Mumbai - Bandhavgarh - Varanasi
Hi everyone!!!! Arrived in Mumbai safely - although very tired as we didnt manage to sleep very well on the plane! Jumped in a pre-paid infamous black and yellow taxi at the airport - and the taxi driver very kindly told us that we had been overcharged at the taxi stand by 100 Rps (about £1.50) - we told he we didn’t mind but he insisted on us getting a refund, so we did - and they were very apologetic! We then headed off for our hotel, and Ollie got a taste of his first lot of beggers before we had even left the airport car park - a little boy followed us alongside the car begging through Ollies window - but we didn’t give in and he eventually gave up. The death by taxi ride then began to take us to our hotel... I have never known anything like the way these people drive - there are no lanes in the road at all - and they speed through traffic with only an inch to spare!! I’m not the best passenger these days - but Ollie will definately be off the hook when we get home after a few days here!!! We checked into the hotel, which is nice for what we need - and headed straight out to see the sights of Mumbai. We braved crossing the crazy roads - which is a task in itself - and made our way to the Gateway of India, Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, gilded horse drawn carridges - which was really impressive, very busy area with a good vibe - we received lots of attention with people trying to sell things but thats not a problem at all. We also found our way round to see the Prince of Wales Museum, High Court, University of Mumbai, amoungst many others, which were all very grand buildings set within impressive grounds - and very English in terms of architecture - which eased us in gently on our first day as it reminded us of home! We chilled out at Oval Maiden park, set in the middle of all the hussle & bustle, watching everyone play cricket. We then set off in search of Leopolds Cafe (famous as being being the favourite hang out of a character within the famous book Shantaram) and on the way bumped into Mr Snoop Dog himself!! Well not actually - but he was the image of him!! Had a chat with him and he invited us for Chai (Indian tea) but we continued with our plans for lunch at Leo’s. After cooling down with a nice coke, we realised how exhausted we were and headed back for an early night ready to get up for our tour the next day - ordered room service and enjoyed a curry, rice & naan - £2 for both of us!! Wahoo - delicious!
Made our way to the slum tour office for at 8.30am!!!! The air is heavy here with the humidity - but haven’t found it too hot so far - however think it must have got to me a little as I was sick just before the tour started. Decided to go ahead anyway and felt totally fine for the rest of the day. There were 3 other people on our tour - a South African couple who were really nice and a guy from Finland who was pretty quiet. Our tour guide Sunni took us to the red light area first of all - and then went on to Dhobi Ghat (open air laundy) and explained through how everything works there, which was really interesting! The contrast between here and home is more apparent every minute that passes - doesn’t seem right that hospital laudry is taken to be washed here but it is! We then went on to the tour of the slum area - he prepared us for what to expect and welcomed any questions throughout. We first of all went to see all the different industries people work in within the slum, from plastic recycling, pottery, leather, baking etc. We then went onto the residential area - winding through the tiny alleyways to get from place to place - children running around us wanting to hold hands and say hello - they were all so friendly and welcoming. It became really apparent as we went round - that actually the slums are nothing like I had prepared myself for. Slum people hold alot of pride and dignity in their work - and seem proud to show you what they are doing on a daily basis. We also visited schools that are within the slums, aimed at children and adults, which are funded by the non profit tour guide that we were on. We ended the tour by sipping Chai in the slums (which I kind of regretted as soon as I had said yes to - sounds mean but couldn’t help but be apprehensive at the thought of drinking from their glasses - but it was fine as soon as it turned up I just drank it - was good). Me and Ollie then went back to the park where cricket is played to rest after the 4 hour tour as we are still catching up on out sleep, chatting about everything we had just seen. The slum area is really not as extreme as it is portrayed - the real poverty seems to be with the families that live at the sides of the road - cooking, eating, sleeping, begging with no shelter or home to speak of. In that same way - the Taj Mahal Palace grandure does not create as as much of a contrast between rich and poor as expected.
