India – Land of extremes

3 11 2012

It’s time to sum up my experiences as impressions of India. First of all: I am positively suprised! When I talked to someone about my little trip before I was leaving and we came to India thereaction was often the same: „India? Aren’t you afraid of the hygiene and the poverty? Everywhere is waste and you’ll have serious diarrhea at least a couple of times“… These were my concerns, too but I soon realized that it’s not that bad or at leat one adjusts to it. From my third day I even went to the smallest street kitchens mounted on a bicycle. Especially these made the trip the amazing experience it was for me: the curious street workers that couldn’t believe that a foreigner is eating with them at their street stall. Even the annoyances, especially the people from tourist agencies, shop owners in tourity areas and the permantent hooting and inquiring tuk-tuk drivers. After some bad experiences during the first few days I got into the haggling mood and soon I was able to distinguish between a serious offer and a rip-off. In Cochin I met the only tuk-tuk driver asking me „you are not going to haggle about 10 rupees with me?“ 🙂

I think I griped enough about the attitudes of people involved in the tourist business and Indias middle class. I think because of all the touts and the general interaction with tourists, India won’t become a major destination in the near future and remain it’s exotic status, attraction mostly adventurers and backpackers. Talking about exotic, a friend in Goa told me, that she was attracted because of the stories from other travellers telling from exotic smells and colors. Yup, there are exotic smells and colors, but very often it will be the smell of urine, shit, and other waste burning besides the road. I was suprised on the one side, that it was less than expected (still, too many places are too dirty), and on the other side how fast one can even adjust to these smells. I remember that I was trying to avoid smelly places the first days in Mumbai and in Agra, less than 3 weeks later, I was barely shocked when I passed someone on the street at night and I saw he was just taking a shit over some kind of small canal… and he wasn’t the only one! Sometimes the smell is still overwhelming, in a positive way near some food places and markets, and negative, which might happen around every corner.

India also suprised me with having stunning, diverse landscapes everywhere, from the Himalayan mountains, over desert areas with sand dunes, green fields with any kind of crops, to tropical areas with beautiful beaches, palm and lovely rivers. Breathtaking monuments like forts, temples, and other architectural highlights are literaly around every corner with more things to explore in the immediate proximity. Until now, for me India is the most interesting and diverse country I have been to! It is even easy to travel despite the sheer size of the country! Driving with local buses and trains was always one of the most exciting but also annoying experiences.

So India is really a land of extremes. Not only positive, but everything seems to have it’s counterpart here. In one way it is very easy to travel and explore all the great things India has to offer, on the other side, identified as a tourist, you are always only half a step from being riped-off. If one gets in touch with the local people one will feel the warmth and friendliness immediately, but it is hard to meet them because of the language barrier and the general suspicion against everybody a tourist will soon build up, because of the touts. Last but not least, around the stunning sites, no matter where you go, is always a lot of waste and pollution. Even in the Himalayas at a height of over 4000m it was hard to find a spot without plastic bottles. The backwaters of Kerala would be so much nicer if the water wouldn’t look soapy! Why the hell aren’t the Indians follow the signs above their head to use the dustbin! And why are there so few signs resp. dustbins? And it’s not all about waste, they even have problem with sound pollution. More than one week in a major city will drive you crazy because of all the noise from cars, bikes, and buses using the horn constantly. What about sticking to the traffic rules (at least a bit)? That woul make most of it unneccessary! Different shops and even temples try to drown the sounds of their neigborhs with louder sounds.

Still, I would everyone asking give the same advice: Come to India!





Kerala

3 11 2012

My last days in India I spent in the state of Kerala in the south-west. In Kerala, everything is a bit more quiet, laid-back, and clean. Somebody told me it is the richest state of India and if you see suburban-like middle-class houses of Alleppey and Fort Cochin you won’t belive anyone telling something else. The streets are not exactly clean and still the Indians burn their waste on every corner, but in comparison to all the other places I’ve seen in India this is the closest you get. Like in Goa the weather is hot and humid.

River through Alleppey

River through Alleppey

Because my flight to Singapore is from Cochin I chose to go directly to Allepey, the hub for tours on Kerala’s backwaters. As always I preferred the local transport options and instead of paying a fortune for a tuk-tuk or taxi to Alleppey I had the fun of experiencing the fight with sturdy Indian grannys who wanted to jump the queue. Ha! not with the German… I’m long enough in India to have no restraint to use my elbows even against them. Otherwise one always ends up having to stand with a 15kg backpack in the aisle of a bus that is driven by somebody who must be convinced driving a Ferrari, having to give way to boarding and unboarding people every few seconds with no space to move at all.

 

In Alleppey all the touts seem to wait for foreigners at the bus station. They give you fancy business cards of guest houses resp. homestays (if every dump was a resort in Goa, every house with a free chamber is a homestay in Kerala) or backwater tour operators. I ended up in the KTC Guest House that offers rooms from 500 rupees. I think there are a lot of better options but I was too tired to search any longer. And the grandfather that lived in the premises as well seemed to be very nice and helpful. On request, the owners offered me backwater tours and other options as well, but to me they seemed a bit overpriced. I was really glad that I didn’t accepted any of their offers because a quick comparison with the tours other guest houses were offering confirmed my assumption. By chance I met some other Germans just in front of my guest house searching for a place to have dinner. I joined them and it turned out, that they just came back from a lovely backwater tour and so I booked my tour at their homestay. The group was on a gap year, working with children and disabled people in and around Banagalore for one year and they traveld a bit because of some school holidays. I’m not sure if I would have been prepared/strong enough to work for one year in an Indian village without water in the house at the age of 18 or 19.

Local ferry

Local ferry

Backwater houseboats... fortunately I had a small, manpowered kayak

Backwater houseboats… fortunately I had a small, manpowered kayak

The next day my backwater tour started at 8 in the morning. Somebody catched up with me to drive me with his Honda Hero the 300m to the ferry terminal. There I saw one guy that could have been a Berlin or Hamburg hipster, with a moustach that absolutely didn’t fit to the rest of his appearance: small and skinny, more like a 18-years old. It turned out that he and his girlfriend were going with the same operator as me and so I sat with them on the table at the family’s house of our boatsmen for breakfast half an hour later. It turned out that he only had a special kind of humor and he grew the moustache to look like 95% of the Indians. Seriously, „all“ Indians who are able to grow a moustache have one and they look like from the 80’s 🙂

My funny baotsman

My funny baotsman

I had my own boat and boatsman, who didn’t speak more than 20 word English and was missing his front teeth but still was so funny in his appearance and manner. The boat tour was at first very interesting, seeing all the other boats on the canals and lakes, the houses, some of them flooded, the people doing laundry in one or the other way, washing the cloths on a stone in front of their houses or washing themself fully dressed (at least the women), and observing their daily routine.

