Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Rishikesh to Delhi

INDIA | Saturday, 27 November 2010 | Views [858]

Monday 8th November - Time to move on today, and we are heading to Jim Corbett's Tiger Reserve. The main entrance is at Ramnagar. First step was a Vikram from the Taxi stand on the other side of the Ganges to the main bus stand (Rs40, but they tried to charge Rs100). Straight on to a waiting bus to Haridwar's main bus stand opposite the railway station for Rs22. Finding a bus to Ramnagar was a little tricky, but is became apparent that, contrary to what the guidebook said, we would not get a bus direct there. Instead we had to first go to Kashipur, supposedly taking 3hours (Rs114), but actually arriving at 3pm, 4 1/2 hours. Getting into Kashipur bus station was crazy as it is just over a railway line and we had to wait for three trains to pass. Whilst we waited the bus filled with people again, who knew it was wiser than trying to get on at the bus station, less than 100mtrs away. When we came to getting off the bus it was nuts. It was a fight, with bodies squashed in everywhere making it ridiculous to extract our luggage without causing injury.

After finally getting out and calming down a bit, we ended up having to walk back the way we came to pick up the main highway, where we got a bus to Ramnagar for Rs15. We arrived just before 6pm. Corbett motel Rs600 for nice room with hot shower. The biggest surprise was that they served non-veg as well as veg meals in their restaurant. Meat overload!

 

Tuesday 9th November - We had arranged last night to go on a safari today into Jim Corbett's Tiger Reserve. Sounds easy. Meant a really crazy procedure in reality. At 4:30am we got woken up by a rap on our door. On with some warm clothes and then jumped onto an open top 4WD to be taken to the park's reservation centre to get our entry permits for this afternoon. The early entry permits were all full, so not possible. The office doesn't open until 6am and initially it wasn't clear as to why we were there so early. The madness was unbelievable. Bodies pushed and shoved into a human sandwich in typical Indian fashion. Fights broke out and guys were clawing at each other's throats and punching each other. Shiera and I were the only foreigners there and were put at the head of the queue, where we could see the scrum. I was flabberghasted to see them behaving worse than the animals they were aiming to see. No order, no dignity, no intelligence, just animal behaviour.

At 6am the doors opened and we were shuffled in. The guy behind the counter gave out forms to fill in and so everyone scurried off to fill them in. All the crazy fighting on the way in, and it didn't matter as everyone still had to go through the same process and re-queue after completing their forms. Luckily, we didn't have to as our guide, the co-owner of the Corbett Motel took Rs1500 (from the total 2800 for the whole safari trip) from me and told us to join the driver and go back to the motel. He would deliver our permits later.

The total cost of an afternoon safari to Bijrani zone on a day visit permit would be 2,800 rupees....

Rs450 each for the day visit permit

Rs500 for the vehicle fee  (max of 4hrs in the park)

Rs100 for Who knows what else!

Rs300 for a compulsory guide

Rs1000 for the vehicle hire

Of course when I asked if we could find others to share with to reduce the cost, I didn't expect them to find anyone. There is no incentive, as they earn more by having less people in each vehicle and we were the only foreigners there. The early morning tour is apparently booked up fully in advance via the internet. Surprised to hear it, so not sure if it is true. Anyway, I guess the suck any independent travellers into going alone to make more money out of us. There is a limit of 30 vehicles into some areas at a time, so first come first served. Hence the scrum getting the permits I guess?

Jim Corbett's Tiger Reserve was established in 1936 and covers 1288 square kilometres. The potential list of wildlife to see in the park is quite extensive other than the Tiger. In reality, what can be seen is a bit different. In an afternoon's safari lasting between 2pm and 5:30pm we only saw a few spotted deer and a couple of Muntjaks (Barking deer). The elusive tiger remained just that. We passed many other jeeps who had a similar lack of success. Yesterday they also saw nothing. It was interesting to learn from our guide his opinion that this park has almost no interest in the preservation or conservation of the animals. No monitoring programme, although I wonder abut that. His opinion was that they, the government, are only after the tourist money. I have to agree. The costs are ridiculous. The difference between local and foreign tourist is far too much. The process of getting into the park crazy and undignified. The opportunists attempting to fleece extra money out of you are many. We all know that animals do not perform or appear to order, but the promises are high, the reality low, and the profits high.