We then caught the 3pm ferry to Elephanta Island to see the caves containing unbelievably impressive carvings from 1500 years ago as a place of worship to Shiva. We had read about one particular statue described as the most scerene sight you will see in India - and it was - it was so fantastic - to think people we able to create such a thing such a long time ago! Obviously neither of us are religous - but we both agreed that after seeing it - we can appreciate how people who worship these gods would feel when in the prescence of such temple. Really enjoyed it! Whilst we were there - an indian family asked to have a photo taken with me and Ollie - so we did - bit strange - but they seemed to like it! Ha! It is a bit like being a celebrity over here how everyone stares at us - but it is not intimidating in the slightest - I dont notice half the time (although whenever I do catch them - they are always staring at my boobs! Ha! Ollie has managed to contain himself with it and laugh it off so far though! Ha)
Another early night for us - as another action packed day tomorrow.
We are really enjoying ourselves - not finding the heat an issue at the moment - and enjoying what Mumbai has to offer. Very busy everywhere but I think that is a good thing to keep us going at the moment. Also - I imagine you guys would think that it is really dirty and smelly over here - it is not at all! (OK it is a bit dirty - but no where near what you would expect).
Hope you are all good at home! x x x
Went to Crawford Market this morning, enjoyed wandering round looking at all the spices and fruit they have, for a poor country it is amazing to see people still have such lovely fresh produce. We also went to the meat market - however this wasn’t so enjoyeable - chicken all over the floor covered in flies waiting to be chopped up for sale - my stomach wouldn’t let me go too far into this market and we had to turn back! (By the way - me and Ollie have chosen to be vegetarian for this part of our trip - a wise choise I think!). We also saw a live animal section which was not somthing you would ever see in England - but I just saw it as good practise for China - and luckily it didn’t upset us too much.
We then spent the afternoona and evening at Chowpatty Beach. We sat on the beach and people watched for a while - we led back and closed our eyes for 2 seconds, to reopen them to a crowd of people all around us wanting to talk to us to find out about England and to take our photo, have our autograph. It was so surreal - I started to get a bit embarrassed by it as you know hate having my photo taken as it is. But they were all very lovely about it and just wanted to find out about us - and have a good old stare! Ha! We soon moved on to the food stalls and tried Bhel Puri - a famous dish here - it was quite good. Then took a stroll back to our hotel - stopping to take in the view along the beach to see the lights of the city come up as the sun went down which looked really good - they call it the Queen’s Necklace - pics can’t really capture it property but you might be able to see why they call it this - lights line the cove creating the look of a necklace.
Today we leave Mumbai to head for our Tiger Safari - but we have a 22 hour train journey to ahead of us before we reach our destination!! We packed up our backpacks (Amy you were right - it is too heavy! Ha!) and set off early to take in the beautiful Victoria Station building. Upon booking our ticket we discovered we could not get a train until 9.30pm!!! So backpacks and all we headed for the local park to sit in the sun and watch the locals play cricket - and then later hung out in Leo’s Bar to pass a little time. We got back to the train station and the reality of getting an overnight train in India smacked us in the face!! With the help of other passengers we climbed aboard and found our seats / bed. The seat / bed area is about the size of a small bathroom (same as yours mum and dad) with approximately 15 Indian men sleeping 2 per bed - beds being in 3 tiers - to say the least, it was very cramped!! To be honest it was pretty scary as we were conscious of our bags as many people here just see us as money - and very uncomfortable as the locals do not hide how much they stare without braking into a smile - this is all very harmless and just their way - but at the time it was very clostrophobic! Luckily another English guy called Dom was seated by us - which is so unreal as we must have been the only white people on the whole train! He was glad to see us too and we all quickly became friends. We tried really good food whilst travelling, including a dessert called Lassi - meals were as cheap as 10Rps (about 6p!!!). It was difficult to take picture as we didn’t want to disclose the contents of our bag to the world - but the Indian countryside deserved a photo album to itself - it was beautiful - so green you could have mistaken it for England in parts (well, England on a VERY VERY sunny day! Ha!). Journey well worth the trip just to see the real India - rural villages in a stunning setting.