One of the many backwater laundries...

One of the many backwater laundries…

After a while, when I had seen the same routine in many houses, it got more and more relaxing 🙂 The highlight of the tour was the stop at a local bar for having a glass of coconut beer. I have to admit that it was really disgusting but the locals seemed to love it, having red eyes from the alcohol at 11AM…

Having a coconut beer

Having a coconut beer

After the beer, we all (Jonas, Celine and me) were brought to a strange catholic church were they build a big house around a small one that was the birthplace of some curch dude. In the canals we often saw boatsmen calling something that sounded like a longstreched „heeeeeyy“, sometimes in a high voice, other times in a low. They are selling fish and „heeeyyy“ in a high voice means that they offer small fish, in a low voice big fish 🙂

Delicious lunch at a local family's home

Delicious lunch at a local family’s home

The tour ended with lunch at around 3PM back at the family’s house. On the menu were roasted „heeeeyy“ (high voice), some curries and prickles and rice, served on a banana leaf. It was one of the most delicious meals I had in India, attesting that the locals and small stalls with their simple dishes are often better that the sophisticated and high priced restaurants.

Indian "Spice Girls" :-)

Indian „Spice Girls“ 🙂

After lunch we could also enjoy a performance of the family’s daughters, presenting several Indian-style group dances, giggeling all the time. Although we hardly did anything over the day we were all really tired on the ferry ride back to Alleppey but agreed to meet upon dinner in a small local food stall.

 

The next day I drove back to Cochin. This time everyone was already seated when I came to the bus, so I had to stand in the aisle all the way back. I had no time to complain about the weight of the backpack on my back, being busy to grab a hold and not showing any fear on my face. I was able to look out of the front window, seeing the maneuvers the bus driver made. Now I know why I have never seen a bus driver older than 45-50!

Chinese fishing nets at Fort Cochin

Chinese fishing nets at Fort Cochin

Fort Cochin is situated on a little island off the coast from Eranakulam, the city on the mainland. In Fort Cochin one can see several catholic churches (due to the portuguese era), a Dutch palace, and even a jewish district. The main attraction are the chinese fishing nets on the northern coast. I read somewhere that this is the last place were this kind of nets is still used for fishing. It takes 5 people to operate one net. Unfortunately there were a lot of plants in the water under the nets due to the tides so that nobody was able to fish. Another must-do in Cochin/Karala is the Kathakali theater. Ancient stories featuring Indian gods are told, using extensive makeup. The characters itself aren’t speaking or singing, everything is expressed via facial expressions, hand signs and a little bit of dance. Unfortunately the admission was so high that they can afford A/C and as always, the higher the temperatures outside, the more they freeze it inside.

Kathakali theater

Kathakali theater

On my last night in Cochin I took another cooking class, this time South Indian food: fresh, spicy, NOT fried 🙂 The family with whom I cooked was really friendly but also mostly distracted by TV shows like India’s got talent and various soaps 😦 The food was really delicious but the fun we had at our cooking class with Shashi in Udaipur would not come up. Now it’s time to say goodbye to India. Therefore I will go to Sri Krishna Cafe, a very laid-back, tasty, and cheap local canteen, with my favorite Cochin lassi man, Ramesh, only 100m away. Note: No lassi for me that day… it was closed 😦

 





Goa – Where you end up staying longer than intended

29 10 2012

After my adventurous trip from Aurangabad via Mumbai I finally made it to Magao, the transport hub of Goa. But it was still in the middle of the night, so I had to wait another couple of hours until sunrise to catch a bus to Panjim, according to the Lonely Planet, the cutest capital of India, with lots of portugese influence and charm. When I finally arrived in Panjim and found a clean hotel with reasonable prices, I was reliefed that this most strenuously trip was over. The only thing I wanted to do was to take a shower… with all my cloths Which stank and were really dirty from all the different trains and waiting rooms.

Panjim - Do you see the portuguese flair?

Panjim – Do you see the portuguese flair?

Panjim was disappointing. Maybe because the expectations are high after reading about the city in the Lonley Planet. If there is some charme it is well hidden. Some buildings remind of the great time of the city and the portugese influence but most are of the ordinary Indian style: weather-beaten cubes of concrete. To distract myself I booked a river cruise tour that took place in the evening going up and down the Mandovi river for one hour. I was the only foreigner on board and at least for some of the Indians the main attraction. The tour included a cultural program with ugly local dances which could have been coreographed and performed by 6-years old kids but on the stage were grown-ups 🙂 for me, the main attraction was that I could immediately observe and feel the Indian culture. Between the ugly „cultural“ performances, the passengers were invited to dance on the stage. But, of course, in distinct groups. First were the children, afterwards the, mostly married, couples. It was strange to see how embarrassed and stiff they danced with each other, hardly touching each other or even looking at each other. This all changed within seconds when the groups of only single males and, after that, single females were asked to enter the stage. When males or females were amongst each other, they started to dance in the most detached way, touching and animating each other to dance even more wild. Social studies could be conducted on this river cruise!

River cruise in Panjim

Panjim – Do you see the portuguese flair?

I left Panjim the next morning to go to the southern beaches of Palolem or Patnem. I went back to Magao by bus (there is absolutely no need to take the overpriced rickshaws and taxis) and rented a scooter, haggling with the man in charge over the price. I managed to lower the price per day from 400 to 300 rupees and to be charged on a 24h basis. I thought that renting the scooter in Magao, where I would have to take a train or bus to Kerala at the end of the week, would be a great idea, so I would be free to move along the whole southern coast. In the end I stayed almost the whole time in Patnem and Palolem which are only 3km apart. So renting a scooter at one of the southern beaches would have been suitable, too. They are even cheaper at the beaches, charging around 200-250 rupees a day. But be aware: that you can test the scooter is also an assurance for them if you are able to drive it or if you represent a danger for the general public 🙂 I know two girls that actually wanted to rent a scooter but only got the answer „you not rent!“ after the test drive.

