said they had made noise all night up to 1:30, so I must have slept through it all.
Sunday 19 November – Varanasi
- After the rude awakening at 4:30, it was a quiet morning. I had a nice lunch, another cheese pizza and vegetable chowmein. I paid for the room, 190 rupees for 6 nights, which when worked out with the 50 rupees I already paid comes to 240, which is 40 rupees per night. It always pays to work out exactly what you are being charged in India. Honesty is simply unheard of throughout the entire country. I don’t think they see it as dishonest; it’s a similar theory to tax evasion. It’s not bad... it’s just how one makes a living.
- Sleep came at ten past eleven, with my alarm set for 6 AM, so I can get up and buy some milk before it is all gone. Apparently elections are going to be held tomorrow, and the shops might be closed. Dinner was chowmein, which costs 20 rupees; the lunchtime pizza was 25.
Monday 20 November – Varanasi
- I checked my emails nice and early, then Ric and I left the “Shiva International Guesthouse” (I recommend it if you’re ever in Varanasi, cheap, clean, and a nice family) at 10 AM. Being Election Day, nearly everything was closed. All the roads were shut, no traffic was allowed; so Ric and I were forced to walk to the station. It took us an hour, arriving 11 AM. Ric’s train for BOMBAY (MUMBAI) left on time at 11:30. I left my luggage at the station cloakroom for 7 rupees and went for a bit of a walk around, having not seen this part of VARANASI. My train left at 5:36 PM, only 46 minutes late. It cost 225 rupees and will no doubt lead to more adventures.
Tuesday 21 November – Train
- I particularly chose this train because it would arrive in CALCUTTA at 7:30 AM. It is supposed to be hard to find a good room in Calcutta so I wanted a whole day to look around. After a nice sleep onboard the train, which I really enjoy, we stopped at MASAGRAM around 8 AM. It is a very small place, not much more than a group of shanty shops and a concrete platform. We didn’t get moving again until a quarter to one. A Welshman, and American and I nearly set out on foot to find a road and hitch, as we figured we couldn’t be too far from Calcutta, having been supposed to arrive at 7:30 AM. Apparently there had been another engine further on which had broken down on the line, and because of this delay, when we did get going again already scheduled trains kept stopping us. That’s a serious limitation with rail; it’s really hard to pass another train on the same line. This made the train trip into a 22-hour saga.
- We arrived in Calcutta at 3:30 PM, some eight hours late. The station isn’t far from the river, and a quick ferry trip brought me to the other side of the river, and a short ten-minute walk from there took me into the tourist area of SUDDER ST. There are no cycle rickshaws in Calcutta; instead there are human drawn rickshaws and automobile taxis. This means it’s very expensive (in Indian terms) to travel about the city, except by bus or tube. The people who draw the rickshaws have an average life expectancy of something like 25 to 30.
- After a good two hours of walking and asking, I finally found a room within my price range. It was a very small 100-rupee room at the grandly named Central Guest Inn, just off Hotel Plaza. It seemed a nice clean, but very small room and I was happy to have found it. I collapsed into bed shortly after, at 8:45 PM.
Wednesday 22 November – Calcutta
- I woke up and went to look for breakfast. It is colder here, there are people sitting on the corners of the streets with chopped up 44-gallon drums with last night’s rubbish burning in them, to keep warm. This is in the very centre of one of the world’s largest cities with a population of over twelve million, it is so smoky that my eyes sting. There is a very high incidence of chest and throat disease in Calcutta. It’s not hard to work out why.
- I found a place that sold corn flakes. They are really rare in India; it can take quite a long time to find some. Milk is cheap here; there are even two brands. I got a litre for 11 rupees. After breakfast, I went looking to see if I could find a cheaper room, and to have a bit of a look around. I did eventually find a 75-rupee room but didn’t know if I would wake up alive if I stayed there. I paid my 100 rupees for tonight (check-out is usually 10 AM although some places offer check-outs 24 hours after check-in) and went and had a look at HOGG MARKET, and a few other markets around about the area. Hogg Market is a large underground market, selling everything imaginable – and quiet a few unimaginable things.
- After lunch, I found a large and old British graveyard and had a look around it. There are some pretty big and grand graves, small marble and granite buildings really. I also bought a large 250-gram bag of cashews for 60 rupees. Not long after going to sleep, a mouse running over me woke me, and it had also eaten my cornflakes. I wasn’t too impressed, but in Calcutta there isn’t enough cheap accommodation to be overly picky.
Thursday 23 November – Calcutta
- After waking, I paid my 100 rupees for tonight, and signed the book. All foreign tourists in India must sign a book stating where they came from, where they plan to go next, and including passport numbers and such like. I skipped my cornflake breakfast on account of the mouse eaten hole in the bag and went to the Indian Museum instead. After paying the 150-rupee entry fee, I spent the next two and a half hours engrossed in a very interesting display of nearly everything imaginable.
- Built in 1874, the Indian Museum is a grand and imposing colonial building with a very impressive facade and India’s finest collection of treasures. It was evident that some sections were urgently in need of funding, and restoration work was underway on one section of the building. It then being lunchtime, I left in search of a fabled Hare Krishna bakery that had been recommended to me. After an awful lot of looking, I decided that it was not to be found, so went to St. Paul’s Cathedral instead. Built between 1839 and 1847, it is one of the first important churches in India, and also quite impressive. I also came across a rarity in India, an air-conditioned supermarket, aptly named the AC Markets. What would be totally normal in most other countries, is touted as a speciality here.
- I then made my way to the famous Victoria Memorial, probably the most impressive reminder of India’s British past. A huge white-marble museum, stepping inside instantly transports one from bustling Calcutta to the centre of London. Amid huge pillars, and in near silence, one can meet the busts and paintings of nearly everyone who is famous in British-Indian history. It is truly an amazing experience, the extreme difference between outside the grounds, and inside.
- A quick walk past the Calcutta Cricket Ground (Ranji Stadium) brought me to the Eden Gardens. It is here that the tame ’sacred’ rats live, and like most rats, they enjoy being fed. The gardens are nice and peaceful, in the centre of the MAIDAN. Originally a large area cleared around a fort, to allow clear shooting of cannons for defence, the Maidan is now a large grassed area, with a few gardens and sports fields, following alongside Calcutta’s Hooghly River and a nice place to walk.
- At the southern end of the Maidan is the Birla Planetarium, apparently one of the largest in the world. This sounded pretty impressive to me so I went and had a look. 20 rupees got me a 40-minute show, during which the sun set, the stars rose and rotated, and the sun rose again. I’ve never been to a planetarium before, so had no idea what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.