Finished our 17 hour train at 3.00pm and arrived in Katni which is a remote little station. EVERYONE was staring at us - even worse than at Chowpatty beach as the people here see even less English people - little uncomfortable but only really as it was after such a long journey. We tried to find the platform for our next train - everyone kept telling us different answers - waited at one which came from people who worked at the train station, and waited entertained by the number of farm animals wandering all over the rail tracks - again not what you would find in England. We realised our trainhad pulled in at a different platform than we were told so we had to run across the rail tracks to jump on to make it in time!! (Dont panic though everyone seems to do it here!) Met a lovely family on the train, and we talked with them for our whole two hour journey - again they wanted to know all about the UK taking pictures of us with me holding their 7month old baby - and adopted me as a fellow Hindu marking me with a Bindi. (They gave me some as a gift to take back to my Mum - you can look like me too Mum!) Said our goodbyes and got off the train having now arrived in Umaria. We haggled a rickshaw to the hotel - death by rickshaw this time!!! It was pitch black along very rocky track to the middle of nowhere - again very scary - but arrived at lovely hotel and crashed out for an early night.
Ollie was woken by a bird tapping on our window this morning. We enjoyed a late morning in bed to catch up on sleep. Went on first safari from 3pm - 6.30pm - unfortunutely didn’t get to see a tiger, however did see many different animals (peacock displaying to female, jackels, deer, monkeys, vultures, kingfisher etc). Shame we didn’t see tiger, but it was worth going just to spend the day driving through the beautiful scenery. We had a great tour guide who gave us a very insightful description of the park. It was a real surprise to us, just how wild the park was, with local villages close by who are subject to tiger attacks on there cattle and tigers fighting to the death over terriotry. We will try again tomorrow. Off for an early night now as we have to by up at 5am tomorrow for our next safari.
Missing you all!!! Love Kay & Ollie x x x
Today began with us being awoken with an intruder in our safari lodge! Not to worry though as it was believed to be a squirrell trying to steal are valuable biscuits! As food and water prices are a little high here at Mogli Jungle lodge, Kay and myself have to store as much food as possible bought from the village to maintain our travellers budget! So it was hands off! A couple of hours later we were up and off in our safari jeep, on the hunt to spot a wild tiger! Within an hour of our safari we had spotted one! It really was a great sight! Couldnt believe the sheer size of it! To see the tiger in the wild really is a memorable experience, one that I did manage to catch on our video camera, though I’m certainly no Spielberg and wont be winning any awards for the footage! Kay frequently mocks my shaky camera work and I must admit I do like the zoom in facility a bit too much! Ha! An added bonus to our safari this morning was that we managed to get it free of charge, simply by playing dumb! We didnt feel bad for not paying, kind of felt it was Karma, we are in India after all! Once back from the safari, we chilled out by the pool in preperation for our next attempt tomorrow at travelling by Indian rail!!