Sunset at Patnem Beach

Sunset at Patnem Beach

The freedom the scooter gave me was only restricted by my own laziness and so I was only commuting between my guest house in Patnem and the beach in Palolem. It was still two weeks until the season would begin and so my beach in Patnem was almost deserted. Only the workers buidling up the huts for the high season and occasionaly one or two tourists were seen on this 1km stretch of beautiful, sandy beach. Unfortunately the options for shops, bars and eateries were equally limited. I spent the first afternoon at this beach but went for dinner to Palolem, which provides far more dining options. The „Fernandes“ restaurant at the northern stretch of the beach proved to provide very delicious food at (at least for the beach) reasonable prices. Later I discovered the Krishna stall in the city of Caudin, which serves very good local cuisine for a fraction of the price the beach-side restaurants charge you. This became my favorite spot for breakfast. If you are around, try the Puri Bahji (some sort of chickpea curry sauce with slightly sweet bread) or Igili (rice bread with different sauces). There I met an old man that looked and acted somehow very much Indian but on the other hand not a bit… it was his cloths that distinguished him: pink tank top and shorts 🙂 he was an Israelian who comes to India for 6 months since 1987. He adopted most of the Indian gestures and habits perfectly, especially the head waggling (he even did this better than the most Indians 🙂 ). When I told him about that, he admitted that something must have changed over the years, because even the Indian beggars didn’t approach him anymore… I didn’t tell him that he, exept for his cloths, reminded me exactly of them 🙂

Krishna - very delicious eatery in Chaudi

Krishna – very delicious eatery in Chaudi

The beach at Palolem is a lot busier than the one in Patnem. There they were raising many huts, too, so I could enjoy the familiar sound of hammers and saws. My favorite spot on Palolems beach was the northern end near a little island off the coast. The advantage of this spot is, that it provides at least a few plaes that give a little shadow. There are absolutely no other shady places on the whole beach. A little river has to be crossed to reach this spot. Unfortunately this river wasn’t that small at high tide. Infront of me was a girl, that slowly searched for a shallow path at the mouth of the river were it meets the sea. I thought, that this must be the place with the strongest currents so I walked a little bit down the river and tried it there… just my luck that exactly there a stone was hidden and all the sand around was washed away by the (not so strong) currents. So I stumbled and almost fell full length into the water. Fortunately I put the camera into the wet bag to prevent it from becoming sandy 🙂 and I could feel the girl laughing and thinking „what a fool… he should only have followed me“. And she, Luise from Berlin, just told me that 🙂

View of my favorite spot of Palolem Beach and behind

View of my favorite spot of Palolem Beach and behind

In the evening Anne Lise, the french fellow traveller I met in Ladakh and Udaipur, was arriving on my second day in Palolem. It is funny how one meets known faces again and again along the road. So Luise, Anne Lise and I formed a little dinner and beaching club. Palolem is also good for Yoga, the girls told me. There are numerous classes for every level. The ones that are keen for a little bit more action can rent a kayak at rates of around 200 rupees and less, according to your haggling skills. I can recommend the tour up the river. Though the water is really dirty, the scenery definitely compensates for that and you might be able to see different types of Kingfisher birds, other animals, and some mangroves.

Kayaking on the river behind Palolem Beach

Kayaking on the river behind Palolem Beach

I also tried the beach at Agonda which is further north from Palolem. I was only there to see the sunset and for a Lassi at the H2O-Lounge/Resort/Bar. The sunset is really amazing and from the colors totally different from Palolem beach, although they are only 10km apart. I even saw some sun worshipper making some weird signs towards the setting sun.  The lounge area of the resort is really cool but I’m sure it doesn’t justify the price of 4000 rupees per night for a hut!

Sun worshippers at Agonda Beach

Sun worshippers at Agonda Beach

On my last day in Goa I finally took advantage of the freedom the scooter gave me and I drove a little detour on my way back to Magao to see the Braganza House, a massive portuguese-style mansion built in the 17th century. Therefor I went to Chandor, some 15km from Magao. Even the tour from Palolem to Chandor off the main road was worth the trip. Some other (smaller) portuguese-influenced mansions can be seen along the road and the people seem to be more relaxed and laid-back. Back in Magao I returned the scooter and boarded the overnight train to Cochin/Eranakulam in the state of Kerala.

My scooter in front of the Sea View Resort in Patnem

My scooter in front of the Sea View Resort in Patnem





Ellora Caves

27 10 2012

The travelling to Aurangabad was unspectacular. The bus ride to Aurangabad took about 5h and I could have stayed in the bus for another 9-10h because it continued to Mumbai as well… but I preferred the less shaky mode of travel so I got off the bus in the outskirts of Mumbai. The ticket master of the bus must have smelled a little commission so he wanted me to enter a rickshaw that would bring me to the train station. Only 20km from where the bus stopped and the rickshaw driver would generously do it for 250 rupees. I asked the tourists best friend and offered the driver 70 rupees and this time it was me who was generous, because I also knew that the rate per km was below 10 rupees. Google Maps clearly stated 7km and I asked him if he’s always that bad in estimating distances. He calmly accepted my price 🙂

Gujarat Thali in Aurangabad

Gujarat Thali in Aurangabad

I don’t have a clue wheter Ahmedabad is worth a visit or not. The Lonely Planet states that the city has many things to explore and do but that one would need some time to get warm with it. But it seems that, according to the Lonely Planet, the most boring and charmless places are described like spectecular oasis for tourists. I also read that it was famous for Gujarath thalis so I spent my short stay in a restaurant and, indeed, the Gujarath version of thali was very tasty. In the morning I arrived in Mumbai to wait for the next train to Aurangabad that would leave around noon. So I had plenty time to check if my parcel was still in Jaisalmer or it was really sent without paying the bribe to the post officer. After 3 people telling me, that it was not possible to track this kind of parcel another woman came, provided the parcel’s id to some Internet service and there it was: in Delhi!! 🙂 After another eventless train ride of 7 hours I finally arrived, after 30h of travelling and waiting, in Aurangabad at 9 in the evening. Again, the rickshaw drivers tried to rip me off, offering me to take me to my hotel (the ones with rooms less than 500 ruppes seems to be holes but at least my one had a really good veg. restaurant next door) for 100 rupees. When they finally realized that I know how far it is, one agreed to take me there for only 10 rupees 🙂

Ellora - Cave 10 entrance

Ellora – Cave 10 entrance

Aurangabad itself doesn’t seem to have much to offer for tourists except for hotels and buses going to the many sights in the proximity of the city. Besides the Ellora Caves, definitely the main attraction there are also forts, tombs, and other things to see. If one is keen to see them all, auto-rickshaws can be hired for a full day for around 700 rupees. I only wanted to see the caves because it is a huge area that will take some time to explore if one wants to take more than a glimpse at each cave. So I took a rickshaw (the brother of my rickshaw driver from the day before was already in front of the hotel hoping for a great deal) to the government bus stand and than a local bus, which was only 30 rupees for the 40-minutes ride, to the Ellora caves. Poor rickshaw driver… it was already the beginning of the season but he told me that almost no tourists were in town. Most of the other sights are passed en route so I got an impression whether it might be worth to take a rickshaw back to stop at these places.

