A Travellerspoint blog

Delhi dramas

Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground...

sunny 14 °C
View Round the world in 250 days on Nat and Ev's travel map.

After visiting a number of smaller towns in a row I was quite excited about the prospect of returning to Delhi for a few days. While some areas of Delhi can been pretty full-on (read: grimy streets, stray dogs everywhere, riskshaw drivers trying to accost you every two steps etc etc) - there are also lots of things to see and do. And like most big cities - it is a lot easier to find the occasional western comfort to get you through the more stressful times.

Unfortunately, the Delhi experience hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as planned.

Drama number 1. After too many train and bus trips Ev and I took the plunge and splurged for a flight from Darjeeling back to Delhi. We figured that a 3 hour flight on even the dodgiest airline had to be more fun than a 27 hour train trip back to Delhi.

The journey started on Sunday morning, when we got ourselves up at 5am so that we could wedge ourselves on a share jeep from Gangtok to Bagdogora airport. Share jeeps are the way to get around in the mountains as they are quicker than buses and travel popular stretches every 30 minutes or so - but drivers take anywhere up to 18 people in a normal jeep (yes this is the standard jeep made to fit maybe 11) so they can get pretty uncomfortable. On this particular morning we were lucky - only 15 people were wedged into our jeep. But it turns out I have a stronger stomach for hair pin turns than most - cause five of our fellow passengers spend most of the 4 hour journey vomiting out the windows of the jeep. Nice.

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We arrived a few hours ahead of the flight but we didn't mind since we figured it was better to be early than rushed. Five long hours of waiting later - our flight was cancelled due to bad visibility! I'm sure we should have been glad that the cheap airline was choosing safety over earning a few extra dollars but from where we were sitting the fog / pollution looked pretty mild. Don't airplanes come with some pretty sophisticated gps gadgets these days?

Anyway, after a mild panic about how the heck we were going to get to Delhi (the flights on the next two days were already full) we headed to the train station. After much discussion with Indian train staff in what can only be described as very pigeon English we established that there was a 5pm train to Delhi for which no sleeper tickets were available (these are the bed-like seats that you get whenever you go on the train overnight). But... we could buy an unreserved ticket for a normal seat, wedge ourselves on the train and from there negotiate with the train conductors for any available seats we could find. Only in India! Well despite my fears of spending the next 29 hours wedged in an upright seat with 10 other people and Ev's snowboard - we decided to go ahead and give this plan a shot. And low and behold it worked! After some lovely sucking up by Ev a few hours into the train trip, we bought ourselves two second class tickets. So in the end, some 39 hours after we left Gangtok, we arrived back to Delhi.

Drama number 2. The first thing we had to do in Delhi was to head to the Kazakhstan embassy at the other end of town to pick up our visas for the next two months. Some of you would know that we are planning to work with an organisation called Crossroads while we are there. The Kazakhstan visa process is a little complex as you need a letter of invitation in addition to all the standard paperwork. But we'd organised our letter - written in Russian - a few months ago so we headed off to the embassy fairly confident about it all. Bah bum... Turns out we really should have found more about our Russian letter as it was actually requesting a business (rather than tourist) visa. So when we rocked up saying that we were visiting people and doing some aid work it didn't really jell with the very strict and very unyielding consulate representative. After some panicked emails and phone calls to Kazakhstan we developed plan B -head back to the embassy tomorrow for a one month visa which does not require a LOI and which we can hopefully extend while in country. We'll keep you updated...

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Drama number 3. When traveling around cities we normally just pick up rickshaws or other transport as and when we need it - preferring on the whole to save our money and walk. Today we decided to negotiate with a rickshaw driver to take us around for the day as we figured that we wanted to see a fair bit of Delhi and it would cost us far more to pick up individual drivers each day. So we found one who agreed to take us round for 400 Rs which seemed like a good deal both ways. Half way into the day we stopped at a petrol station and he asked us for some of his money to put towards petrol. Pretty standard practice really. Unfortunately we only had a 500 Rs note so we gave it to him expecting change. You can guess what is coming can't you... Well he gave us 100 Rs change but refused to give us any more back promising that he would continue to wait at each place we wanted to go. But low and behold, at the National Museum, the very next stop, we came out of the Museum after half an hour to discover him gone.

It's not a lot of money but at this point we were feeling pretty frazzled and frustrated with how often in India (and Delhi in particular) you feel like you are being ripped off. So Ev had a good yarn to the next rickshaw driver who picked us up - and he suggested that we put in an official complaint to the tourist police. Ten minutes later we found ourselves in the New Delhi police station trying to work out what the heck we were doing there and if there is any merit at all to filling in a police report. After telling our tale of woe to three people we were given a blank piece of paper and told to write our report. Only the good lord knows what will happen to that piece of paper but I'm sure it won’t get our driver into too much trouble. We declined the offer for tea in the officers’ mess as we had a train to catch.