After a good meal and an early night Kay and myself got up early-ish for our day of travelling! First things first though was to check on Kay’s slightly red face! After writing yesterdays blog entry we noticed that with a combination of Malaria tablets & one quarter Irish, Kay had sun burn! It looks like the whole tube of Germolene had worked though and Kay agreed that we could continue with are travels! (Its bad enough everyone staring at you on any good day, let alone when you look like a big fat tomato - her words!) So checked out, the helful manager gave us a lift to the local village Tala, from there we managed to get a very cheap taxi to the bus stop in Umaria. The bus ride from Umaria to Katni was like no other, the bus looked like it had been on Pimp My Ride holy style! With brightley coloured shrines throughout complete with a stereo system blaring out from Indian hip hop to Shakira! It certainly made the 2 hour journey fly by! Once at Katni station we attracted the usual attention, two young guys started talking to us, it turned out one of them rang his mate to come down as we were there! - It really is strange! We spent the 2 hours waiting for our train talking to Suraj & his mate, they wanted the usual autograph & photo, but also requested I draw him a picture to remember us! He made us a paper swan in return and asked if I could set him up with an English girl aged between 19 -21, so watch out Tara & Lauren! Ha! Once on the train we found ourselves in general seating (meaning that we would have to stand for the whole journey) but we managed to perch ourselves high up on the overhead luggage shelfs for our 12 hour journey! It wasnt the most comfortable, even though Kay still managed to sleep on it! I think what may have also contributed to my lack of sleep on the train was the curse that was placed on me by Jake the snake! Throughout your train journey in India you see lots of different ways people beg, from people with no limbs or blind to children playing sitars, singing & dancing. Well this one guy came on with a HUGE snake wrapped around his neck asking for money, as we had no change I declined, well snake man did not take kindly to this and proeeded to cast a hex on me! Chanting and pointing with a real look of distaste for me, Kayleigh found the whole experience hillarious, I on the other hand was more worried about the snake! Luckily the friendly locals sat by us, shouted at the snake man to move on! With the snake episode behind us we arrived in Varanasi at around 5am Thursday morning!
Arrived at Varanasi train station before sunrise so we decided it would be best to wait at the train station until it was light before we set off in search of a hostel. Whilst waiting an American guy called Shaun came over to us and asked if he could share a taxi into the old city of Varanasi. We quickly made friends and at sunrise booked our taxi to old town Varanasi. Having read up on Varanasi, it is renowned for being the worst place for being harrased by touts, therefore we were very concious to avoid being taken to an actual hostel as taxi drivers / locals make commission for taking you there, which is charged to your room bill. The taxi ignored our request of where to be dropped off and still tried to get us into a particular hostel - so we just got out and walked the rest of the way - being followed by a local in the hope of being able to earn the commission off of us - but we didn’t let him!!! Travellers 1 - Locals 0!! Ha! Finding a hostel proved more difficult than we anticipated - the check in office for one we had earmarked from our book wasn’t open at that time - so we wound our way through the labyrinth of alleyways trying to follow poor signs directing us to hostels. After enquiring at a few which were too expensive or not available until the afternoon - we settled on a particular hostel at a cost of 200Rps per night and chilled out on the 24hour rooftop restaurant which has the perfect view over the Ganges River, until our rooms were ready. Welcome to the world of hostels - room is OK - not what we are used to - and I refuse to go into the bathroom without flipflops - but the main thing is that it is nice and cool!! As me and Ollie had not slept well on the train - we left our American friend and dedicated the afternoon to sleep. We awoke later that day and met Shaun at the rooftop restaurant before heading out to see what Varanasi has to offer. We made our way to the Ganges river and found our way to the closest ghat (2mins walk) from our hostel. This ghat is called “Manikarnika Ghat” which is dedicated to the cremation of bodies! Bit of a shock to stumble upon this ceremony just outside your doorstep - but we stopped to watch what was happening. A local priest approached us and asked if we would like him to explain what was happening - we gratefully accepted. He explained the process from start to finish, detailing the religious significance to all that we were witnessing - very interesting. He took us to see the eternal fire and explained about his work for the nearby hospice housing Indians who have made their final pilgrimage to Varanasi to break the cycle of rebirth and achieve liberation (acceptance into heaven) by their life ending in this holy city. He did ask us for a donation to help fund cremations for the poor and to run the hospice, but when we tried to donate the small amount that we had, he would not accept saying that the minimum donation is 150Rps. He did not put pressure on us to donate more really - it was a little strange as we have been advised by other locals not to give any money as these people are not genuine - but he did seem it at the time!? Watching these ceremonies take place doesn’t seem to completely sit well with me and Ollie - think we need a bit more time here to form an opinion on it at the moment to be honest. We then moved on and watched the daily ganga aarti (river worship ceremony) at 7pm at one of the smaller ghats.