Ellora - Cave 10 from the top

Ellora – Cave 10 from the top

The caves run along a long stretch with a little park infront. Even there, in this ancient setting, most Indians use rickshaws inside the park to get close to the caves to minimize the walking. The cave closest to the entrance is also the most impressive (cave 10). It seems that the monks responsible for this cave, turned a massive rock into a massive, impressive, and freestanding temple, with no more than hammer and chisel. There are 34 caves in total that can be assigned to different religions: Buddhist (around the impressive temple of cave 10), Hindu and Jain. Some of the caves date back to the 6th or 7th century. Among impressive stone scarving skills they must have had plenty of time back then 🙂

Even with the best intentions... one will always end up with a photo like this :-)

Even with the best intentions… one will always end up with a photo like this 🙂

One can clearly distinct between the different epochos and religions in which the caves were built. Some show only buddhist figures, often taller than man, while other show a variety of different gods/figures and even women with enormous breasts… 🙂 it was really impressive seeing the fine carvings on the one hand and basic but huge prayer halls carved into or out of the stone. I ended up spending the whole day in the park so I skipped the other sights I had seen on my bus ride to the caves, although the fort looked really interesting. After all I was glad that I took the long detour to see this monumental piece of Indian history!

Impressive statues carved out of stone

Impressive statues carved out of stone

The next morning I had to get up really early to take the train back to Mumbai at 6AM. I was curious about my connecting train from Mumbai to Goa because my status on the waitlist haven’t changed since the last morning: I was still the first on the list… but it was still 8 hours and only a single person had to cancel to get a confirmed ticket myself. Until now it has never been a problem, sometimes even being 30th on the waitlist… but this time I had no luck! I got off at Thane, a district close to Mumbai and waited for the train to arrive and my status to change but the latter didn’t happen until the train reached the station. Because of a lack of other options and the hope that another person might have missed the train somewhere I still boarded the train but the train conductor told me that there is not a single seatr available. I had to buy another ticket for sleeper class (open carriages with beds and no A/C, ) with a fine ontop because I had no valid/confirmed ticket. But still, there was no seat available even in sleeper class. The other option would have been to get off the train in the middle of nowhere. It would be really interesting, if the train conductor added a little to the fine for his own pocket… he definitely acted strange when calculating the price. Finally I was sent to the sleeper class carriages without any advices where to seat. I just grabbed the first free seat, although it was booked by someone boarding at a later station, and didn’t move. When the train conducter came along I always asked him if there is a free seat now but he just accused himself always with the words „one minute“ and didn’t showed up for a long time. I’sure there were a few free seats but I think, because I already had paid for the new ticket, he sold them to other passengers. !!!!!Bedenken haben!!!!! of how it would be to show up in the sleeper class alone with all of my luggage and no chance to move if I don’t want to leave it alone. Now, writing this post in the train from Goa to Kochi travelling in AC3 class again, I think that the people in the lower classes are even more friendly and well-mannerd as the Indians of the middle class that can afford AC seats and bend. Here, in AC3, most of them behave like they are alone, burping, farting and throwing their rubbish everywhere… it seems they even don’t know how to use a mobile phone or watched too many episodes of Star Trek confusing their Nokia phone with a tricorder… In the sleeper class I (fortunately) sat next to a friendly family, with 3 children, 3 men and one woman, which (unfortunately) hardly spoke a word English. Nobody complained that they had to share the bench with one more person. At night, when everybody (except me) was preparing their beds, one of the men offered me one quater of his bed which he already shared with the two small kids. Another father of a small kind couldn’t stand seeing the four of us cramped on one bed, nobody able to sleep, so he offered me his „spare“ bed… I’m not sure if it was really a spare bed or if he was sharing one bed with his wife and kid afterwards, but I glady accepted is friendly offer. I really wonder why in India the less fortunate are mostly the more friendly and helping and the so called „middle class“ often selfish, unfriendly, mannerless and if they are in the tourist business they want to rip you off…





Rajasthan – Land of the kings!

17 10 2012

Jaipur is Rajasthans capital city and for tourists it offers some palaces, a couple of buildings influences by british-colonial architecture, a fort on top of a hill overlooking the city, a bunch of pink houses in the old city center, the usual bazaars, and the „heaven piercing minaret“, a minaret overlooking the old city center. I was heading to the latter when an Indian man was telling me that the minaret is already closed and I should visit some other temple instead were I would have similar views and, of course, for free… I ignored the man like one ignores so many other touts offering alomost everything for free. The minaret was really closed so I gave the temple a try. Indeed, one could enter for free and it provided nice views of the bazaar road and the surroundings. I spotted the man who gave me the tip and the only thing I could do was to nod at him in acknowledgement. This is one thing that really annoys me a lot in India. Everyone who depends on tourism for a living or at least is related to tourists tries to rip you off: rickshaw drivers promising to bring you to the best value guest house, which turns out to be a shithole in the middle of nowhere, the best value shops, tours or whatever, that are fairly overpriced or provide low quality. Shopowners, men on the streets and even kids approaching you to show you the best spots of the city for free or only liitle charge… if one is naive enough to follow their call one will most certainly find oneself in the middle of a bunch of Indians trying to sell stuff you don’t need/want at prices up in the sky and it’s really hard to get out without buying anything. On the other side there are a lot of Indians (the ones not related to tourism) who are just friendly and helpful, like the man telling me about the temple. But there is no chance to know beforehand who is of which type so you tend to distrust and ignore simply everyone and by doing so you’ll definitly miss a lot of cool spots 😦 Only by chance you will realize that some people don’t want to rip you off.

Jaipur: flower bazaar

Jaipur: flower bazaar

In the evening I went to the „Jaipur night tour“. It is organized by the Rajasthan tourism office but I guess you’ll never know what is official and what is not. In Delhi there was an „offical tourism office“ at almost every corner… The tour covers all the sights in Jaipur, even these outside the city center. This is the positive thing about this tour. Because you are going by night, you can’t get into any of these because everything is closed. Another positive suprise was the dinner, which is included in the price of 375 rupees. You will dine at the Tiger Fort, the fort on top of the hill with very nice views of Jaipur. The food was unexpectedly tasty: various vegetarian curries/dhals, rice, chapatis, curd… After that we went to some other palace with a very cool light and audio show. Eventhough it was the „offical Rajasthan tourism office“, we ended up in some big shop, selling everything from textiles (they even explained the process of block painting which Jaipur is famous for) over statues to painitings. At some point, the sales clerk at the paintings section asked me if I wanted to see his special paintings he personally creates in his free time. Scenes from the Kamasutra 🙂 and really great works!!