To the hills for a little skiing!

When I first heard that Marge was joining the police academy, I thought it would be fun and zany, like that movie, 'Spaceballs'. But instead it was dark and disturbing like that movie, 'Police Academy'.

Nat and Ev

Posted by Nat and Ev 04:17 Archived in India Comments (4)

Darjeeling and Sikkim

The sun will come out....... tomorrow bet your bottom dollar...

semi-overcast 9 °C

This is just a brief update of our last few days in the hills of west Bengal and Sikkim. As the following photo indicates not much changed as far as climatic abnormalities go. Our last day in Darjeeling was a white out.

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We set off for, as the promos say, Small but Beautiful - Sikkim, our destination for the night was the capital Gangtok. On clear days you can see Gangtok from Darjeeling (so I'm told) but the share jeep takes 4 hours, All the way down the valley and all the way up the other side. Any respectable journeys on Himalayan roads involves numerous hair pins, some serious reversing, lots of horn blowing and many heart stopping moments as tyres verge on the edge of sheer cliffs. Despite the heart palpitations the journey to Sikkim was spectacular. Beautiful powder blue glacial rivers surrounded by Lush green peaks.

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Due to it's proximity to china and the fact that China has never acknowledged Sikkim as part of India the Government has lavished this underpopulated state with well more than it's fair share of Federal Funding. I'm not sure if it was the government overspend or the high proportion of Bhutanese, Nepalees and Tibetan people but Sikkim was very very nice by Indian standards. Flash shops, few scungy dogs and no beggers. we had a great couple of days in Gangtok and the surrounding areas. I would love to come back in summer to do some hiking.

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Next stop Delhi for some Kazak visa love.

I'm not kidding, that boy's head is like Sputnik; spherical but quite pointy at parts! Now that was offsides, wasn't it? He'll be crying himself to sleep tonight, on his huge pillow,
Ev and Nat

P.S for more photos click here http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/Nat%20and%20Ev/

P.P.S People have been asking about Nat's involvement in the blogging process. I'm more into blogging than she is so I start and she edits and finishes them off. I promise I will let her be the sole author soon.

Posted by Nat and Ev 10:37 Archived in India Comments (0)

Mysore, Bangalore, Varanasi and Darjeeling

River deep, Mountain High...

overcast -1 °C
View Round the world in 250 days on Nat and Ev's travel map.

In a second attempt to make up time we invested more money in India's cab system with a 6 hour trip to Bangalore via Mysore to see the Maharajahs Palace. Definitely worth the the stop not only to stretch the legs but the palace itself is spectacular. On first inspection the outside is magnificent but what we found inside made the outside seem plain. It is so intricate and beautiful that it took 15 years to build, many of the features imported from Europe.

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There's nothing like being frisked to help you remember that you're not in Oz anymore. Even though we've been frisked a few times during our trip thus far - we didn't head to the movies in Bangalore expecting it. Especially since we went to see Happy Feet. Happy feet was part of our half time detox in Bangalore. Other features of the 24 hour program were McDonald's x 2, Shopping in a mall and hot water.

After Bangalore we fly to Varanasi where, at the airport, we ran into more union heavies. This time they were protecting the lucrative Airport city run from those dastardly auto rickshaw drivers. We didn't cave in to the exorbitant prices and went on a mission to get a better deal. We found a rickshaw driver dropping someone off. He was seemed keen to take us until the union heavies started yelling at him and off he went. Our resolve strengthened and we marched out of the Airport complex into rural India to track down a fair price. Even when we found a willing driver at a good price he still had to pay the airport heavies a 50Rs cut of the 150rs fare.

Our Hotel was just behind the most southern Ghat and was a great starting point for an arvo stroll along the Ganges. Varanasi is a really interesting mix of cultures and religions. I find the religious mix really interesting in India. Not only do you have your ghats for all the different types of Hindu Gods you also have Islamic and Buddhist Ghats. Are they just trying to get in on the action or is the Ganges sacred to all three religions? I asked a few questions but never really got a comprehendable response.

After our Mumbai experience we decided to go for a Middle Eastern Dinner. It lived up to the fabulous meals we had in Mumbai and two weeks of not getting sick had convinced Nat that this time it was safe to eat the salad. Not so. The first of many dashes to the bathroom was somewhere around 3am and they didn't stop until 4pm after a pre train round of medication. With a 12 hour trip ahead we needed to use all the ammo we had. Numerous tablets and powders later all was sorted - at least temporarily. Unfortunately it didn't give us too much time to see Varanasi. Nat gave me orders to go and take a boat trip by myself. Reluctantly I left my sick wife and drifted along the Ganges. It was amazing. Even though I had walked the same stretch the previous afternoon, drifting past and watching the hive of activity on the shore was spellbinding. At the same time there was a kite festival and with the winds blowing the kites out over the river it was an enchanting afternoon.