This finished about 7.45ish and we then returned to the rooftop restaurant of our hostel with Shaun for our tea.
Upon reflection of our first day in Varanasi - things are much slower there than in Mumbai - and despite the attention from touts - I think we both agree that we are going to like Varanasi.
Woke up this morning and met Shaun on the rooftop for breakfast - food here is REALLY good and offers continental cuisine as a welcome break from curry curry curry (dont think Ollie would have ever have believed he would have said that! ha!). We then headed out for a days walk right along the bank of the Ganges, passing all the ghats along the way witnessing daily life here ( different ghats are dedicated to different uses - washing clothes, bathing, healing, washing cattle, cremation, yoga, prayer etc) stopping to look at the jewellery stalls. Talking to a local little boy - he let me hold his baby goat - which me being me - made my day - it was so cute and tiny!!! Another man stopped Ollie as we were walking to shake his hand - which has become the norm in India - but little did Ollie realise this was a clever sales technique to give him a massage. He was shaking him around - pulling him here there and everywhere - clicking every bone in his body - it was so funny - I left him to it laughing my head off - but when he realised Ollie wasn’t going to pay for one - he released him and we continued on our way. We headed for a bridge only just visable in the distance that we were to cross to visit an old fort. Our slow walk led us to less touristy areas of Varanasi and we enjoyed detoring into residential areas to sample local street food (DELICIOUS!) and observe local life, people working, children walking to school etc - our prescence welcomed every step of the way. We then crossed a very dodgey bridge - with fingers crossed for each step taken on the crumbling wood - as cars, bikes & autorickshaws zoomed by - we eventually made it to the other side - not before the odd chance to look out standing in the middle of the Ganges and take in the view. On the east bank of the river we entered into a local village and headed for the fort. However our attention was distracted by what we believed to be some sort of protest - with music blasting out into the streets we thought we would check it our. We quickly walked up the main street, lined with a local market, to catch up with the commotion - to discover there were no signs of protest - just an old truck carrying huge speakers and sound system playing Hindi music to all - with a trail of men - then women - following. The men were all shocking out - dancing as hard a they could - loving every second of it. It is so funny because Indian men seem to be very affectionate towards each other - walking along the road holding hands, cuddled up sleeping togther, and now grinding with each other whilst dancing in the street - think this was a little too strange for Ollie and Shaun to bare for too long - so as the truck turned the corner - we all laughed at how random India can be and made our way back to the fort. Shaun purchased a juice from a stall half way down the road - and it killed him as after paying 20Rps a local was charged half the proce for the same drink. Even though it is only about 6p - these little things can bug you as a budget traveller and we spent the rest of the day winding Shaun up about it - just as he had managed to let it go. India is amazing and we are loving every minute - but that is what I have found most exhausting here is the constant battle to ensure you are not ripped off - a majority of the people here want to help you, to promote their country in the hope tht you will do the same back home - however other see you as one big money sign and just want to overcharge you as they think you can afford it. But the longer we are here the better we understand their money and pricing - so that task is becoming less and less as our confidence grows in what we are doing. We walked around the fort but unfortunutly we not able to go into the museum as it was too expensive - and then took a slow walk back again to our hostel to end the 8mile round trip. On the way back we walked past some children playing cricket (that is all they seem to do here!!!) and they invited us to play with them. Shaun batted first - but as he didn’t even know what cricket was - neddless to say he wasn’t very good. Ollie then stepped up to bat - chest puffed out ready to impress his audience - SMACK - he hit the poor little boys ball right into the river!! Typical Ollie! Ha! Unfortunutely I missed it on the camera as I was looking after all the bags whilst they played and needed to move them right at that moment - but I’m sure you can imagine the disappointment on the little kids faces! Ha! We gave the kids 10Rps to go and buy another ball (even though they were demanding 100Rps - we knew they weren’t that much, confirmed by an older lad) Don’t think we will be invited to play with them again! Ha!
