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India

From the 20th of September to the 5th of November 2008 we went to India. India is not a popular tourist destination at all in China. When we said we would go to India, people's first reaction was like this: "Why, it's so dirty there". It comes as no surprise that we didn't see many Chinese in India. Other destinations like the Maldives, Thailand and Malaysia are indefinately more popular.

We found out that India has a lot to offer though and we are both very glad that we decided to go. Just before we left there were bomb attacks in India, which explains why we saw fewer tourists and more police than normal. India is indeed very dirty, but also very interesting. It's completely different from other countries and after having spend two weeks in India, we both recommend India. It's not for everyone though. If you want a relaxing, luxurious holiday next to the beach, then please don't go. If you are looking for new impressions and are open minded, then India will be the place to go.

On a practical note: we arranged all of our train tickets in advance via the India railways website with a CreditCard . We also booked all of our hotels in advance. This saved us lots of time and hassle. No taxi drivers trying to cheat us and we could spend all of our time on sightseeing.

 

We will add more information later before the end of October.

 

20th September 2008

In the midday we took the bus from Shenzhen to Baiyun airport in Guangzhou. The waiting hall is very small; there were only a few people waiting for the bus. The bus was very luxurious: 3 seats in a row. It took about 2 hours to arrive at the airport in Guangzhou. Tickets for the bus were 90Y per person, including 2Y for insurance.

Checkin opened 3 hours ahead  of departure and the check-in desk easy to find. Just look for Indian guys with a turpan. Indian guys really were like what we imagined: long beard, dark skin. In front of us was a modern younger Indian guy: t-shirt, jeans and sportsshoes. He didn’t print a ticket, so he had to show ticket on his notebook.... Guangzhou airport has McDonalds on 1st floor, next to exit of International arrivals. Also some Chinese fast-food. Also small 7-11 shop, but it is twice as expensive as in city and not so much on offer either.

 

21st September

In airplane the stewardess provided Entrance Registration forms for India. Filling this out in the airplane saves some time later. There are several queues to pass the border, English was a bit difficult for XX. They are friendly and like to joke. Luggage retrieval is quite small, one small shop there as well. After that, money exchange and pre-paid taxi booth. Cannot miss it; like tiny shops before you go out. We exchanged 600US$ in Thomas Cook. After that we went to the pre-paid taxi booth. We showed the address and he will say how much you need to pay. You pay at the window and then get a paper that will say the address and has the taxi number written on it. One guy want to cheat us; he asked if we want pre-paid taxi, and then walked to the left. Pre-paid taxi’s were straight out of the exit, clearly visible. We showed the paper to the taxi driver guy, and he assigned a taxi to us. Our number was wrong and our taxi driver changed it at the pre-paid booth outside. After that we went off. The road was quite bad and it didn’t feel like we arrived in the capital at all. We saw they were building metro extension to the airport. Should be finished in a few years and probably the road will also improve then.

We arrived around 2 o’clock in the morning at the hotel. Room was reasonable, toilet was Indian style, has hole to spray water on your butt to clean it after using the toilet. 

We got and first at breakfast in restaurant. I ate keer and muesli curt and xx some porridge, sweet with some fruit (apple, papaya, peanut and milk). Total 145. Not so special. Next we wandered outside

XX started to wonder if it was wise to go outside, reminded her of foodmarket in Ganzhou. Everything dirty and busy. It’s about 3m wide and full of riskjas and horses and cows and small shops in Paharanji. All touristic and small stuff, not very good quality. We walked to the railway station, useful because we needed to take train later and now we knew the road and the stuff in railway station. Very easy to find: just follow the road to the end.  In midday we ate across the road from hotel, XX ate alu gobi and I ate Tandori chicken with chapatti and veg pakora 215 Rps total.

After lunch we went to Jama Masjid. There are 3 guys security who checked bag, but seems like they are more interested what is in the bag, then for security. Some guy want to put shoes away, asked for money. No need. Also an old guy who follow us and want to buy guide, we didn’t want guide and don’t give money and swear at him. We gave him 10 rps, but he didn’t even take it. Rickshaw driver 50Rps to go back, including two shops.

We leave Cottage Yes Please around 17h and walk to the train. About 10 minutes. Railway station waiting hall has big schedule which platform you have to go. But often the platform changes, so you are not sure. Via a footbridge we walked to platform 15. On the platform they have some electronic boards which show the train and coach number, but it was wrong. Train number and paper list on the train are more important. We saw the train on the other side, but not sure if that is really the train. Some old guy said we had to go to the other side, and indeed the other train was right.

40 minutes ahead of departure, normally a paper list will be hung next to the door. Ours was about 20 minutes. We found our coach near the end of the platform. On the platform people sell chains and tea. We had beds on the outside, next to the walking path. 8 beds in total in AC3, we had the two on the outside separately.