Jaipur: Night Tour with cool light/audio show at some fort

Jaipur: Night Tour with cool light/audio show at some fort

The next day I wanted to see all the sights in the city center we drove by the last night but I ended up in some shop. First, the owner was just talking to me, making jokes about other customers which he knew were doing business with some of his „enemies“. I ended up buying a tailor-made shirt and trouser and some more stuff, always thinking that I am ripped off… The material seemed very good, but I’m no professional and I don’t know whether it is good value or not. During the time my cloth were tailored I went to a nearby cinema to watch a Bollywood movie. Unfortunately they were only showing the movie „English Vinglish“ at this particular time. It’s not a real Bollywood movie, less dancing and sob stuff… but a lot of English so at least I was able to understand most of it. Back at the shop I was still not sure whether I was being ripped off or getting good value cloths. The shop owner had a travel agency as well and because he „really liked me“ he was offering me a good deal for a camel safari in Khuri, a small village near Jaisalmer. I ended up buying this, too. In the end it turned out, that at least the camel safari package was really cheap in comparison to what the other guests where paying per night (I paid less than half for 2 nights than the others for one night), so it might be that the cloth were good value as well. But it is also possible that the cloth were so overpriced that the owner felt sorry for me and therefor offered me that package 🙂

Jaisalmer, or more specifically Khuri, was my next destination. Jaisalmer is a small city built around a huge fort made of sand stone near the Pakistan border in western Rajasthan. It is also famous for camel safaris. My „resort“ was in Khuri, a small village some 50km southeast of Jaisalmer. I had to take the local bus to get there. And there it was agian. The rickshaw drivers and some random people told me, that there was no more bus going to Khuri that day. But they could take me there or knew somebody who could. Others told me there will be a bus but everyone was sure it was going at a time that didn’t match with the times the others told me. I figured out that most stated a time between 1PM and 3PM and in fact, the bus showed up at 1.30PM. I asked the ticket officer for the price and he answered almost immediatly with 100 rupees. I was sure I read something about 30 rupees (but in a book that was 2 years old) so I started to ask the others on the bus. They confirmed the price of 30 rupees so I started a little argument with the ticket officer. After 30 minutes of riding in a absolutely overcrowded bus were I wasn’t able to move and some really old Indian beggar started to rail against me/foreigners in general (I was sure about that although he didn’t spoke a word English) I finally got back my 70 rupees.

Khuri: accomodation at my "resort"... the hut was my one

Khuri: accomodation at my „resort“… the hut was my one

The two nights in the „resort“ were quite okay. A complex consisting of some tents and some shanty huts is regarded as „resort“ over there 🙂 On the first evening I had my first ride on a camel to the dunes to see the sunset. Afterwards I had sore legs and muscle ache in the arms… riding a camel is definitely the most uncomfortable mode of travel… 🙂 Every night was the same entertainment program with traditional music and dances. But the music wasn’t exactly my taste and way to loud… the dances were nice though.

Khuri: my camel, I named her Trudy, watching the sunset...

Khuri: my camel, I named her Trudy, watching the sunset…

On the third day I went back to Jaisalmer, paying only 30 rupees for the bus right from the start 🙂 in Jaisalmer there are many guest houses, almost all of them with views of the fort and roof-top terraces. I went to the Roop Mahal which had very basic but clean rooms for only 300 rupees. Try to avoid eating at the roof-top restaurant… I was feeling a little bit sick a couple of hours after I had breakfast there and I just met two fellow travellers which had even more serious stomach problems after eating at this place. In the afternoon I tried to send a parcel back to Germany… not an easy task in India. You have to go to a tailor first that tailors some kind of bag that fits exactly around your parcel and seals the stitching with wax. After that you can go to the post office and pay a fortune to send some kilos via land and sea… and still, some bloke of the post office, probably the supervisor, came around when I had to pay and asked for a bribe… as if it was the most natural thing… I refused to pay and now I hope the parcel won’t get „lost“ somewhere… This is exactly the type of people that make travelling in India a less nice experience and making you suspicious of most Indians because as tourist you normally deal with these people more often.

Jaisalmer: panorama of Jaisalmer Fort

Jaisalmer: panorama of Jaisalmer Fort

The next day I visited the Jaisalmer Fort which is very impressive and the audio guide highly recommended. It’s even included in the admission fees. It was the first time I tried an audio guide and I think I will go for it more often from now on… if the price is reasonable 🙂 In the afternoon I met Kai, the Japanese-German guy I met in Leh, and we went to the bus stop to start our 14 hours overnight bus ride to Udaipur… the bus ride was an advendure for itself. We had the berths in the rear section of the bus. With every bump the bus was crossing we were jumping back there… and if you are taller than 1.70m there won’t be much space to jump! The bus driver was driving like a madman… in Europe you would barely recognize the street as mogul slope. Here in Rajasthan it was a highway! If there were some animals on the street he chose the last chance to brake… I’m sure we even hit some of them… I think I managed to sleep at least 2 hours before we arrived in Udaipur the next morning.

Sunrise in Udaipur after our 14h bus ride... What a relief!

Sunrise in Udaipur after our 14h bus ride… What a relief!

To be upfront with it: if I had to live in one of the cities I’ve seen so far in India… without any doubt, it would be Udaipur! The city spreads around the lake Pichola and is surrounded by some hills to the west. The houses rise steadily from the banks of the lake so that almost everyone has a rooftop terrace overlooking the Lake Palace hotel situated in the middle of the lake and only reachable via boat. Our guest house is situatedon a small headland on the bank opposite Lal Ghat and the main city with splendid views of Udaipurs City Palace. In my opinion, you will have the best views of the city right there and it’s a bit more quite with less tuk-tuk drivers and shop owners competing for your attention. We searched for accomodation and weren’t lucky at first… not enough free rooms for the three of us or just too expensive. But then we were taken to a „new“ place of the brother of one of the guest house owners, the Araveli Palace guest house… everything is a palace over here, no matter how old and in which state 🙂 our’s was definitely not new but provided clean (Indian standard of cleanliness) and very good views from the rooftop terrace for only 300 rupees per night. I wished it would be always that way!

Our hotel was one of the higher ones in the background, overlooking the sunrise scenery!