- There isn’t much in the way of nightlife in Calcutta. Or to rephrase that, what nightlife there is in Calcutta, I wasn’t game to find out, so I went and watched “Perfect Storm” at a local cinema with the Welshman I’d met on the train (name withheld by memory department for reasons unstated). This is the first movie I’ve seen outside Australia, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The cinema was very large compared to Aussie ones. Huge in fact, with a balcony upstairs part which cost more, and a large back downstairs area which also cost more, and the cheapskates place down the front, which is where I sat of course. The seats up the back where very plush, but mine were fairly standard. The movie and sound seemed much the same as back in Australia, although the screen was necessarily larger.
- On the downside, I got a very sore throat and blocked nose, all the symptoms of a bad flu coming on, around lunchtime. I think all this pollution isn’t doing me any good.
Friday 24 November – Calcutta
- I payed my 100 rupees for the room for tonight then went and booked a train ticket to PURI, leaving Saturday night at 9:45 PM, which cost 194 rupees. I then made my way down to the zoo on the metro. This underground metro is India’s only underground city rail system, and in stark contrast to all the other city rail systems, it is spotlessly clean and efficient. It cost a princely three rupees to get to the nearest metro station to the zoo, then a hot several minutes walk until I got there. Another two rupees saw me into the zoo compound, which is quite large. It is a little bit daggy, looking as though a budget increase wouldn’t hurt anything, but contains a large collection of animals (most of which seemed alive) housed in semi-natural surroundings. Altogether, a large and interesting zoo, I spent a tiring few hours walking around it.
A few Indians stopped me and asked to have their photos taken with me.
- I still feel quite affected by the flu, or pollution, and quite worn out from walking so much. My throat is very sore; the pollution really is terrible here. In the evening I tried to email, but e247 (the email server) was not working. Internet is very slow, and reasonably expensive too. As night came on, and with nothing to do after darkness had fallen, I went and watched the movie “SHAFT”; which didn’t impress me very much. The theatre, on the other hand, did impress me. By Australian standards, it was very large, with an upper balcony and two different lower sections, all of which had different pricing structures. The music was very loud. Straight after the movie finished I went to bed, at 11 PM.
Saturday 25 November – Calcutta – Train
- I woke up and set off on my traditional pre-breakfast search for milk and cornflakes. I sent and read my emails for 25 rupees. I heard that Sarah wants to go to Perth to do school? I caught a ferry to HOWRAH, then a three-rupee bus to the BOTANICAL GARDENS at about lunchtime, having checked out of my hotel at 10:40 and sending an addendum email to Mum about Sarah. I stayed at the botanical gardens for nearly four hours, wandering around. They are very big (apparently 109 hectares), with some areas really nicely set out, and other areas nearly forest. This is where Darjeeling tea was developed. I saw what is claimed to be the biggest banyan tree in the world and about 200 years old. It has a circumference of about 400 metres. That is BIG, although it looks more like a small grove of trees, than a single tree.
- I caught a bus and ferry back to SUDDER STREET, where I met the two men I’d met on the train on the way into Calcutta, and we went and had dinner. 7:15 PM saw me on the ferry across the river and back to Howrah, where the train station is. I had a few more of my traditional cornflakes with milk while waiting for the train, which left on time at 9:45 PM, and I chuffed out of Calcutta.
- Just as the train was leaving, there was a fuss in the next compartment, and some police came. Apparently a man had left his bag on his seat, walked out of the carriage and stood at the door waiting for the train to leave. While he was standing there, another man walked out with his bag. Hardly surprisingly, he was a bit miffed, and called some police that were standing nearby.
Sunday 26 November – Puri
- I slept well on the train, arriving in PURI eleven hours later. It was nice to be out of the smog, horror and expense that is Calcutta, and back into true India again.
- After a quick walk from the train station down to the beach where the guesthouses are, I found a 40-rupee room at the “Nilambu”, near “Z Hotel”, which seems ok with an attached bath and shower. I then went for a walk along the beach, enjoying the relative peace and tranquillity in stark contrast to the past few days in Calcutta, and bought some mosquito coils, 15 rupees for 12.
- Puri beach is both lovely and vile. At one end, there is a fishing village, and at the other end, there is a tourist village. The beach at the fishing village end is covered in dead fish, dugongs, and faeces, and there are many scary dogs in the village itself, who look as though they might bite. Why have toilets when you have a beach that automatically flushes once every high tide? The tourist end has nice sand, sunburnt and overweight tourists swimming and sunbathing, and tourist shops.
- I did some washing, had a reasonable lunch, lazed about, had a reasonable dinner and lit some mosquito coils to scare the mossies away. Normally I’m not so worried about mosquitos, but in India who knows what they might do if you are bitten. I have lots of phlegm on my chest, which is giving me a bad cough as I try to remove it. I don’t think I’m coming down with the flu or anything like that, I think it’s just what happens after staying in such a horribly polluted place as Calcutta.
- Comment by Ned – Thursday 5 June 2003, 6:06 PM
- The way it’s going now, it looks like I might never get the time to finish this.
- Comment by Ned – Monday 15 December 2003, 2:35 AM
Monday 27 November – Puri
- I lit another mosquito coil in my efforts to prevent even one mosquito from biting and infecting me with some terrible disease, and got up to go find some milk while it’s still available and had some cornflakes and went back to bed.
- Having spent the past few hours working out possible timetables so I know how long to stay so that I can arrive in Goa at the right time, I decided to go for a walk and look at some temples.
- I watched a beautiful sunset over the sea, and thought about nostalgic things like home, love, life, God and all that is. This is the same ocean that laps on the shores of Perth, where we can see the lovely sunsets while looking towards India, but here I am in India looking toward Perth seeing the sunset, I’m not sure how. I ate dinner at the “Peace Restaurant”, a nice restaurant built on a sand dune overlooking the ocean.
- From the menu
- From the menu at the “Peace Restaurant”: “All good things are worth waiting for”, “Most people gain weight by having intimate dinners for 2 alone”, “The world is something that went from being flat, to round, to crooked”, “All this beer drinking will be the urination of me”, “The lunch pack of Notre Dam East here, he’s a sandwich man”.
Tuesday 28 November – Puri – Konark
- I got up early and caught a bus to nearby KONARK. Unfortunately, it cost $US10 for foreigners to get into the temple, which is simply ridiculous, so I looked from without. Apparently, it rained back in Puri while I was away, and everyone is telling me stories about floods and devastation down south.
- I returned to Puri, had lunch, and worked out some train times.