 

Wednesday 10th Nov - Moving on to Delhi today. Train 5036A (Corbett Link Express) departing Ramnagar at 9:50am and due to arrive at 3:20pm (Rs77 each) . The Ramnagar end was fine. Its first stop was Kashipur where the normal Indian Phenomenon occurred. The train went from almost empty to overflowing in a matter of minutes, with bodies clambering over each other for a little space. A majority ended up standing. Why they have to overfill everything is ridiculus, but it is normal. Arguments break out as people's tempers get frayed and peace vanishes.

I managed to finish reading Dan Brown's latest novel 'The Lost Symbol' during the journey. Another masterpiece of creative and very technical writing. I am a big fan of his stories, and this one excels his previous ones. Cannot wait to see the movie, which I am sure will follow.

We arrived at Old Delhi's station at 3:25pm and enter the chaotic world of one of the world's busiest and craziest cities. My last memories of Old Delhi were nuts and this time proved a similar experience. We caught a cycle rickshaw from outside the station to Paharganj area, which took over an hour, where we managed to get a spacious and clean room at Ajay's Guest House in the main bazaar (Rs1000 inc TV and aircon). Cable connection Internet is available downstairs in the café area. You can tell the bazaar area is a backpacker area as soon as you pull into the road. Stripey clothes and shops selling backpacks appear along with the steady flow of travellers strolling around. I expected it to be a bit crazy, but when we arrived it seemed a bit quieter than I expected. That was just a deception.

The immediate area of Paharganj is a bit rough, but typical. We wandered around for a while in the evening to get our bearings. A motorcycle crashed into the side of an auto rickshaw in front of us. The driver came off lightly with only a cut to his arm. Not surprised it doesn't happen more often in these crazy crowded streets.

We bought a canned drink and couldn't find anywhere to throw the empty can. We asked a stall holder if he had a bin. He took the can and threw it on the ground....'This is India', were his words. I looked at some 'Om' peace stickers on his cart and he said he had many other styles in his shop if I wanted to come with him. Ironic that they sell so many 'Peace' stickers in a place that seems so far removed from peace!

 

Thursday 11th November - Today is Shiera's 27th birthday and also 6 months since we were married in the Philippines. It should be a happy occasion but stuff is happening back in the Philippines that has put a total dampener on the sutuation. Neither of us slept well last night and this morning was overshadowed with a tense atmosphere and deep thought. It seems to be happening all too often nowadays. We spent most of the day in a cloud. Ironic really, as we are in a place that seems to hang in a cloud of pollution. Especially noticeable when the light begins to fade. Vehicles and people disappear into what seems like a dense fog barely 30 metres away. Compared to some cities in India, this particular area isn't as bad with traffic and cycle riskshaws seem to outnumber motor-driven transport. I think it is more due to the greenhouse effect of the heat and narrow streets. As a result, my cough has returned with a vengence and I am becoming extremely intolerant to being anywhere near to anyone who smokes. It seems as though every traveller is lighting up these days. Every net café and eating place is full of smokers. Surprising in an age of health awareness.

Oh dear. When I look at the past couple of entries I have written, it seems all a bit black doesn't it. Bad timing and the big city effects. So despite the birthday and sixmonthyversary, there were no celebrations. No nice meal. Just a snack in a café in silence as we both digested what was happening back in the Philippines, and how it was affecting our plans and how to handle it. Nothing seemed right.

As a result, It looks like we may have to abandon our plans for more travel and go back to the Philippines to resolve the problems.

In desparation I had to go out for a walk and do something to break the impasse. I bought Shiera some nice pink roses. It brought some cheer. The colour Pink always has a lifting effect. Short respite from reality and too many tears and arguments to recover the situation.