After we recovered from our bus tour, we started to walk around the city and finally took a taxi to the Monsoon Palace, which is situated on top of one of the hills, for sunset. It is a bit pricey, 600 rupees for the taxi that will wait for you while you explore the Monsoon Palace and wait for the sunset, another 130 rupees parking fees, and finally 160 rupees admission per person, so share at least the taxi and parking fees if possible. The views of the city and the hills are really good, the palace itself is not too interesting. The next day I went with Kai to see the Udaipur City Palace and it’s museum and we spent over 2 hours in there. Unfortunately the audio guide was a little bit too pricey. In the museum one can enjoy the amazing architecture with beautiful stone and wood carvings and the sheer size of the palace. There are uncountable rooms, many of them displaying paintings and other exhibits of past times, and occasionally open areas with gardens and springs and whatever a moghul or king needed 🙂 after visiting the City Palace I was keen to find a quite and green spot for reading. I finally ended up in some park behind the City Palace that turned out to host the zoo of Udaipur, a little toy train, and I was sure there was some karaoke going on somewhere near, too…

View from the Monsoon Palace in the opposite direction of Udaipur

View from the Monsoon Palace in the opposite direction of Udaipur

During the day one could see preparations going on for some festival starting the 16th in the evening, the Navarathri festival. It will last for 9 nights and as I heard, there will be a lot of dancing. Unfortunately I will travel a lot the next days but I hope I can attend some ceremony somewhere. The first night we missed the festival because of a cooking class with Sashi, an Indian woman here in Udaipur. Besides the 14 dishes we prepared or at least discussed that night we learned a lot about her life and Indian rules according to casts. She, for example, is of a family from a very high cast, and the members are only allowed to eat vegetables that grow over ground. Being from a high caste doesn’t necessarily mean you are rich and when her husband died she really struggled for a couple of years to care for her son and herself. Again, being from a high caste can be cumbersome: she had no job then and as soon as her husband died his family turned away from her and her son. According to the rules of her caste she even wasn’t allowed to do some jobs like laundry and such. Finally, with the help of many western tourists which encouraged her to learn English, she opened up the cooking class and now she’s very proud to be the number 1 tour attraction in Udaipur on TripAdvisor 🙂 The cooking class was really a memorable event… we spent 5 hours in her home around a small table or the cooking plates, discussing a wide range of Indian recipes, chopping vegetables, kneading dough, or frying dishes. Now I know how to prepare a really fresh Masala chai (not using any powder mix), Pakoras, Chapatis, Curries, different types of Parathas (sweet, plain, buttered, stuffed… you name it!), and even Paneer cheese… will definitely try these back home!

Quintessential choice of spices needed for Indian dishes

Quintessential choice of spices needed for Indian dishes

Spices lessons with Shashi and my fellow students

Spices lessons with Sashi and my fellow students

In a few hours, a most likely tiresome session of travelling will begin. First I will have to go to Ahmedabad by bus only to board the night to Mumbai train 3 hours later. Arriving there in the morning, I won’t waste time and get onto the next train to Aurangabad in the early afternoon, arriving in late evening. All this to be able to see the Ellora caves. Hopefully these are as good as everyone is telling me 🙂

Lal Ghat in the evening...

Lal Ghat in the evening…





Amazing Ladakh

5 10 2012

My flight from Mumbai to Leh was at 6 AM so I had the glorious idea to safe the money for staying at the hotel and drive to the airport the evening before… this time, I assured, the taxi would cost me around 8, not 50 Euros 🙂 arriving at the airport, I was forced to stay outside for another 2 hours for no obvious reasons, but after that it was fine. Sometimes (or better often) one should not ask for reasons or even some kind of sense over here 🙂 I spent the night with watching TV shows on my laptop to kill the time, beause unfortunately sleeping was not possible on the seats although it was relatively quite.

Sunrise over Mumbai

Sunrise over Mumbai

After the take-off I saw my first beautiful sunrise over India and shortly after that I doze of. On our stop in Delhi I didn’t had to get off the plane as it would go onwards to Leh. To fly over the Ladakh region and the descent to Leh was the most spectecular I’ve ever seen out of a plane. Amazing landscapes with huge montains, most of them topped with snow (snow line must be around 6000m there) everything else was just bare rocks and sand and looked like a scenery on the moon. Eventually, green oasis came into sight, following rivers that emerge between the mountains and reached into wide valleys and plateaus.

Approaching Leh

Approaching Leh

Leh itself is a little town that seemed quite busy and touristy to me. Maybe because I expected a little sleepy village in the middle of nowhere. It definitaly was in the middle of nowhere 🙂 I found a guest house with a nice garden an (at least advertised) 24h WiFi. For Indian standadards it seemed clean. This don’t count for western standard 🙂 but one will get used to it very soon and soon see the difference between old/worn and real dirt. In my room I had to face my first Indian challange: a squatter toilet 😉

The family that runs the guest house was really friendly. The grand father asked my whether I arraived today by plane and when I confirmed, he sent me to my room to have a rest 🙂 this is important to acclimatize to the height and to avoid mountain sickness. It was a welcoming advice because I had only dozed a bit on the flight. Normally, one should take it easy at least for 2-4 days, but on the next morning I felt really good so I went to explore the area. First destinations were the main bazaar of Leh, which is packed with souvenir and textile shops, selling primarily tibetian junk and shawls, curtains, bed sheets … everything from simple wool over Yak wool to silk and Paschmina wool. On my way to Leh Palace I met a guy from UK that tried to carry his bike up the hill, but after 200m he surrendered and kindly accepted my little lock. It was obvious, that it won’t stop anybody from stelaing it, but it was better than nothing 🙂

Leh Palace and Leh Fort are on top of a hill in Leh. The climb is steep but you will be rewarded with amazing views. Due to the height and the thin air, one will feel every single step and be exhausted every few meters. But I guess you haven’t been to Leh, I you don’t visit these both landmarks.

Panorama of Leh from Leh Fort

Panorama of Leh from Leh Fort

My aim was to do at least a 4-days trek in the region, so I had to be fast with organizing a tour because I only had 7 days in Leh. in mid-Septermber it is already low season, so I wasn’t able to find any trekking companions, at least not for the intended length and route. Finally I decided to do it on my own with only a guide. The tour began on September 19th and was from Spituk, some 30 minutes drive away from Leh, to Chilling. I don’t wanted to carry a sleeping back and tent, so I decided to go for home stays, which means, that I would be staying at the homes of locals from the villages where we would stay over night.

The morning the trek started, I met my guide, a 23 years old student from Leh named Lotus. It took us a while to get warm with each other, but in the end he turned out to be a funny guy and we talked a lot about our lives. The first little shock came, when the mini van dropped us at some point of the road on a wide plateau in the middle of nowhere. In sight were only the road, the mountains and between that only rocks and sand. A really surreal landscape. And now it was time to walk. Soon we reached the Indus river and were headed to path between the mountains. Always, it was green as soon as there was a river or some little stream. The landscape seemed bare, monotonous, and dusty at first sight, but it soon seemed to change every few meters.