- It began to rain, amidst all the news of big floods, closed railway lines, drownings, and storms. People are telling me I could be caught here for a while before the rail lines open again, which didn’t bother me too much, so I lit my mosquito coil, dozed, and slept for a while, as it rained for a few hours. After the rain, I went for a walk down the beach, where it was nice and clean and peaceful – lonely even. There is something about the ocean, I nearly felt lonely.
Wednesday 29 November – Puri – Bhubaneswar
- I got up early, and, after the traditional cornflakes, caught a bus to BHUBANESWAR, and made my way to the train station. The earliest train I could get is tomorrow night – running at the worst possible time, so I caught a bus back to Puri and went back to the “Nilambu”. I bought a 4-rupee pen. Typically, on my last day in Puri, after asking at a shop that had twice before told me there was no milk in Puri, the third time they told me about the milk shop. I have been getting up at 5:30 AM to buy milk every morning, when I could simply have gone to this shop.
Thursday 30 November – Bhubaneswar
- I heard on the news that there’s a big storm near to Madras, which will, hopefully, be gone by the time I get there. Also, there’s lots of widespread flooding.
- I leave the “Nilambu” and catch a 12-rupee train to BHUBANESWAR, where I walked around a market area for a while before going to a museum. The museum surprised me by being remarkably good – it must have been amazing back in British days when they were building all this magnificent stuff all over the world, in places that aren’t all that much anymore. I believe the days of the British Empire may well have been the most impressive we’ll see for a long time.
- The train left an hour late, at midnight.
December n. ME. [(O)Fr. decembre f. L december, f. decem ten: orig. the tenth month of the Roman year. The meaning of -ber is unkn. (cf. September etc.).] The twelfth and last month of the year in the Gregorian calendar. Also fig., w. allusion to December’s being the month in which the winter solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere.
Friday 1 December – Chennai
- After an enjoyable twenty hours and forty-six minutes, I detrained in CHENNAI – an expensive place where it’s very hard to find accommodation. I’d met a few Swiss girls on the train, who were a bit worried and had no idea where to go or what to do, so I took them under my wing and we all went to the Salvation Army Dorms, who, after we told them enough woeful tales, took us in for 70 rupees a night. We were put in 13-bed rooms, which were nearly full – the girls in a separate dorm. Foreign girls and Indian men do not mix.
Saturday 2 December – Chennai
- I went and emailed at a 15-rupee place, where I got an email from Shan saying his Gramps had died. Diana, an American woman I met at the Salvation Army place, who had gone to India with her boyfriend but had recently split up and was now on her own and a little bewildered, wanted to find a travel agent so she could figure out how to get to Australia, so we did that.
- Spencers Plaza
- I went and found Spencers Plaza, which is very big, with a western style supermarket, complete with air-conditioning and actual proper scanning checkouts – amazing.
- I changed $US50 at 46:15 getting 2308 rupees, and then went for a walk around Chennai to see what it was like, having a good time in the process. Diana and I had a strange, romantic dinner by accident – we’d popped into what appeared to be a normal Indian style restaurant, but were ushered into a large ornate back room where we were served hand and foot. We were the only people in this large ornate hangover from British days, with our own waiter. The food was nice too.
Sunday 3 December – Mamallapuram
- The three Swiss women and I left the dorm, and, for 40 rupees, crammed ourselves and all our luggage into the one rickshaw, which took us to the MAMALLAPURAM bus, which left at 8:45 AM for a two-hour trip.
- I got a 50-rupee hut at “D Neelakandan Dhevaki, 5 Radhas Village”, which looks quite good. It’s sort of a house-stay type of place, catering to long-term tourists who want to relax at one of India’s famous east coast relaxation beaches. Funnily enough, I met an Austrian man I’d met on the train to Puri, and a few times on Puri beach, jogging around the beach here. I walked around Mamallapurum and did the touristy thing, looking at some temples and things like that, and then went and walked up and down the beach. It’s a touristy place, but quite small and very nice.
Monday 4 December – Pondicherry
- I left my hut, having already been out to find milk, during which time it rained and I got soaked. A one hour forty-five minute trip later and I was at PONDICHERRY, and after much walking in extreme heat I finally found a 60-rupee room at the “Ajantha Lodge”. I waited until it was cooler and then walked around and had a look – it’s an uninspiring city, even the beach is all rocks.
- I thought I’d struck gold – I found a shop that sold cornflakes by the kilo, so I bought a kilo of the world’s worst, hardest, most inedible cornflakes. They were so bad I couldn’t eat them so I gave them to a beggar. Cornflakes and milk are both quite hard to find in India, and I was always on the look out for both.
Tuesday 5 December – Tiruchirappalli
- I left Pondicherry on a bus, arriving in TIRUCHIRAPPALLI five hours and fifteen minutes later.
- I found a 60-rupee double room at the “Modern Hindu Hotel”, and walked around Trichy, which seems like another uninspiring city with no major sightseeing things listed in the “Lonely Planet” book. I bought some more cornflakes, which were edible this time, and did some washing. I wouldn’t bother with Trichy again.
Wednesday 6 December – Madurai
- I left the hotel and caught a three-hour bus to MADURAI, and then a short, very crowded city bus to the train station, where I found a 55-rupee room at the “MMS Lodge”.
- I paid a 150-rupee deposit on my room and found an email place where, for 30 rupees, I got this email from Ric: “GoaArambolOMShantiresteraunt”.
- I then went and saw the 2000-year-old Sri Meenakshi Temple, which is suitably impressive. Occupying six hectares, it is comprised of 12 incredibly ornate towers ranging from 45 to 50 metres high. Madurai is the cultural capital of the Tamil peoples, and has been an important trading centre at least as far back as 4 BC when the Greeks had an ambassador there. As with most of India, it’s changed hands continuously over its history, never actually being a part of the whole of India until it came under the control of the British East India Company.
- I went to bed early and the hotel was a bit noisy, but not too bad.
Thursday 7 December – Rameswaram
- I left the hotel and caught a 38-rupee city bus to RAMESWARAM. Tamil Nadu is the only place in India, and I wouldn’t be surprised, the world, where the buses run all the time, all night long, never stopping, and you can get anywhere cheaply and relatively easily. It was a three hour forty-five minute journey, one part of which was along this hugely long bridge out in the ocean. It’s a strange feeling to be driving along through the ocean with land a very long way away.
- I got a room at the “Santhana Lodge” for 50 rupees, which seems to be ok, with an attached toilet and a bucket shower – which I availed myself of, before doing some washing. I wandered around, looking at their impressive temple, which forms the centre of this small town poking way out the side of India, half way to Sri Lanka, and wandered up the beach and generally just relaxed and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere of India.
