It begins with sickness and it ends with sickness…
My last blog ended in Goa as I was about to get our second night bus in India to Bangalore. Since then Lucy and I have been on more than eight, twelve hour night buses! We have fit in a lot of traveling. The night bus to Bangalore didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. Lucy and I both got food poisoning and were very ill the whole way – we were not prepared in the slightest! The ride was extremely bumpy and we had ‘reclining’ seats that didn’t recline because we were sat up against the back of the bus. It was not a pleasant journey.
Once we arrived in Bangalore we went straight to a hotel. Although going ‘straight to a hotel’ in India is easier said than done. It was more like after haggling a price for two minutes and trying to explain to our driver where we wanted to go and that we didn’t want to go to a different ‘better’ hotel we wanted to go to this one in the ‘must be followed always’ guidebook and after wedging our backpacks into the tiny rickshaw (which were very much like the Tuk Tuks in Thailand – little 3 wheeled cars that you drive with a steering wheel type thing in between your legs) and squeezing in ourselves we were dropped at our hotel. It was actually a 5 minute walk away and we had no idea where we were going. We did eventually make it though and all that is very normal practice when traveling in India. Nothing is ever very easy and it feels a lot harder when you are ill.
The hotel people were very nice when we arrived, and the room was clean with a TV and everything! We even had towels and hot water – complete luxury! We had to fill out loads of paper-work before we could have the room though; it seems everything in India has some sort of bureaucracy involved. After a day in bed sleeping, watching TV and drinking sprite we felt well enough to go to the bus station and book tickets for a bus to Chennai the next day. We were very wary of buses at this point but when we caught the bus the next day it was very nice and they gave us sick bags (like they knew!) except we weren’t sick again fortunately. We arrived in Chennai very late in the evening. He then demanded a lot of money from us because he had taken us to the wrong place and had to drive us somewhere else, he got quite scary; so we gave him the money – it just wasn’t worth it!
I found Chennai a hard city to navigate because it is so spread out and huge. Rickshaw drivers seemed a lot meaner too. We only spent one night before we got another bus (I told you we did a lot of traveling) to Pondicherry. We thought we would have to get a train so went to book a ticket and the guy at the office (despite having a huge cue) invited us into his office and went through everything with us telling us it was better to get a bus. The entire office was staring at us and laughing and so were the cue of Indians outside the glass. You definitely get special attention as a westerner! A lot of the time it is unwanted attention though. We are constantly stared at everywhere we go no matter what you wear. Western men don’t seem to experience it as badly as we have. I bought Indian clothes thinking it might help but I think I get stared at more when I wear them and people walk past you making comments like ‘ooh, like Indian.’ We have been told several times that Lucy ‘looks like English’ but my face is Indian. Hmm…
I am glad we got out of the city because Pondicherry was beautiful. It’s a little town that used to be an old French colonial base and it felt more like the south of France than India. We didn’t really do much though which I was very happy about, we generally just relaxed in the roof top cafés and gardens that they had everywhere.
We had the most embarrassing experience when we arrived. We agreed a rickshaw price once we got off the bus to take us to our hotel. He told us to wait while he brought the rickshaw to us. He was quite an old man! To our horror when he came back he was pushing a cycle rickshaw! We had failed to notice that he had left out the ‘auto’ when he said rickshaw. We have never made that mistake again! We tried to protest (it was tiny and it would have been heavy with just us let alone with our backpacks as well) but he squeezed us on anyway. The next half an hour was the most embarrassing on my life. He was panting and sweating and had to get off several times to push because he couldn’t cycle any longer. We got off way before our hotel because we couldn’t deal with putting him through it anymore, or the humilation (everyone was staring at us horrified at what we were putting the old man through!) He overcharged us loads though so at least he got something out of it.
We stayed for two nights in an Ashram hostel. It was a strange place; I think Ashram might be a religion but it is centered about meditation and yoga. The hostel had a nice garden for this purpose but I only ever saw little kids running around and people sunbathing. It was very tranquil though as there was a sign saying to leave your voice, ego and shoes outside!
I met a very cute little french girl who was probably about 5 years old running around the garden. She decided that I was her best friend although I couldn’t understand anything she was saying (it’s amazing how much you can communicate through body language) She told her parents to go away, so they walked around the garden while she skipped around me collecting leaves and flowers to give me and putting on dance shows. She was so free! It was so lovely to see. She was such a hippie child, she had her hair cut very short and in the middle of her dancing and jumping around she would go into a yoga position. It was so funny! I ended up doing rolly pollys with her to her delight and probably Lucy’s horror. When it was time for me and Lucy to leave she burst into tears! I felt so awful. Her mum explained that she wanted to play with me again but they were leaving the next day. She was only consoled by me and her mum giving her lots of hugs. She was happy by the time she left of course!
