Day 1: Bye Bye Nepal
(31 January 2013)
We took the bus from Lumbini around 10am. Getting across the border was not hard at all. After the hassle we had to go through at the Indian embassy to get our visas, we had prepared for the worst, but after the rikshaw dropped us off it was a matter of ten to fifteen minutes – checking out of Nepal and passing the ‘Welcome To India’ sign – before our feet were touching Indian soil, and we were fighting off jeepdrivers that wanted to take us to Gorakhpur. It was a four hour drive crammed on the backseat with a very fat Indian and his cranky wife.
In Gorakhpur we hoped it would turn out to be very easy to get arrange a train to Agra. At that point, we were still on a deadline as we thought two of my brother’s friend would meet us in Goa by the 8th. Unfortunately, it was not as easy as we thought – nor was it as hard though. No trains to Agra for three days, but there was no way I would stay in Gorakhpur any longer than absolutely necessary. Without doubt, it is the filthiest, most disgusting place I have ever seen. So we consulted our R$600 Lonely Planet from 2007 and saw that Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow is on the way. It would probably be possible tot take a bus to Agra from there. Would there be any trains going there? Yes actually, 6am the following morning. This left us to sleep in the filthiest, most disgusting hotel we have ever seen, and we have never slept worse.
Day 2: Lucknow
Indeed, luck was with us now. Initially hesitant, my brother had to admit it was a wise choice to come here. And – yet again – lucky for us there was a very comfortable busride awaiting us that night to Agra. In other words, we had a full day to enjoy Lucknow. Our first surprise was that there are a lot of muslims in India (in the north anyway). The second one were all the monuments dedicated to the British that died during the Indian Mutany (as the English call it) or the War of Independence (as the Indians call it). We saw a fort were 2,000 English died, a replica of the Big Ben – we decided to skip the Taj Mahal replica – and many mosques. We also saw many, many flashes. A lot of locals wanted to take a picture of us or with us like we were heroes from the latest Bollywood blockbuster. We are not, ofcourse, but we were probably the only white people in Lucknow. One proud father even pushed his son in our arms and took a picture.
Day 3: Agra
At 4.45am – much earlier than predicted – the bus arrived in Agra. Now what? We were supposed to arrive around 7 in the morning. At that time it would be possible to have breakfast and start arranging the next phase of our Highlights of Northern India in Seven Days Tour. At 5, however it is still dark and a little creepy. But a friendly rikshaw driver (who no doubt made half a day’s pay in one go) brought us to the railway station, so we had some very spicey samosas for breakfast, and waited til the Computerised Reservation
Center opened at 8. Jalgoan would be our next stop, as was confirmed by a ticket in my hand around 10.15am. Don’t you just love Indian efficiency!?
Two full days in Agra are easily filled. Whoever said there’s only the Taj Mahal to see is a big fat lyer! There is so much more, like the Agra fort, tombs of acient Muslim rulers and their wifes, and parks with views of the Taj. There is also a national park nearby so once you’re sick of the polution and annoying tourist-chasers (Come into my shop, just look, just look. Ma’am, rikshaw? Where are you going? I give you good price. etc.) you can go there. But I’m not a travelguide so let me continue our story. We went and saw the Taj, then we went to the fort. And then we were so tired having had the worst two nights sleep ever that we went back to the hotel for a well deserved shower and some rest. We slept ten hours straight in a proper bed. Sweet!
Day 4: Southbound
The night before we found out that our company isn’t due to arrive untilthe 13th. This put the rush out of our southbound journey a bit. Had we found out earlier, we might have hung around the north a bit longer, but as we already bought our traintickets we got on the train to Jalgoan that night! First, we slept as late as our checkout time allowed. We even had a hot morning shower! After breakfast, it was time for some shopping and wandering about. Yet again we stumbled upon a little spot where no tourists go: we took a boat across the river behind the Taj Mahal. I will let the pictures speak for themselves…
When we left he hotel for the railway station, we asked the staff how much a rikshaw would cost: 100 rupees. Five steps outside the hotel premises, a rikshaw driver told us we ‘must have misunderstood, because it is indeed 100 rupees, but per person’. Who are you trying to fool, fool? So we got our ride for the apropriate price (for a change). Bargaining is hard… Our trainbeds do not look uncomfortable. Fun fact: Indian second class is Russian third class. However, we were in the company of a small boy who was on his first trainride ever. Initially, he seemed bound to make this far from an easy ride. Good thing it was only going to be 14 hours.
Day 5: Ellora Caves
We heard so much mainly negative stories about India before we crossed the border that we had mixed feelings about coming here, especially after the whole embassy debacle. Herewith I say to each and every one of you out there that wishes to say anything negative: you are crazy! We have never met a genuinely friendlier people. Case in point: the gentleman we met on the train to Jalgoan who immediately called his friend to help us sort out both traintickets to Nagpur and private car to the caves of Ellora. This friend subsequently invited us for breakfast and coffee at his house. “If you are back before 9pm,” he said, “please come to my house for dinner.”