The goal of the first day was a village called Yurutse. After we reached it, I had to redefine my understanding of the term village: over here, if there is at least one house, it’s a village. Yurutse has two houses and therefor could count as metropolis 🙂 I stayed in a house with one woman in her 50th and two men that could have been anything from 70 until 300 years old. The woman was really caring and friendly while the older men where busy with murmuring and praying (may be equivalent). None of them could speak a word English and so a downside of my guide Lotus came to light: he rarely translated anything of what the loacals were saying and even if I explicitly asked him to translate a discussion between several locals, he normally just answered „some old story“, which might be true but doesn’t help me to get to know and in touch with the people. I heard of other travellers having more luck with their guide.
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After the shock with the squatter toilet of the guest house in Leh, I was only a little bit worried to see, that there is something even  more simple serving as toilet in a house: a hole in the ground in a room of the first floor 🙂 along with sand and a spade. Fortunately I brought my own toilet paper… one of the most useful items to have in India!
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In the evening, we sat alltogether in the main room of the house, which served as living room, kitchen, sleeping room, and whatever there is exept the toilet. The woman cooked soup and prepared some bread rolls, which were steamed before eating. At 8 PM I excused myself to bed. Boredom can be exhausting… especially if a lot of talking happens around you and you don’t understand a single word.

Living room of home stay in Yurutse

Living room of home stay in Yurutse

On the second day we started early at around 7.30 AM and walked (or climbed) through wide areas and narrow paths, green patches, dessert-like areas and sometimes even small forrests. The next village only contained a single house, but it was bigger that the two ones of Yurutse and seemed livelier. It had also a rooftop terrace with splendid views of the Stok-Kangri, one of the easiest mountain over 6000m to climb. To kill time, I tried to climb the hill behind the home stay, I read a lot and in the evening there was the same procedure as before, this time with more people. We had dinner, the others were chatting („Some old stories“), but before going to bed, I managed to taste half a glass of local Ladakhi beer… something that reminds me a bit of Cider but still has an undefinable taste. The locals drink it with a lot of flour and as soon as you have a sip, somebody will refill your glass. With food it is mostly the same in home stays… You simply can’t eat as much as they want you to 🙂 and it takes many excuses to not get even more.

The highest point of the trek had to be passed on the third day. Again, we started early, right after breakfast. This time I wasn’t really sucessful in denying refills. Right after starting the hiking, I felt really weak and I was exhausted every few meters… that’s the right mood to cross a pass of over 4900m height! I was fully reliefed and exhausted when we reached the top after the first 3 hours of hiking… but after a rest of 5 minutes I felt good enough to climb the hill at one side of the pass to take a beautiful panorama picture 🙂 The way down is always easier, but it took us another 4 hours to reach the last home stay. There, the new houses even had a bathroom. Unfortunately without water 🙂 At the second home stay, we had a little stream outside the house that represented the shower, here it was a big river. Again, bitterly cold. At the evening a buddhist monk came to the guest house to stay over night. And of course, he had to do a prayer ceremony. Eventhough it is very interesting, it also can be very annoying, having a monk burning some herbs, shouting, and ringing bells randomly inside the house 🙂

The highligh of the next day was rafting on the Zandang river. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, it would be my first rafting, so I was pretty much excited. On the other hand, it still was this bitterly cold mountain river of not more then 6°C. On the way to the starting point, we had another highlight: crossing the river in a little box that hung on a rope spanned over the river. We met another couple from Germany and their guide, so there were 5 of us crossing that river in the little box. On the last round, when the other guide and the German guy were crossing the river, the rope, that is used to pull yourself to the other side, broke… so I guess, the ones arriving after us might have had a little problem 🙂

Who is stupid enough to go rafting at 5 degrees water temperature?

Who is stupid enough to go rafting at 5 degrees water temperature?

The rafting itself was okay. We were two and later 3 boats with approx. 8 people per boat. The level should be a 3+ but due to little water in the river, I guess it was less than that…

Back in the guest house I started to check the agencies for the next experience. I met a German/Japanese guy (Kai) in the guest house having similar plans. The easiest to organize would be mountainbiking down from the Khardung pass, one of the world highest motorable passes. A jeep is carrying the bikes and bikers up to the pass station and then you can speed down the road again… sounds awesome. It turned out, that even the way up in the jeep is very adventurous. Motorable actually doesn’t necessarily involve good streets… or something you would call at least a street 🙂 So all of us were very cautious on the highest parts of the „road“. It really was amazing with excellent views, a lot of adrenalin, and effortless cycling. After the road was reckognizable as road, the brakes weren’t used very often until I reached the starting point again. I would recommend this tour to everyone that likes biking at least a bit…

Mountainbiking Leh

Speeding down from Khardung La (5600m) to Leh (3500m)

Still, there were many places toeither to Pangong Lake or the Nubra Valley. I never heard a bad word about one of the location from other travellers. In fact, they were raving about these areas, so I decided to visit at least one of it. It isn’t too easy to organize a tour at the end of the season in Leh. First of all, many tourists seem to be in a hurry. They mostly went for 1-day tours, which means they will have approx. 2 hours at the possibly most exiting places in the world… I wasn’t… I had just extended my stay by changing my plans of going to Varanassi and rebooking my flight from Leh back to Delhi for 6 days later. It was a very reasonable price/fee in comparison to change flights in Europe, even with low-cost carriers. Kai and me checked almost all of Leh’s agencies, just to come up with one or two options, which were canceled just the evening before, due to sickness of other fellow travellers. And sharing the jeep with just 1 or two other people is too expensive. So we started another round of agency hopping and finally found another promising tour to Pangong Lake for the next day. It was with 3 other travellers, so it would be affordable, even if one got sick again… and so it happend: the guy from my guest house got an urgent call from the loo over night and was still busy taking to it in the morning so unfortunately he couldn’t join 😦

So I went with one weird Dutch (he always said Holland) guy, a girl from France and another girl from Israel. Driving through the mountains was awesome again. The landscape often changed from rough and steep abysses, to moon-like scenery and back to wide green plains with lovely rivers. We had to pass the Chang pass which seems to have the highest 90’s revival party in the world… At the local shop from a little car radio attached to a car battery, Take That and others were causing headache… I’m certainly sure that this had nothing to do with the heigth 🙂

Pangong Lake

„Interesting nothing“ of Pangong Lake

When we approached the Pangong Lake, I realized, that I had something totally different in mind, when I thought about how it might be… I thought of some nice villages along with trees, old ladies weaving socks and shawls from Yak wool, a few shops… but there was almost nothing! Sand, dust, rocks, more sand… and a beautiful lake shimmering in multiple variations of blue and green. And occasionally some old lady weaving something from Yak wool 🙂 Especially in the low season this is a very calm, sleepy place. There are some hints, how it must be in high season… a tent village with restaurants and souvenir shops, a bunch of toilets standing on a field (I guess/hope there will be a tent in high season)…

Only the guest houses of the families that are staying over the winter at Pangong Lake were still open and this weren’t many. We chose one that somebodz recommended to me back in Leh and it was a really good choice. At night, we had a lovely dinner with the family and we could even watch the process of making butter and cheese. In the morning I was able to try traditional Ladakhi cloths.