To put some things into perspective, there was a terrible story was in the newspaper on saturday morning. A 22yr old student from Europe had arrived on Thursday, and was found dead in his hotel room around the corner from where we are staying on Friday. Not sure of the full story, but wouldn't be surprised if this was to be the start of a larger journey that didn't get beyond day 1. Maybe even straight out of university and taking a gap year. Note sure. The streets here are full of unscrupulous drug dealers offering drugs incessantly to anyone who passes, us included. For many travellers in India, Delhi will be their first experience of India. Chaotic, noisy, dusty, and full on attack from touts of every kind. It is easy to imagine that some will succumb to possibly their first experience of 'freedom' and are easy prey. A sad story, but not the first time I have heard it.

We have managed to break the impasse that is affecting our situation. We will complete the last few destinations as soon as possible and return the the Philippines. To make the situation additionally complicated, my credit card company in the Uk have changed owner and replaced my card with a new one, taking effect very soon. I only found out about a day ago. It means that booking anything on line has become difficult without a credit card. We need to be somewhere for a week where I can receive an urgent delivery from the Uk, so will finish our tour of India in Kolkata (AKA Calcutta), where I can make arrangements and buy flights as soon as it has arrived. It means escaping Delhi as soon as possible and heading down to Agra to visit the one of the most famous icons in India, the Taj Mahal. Off to the 'International Tourist Bureau and reservation centre' at New Delhi railway station first floor of the main building. A brightly lit and spacious office, with quite an impressive system in operation. Soft couch furnishings for you to sit in whilst you wait your turn to be served. No ticket system, just shuffle along the seats nearing the counters. The really nice staff were so helpful and got us sorted quickly. We booked three trains in succession: Delhi to Agra, Agra to Khajuraho, and Khajuraho to Varanasi, with two days at each location for sightseeing. No hassle, no standing in crazy queues, and service with a smile.

Some of the cloud seemed to have lifted now that we have made a decision and got on with sorting it. So in celebration we did some retail therapy and had a nice meal.

Near to the Ajay is the Diamond restaurant. They serve the most  awesome steak. The co-owner arrived to take our dessert order. We asked him if he did the menu himself. They were brand new. 'Yes' he said...as he bristled with pride. 'I thought so'...there were so many hilarious spelling mistakes, that there was hardly a line without a mistake. And it was recommended by 'The Lonely Plant', emblazened in bold letters on the front cover.

14th November - Train 2626 Kerala Express departing New Delhi at 11:30am, arriving in Agra at 14:25 (Rs332 class 3A).

The train was smooth and quiet. A guy opposite was carrying a DVD player, so we were treated to a Bollywood movie for the journey. We arrived at 3pm and fortunately, the hotel Saniya had sent a rickshaw to pick us up. They touts try their best as usual to bombard you as you try to escape the station. As soon as the guy appeared bearing a sheet of paper with my name on it, they dropped and walked away. Malik was a really nice guy and we soon came to an arrangement for his services over the next day or so to visit the other sights after visiting the taj Mahal. The room at the Saniya Palace Hotel in the Taj Ganj area is a bit small, but for Rs500 about average apparently for this area.

Without further ado we needed to get our entrance tickets for tomorow morning to make it a bit quicker in the morning. The South gate entrance was only a 5 minute walk and we got our tickets...Rs750 each, including by a small bag with a bottle of water and some red overshoes to be worn for protection of the surfaces of the mausoleum.

Back to the Saniya hotel for dinner and watch the sun set facing the Taj. An unterrupted view of one of the seven wonders of the world. A major world icon, and without question deserving it. I have been before, about 3yrs ago, but it is such a captivating sight each time you see it.

Shiera will wear a saree to the Taj tomorrow and we will be going at sunrise when the gate opens at 6am, so had to get sorted this evening. A last minute visit to a tailor to have an adjustment made and some help from his lovely family to help her put it on, and we got it sorted.