Friday 8 December – Kanyakumari
- I left the hotel and caught a bus to TIRUNELVELI via TUTICORIN, then another bus to NAGERCOIL, then another short bus to KANYAKUMARI (Cape Cormorin) – a total of ten hours travelling time. What actually happened was that I missed the bus I was meant to catch, and not wanting to bother waiting, I hopped on the next bus at random – something you can do when in what must be the best bus-serviced state in the world.
- I ended up in places that I suspect Europeans have either never been – or not in living memory. The people would peep out from behind buildings, run, and get their kids to show them the strange white man, then if I looked their way they’d pull back behind a building and hide – a strange experience. Some of the braver brought their kids out for me to see. Then, after passing through this strange time-warped area that the world seems to have forgotten I chanced upon what you’d expect to find in a place like this, an immense rocket liquid propulsion facility, and then shortly after, an enormous wind power farm, which seemed to go for miles. The only way to describe this entire experience is “strange”. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me to find I’d been stuck in some sort of time warp effect – the two contrasts are just too much, but it was amazing. Then, to top it all off – on my last bus trip, having been through areas where no one seemed to have ever seen a white man before, let alone could speak English, I had an in-depth political conversation with an Indian professor and was invited to sample his hospitality – and daughters.
- I went to bed at the 50-rupee dorm I’d found at the “Youth Hostel”. I am the only person in the entire hostel, which is attached to the posh “Hotel Tamil Nadu”. They had to open the hostel especially for me. This whole day has a strange surrealism about it. I also found and bought some expensive Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, which were very nice.
Saturday 9 December – Kovalam
- I left the youth hostel and looked around a bit before catching a two hour thirty-seven minute bus to TRIVANDRAM (THIRUVANANTHAPURAM). I got a 60-rupee room at the “Bhaskara Bhavan”, which seems ok with an attached toilet and shower, but no shower rose – but can’t be too fussy.
- I caught a bus to KOVALAM BEACH and had a look around. It’s funny, it’s almost identical to the Daintree area back home – this beach could be Cedar Bay, and the surrounding bush is the same too. There are many tourists here, with very few clothes, and lots of sunburn. I have a funny feeling the Indian “lifeguards” standing on the cliffs with their binoculars probably aren’t looking for drowning men, and if you’re a drowning woman, you might be better off not getting rescued. I only stayed three hours and then headed back to Trivandrum, where I emailed for 30 rupees, but did not send a general email, only a few replies to people.
Sunday 10 December – Bus – Kochi
- I caught a bus to VARKALA, where I stayed two hours. It is a true tropical paradise in all sense of the word. Walk through the beautiful rainforest-like scenery and out onto a perfect sandy beach, then out into the perfectly clear water, while naked women lay sunbathing, or strumming guitars in small grass huts or reclining in hammocks under the palm trees. I wonder how much longer places like this can exist – apparently Kovalam used to be like this only a few years ago, now it’s full of fat, blotchy American and British businessmen pretending they’re in paradise for a week.
- I then headed on to KOLLAM (QUILON), stayed for lunch, and then continued on to KOCHI (COCHIN).
- I found a simple single 70-rupee room at the “Basoto Lodge” with a common bath. Check-in was 4 PM, with a 24-hour checkout. I went for a walk and bought 500gm Kellogg’s Cornflakes for 75 rupees, and then headed off to bed.
Monday 11 December – Kochi
- I bought some milk and had my cornflakes, before changing $US50 at 46:20 to 2310 rupees at the State Bank of India, ERNAKULAM. I took a ferry to Fort Kochi, where I looked around for a while before heading back to the hotel where I showered and checked out at 4 PM.
- I reserved a seat on one of the fancy comfortable tourist buses for MYSORE, which cost me 210 rupees plus a 5-rupee reservation fee.
- The eleven hour fifteen minute trip in the “Ultra Deluxe” coach was comfortable – apart from the freezing cold. It got so cold in the morning that I had to stay awake rubbing myself to keep warm, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it, my bag being packed away somewhere.
Tuesday 12 December – Mysore
- I arrived frozen and found a 60-rupee room at the “Hotel Durbar”, in Ghandi Square. I caught a bus up the 1026-metre Chamundi Hill, walked down and then back up the more than one thousand stairs that pilgrims climb to improve their karma, and then went to the Indo-Saracenic Mysore Palace with Francis, a 28-year-old Québécoise I’d met. The palace is amazing, all gilded gold, stained glass, mirrors and gaudy colours amongst the marble and elaborate woodcarvings.
Wednesday 13 December – Bangalore
- After a three hour fifteen minute trip, I arrived in Bangalore where I found a 75-rupee dorm at the “Bangalore Guest House”. I emailed home for 30 rupees, and then went and looked around Bangalore and booked my bus for tomorrow. Bangalore is one of India’s “modern” cities, dubbed India’s “silicon valley”, and it shows. I went to MG road, City Markets and watched “Mission Kashmir” in Hindi at a huge, very impressive and extremely loud, screened theatre for 35 rupees, which is expensive for India. The movie went for two hours and forty-five minutes including the intermission, which all Indian movies seem to have. I really enjoyed it even though I didn’t understand a word – I think it’s a brilliant film. I left my alarm clock here in the rush to leave at 6:30 AM.
Thursday 14 December – Hassan
- I arrived in HASSAN after a three hour thirty-four minute bus ride, and then another bus to HALEBID, then BELUR. I looked at some temples at both Belur and Halebid, and sat in a nice English-style park and read my Bible at Hassan. So far, I have been offered every known form of Marijuana, LSD, Opium, Speed, Ecstasy, and today “White Cake”.
- I caught an eight hour fifty minute bus, which was quite bumpy, and I didn’t sleep at all, although I did doze a little.
Friday 15 December – Hampi
- I caught a short bus from HASSAN or HOSPET to HAMPI and got a 50-rupee room at NETRA. The room was ok and the food fantastic. I walked to all the temples and so on, except the Lotus Mahal, which cost $US10 to see.
Saturday 16 December – Bus
- I left the hotel and caught a short bus to HOSPET and then a nine and half hour bus to GOKARNA, arriving past 7 PM, in the dark, where I found the most basic room yet, for 30 rupees. It was just a mat on the floor, and an amazing toilet. A cat came in and slept with me, and I had to light some of my mosquito coils for fear of the mosquitos.
Sunday 17 December – Gokarna
- I walked up to the beaches, which is quite a long walk and it was very hot. Nearly everyone was white, with lots of small children – this being the only place I’ve seen any sizeable collection of young Europeans in India. There were many topless and nude people, despite that being illegal in India, and I saw the best sunset that I’ve ever seen. There were no waves, but the water was nice and clear and a good temperature.