The caves were wonderful. And also a three-and-a-half-hour drive away, so we were spend when we were back at the Jalgoan station around 8.30pm. Because our trainticket wasn’t confirmed we would have to find the conductor once the train was there to see if he would be able to arrange some bunks for us (it’s a 10 hour journey). Unlike the faith our newly made Indian friend had had that morning, it turned to be much harder than expected. But I guess we are on the correct path (long story), because a) our friend the railway engineer turned up at the station unexpected and b) after flashing his ID card for the conductor it took no less than three seconds to find us both a bed – kicking someone else out of his bed – on which we fell asleep for the next ten hours after having thoroughly thanked him.
Day 6: Chandrepur
From Nagpur, I arranged our ticket to Mumbai/Bombay while my brother fixed our ride to Tadoba Tiger Resort. First, a bus to Chandrapur, second, a bus to Tadoba. After arriving in Chandrapur it didn’t take long before we found ourselves cruising the town’s roads with some Hindi rap song blasting from the speakers; one of our bags in the tiny trunk, the other sharing the front seat area with a tiny Indian boy, and a watermelon in my lap. The two boys and girl basically took care of everything for us and dropped us off at the hotel in the resort. We most be the luckiest people alive!
Day 7 and 8: Tadoba Tiger Resort
Have you ever felt like something was sitting on your face in the middle of the night or curiously running up and down your body, looking for food? Have you ever woken up with a troop of mice raiding your room? We have. And it is not nearly as entertaining when you are living the experience as telling about it afterwards! The next morning, even before we had coffee, we saw six monkeys sitting on our balcony. This was followed by an elephant that came running – and elephants rarely run for fear of falling down – down the street followed by a little man who was trying to catch (?) it. But even if he would get a hold of the chain attached to the elephant, how would he stop it? we wondered amazed at the sight of all this. It was, in short, an entertaining first start of our stay at the Tadoba Tiger Resort.
We saw six tigers in total during two safaris. One was so close to our gypsy (I am not being politically incorrect: the jeeps used for the safaris are called gypsies) we could almost touch it. Another one showed us his teeth and we quickly sat down and kept quiet. We also saw a wild boar, freaky looking bats, lots of deer, even more monkeys, and so many birds and butterflies, and ghost trees. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get a really good look at a sloth bear, nor did we see leopards, wild dogs or cats or any of the other wildlife found there. We saw tigers, though! Tigers are cool! Don’t you just love our life?!
Day 9 and 10: Nagpur
We left the resort in the morning and got a private car back to Nagpur. We figured we spend our day and night here in order to avoid the stress of getting back in time for the train. And we also had to check if our train ticket was confirmed or not, and maybe come up with an alternative to get to Mumbai/Bombay – the former being the name of the city in the local language Marathi; the latter a derivation from the Portuguese name Bom Bahai (nice bay). But not before we got properly ripped off by the oh so nice hotel manager. It is a fact we overpay in most places, but that is usually only ten to fifty rupees. This time it came nearer to 2,000 rupees. It still hurts a little…
Nagpur was uninteresting. It is just another Indian city: overcrowded, dirty, and full of traffic. There was nothing to see or do. It was even damn near impossible to go online. We did however find a really nice place to eat, and we spent the day there talking to the manager, who gave us tips as to what to visit in the south. We also met a guy from Argentina there with whom we exchanged travel ittineraries – he told us the do’s and don’ts of southern India, we told him where to go in Nepal.
Unfortunately, our train tickets were upgraded from second class to first class. In other words, we travelled to Mumbay/Bombay like the rich backpackers we are.
Day 11, 12 and 13: Mumbai/Bombay
Mumbai/Bombay was totally not what we expected it to be. It was more relaxed, not as busy or poluted and quite beautiful. It still has a lot of the buildings the Portuguese built and it is so close to the sea. It had been getting really warm, so we didn’t mind the sea breeze. It was our first visit to a real Indian city; but it was nothing like we expectd it to be:. It is still a city though. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. We did have our first night out in a while, by that I mean drinking and socializing. We met a whole bunch of people and had loads of fun. Anton had a three-day hangover though, so our second day was kind of waisted. On the third day, we went to Elephanta Island. It is good to be away from the city. We met a man from Singapore who offered to show us around when we have an 11 hour layover on our way to Vietnam. Then we got into the bus to Goa’s capital Panaji/Panjim.
Day 14: Goa
Panjim/Panaji is not really interesting. We arrived on the last day of carnaval, but we are dissapointed. So we wached a movie and slept before we went to the airport to pick up Roy and Arlon at three in the morning. We were back in our very comfortable beds again by five. We have now exactly three weeks left in India. Bring on the beaches!