Monday 15th Nov - Up at 5am for preparations with The saree and make-up etc. For me, it takes about 7 minutes total to take a shower and get dressed. For Shiera 1 hour! The Eastern gate opened at 6:30am, but it is important to get there earlier before the mass crowds of tourists appear. We arrived about 5:45am and weren't the first. By 6:30am there were hundreds of people forming a long queue down the road. Anyone without baggage got in through the security checking quickly, so it is better to arrive as light as possible. No tripods allowed! Before the tourists are allowed in, the guides and appointed photographers are let in and run to get in position. They realise that many people cannot take couple or group shots, so take advantage of it for some business. We agreed with a guy to take photos for us and we ended up paying him 300 rupees for his time...he wanted more of course. For an hour or so we almost raced around the Taj Mahal grounds taking photos without the crowds before the sun came up about 7:30am. To be fair, there was no way we could have achieved some of the great shots he took, so it was well worth it. He knew all the angles for the best pictures. It would be another month until the sun would rise in the ideal position and give the Taj the pink glow that is one of its most beautiful attributes.

The Taj Mahal is such a famous iconic site. Arriving early is very tranquil and very orderly with no problems with getting your own bit of space for photos. Everyone was patient, and we also helped others out with their photos. All amicable.

The main mausoleum is a beautiful sentiment of a man's (Shah Jahan) besotted love for his wife Mumtaz. Ok, not many people go to the extreme of building such a monument to their devotion, but that is what makes it such a wonderful place to visit. No photos allowed inside the mausoleum and it is kept in the dark for preservation reasons. We actually spent longer than expected as it is well worth a couple of laps of the grounds taking more photos. Shiera looked so beautiful today ands so many people wanted to stop and take photos of her it was lovely. Proud husband!

We returned to the Saniya for breakfast and a freshen up before heading out on the rest of the day's activities tlo visit the 'Baby Taj' across the Yamuna river, and Agra Fort.

We had arranged to be picked up at the hotel by a rickshaw driver. When he arrived, he transferred the duty to his father as he had to go to college. His father took us out of the main area and stopped on a main road about a kilometre away. He then started to discuss where we were going and the price. He wanted to charge us 750 rupees for three sights within a few kilometres so we refused his prices and, when he wouldn't budge, got out of his rickshaw and hailed down a cycle rickshaw who ended up charging us 120 rupees for the same thing. The other guy's loss! We expected Malik to come to the hotel at some stage over the next day or so to apologise, but I don't think he wanted to embarrass himself.

The baby Taj isn't really a baby version at all. They have just capitalised on the fame of the bigger site to attract tourists by its name. It is worth a visit though and to be honest, its stonework is more detailed and beauiful than the Taj Mahal. Rs100 entry and save Rs10 if you have your Taj ticket with you.

I have come up with a radical idea today. All tourists MUST carry a firearm and by order of the government, shoot idiot touts or anyone who willfully tries to deceive or otherwise cause anguish to any tourist through a lack of respect of the intelligence of mankind and the inability to compute in any currency of the world the correct REAL value of what they are either offering or selling. Over a very short period of time, tourism in India would change radically and beyond recognition to that of a sane and controlled country, rather than the chaotic, anarchistic and downright disrespectful place that it currently is. To initiate this campaign I purchased a bullwhip from a street seller for a bargain price of 100 rupees, to whip the ass of any other idiot that crosses my path. Do I make my message clear?

One example...a bangle seller agrees 20 rupees for the rather naff item he is sleeing. So you agree and he then says, that will be 20 dollars! What, 20 dollars. You said 20 rupees. I cannot possibly sell this item for 20 rupees. That will be 750 rupees! The junk in his hand is rubbish. Under my rules, he would not get a second chance at insulting the intelligence of another single human being...Bang!

The cycle rickshaw guy who agrees 20 rupees for 'Any' Journey in Agra, to then ask for hundreds of rupees when you get there, claiming his poor health as the reason... Bang!

The guy who shows you a stone box for 20 rupees, which becomes 700 rupees if you show any sign of slowing down....Bang!

The 'Bollywood movie' syndrome in India leads to a fanciful idealism that the chaos of life has some hidden order that exonerates you from the mayhem you cause. The hero always comes out in the end without a scratch and dances the finale in a blaze of glory and colour. If only real life was like that!

The olympic games sacrifices. The world expects you to mess it up. You do mess it up to a point. So you still wait until a significant country pays you a visit to make a sacrificial lamb of some of your upper echelon, to make the world think you have fixed the problem. If only the reality was that simple.