- I am now sunburnt after swimming and walking. I’ve decided on my domestic policy for when I get home. There are some nice dogs with pups and a nice cat here.
Monday 18 December – Panaji
- I feel sick. I’ve left the hotel. The man next door also feels sick. I’ve caught a bus to MADGAON, then on to PANAJI, where I’ve had extreme difficulty finding a room. I eventually found a 60-rupee room, plus 10 rupees for the tout I was forced to use, at the “Venus Lodge”. It’s very small and basic, but it’ll do. I change $US50 at 46:10 to 2305 rupees and sent email for 30 rupees.
- Silas sent me his Cairns address.
Tuesday 19 December – Arambol
- I caught a bus to MAPUSA, then on to ARAMBOL, a two hour seventeen minute journey. I met Ric at the OM Shanti Guesthouse, and am now sharing a room with him. They had to push-start the bus each time it stopped – it’s pretty funny push starting a full size bus, luckily, there are so many Indians. It’s very nice and somewhat funny to be travelling around a foreign country knowing that you have a friend from home who is also around somewhere, and then meeting him again like this. My timing was perfect – I’d just got sick of the incessant struggle of travelling, finding accommodation, fighting off Indians, and being a tourist and needed some relaxation.
- I ate a 30-rupee Cheese Macaroni, 15 rupee 7-Up and 35-rupee veg spaghetti.
Wednesday 20 December – Anjuna
- I went to the ANJUNA flea market with Yvonne, a lovely Swiss woman, on an Enfield 500. They have all these Enfield motorbikes, modelled after something not made anywhere outside India for the past fifty years, but still produced here, it’s funny. They have all these Second World War era trucks too, that they still produce new here, having bought the factories from the Germans after the war.
- There was a rave party in a bamboo forest – what a spin out. A huge forest of bamboo in the middle of nowhere in India, with a clearing in the middle, and the bamboo splattered with iridescent paint and surrounded by ultraviolet lights while German and American DJ’s play incessant music all night to thousands of tripping foreigners. It’s a mind-blowing experience, literally for some people.
Thursday 21 December – Arambol
- I caught a bus back to Arambol and walked on to the next beach, relaxing and enjoying myself.
Friday 22 December – Mapusa
- I went to MAPUSA with Neil, a British man who Ric had been talking to for a while before I arrived. We went and checked out the Mapusa markets, swam in the ocean, and bought more cornflakes.
- I had dinner with Yvonne and Jeff, both of who have now moved into the OM Shanti Guesthouse.
- All I remember is chocolate milk
Saturday 23 December – Arambol
- Ric went to a wedding. I walked up to the big Banyan tree on the hill, and wandered around exploring the amazing beauty and peace that is here.
Sunday 24 December – Arambol
- Neil and I went looking for Masala Dosa’s, that famous southern Indian meal that neither of us has yet had. We ended up having to go five kilometres south, but it was definitely worth it. I am quite sure Indians have the best food on earth – and they make it so cheaply and easily.
- Yvonne and I climbed a nearby hill and watched the sunset – which is somehow different over a new ocean, before heading down and having dinner. This is a truly amazing place – it is like a small enclave from the horrors of the world. Most of the people here are either Indians who are just so chilled it’s amazing, or Westerners who spend half the year in their home country, and the other half here. There are Italian restaurants, owned by Italians, German bakeries run by Germans – in fact there’s pretty much everything you could want in the way of food.
- Yvonne and I stayed up all night, as there was a party next door, which began at midnight and didn’t finish until 8:45 AM.
- Veg Cheese Spaghetti, 35 rupees.
Monday 25 December – Christmas Day
- I had apple pie and ice cream for breakfast, followed by five samosas. I am very tired, which isn’t that surprising seeing as I’ve pretty well been not sleeping – and didn’t at all last night. Neil came around for dinner and we stayed up late. This place is just so peaceful; there are no worries on my mind. It’s also my birthday; I guess my body must be 20 years old now, if you don’t include the time within the womb.
Tuesday 26 December – Boxing Day
- I got up ridiculously late, in what is soon to become normal, and Ric and I didn’t get out of our room until 3:30 PM, lazing about and talking. I went for a swim and finished off the day with a buffet dinner.
Wednesday 27 December – Arambol
- I checked my email for forty minutes at a rupee a minute, and then changed $US50 at Rs 46/– into 2003 rupees, and paid my OM Shanti bill, including the room up until tomorrow. There was a wedding next-door, with lots of loud music at 7:30 AM and most of the day. I went for a long swim – a very long swim, not getting out of the water for six hours or something ridiculous, and now I’ve got water in my ears, sand in my eyes, and I’m so worn out, but wow, the waves were good and I’m so happy and peaceful.
- Cheese Veg Rice and Coke
Thursday 28 December – Arambol
- I did very little. The norm here seems to be to laze, chill out, sleep in, sit around in the shade of palms, and swim in the perfect ocean – finishing the day off with some fine dining and a late night talking or partying.
Friday 29 December – Mapusa
- I went to the Mapusa market. The bus was very full, and I had to stand all the way. I bought a blanket cum ground sheet for sleeping out.
Saturday 30 December – Arambol
- Yet another perfect day in paradise.
Sunday 31 December – New Year’s Eve
- I checked my email, but e247 was down. I received an angry email from Mum and Sarah.
- We had a party next door, which was somewhat dampened by the police turning up and doing a bamboo charge – the Indian equivalent of a baton charge, and confiscating some of the sound equipment. A nasty scene was only just averted after the Indian police had charged us all with their bamboos, hurting several of us, and then found themselves surrounded and grossly outnumbered by some very angry westerners. Subsequently, the party didn’t start on time and was stopped several times, and it also rained on and off, but was a truly beautiful way to see in the New Year
January n. OE. [L Januarius use as n. (sc. mensis month) of adj. f. Janus.] The first month of the year in the Gregorian calendar. Derived from Janus: attrib. a. M17. [L, name of a god who in Roman mythology was the guardian of doors and gates and presided over beginnings, being represented with two faces, one on the front and another on the back of his head.] 1 Having a dual function, purpose, attitude, etc. Also Janus-faced. M17. 2 (Of a material) having a double facing; (of a device) having a two-way action. M19. 3 Chem. Designating any of a group of basic azo dyes containing a quaternary ammonium group, often with safranine as the diazo component. L19.
Monday 1 January – New Year
- I woke up at lunchtime and had breakfast, after which I went for a five-hour swim in the ocean.