Cheese

Making Of: Cheese!

Traditional Ladakhi outfit

Traditional Ladakhi outfit

Lucky me, the Dutch guy and the Israelian woman wanted to go to Nubra Valley as well. The agenciy found two other Indians to join us, so we went right the next morning after we came back from Pangong Lake. We had to cross the Khardung pass again. On the other side was a thrilling canyon  range which I would have liked to explore… but a lot of driving was the plan for this day. After the first 3-4 hours of driving we finally saw the Nubra Valley.

Nubra Valley

First view of Nubra Valley

The first view is simply breathtaking. Between two really high mountain ranges is an almost endless plain with different distinct landscapes one could see from above. There was a river, shining almost as bright and colorful as the Pangong Lake. Near to the river and the streams coming from the mountains there were expansive greens with some small trees and even high cottonwood trees. On a hight of over 3000m! Then there were the usual rocks and dust. And, suprisingly, some sand dunes…

The farthest we got into the Nubra Valley were the „hot springs“at Panamik village. This was the only disappointing thing: you are driving through a beautiful landscape which holds enough to spend several days and your tour will stop after 6 hours of driving at this (sorry to say) shithole of tourist trap. If you can avoid going there do so… it is way better to explore a dark rock some 10km before Panamik. I’m sure it will be more fun to climb it ant the view must be awesome!! I’m still a bit angry we hadn’t the chance because we didn’t know what to expect in Panamik.

After Panamik we drove to some monastery which was nice but also not very special. Still we had two hours of driving to reach our final destination for the day: Hunder village, on the other side of the river and into another side arm of the valley. Hunder seems to be the place to stay over night. A lot of guest houses, camping sites and other accomodation. But it seemed still a natural, sleepy town, especially in low season. Our guide drove us to a nice little guest hose, owned by a very welcoming and nice family, with rooms at reasonable prices (Honcho guest house). The group of us started immediately to explore the area because it was about to get dark and we definitely wanted to see the river. On our way, we stumbled into a house of a local family. We had another very warm welcome, with children running around us and the oldest daughter, chatting with us in suprisingly good English. Although we came totally unexpected, we all had a cup of butter tean in our hands after just 3 minutes. I read about butter tea before and was expecting something really weird. It was weird, because it was made from milk tea, butter and salt, but tasted not as horrible as expected. Afer a few minutes, we all agreed to send back a letter with the photos we had taken of the family, we left for another attempt to find the river… without success… When it was getting dark, we headed back to the guest house, had dinner, and watched the cricket game India vs. Australia with our hosts later. I left after only one hour when one Australian player destroyed all chances of victory for India 🙂 The next day we were able to ride camels that live in this valley. I chose to take some pictures of the sand dunes instead 🙂

PanoramaNubraSandDunes

Panorama of Nubra’s sand dunes





First days of India – Mumbai

1 09 2012

After a long time and skipping the fabulous trips to Costa Rica in 2011 and Greece earlier this year I will write about my first experiences in India. This is the first country I’m visiting on my 4-month tour through Southeast Asia. India is first for several reasons. The main reason is, that all other countries might be holiday in comparison to the hustle and bustle, the poverty, the sheer size, the touts, and whatever comes into your mind when thinking about India.

The first stop was Mumbai. After only 4 hours in this city of superlatives I already hated it… At first I was stupid enough to trust the official airport security. Although I had arranged airport pickup with my hotel, nobody showed up. So I was thaught my first lesson about India: do not trust anyone regardless how official the looks. The airport security led me to a taxi stand and as soon as I sat in the taxi I was sure that the driver was most probably the brother of the security guy and that I would have to pay a fortune to get to the hotel with no chance of getting out… and they didn’t dissapoint me… at least I did arrive at the hotel. The funniest thing was the driver asking if everything was okay and for a tip because he hadn’t earned anything until now… 🙂 he accepted my angry face as a „NO!!!“

Largest outdoor laundromat of the world

Largest outdoor laundromat of the world

I had to wait another 4 to 5 hours until my room would be ready so I decided to roam around the area… It took only half an hour to meet a friendly Indian guy who insistently claimed to be my little brother… as he had the day off he could show me some really cool places. Ah… and of course he was a teacher with references from an American professor and only had to be back at afternoon to teach some english lessons… I wasn’t able to get rid of him so I let him show me some of Mumbais less travelled attractions although I was again sure, that this might not be generous of him as it might seem. I must admit that the tour was really cool, passing by most of the british colonial buildings, riding a Mumai train after only one hour in this city, and seeing the largest open-air laundry with 5000 people washing linen, shirts, and whatever… We also managed to see the Haji-Ali mosque and Chowpatti beach, which I knew well from the book Shantaram. Last stop was the Ghandi museum. So I had a really good time in the first 4 hours in Mumbai but this almost changed on the way back to the hotel. In the taxi the so called teacher claimed, that he has to buy „books“ for his students and that I should support him. There it was again… but in the end I bargained him down to support him with one book for only 500 rupees 🙂 not too bad for a tour of 4 hours and a free train ride…

Gateway of India

Gateway of India

Taj Mahal Palace

Taj Mahal Palace

 

Besides the colonial architecture of some of Mumbais buildings, other buildings, like the Gate of India or the Taj Mahal hotel, don’t need to hide… except for the heat, the smell and the chaos in Mumbais streets, it seems very European at some corners. But the places I enjoyed most were the Sanjaj National Park and the Elephanta Island. Some really cool caves can be explored at both. I found the Sanjaj National Park pleasant… you can hire a bike and explore the wide area on your own, sometimes not seeing any other person (except for weekends) and the caves are more interesting. Elephanta is very touristic and you have to watch your food , otherwise bold mokeys will steal it. The advantage of Elephanta is the boat ride from the Gate of India. But riding Mumbais trains was also a lot of fun.

Mumbai's trains are fun

Mumbai’s trains are fun

Another must-do in Mumbai is shopping. I did it with a fellow from South Africa on my last day. Fashion street was quite disappointing… only „western“ stuff, ot at least what Indians think we wear… So we went to the Magaldas Market, a bunch of streets with thousands of little shops. There we were guided to a textile shop by a really old man, which was suprisingly faster than us navigating through the masses of Indians in the streets. After we were filmed by a TV team, had tea, and seen approximately a million different shawls, table cloth, and bed sheets, we haggled a bit and left the shop with beautiful new shawls… extremely important with around 30°C outside 🙂 next destination is Leh\Ladakh…

Shopping in Mumbai

Shopping in Mumbai