Lucy and I had some lovely western dinners for the first time in India – steak and chips one night and pizza the next! The promenade was lovely and we found the best rooftop garden cafe with ice tea and fresh bread with humus and potato salad! Yum. By this point both me and Lucy needed a break from Indian food. We also found a great book fair where we stocked up on our book collection. We got the bus back to Chennai (because we had booked a flight from Chennai to Delhi to save a 3 day train journey) The bus that ran between Pondicherry and Chennai was a public service so it was very cheap but extremely squished and hot. All the seats in India are plastic so you end up with massive sweat patches on your bottom!
To give myself something to do on long bus journeys I have been thinking about and planning mine and Rhodri’s wedding in September. I am getting so excited! So amazing to think that there is only 6 months to go. I looked on Gary’s blog just now and the countdown was on 169 days! (131 by now! – Ed) Woah :) I am starting to realise that it will probably be quite stressful when I get back. Thankfully I have Katy, Rhodri and Eleri on the job back at home though. I feel so bad leaving it all to them! So so thankful though, not sure it would be possible to organise otherwise.
We had a day to sight see in Chennai before we flew out so we went to the fort but it wasn’t very impressive really. There was an interesting museum with some artifacts from colonial rule though. I didn’t really like Chennai that much though. We met a great Rickshaw driver on the way back from the museum though. He spoke good English, knew where he was going and let us decide the price! We got him to take us to the airport and he charged us so much less than the guide book said it should cost that we had to give him extra just for being the only person that was nice to us and didn’t try to force money out of us. Being hassled and asked for money by beggars gets very overwhelming, tedious and depressing at times. It was a nice break to have a good driver.
Our flight went smoothly – it landed in Hyderabad first picked up more people and went on to Delhi. It was funny – felt like taxi or bus service rather than a flight. I remember having the same experience in Tanzania with the planes – but they were tiny! We arrived in Delhi at 12 pm. We knew there was a train going to Jaipur leaving at 4:30 am so we felt it was pointless to get a hotel for that time – we were also scared about being in a city so late at night so we slept or more didn’t sleep in the airport. We managed to get the 4:30 am train and it was our first experience of a train in India! We only managed to get sleeper seats (you don’t get a reserved bed so you can end up sitting with lots of other people on one bed) but it wasn’t too bad because we hoisted our backpacks onto the top bunks and no one bothered us there! It was a bit of a cramped journey though but it was short in comparison to what we had been doing – only 8 hours! It was quite scary because we didn’t know when to get off as Jaipur was not the last stop – thankfully we asked someone just in time and we had to hurl our bags of the train before it started moving. Scary stuff.
As usual, as soon as we were off the train in Jaipur we were attacked by the rickshaw drivers and food sellers. One particular guy took us out to his (what we thought was a rickshaw) but actually turned out to be a taxi. Phew! He was also very nice and unusually not creepy. He didn’t stare and offered to take us to a nice hotel to just have a look which he did. The hotel was beautiful! It looked like a big house and the rooms were lovely and clean and got cleaned everyday! There was also a beautiful garden with a restaurant and puppet show. He also offered to take us around Jaipur for the next couple of days as our tour guide and driver. Which we also did starting that day! Over the next couple of days we got henna done on our hands and went to the city palace and fort and got taken to some factories where they made beautiful fabric and more money goes to the workers. We bought too much but it was lots of fun. Jaipur was also our first experience of the north and it was a shock how different it was! It is definitely cooler in the north which was a welcome change! Jaipur was a desert region and it reminded me of what I would expect Morocco to look like and there was elephants and camels everywhere! So cool!
After Jaipur we got a night bus to Udaipur to see Chloe! It was so lovely to see her after 7 months! I can’t believe how long it had been. It has made me miss her more though and miss home more! It was lovely to see her parents too – and just to have parents around; people that are older and look after you. We did loads of sightseeing because they are more organised and motivated than me and Lucy usually are. The city palace was amazing!
After two nights there we got a night bus to Agra. Unfortunately we were completely ripped off and told the bus was AC when it wasn’t! We had paid more than double what all the other Indians on the bus had paid. It was an awful nights sleep! I think I had started to feel ill before we got on the bus but by very early on in the journey I was feverish. I woke up at on point in the night thinking it was raining but it was someone throwing up out of their window. I won’t go into more details but after that it was an extremely hot journey because we couldn’t have the window open. Lucy was freezing apparently so I guess it was just me being ill. We had planned to spend no time in Agra (the only reason we were going was to see the Taj Mahal.) We wanted to arrive in the morning, see the Taj and then get a night bus to Khujaraho. Instead we ended up staying 2 nights because we were so ill (feverish, sick and fluey) only managing to scape ourselves out of bed on the last day to see the Taj. It was very beautiful (of course) so worth the pain!