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Our run of good luck with the trains ran out that evening. We got to the station for a 9.20 train. At least the station signs are realistic with the train time, train name, departure time and how late it is appearing on every sign. You get the feeling big delays are part and parcel of train travel in India. Ours was only one hour late apparently. Two hours late. Three hours late. Four hours late and with the temp dropping by the minute our train finally arrived. 14 hours latter we arrived in Siliguri, not our final destination. A quick rickshaw and jeep later we were half way up the hill to Darjeeling at a place called Kurseong. One of the truly helpful people we have meet thus far helped us wander around the boarded up town trying to find reasonable lodging. Once we had accomplished this it was time to hit the snooze to get ready for our 5.20 wake up call.

The Darjeeling Toy train runs from Siliguri to Darjeeling everyday and takes up to 9 hours to make the climb. We had decided to catch an alternative toy train which is basically the locals version. Taking workers and school kids up the mountain in the Old School Darjeeling express. The longer train is Diesel powered where as our locomotive was a fine old steam powered beast stopping every few Kms to fill up the water tank and to empty the ashtray below the furnace. This was a perfect opportunity to get out and check out the inner workings close up but also a good chance to get as close the the heat as possible. Apparently the weather is very very unusual as DJ is normally a mild place getting down to 5 or so at night and up to 10 during the day in winter. Not so this year its hovering on the bad side of 0 and there is a fog permanently hung on us and the surrounding mountains. The main attraction of DJ is the view and without it its like Disneyland without the rides. Still lots to do but the main attraction is currently out of order. On the plus side having an open fire to warm yourself by in your room is very tidy indeed. It has also been very cool experiencing the Nepalese and Tibetan influences in this region.

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One more day here and then we head north into Sikkim (which is also all about the mountains) With a bit of luck the clouds will lift and we will get our first good look at the Himalayas!



We're gonna need a bigger boat,
Nat and Ev

Posted by Nat and Ev 02:08 Archived in India Comments (2)

Munnar and Ooty

A jolly good spot to escape the hot

sunny 9 °C

After 20 minutes of yelling it became apparent that the yelling was about us or to be more precise our pile of luggage that had accumulated on one of the seats. The bus was packed and the only place for the luggage other than the seat it was currently resting on was in the already packed aisle. The conductor lost the yelling match and told us to move our bags. "To where?" we asked. This led to another slanging match between the aisle dwellers (telling us to leave them neatly packed on the seat) and the conductor and the agitator (yelling at as to get them off the seat). Finally the decision was made to crush the aisle dwellers with a snowboard. Guess who was popular on that trip?

Other than that, the travel is getting much easier and the four hour trip flew by especially when the first gusts of mountain air burst into the open air bus. Munnar is one of the many Hill Stations where the colonials retreated to escape the coastal heat. On our journey we travelled from sea level to 6800ft and from 30 down to 5 degrees.

After finding suitable lodging we headed off into the hinterland with Mani our rickshaw driver. The scenery of tea plantations clinging to steep hills dotted with old plantation homesteads evoked a regal colonial feel. The main destination was top station. To me top station suggests a building of some sort. Luckily the view from the station (which is just a lookout) more than compensated for the lack of a building with warm cup of tea and something to eat.

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Unfortunately, whilst shorts and thongs are appropriate attire for the coastal regions of southern India they most certainly are not appropriate for Munnar. This became very apparent on our 2 hour decent from top station, as the dusk temp dropped to 7. The wind chill in our open side rickshaw made the journey all the more memorable.

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The next day was dedicated to Fauna. Up early we caught another chockers bus to a wildlife reserve two hours away. Chinnar park is the best park in Southern India for Elephant spotting. These odds didn't help us however as we wandered around for three hours. We think we saw a wild boar but we can't be sure. I hope it's easier than that in Africa.

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Unfortunately two weeks in India has already given me a healthy scepticism of advice and information. It was this scepticism that made me reluctant to believe our host when he said "Sorry sir, it is not possible for you to get to Coimbatore tomorrow, there is a strike. You will need to stay one more night here" followed by a nice little head wobble. Undeterred and with time running out we set our alarm early to make the 7am bus. As we arrived at the main street the only people around were the local union heavies making sure no one was working and stopping every car to make sure they were on urgent business. We saw a few dodgy vans, full of people, with big Milk signs on the front.