16th November - Off to the 'Big Bazaar' to watch the movie Golmaal 3. It was Hindi only but that didin't matter. It is noticeable that India doesn't seem to do shopping malls that well. This area has two of them next to each other, and both are in neglect, with signs that many occupying stores have closed down and left. So much empty space that it feels dead. Another mall looks under construction next door, but that looks to have been abandoned before completion. We guess that it is due to the cheap price of goods on the streets. Why should anyone pay mall prices for any item you can get on the street for a fraction of the price?

The cinema was another one of those frustrating experiences. We bought some drinks and snacks to take in, but were refused at the security checking at the entrance. No food or drink allowed in the cinema! So imagine the frustration when, at the intermission, a guy appeared at our seats to take an order for food and drink, which he then delivered on a tray, and at an obviously inflated price. My imaginary gun was about to come out and shoot some more people.

A quick McDonald's and then a short walk to the Kalakriti culture and convention centre to buy tickets for tonight's show 'Mahabbat The Taj 'The saga of love''. More on that later.

With plenty of time to lose before the show, we took a random walk and luckily came on an interesting place, the 'Spiritual Museum'. We were the only ones there and the guy had to open it up for us. The building was constructed like two halfs of a shell with the main building being the pearl in between. It was basically a story of peace, karma and man's struggle between enlightenment and the troubled world we lie in. Fascinating idea and well worth the visit.

The show began at 6:30pm but the building also houses a crafts emporium which opened at about 5:30pm when coach after coach began to appear. A hoard of salesmen flocked the people, us included as we arrived. No pressure selling fortunately. The standard of workmanship was superb, and the pricetag of the articles reflected that. You get what you pay for of course. Most of the coaches were full of affluent tourists who probably never see a 'real' bazaar or shop for their entire time in India, and certainly have never experienced the wonders of a budget hotel!

The show was awesome. Bollywood meets the mughal empire. A dazzling show of spectacular colour, dance, lighting and story. Telling the tale of Shah Jahan and his besotted love for his wife Mumtaz, and the subsequent creation of the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum following her death. Over an hour worth of excellent entertainment.

At about 10pm we took a rickshaw to Agra Cantt station (Rs50). Train 2448 Agra Cantt to Khajuraho was supposed to be departing at 23:20, arriving at 06:50 (Rs541 class 3A). It actually didn't arrive at Agra until 1:45am. 2hr25min late. The smell of the station's platform was revolting. Like a public toilet but even worse. As usual, most Indian people are either oblivious to it, or have no sense of smell. Having to spend so long waiting with such a smell is disgusting. A vagrant was trawling amongst the effluent on the track in search of water bottles, which he then took to the free water dispenser and filled with water. It's enough to make you vomit. But most people will never experience having to be in that position. It makes you sad at the loss of dignity that some have to accept.

Anyway... Our carriage B2 was a surprise... As it was nowhere near B1. Everyone got caught out and the platform was a frenzy when the train did arrive, as carriage B2 was about half way along the train, a run of over 200 metres with the train only being on the platform for less than 5 minutes. Aggravated, and sweaty, everyone had to pile on to the train and battle it out to get organised as it pulled away from the platform. Crazy isn't sufficent to explain it. The trains late arrival did mean that we wouldn't be arriving in Khajuraho until around 9am now.

Having had a long and busy day, we were almost falling asleep on the platform before boarding the train. I reckon it took only a few minutes after settling into the sleeper bed and I was out like a light. Managed to get a good sleep and didn't wake up until around 7:30am when we got to Mahoba station. Unlike the crazy noise when you are in Sleeper class, 3AC is a bit subdued and were mostly foreigners, so we finished the journey in relative peace.

Kharuraho's railway station is relatively new and as such is still clean and organised. Give it time! Outside awaits a gathering of hotel touts and rickshaw drivers ready to pounce on arrivees. Not too difficult to handle and we soon boarded a rickshaw to town, some 6km or so way. You see different figures quoting the distance to the town at anything from 5 to 8km, so it must move about a lot!