- Exhausted after my epic swim, I went and watched some Hindi drama at a nearby temple, in celebration of something or other – probably New Year.
Tuesday 2 January – Arambol
- I went for another swim, and had dinner with a few people.
- $1US = 49.95 PHP; $AUD1 = 27.7146 PHP
Wednesday 3 January – Disco Valley
- I changed $US50 at 46 rupees to the dollar, into 2003 rupees, and then went to the flea market, and then onto the party at “Disco Valley”. Ric came later and we stayed all night. “Disco Valley” is another mind-blowing experience – a small valley that opens onto the ocean at one end, and is closed at the other. Several European DJ’s made a lot of noise – three days non-stop beat, and by non-stop, I mean non-stop. They mixed every song into the next, without skipping a single beat – absolutely amazing. I wonder how many people died or became permanently brain damaged. Halfway around the world, and there’s all us westerners partying under the moon in the middle of India, surrounded by nothing, with the ocean lapping at one end. Lots of Indians brought many mats for us all to sit on, and sold food and drinks. It was amazing.
Thursday 4 January – Arambol
- Ric and I got sick of the party and I went to Mapusa, then back to Arambol to relax in the idyllic peacefulness for an ever-decreasing time while the worries of the world seem so far away.
Friday 5 January – Anjuna
- I rode Max’s bike to Anjuna, hired it for two days, and then headed into Mapusa. Some time around now, or perhaps yesterday, I ended my four-day sleepless stint – I can’t really remember how it went, but I know I stayed up for four days, while partying, relaxing, and generally having the time of my life. This is even more outstanding when you realise that even on the nights that I did sleep, I didn’t often get to bed before the sunrise – and often didn’t sleep at all, or perhaps in the evening.
Saturday 6 January – Police arrest me
- I went for a ride to Panaji and booked a train ticket to Bombay. I’m 7th in line for a reservation against cancellation. This is not good, but in these surrounds, who cares? I really don’t mind if I can’t get home. On the way home, I was pulled over at a police roadblock just after Mapusa, fined 500 rupees, and told to appear in court, for riding with no helmet, licence, registration papers, hire papers, speeding, attempting to avoid arrest and anything else they could think of. Fortunately I’ll be out of the country before my court date, and it’s all sort of farcical anyway – the first thing I did when I saw the police was hide most of my money in my shorts so I could claim to have very little on me.
Sunday 7 January – Panaji
- I went for a five-hour ride, checking out all the beaches along the coastline to Panaji and then gave back the bike and caught a bus home.
Monday 8 January – Arambol
- I changed $US50 traveller’s cheques into 2300 rupees at 46 rupees to the dollar, paid for the room up to and including Wednesday 10 January and then watched some classical Indian dancing followed by Jimi Hendrix. I stayed up to 5 AM
Tuesday 9 January – Lakeside
- We all watched a Laurel and hardy movie, which ran too slowly, then went to a “party” at Lakeside and watched the lunar eclipse, getting to bed around 4 AM. It was another lovely day.
Wednesday 10 January – Arambol
- I went and watched “Return of the Jedi” with some crazed supporters at the Baywatch café and stayed up until 4:30 AM talking to Neil. I also checked my email at some stage today – I think.
Thursday 11 January – Arambol – Train
- I packed and paid Reshma and Mannu, said my goodbyes and left. Three hours later, I was at MARGAO (MADGAON), travelling via Mapusa and Panaji. The train arrived at 9 PM rather than 7:30 PM (departs that is). I bought a “Chip” magazine, an Indian equivalent to our computer magazines.
Friday 12 January – Mumbai
- It was a ten-hour trip to Mumbai (Bombay), and then a local train ride to Mumbai CST reservation office – but no vacancy. A bus ride to the Western Railway reservation office at Churchgate, and I secured what was probably the last ticket out of Mumbai – it is semi-miraculous I even got one. I read my “Chip” magazine and my Bible for a while, and then rode around the city on their city trains, ticket less, for something to do. I went to the Maidan and got hit by a cricket ball – which, fortunately for me, was a tennis ball, and had a look at a few of Bombay’s sights. I then got caught on a horrifically crowded city train, which took me several stations to work my way from my seat to the exit before I could get off, and rush and catch another train back to the central train station to catch my train.
- My train left and I slept well. I really like sleeping in trains, there’s something nice about the movement, noise of the tracks and the knowledge that I’m traversing one of the most amazing and religious countries on earth, carefree, and I’ll be somewhere else when I wake up.
Saturday 13 January – Train – Delhi
- I dozed, slept and lazed all day while my twenty-two hour trip took me to New Delhi Station, and Delhi – back where it all began.
- Lots of police boarded the train and searched everyone, including me, looking for narcotics and explosives. This was scary – these were not the normal SLR rifle carrying police that I was used to; these had small fold-up anti-terrorist looking fibre-stock machine guns and shotguns. I could tell something was wrong – this wasn’t the same Delhi I had left a few months before.
- Pahar Ganj
- Well, here I am back in Pahar Ganj, where it all began. I have a 60-rupee room at the optimistically named “Hotel Bright”, where I have paid for tonight. I went straight to the Madaan for food, which is cheap after Goa.
- I changed $US50 traveller’s cheques into 2300 rupees at 46 rupees to the American dollar, and checked my email.
Sunday 14 January – Delhi
- I ventured out of my room and went to Connaught Place and the milk bar for one of their veggie burgers and milkshakes. Anyone in Delhi – I highly recommend them, having had them recommended to me by Joneses, who had them recommended to them by Ric, who has been going there for several years.
- Malaysian Airlines
- After a search, I found the Malaysian Airlines office, so I can get there early tomorrow morning. I bought a 3-litre and 1½-litre Apollo stainless steel pressure cookers for 1000 rupees, which is an absolute bargain as the listed price on the 3 litre was RS 925 and Rs 725 on the smaller one. Pretty well all Indian products have listed prices on them, which are sort of the opposite of what we have in Australia. In India, they’re a maximum price, whereas in Australia they’re more like a minimum price. I also bought ten 10-rupee spare valves and a new 15-rupee gel pen, having lost my old one.
- While wandering around I came across India’s only Bose shop, and got to see a demonstration, which was impressive. I then headed back to Pahar Ganj and sorted out my email address book and emailed Ric and Neil, now that I’m in internet heaven again. The internet café’s here are likely to have upwards of 200 computers in a room – they are huge, very cheap, and numerous, although sometimes horribly slow.
- $AU travellers cheques offered at Rs 25.45. I paid 60/– for my room.