You would think in India of all places there would be someone willing to take us, some sort of strike day black market but nope, there was nothing. I felt like a junkie trying to score a hit, quietly asking people in the street if they knew anyone who would take us for a handsome reward. The heavies had done a bloody good job of shutting up the towns folk and nobody would take us. Close to 9 we returned to our lodging, failures, our heads hung in defeat. In the early evening, under the cover of darkness, we paid top dollar for a 6 hour taxi to make up the time.

Not much to say about our night in Coimbatore. The only reason we stopped there is because we couldn't make it to Ooty that day. I was sick and somehow this hole of a city was pressing all the wrong buttons. I wanted out asap. Early the next morning we caught a bus to Ooty and left Coimbatore in our dust.

I was a little disappointed with Ooty. I think the highlight is the toy train and as we intend to take the famed Darjeeling toy train we gave the Ooty one a miss. We probably should have gone for a hike to see the surrounding plantations and colonial past but after a few big days we decided on a cruise around town.

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With all the stuff that happened in between Christmas and New Years we didn't have the chance to celebrate Nat's birthday. An opulent birthday dinner was promised and with a good selection of Classic British Hotels we decided to celebrate at the ritzy Savoy. We went all out, three big courses, cocktails and a table by a roaring fire. I was starting to worry when I realised the price of the cocktails was more than our accommodation for the night! Fortunately with the exchange rate the total was a budget stretching $43.

You might notice there has been little mention of my weight. this is why. With meals like this I think I'm still at 102. I have started biting my nails in an effort to catch something soon!

Next stop Varanasi.
You had me at hello,
Ev and Nat

Posted by Nat and Ev 05:45 Archived in India Comments (2)

Backwaters and Cochin

Islands in the stream, that is what we are...

sunny 30 °C
View Round the world in 250 days on Nat and Ev's travel map.

The first train trip was such a breeze we decided to save $25 or 800Rs (it seems like more of a saving if you keep it in Rupee) by traveling in Sleeper class. Sounds nice but it is the second lowest class of the 7 available. It wasn't too bad but it was certainly a little more rough and ready than our first trip, enough so to convince Nat that we needed to up our spend on accommodation to compensate for what was a loud dirty nights sleep. Alleppey is just the place for moving out of the budget and into the mid range price bracket. We found a great little place and for the first time in India I felt like I could relax. We had come to see the backwaters of Kerala which had been recommended by countless people. I should have paid more attention or asked more questions because I still got there wondering what type of tour I was supposed to be doing. You can bling it up on a housedboat, go on a 12 hour ferry tour ending 50kms south or you can hire a canoe. Being peak season the houseboats were 4 days budget for one night so they were out, the ferry was heading in the wrong direction so that was out. Canoe it was. Fortunately our little piece of mid-price heaven was right on the backwaters and the owner knew a guy who would take us out in a canoe on the cheep but only in the early hours before it got too hot. Sounded like a steal so with the alarm clock set for 6.30 we hit the sack early after a nice home cooked meal.

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The backwaters were pretty incredible. They are beautiful - lush and green and full of pretty algae (no doubt due to all the nutrients in the water), with lots of little backalleys that wind between people's houses. The backwaters are also used by the locals for EVERYTHING. Brushing your teeth, washing out the cooking pots and pans, washing of clothes, having a bath, swimming, kayaking - probably used in place of a toilet too although we have no direct evidence of that. Kind of disconcerting when you start to wonder where the fish you ate for dinner came from.

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All that kind of leaves you with mixed feelings about the backwaters. I guess that's just the way it is in less developed countries. The people have no choice, the government has no money to offer an alternative and so life goes on and the locals develop iron guts to cope with the living conditions. It also hit me today that the living conditions of Indians haven't been quite as bad as I expected. Even while floating in a canoe along a backwater alley we heard the distinct sounds of Microsoft Windows shutting down. I'm sure if our train left Mumbai during the day we would have seen plenty of poverty but the rural population seem poor but not destitute as I had expected and on the whole they seem happy and friendly.

With time in short supply we had to leave Alleppey although if we could have stayed a week we would have. We caught a bus to Cochin and wandered the streets of Fort Cochin at sunset. It was almost time to escape the heat...

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Be excellent to each other,
Ev and Nat

By the way...
You can see more of the photos from our trip by clicking on the "nat and ev" link under authors and then clicking on the "more photos" link. Dumb place for a link to the photo gallery - but what can you do...

Also - if you want to be notified when we post on our blog you can subscribe to it. Follow the link on this page...

Posted by Nat and Ev 04:25 Archived in India Comments (3)

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