The original plan to stay at the Harmony hotel on the main Jain temple road was a little marred by the tout from the station being a bit deceiving with the prices. Also we had to pay for the transport and the other Indian occupants didn't pay, which was annoying. We decided to stay at the Surya Hotel a short way along the block. A really nice place. Spacious room, balcony, TV and lovely gardens, for Rs500, as opposed to Rs770 for less of a room at the Harmony.

Breakfast first then out to see the temples...

Khajuraho has one claim to fame. It is the location of one of the most famous group of temples in India. Referred to as the 'Erotic temples' of Khajuraho, for their depiction in very graphic detail chiselled into stone of the Karma Sutra, plus some other acts of sexual perversion that definitely do not appear in the Karma Sutra, mainly involving animals! The detail and beauty of these temples set around a nice green lawn with flower bushes and trees is wonderful. There has been much restoration work done. I was here 3 years ago and there was much scaffolding about then. Now it is finished, so we had a nice unspoilt view. This was going to be one of the highlights of India for Shiera. In fact, she only wanted to really see two places in India, Taj Mahal and Khajuraho! Both boxes now ticked.

Entrance fee is Rs250 for foreigner, and audio guide Rs100 if you want it. We didn't bother, as your eyes can tell you enough! It was a very hot day today, and about 4 hours covered the western group of temples. I think a certain lady was 'On Heat' after the suggestive sights...hormone overload ;-)

Khajuraho town is really a mixture of village atmosphere coupled with wall-to-wall tourism. Many shop owners vie for your attention, shouting at you across roads and even following us some way trying to persuade us to return to their shop. To be fair, they are pleasant about it generally. The first question is always to find out which country you are from, so that they can work out your currency, exchange rate, price level to charge etc. So many are obvious rip-off merchants. We have got totally frustrated with these people now and take no prisoners with dealing with them. No more on that subject or I will dive off into another tirade about Indian selling tactics. Much of the stuff on sale is related to Karma Sutra as you can imagine.

Being a prime destination for tourism means that almost every nationality of food is available here. Reasonable quality too. Had a beer and was so tired that a brief rest turned into losing most of the evening. It was dark when I woke up and had missed the sunset. Have I mentioned...to get a licence to sell beer in India costs lots of rupees, so they sell it, but do not advertise it on their menus. You have to ask for it. Your bill will show it is 'Big Juice' or 'Soft Drink' or something like that. For the same 660ml Kingfisher we have been charged anything from 70 rupees to 150 rupees. Depending on the state you are in, the MSP (Minumum Selling price) and MRP (Retail price) will be different. Most restaurants will tell you that if they don't sell beer, foreigners will go elsewhere for their meal, so they are forced to sell it.

 

Thursday 18th November - After breakfast at the Swiss hotel and visiting the rather quiet Tourist Information centre we went to the bus stand Railway Booking centre to book our train from Varanasi to Kolkata. A small place and quick to get sorted. Heading back towards the main Jain Temples road across the open market area is interesting. An informal dirt ground with lots of nice local produce. There is a rather strange fruit around at the moment. Not sure what it is called, but it is like a shrivelled bud about 5cm across and ranging from dark purple to black, with a white creamy centre. Not seen it anywhere else other than here and in Agra.

A nice walk to the Eastern group of temples is worth doing as it passes the old town which we returned to later. The main Eastern temple has some superb carving. Not as erotic as in the western group, but very sensuously done.

The old town is lovely. Quaint randomly designed houses painted in pastel colours and kept really tidy by their owners. The children were out playing games and the familys sitting around relaxing. They have some interesting paintwork outside of the houses. With Diwali having only just passed, some of the flower (cannot remember the proper name)designs were still evident adding to the colour. There is a bit of a gauntlet you have to run whilst passing through the village. Almost everyone you pass wants either money, or for you to come into their home. Again, wanting money for the experience. They are really sweet though, and you can't be too hard with them, as tourism is a bit of a livelihood for them. Every child either asks for money, a pen, or even a dollar. Better to give them a sweet or food I think.

We bought Shiera a Karma Sutra book. As if she needs any more excitement! What is it about hormones?

19th November - Train 1107A Khajuraho to Varanasi departing at 23:00, arriving at 10:50am (Rs546 class 3A).

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