Back at hostel - Brilliant day! Enjoyed every min!!! Food and then an early night - to wake up for a boat ride at 6am to see the sunrise on the river.
Woke up at 5am this morning and went to reception to take part in the free boat ride that they offer. A group of us set off and enjoyed being rowed down the river by the guide who gave us a bit more information on the buildings lining the river that we had seen the day before, for example one particular building housed and cared for the widows of men that had been cremated to avoid them being pushed onto the fires themselves by the families, allowing them to eventually re-marry. The sun rose and it was well worth the early start - the sky transformed from a cool blue into a firey burnt orange setting a beautiful light to witness “puja” - locals coming to the river offering prayers in worship to the sun. Later that day we headed into the labyrinth of alleyways that is Varanasi. I have not detailed this so far - but with this being considered the holiest place in India - and the cow being India most sacred animal - GREAT BIG HUGE cows / bulls / buffallo fill these tiny lanes - making getting from one end to another a scary task through fear of attack from either end of the animal! Ha! After being here a few days now - we have realised they are all very placid, along with the heards of goats, and coutless number of stray dogs. They allow the cows to roam as they please - always granting them with the upmost respect. Unfortunutely as a result of this - they leave quite a trail in their path - meaning that you have to be very careful where you step - especially with sandles on - the floor is literally covered in it - but again no smell from this or the cremation ghat in fact!! Our aim for the day was to get well and truely lost in the alleyways - and that we did! We figrued this is they best way to come across randomness of daily life here - and to get away from tourist areas - both of which we achieved. You always find your way back to a ghat here so makes it easy to pick you bearings back up whenever needed. Again really interesting day - looking at all the local stalls. We ensured we were back at the hostel for 4.50pm for another boat ride that day - this time to witness sunset - again just as spectacular as this morning. We decided to get another hour boat trip shortly after to allow us view the main ganga aarti ceremony at the “Dasaswamedh Ghat” from the river this time. After being deafended by the loacals “Boat....boat....boat....boat!?” over the past few days - we figured getting a boat would be the easiest tasks in the world - but the one time we actually want one - nobody asked us!!! We couldnt ask them as this would give away our ability to haggle - so we just hung around until we eventually managed to get on - at a decent price (50Rps). Really anjoyed the main ceremony from this view and def worth the 3rd boat trip of the day. While Shaun went for street massage - which we found hilarious as it was clear the American jock wasn’t at ease with a massage from another man at all - me and Ollie talked about all that we had seen in religious worship over that past few days. Think Ollie and gran would enjoy one of our Sunday debates over the matter - as Ollie seems to feel the sacredness of this city seems to have been lost in commercialisation - and to be honest I think I might have to agree a bit. We returned to the hostel and again enjoyed food and our first alcoholic drink whilst in India - we all shared a beer and then Shaun cracked open a bottle of whiskey but Ollie didn’t drink his as he said it made him feel a little sick.
SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP - SHIT - SICK - SLEEP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I woke up in the middle of the night sick as could be - which continued through the whole of today!!! Ollie was fine - so I put it down to food poisening - but we seen Shaun later today and he is the same as me - so must have been dodgy whiskey!!! Feeling very sorry for myself - but Ollie is looking after me very well - as always!! Gutted as we wanted to get out blog updated on the very rare chance of having WiFi here and to have a day in Varanasi to ourself as Shaun has been with us everyday here so far, which is fine as he is a nice guy - but think we both feel we get more out of the experience as just us two - not able to today now - hopefully tomorrow fingers crossed!!!! It was meant to be our last night here tomorrow - but will have to stay longer than intended now until I am better!!! Poor Ollie is SO bored - only so many games of solitare you can play! Ha!