Monday 15 January – Connaught Place
- I walked to Connaught Place. It’s misty and cold. I headed up to the Malaysian Airlines office on the 10th floor, Ashoka Estate, 24 Barakhamba Rd: Phone (91) 11 3359711 18, 3313448 49. I am waitlisted for the 17th and 21st.
- Palika Market
- I bought two 64 CD cases for 125 rupees each, one 200 rupee battery charger, a leather wallet, and a s/glasses holder, and then went and saw Malaysian Airlines again.
- Paid 60/– for room, and emailed everyone.
Tuesday 16 January – Stuck
- I am stuck in India! I paid for my room, emailed, and went to Malaysian Airlines twice. There’s nothing to be done – in typical Indian style, all flights out of India are triple and double booked for the foreseeable future. You can’t even bribe your way out. Apparently, Indian travel agents confirm people’s tickets regardless of whether there’s seats available or not, and it’s a bit of a crisis right now while everyone sorts it out. Flights out of India are at maximum capacity and still there’s months of backlog – they’re flying people out in the airhostesses seats, and many people are being forced to fly via Pakistan or overland through Asia.
Wednesday 17 January – Indira Gandhi Airport
- I once again went to Malaysian Airlines (twice). I bought Shan the Casio Solar Watch that he wanted, for 1495 rupees, and bought 600 rupees of antibiotics for use back in Australia – you can’t get them without a prescription back there, and even then, they cost a fortune.
- I went and waited at the airport bus. Eventually the drive turned up and collected my money. I only had a 100-rupee note, so he went for change – and that was the last I saw of him and my 100 rupees, of course. Shortly after, the real driver turned up and I paid him 50 rupees to get to the airport.
- I arrived at the airport. The large amount of other people waiting doesn’t look good, but I’m optimistic.
- The check in desk opens. Apparently, this flight had 40 people overbooked. That’s 40 more people with valid confirmed tickets than can physically fit on the airplane. All the other airlines are the same.
- We are told that the last flight has left and there are no seats available. There are quite a lot of us here waiting. I catch another 50-rupee bus back to the Ajmeri Gate side of the New Delhi Railway Station, and walk back to my room. I have to argue with the night watchman before he’ll let me in, as I had previously checked out, thinking I might be flying home. In the end, I insist I have made prior arrangements with the boss, so he lets me stay. At 1 AM, I just need a bed. I don’t care what it costs.
- I changed $US50 into 2290 rupees at Rs 45.95/$, rounded 8 rupees down.
Thursday 18 January – Pahar Ganj
- I went to Malaysian Airlines again, and am now waitlisted for Sunday and Wednesday, and still optimistic. Besides, one of the women there is really cute. I then did some washing (in ice-cold water) and even washed me, which was even colder. I bought a copy of “Trains at a Glance”, the comprehensive guide to all trains across India, and managed to book a ticket to and from Allahabad – which is a pretty mean feat considering that they’re having the world’s largest gathering of people there. It cost me 480 rupees. I emailed Ric, Sarah and Joneses.
- I headed down to New Delhi Station.
- The train should have arrived.
- The train did arrive, and we headed off for Allahabad.
Friday 19 January – Allahabad and the Kumbh Mela
- I arrived in ALLAHABAD, after a farcical train trip, which kept getting later and later. I was supposed to arrive at 11:15 AM, but didn’t. Still, I can’t complain too much considering they’re probably moving more people than anyone ever has before.
- A five rupee, half hour Tempo ride gets me to the KUMBH MELA – the largest gathering of people in one place ever. It is amazingly big, and amazingly clean. There are millions of lights and lots of smoke and very little air. Breathing is not good, oxygen would be handy. The army has built an entire city out of Hessian and bamboo on a flat sand plain between two rivers. It is unreal. I stayed two hours, which was quite long enough. I’m happy that I got to be part of, and see, the world’s largest gathering – something I’d have missed had I flown home when I was supposed to. I have to hand it to the Indians – no one else could even begin to manage the logistics they deal with every day.
- The train that was supposed to leave at 1:15 AM arrived and I headed back to Delhi, with two addresses to write to.
Saturday 20 January – New Delhi
- I arrive in New Delhi and go straight to Malaysian Airlines. I’m still waitlisted so I get some ice cream from Keventers, and went to bed early, back at Hotel Bright for 60 rupees a night.
Sunday 21 January – New Delhi
- I bought a leather horse, elephant and camel for Sarah, Jade and Ella, for 425 rupees, quoted Rs 180 × 2 and Rs 120. I also bought 360 rupees worth of antibiotics and another lock, emailed Silas, Ric and others and caught a 50-rupee bus to the airport, which only went to the domestic terminal so I had to catch a 30-rupee rickshaw to the international airport. There’s 35 people waitlisted tonight, so no chance, although I did wait from 7 PM to 11 PM just to be sure. I then caught a 50-rupee bus with a 20-rupee luggage charge back to a 100-rupee room at “Mahesh Guesthouse”, number 302, one of the few places open at 2 AM. I paid for 24 hours.
Monday 22 January – Pahar Ganj
- I went to Malaysian Airlines again, where I’m still waitlisted. They said it might be possible to get a flight out in about two weeks. I bought a 150-rupee immersion water heater and two smaller 25-rupee ones, as well as two 2 plug-socket thingos to go with them, which cost 10 rupees.
- Air FM
- Heard on AIR FM today: “Heaven is when you have an American salary, British home, Chinese food and Indian wife. Hell is when you have an American wife, British food, Chinese home and Indian salary”
- I emailed Ric, Joneses, Sarah and Silas and bought some more water heaters, Rs 130, Rs 100, Rs 25 and Rs 20. They’re cool things and cost a fortune in Australia.
- I withdrew 1000 rupees from Citibank and paid 100 rupees for my room.
Tuesday 23 January – Pahar Ganj
- I wake up to find there’s no power and it has rained a bit last night.
- Paid 100 rupees for my room and went to Malaysian Airlines, where I’m still waitlisted. I withdrew 500 rupees and emailed ^lulu. Just before 9 PM, three police came to my hotel room and checked my passport.
Wednesday 24 January – Pahar Ganj
- I went to Malaysian Airlines, their computer is down but they said I’m still waitlisted and tomorrow is half-day business due to Republic Day on Friday.
- I bought an 80-rupee bag and caught a 50-rupee luxury coach to the airport. Typical Indians, every bus to the airport costs 50 rupees, including the dirty old city bus that charges extra for luggage or the luxury coach. By this time I had realised that this airport situation was hopeless, there’s still tons of people who have confirmed tickets and can’t get seats and I don’t even have a confirmed ticket – I’m just on a waitlist. Nevertheless, I had to get home, so I went and saw the big boss man at the airport.
- I head back and find a 110-rupee room with an attached bath at the same hotel I was in before, room number 304 this time, checking in at 1:20 AM. I have the name of Malaysian Airlines North Indian Sales Manager now (thanks to the airport manager), Henry Moses – so I’m going to go hunt him down tomorrow.
Thursday 25 January – Pahar Ganj
- I went and saw Henry Moses, at Malaysian Airlines. It’s amazing where being nice can get you sometimes. As usual, there was the collection of very annoyed and angry tourists screaming and yelling at the poor women behind the counter, none of who were able to get to see anyone “higher up”. But when I demanded, politely, that I see the manager, I was quietly told to wait until he finished a meeting, and then taken to see him. I now have a confirmed ticket from Delhi to Madras on Sahara Airlines, then Madras to KL and KL to Cairns, for Sunday – including a luxury hotel in KL, all costs paid, while the rest are still screaming and threatening the women behind the counter.
- I withdrew 1500 rupees from Citibank. My new balance is now 67,437 rupees. I emailed everyone and paid 110 rupees for my room. There are more than 55,000 of those scary looking soldier/security/policemen in Delhi for Republic Day.
- The police again checked my room, and AIR FM says, “Girls deserve to be made fun of because they do such funny things”.
Friday 26 January – 52nd Republic Day
- Chinese New Year. Earthquake. Emailed everyone to let him or her know I was alive and not killed by earthquake or bombings or Chinese. Watched some of the parades on TV. All buildings higher than three storeys are closed due to terrorist threats. Some shops are still open. Being a foreigner outside seems like a recipe to be murdered or jailed for life, so I keep a low profile. There are many people everywhere.
Saturday 27 January – Pahar Ganj
- I went to Malaysian Airlines, collected my hotel voucher, requested veg meals, something Indians are very good at, and bought “Driver”, “Age of Empires Collection”, “Unreal Tournament”, “Tiberian Sun, Firestorm 2” for 90 rupees each. I also bought another five pressure cooker valves for 10 rupees each and a 12 rupee shaver now that I’m heading back into depressing civilization where people are too worldly and narrow minded to look further than appearances. I showered, shaved, and washed my clothes.
Encyclopædia Britannica for sale, recently married, wife knows everything – BBC Quote/Unquote
Sunday 28 January – Madras
- I caught a bus to the domestic terminal. The flight was delayed half an hour, so I didn’t leave until 6:23 PM. They confiscated some batteries I had. I’m in seat 8F, which is a window seat. There’s six seats across in this Boeing 737-700, three either side of the aisle. There is no one else in my three seats. I had two very nice meals, having asked for a second meal – something I doubt you can do in Australia, not that you’d want to with the mush they serve over there.
- I arrive in Madras after a two hour thirty-six minute flight. I get my batteries back and check-in for my next flight. I actually get a boarding pass! This is stressful; I can see all the overbooked and waitlisted people waiting.
- The flight should have left, but it didn’t.
- The flight leaves. I am on it. We fly for three and a half hours, and put our clocks forward two and a half hours, arriving at 9:10 AM in KL.
Monday 29 January – Kuala Lumpur
- I wait for a long time for a bus to the “Hotel Equatorial Bangi”, a 4-star hotel in the middle of a golf course. It seems it’s not normal to put airline passengers here – this is something special that was arranged because I was stuck in India. I have a nice lunch – the curled New Zealand butter is something I’ve not had since being in India – and the lovely little bread rolls, yum. I can eat my fill just on bread rolls and butter. I then have a nice shower – wow, not only is the water hot but the shower is clean, this is amazing. Dinner is also nice. I then catch a bus to KL International, where I have an unusual joint flight between KLM, Lauda Air and MH. Flight STD 22:35, ETD 10:40 and duration 4h45 up to Darwin, arriving 4:55 AM, and it’s amazingly good to see Aussie staff – how funny they look.
Tuesday 30 January – Darwin – Cairns
- I leave Darwin after an hour and five minutes. Nearly everyone got off at Darwin, goodness knows why, so the plane is nearly empty. The take off is very steep – literally a 45° climb, which is pretty cool, I guess because the plane is empty. We cruise along at 3700 feet, doing 850 kilometres an hour. The few passengers on the plane, and me, can sit wherever we want and talk to the hostesses – it’s nice.
- After eight hours and thirteen minutes, including Darwin, I’m back in Cairns. The nice little sniffer dogs come and sniff us all, and Australian Immigration are their usual embarrassingly horrible selves – not letting the people in front of me into the country because they hadn’t booked a hotel to stay at. How are you supposed to have a hotel to stay in when you haven’t got into the country to find one yet? We’ve the worst immigration, bar Israel, that there is – so travellers tell me. On the positive side, despite all the big things saying that under no circumstances could I bring leather horses, elephants or camels into the country, the guy at quarantine said he’d let me – even though I showed him them.
- I caught the bus into Cairns. It’s weird being back. It’s hot too. The first thing that strikes me is how fat, ugly and unhealthy everyone is. There are all these girls with pimples, blotches, overweight and shocking dress sense walking around. Indian women are, generally speaking, beautiful, with well-formed figures and don’t seem to suffer from acne, blotches, pink bike pants and such, and Indian men are always very neat, fit, and mostly wear suits.
- Silas comes and picks me up, and I head out to his place. He goes back to work and I go online on his computer and catch up with my friends from chat.
- The holiday is over, and it has been, without a doubt, the best time of my life. All my stress, worry and anxiety, of which I had a lot, simply ceased to exist while I was in India. Despite what everyone said, I did not get sick, I was not appalled by the poverty, and I only got pick pocketed once. The food, as soon as I got away from the tourist places and ate what the Indians ate, was consistently the best I’ve ever had and far above anything I’ve had in Australia, apart from some of Mum’s cooking, and very cheap. The whole place is remarkably cheap. I had a three and a half month overseas holiday for less than $3000 Australian, including all my airfares and travel insurance.
The next day (Wednesday 31st January) I rested at Silas’ place in Cairns. Relaxed. Went on Chat and caught up with lulu and my other chat friends again. Marvelled at the amount of obese people, and realised how few I had seen while in India. Ate Australian food. Went to a supermarket and bought normal things with Australian dollars. Bought some ice cream, some cream, and some custard. Relaxed more.
I stayed in Cairns for a few days with Silas, and then flew back up to Cooktown. My parents picked me up from the Airport and I went to the supermarket. It was a little strange being back, and everything just the same. Psychologically some how I had expected things to change. I guess going to India has been a big experience to me, and I myself have changed while those who were at home haven’t changed.