In the train they sell tomato soup, coffee, tea, bread omelets and other stuff. Some guy will come to register if you want food: vegetable or non-veg. We forgot to ask price, I ordered veg and XX ordered non-veg. We got quite a lot of deep-fried chicken, we were surprised by the difference with the veg. I luckily found the price for veg on the paper below the food: 32Rps for veg and 37Rps for non-veg. When we have to pay, he charged 64 for veg and 165 for the chicken. Because I had read the paper, I knew he was trying to cheat us. He tries to sell stuff that is not on the menu and make a special price. Of course I was not amused, because I know for sure the veg was 2x as expensive, so the chicken of course as well too expensive. He quickly changed  to 32, but chicken the same. I refused to pay of course, so I asked for receipt. This was a big problem for him of course, because he made something up. He said pay next morning, I refused and said I want to pay now. I follow him to his boss and I said he charged 64 for the veg and 165 for non-veg and it should be much less. I asked for receipts and they couldn’t give it to me. This was a smart move, because now they had a problem. I said I pay 100Rps total and then I will go. That’s the max, finally they accepted.

About 8 o'clock people started to sleep. A guy gave cloths to cover the bed and blanket and a small cushion. Wrapped in some yellow paper, like an envelope. In the morning they collect the stuff again. There are two style toilets we guess, at least one western style. Three locks on the inside of the toilet. Our passengers were father and daughter. That father farted very loud when he stood up, next to XX’s face. He didn't even blink!

 

22nd September

In the morning we arrived in Varanasi. We took motor rickshaw for around 70Rps. Last part we have to walk a lot. We passed a vegetable market on our way and when we walked it was very dirty. Cow poop everywhere. Sita guesthouse was renovating the office on first floor and some rooms. Not so busy when we were there. Noise was only during the day, so not so bad. 11:45 we ate breakfast. Bodi Rahji : bread and curry. After lunch we went to room and xx felt very tired and a bit sick. After toilet felt better. About 14:30 we went out and walked along the river. Women were wearing beautiful clothes. Took many photos of the women. We bought big bottle of water for 20Rps. Also looked at sarees for 500-1000Rps. Quite busy in the shops and many locals as well. Fixed prices in some shops but we didn’t know if the prices were good. Also many guys try to follow you to visit their shops. Sarees of silk and other cheap material.

We went back to river and sat next to river and talked to old guy and young guy. Very interested: they explained that today was a festival for women and their sons. Women washed in river and the young guy came with his aunt to Varanasi. He was trying to work in LCC, an insurance company. He was also interested in China. Later in evening he even found us and said goodbye, very nice guy.

Around 18:20 we found a seat close to the light. Obvious the seat was empty because many bugs there were attracted by the light. The performance was reasonable, but not very special. We were getting experienced at ignoring kids selling stuff. In evening we went back to hotel. The airco wasn’t working anymore, but they fixed it quite quickly. We also saw a monkey outside our room. The hotel manager warned us to keep the windows closed because of the monkeys. We also saw monkeys walk outside over the rooftops.

 

23rd September

We wanted to get up to see sunrise. We set alarm at 5, but somehow we didn’t wake up. Xx woke up first at 6:30 (amazing) and she saw a big red sun outside. She woke me quickly up and we went to the river. Very beautiful to see the sun reflected in the river. We hired a boat for 150 Rps for 1 hour, we first went to the right side, away from the main ghats. After this part, we arrived back at Sita and then we took the same boat for another hour to the burning ghat for another hour, xx bargained for 100Rps this time. We saw a big burning ghat. It was running 24 hours per day and xx saw a burned arm sticking out of the ashes. The guy rowing the boat explained about the ghat. Young kids under 10years, poor people, holy people, pregnant women and unnatural deaths (for example bitten by snake) cannot be burned there. Those people are thrown in the river with a big stone attached to them so they sink. Across the river is just some empty land where some local people also went to the river.

We went back to Sita guesthouse and about 9:30 we went to eat breakfast. Thijs took honey pancake and omelet and toast and I drank lime soda and XX fresh orange juice. Around 10:15 we went back to room, packed stuff and checked out. Then we walked along ghats to burning ghats. We saw they started to burn a women, first added oil and some butter over body to make the smoke smell better. Next to the burning ghat was a hotel where people who are about to die can stay till they die. Immediately next to the burning body, on one of the pillars of the burning ghat we also saw an advertisement for ‘German bakery’. Quite a macabre sight!

After that, we walked to the main ghat via a building. We couldn’t walk along the river this part, because the water in the summer comes very high and then all the stairs next to the river get flooded with soil. They were now cleaning the mud away with water from the river.

We walked to the main street again and bought some very sweet mango juice. Then we tried to find the golden temple. This turned out to be incredible difficult. There were about 3 police when we just entered the small shopping street that leads to the golden temple. At entrance we need to store all metal items and big bags. 10Rps for storage, only small women’s purse was allowed. When we were inside it turned out we cannot go anywhere. We also met two women, one from Belgium and one from the Netherlands. We mosque had a very big high metal fence around it, no way to enter it. The Jain temple had also many police waiting again, they said we had to register somewhere before we could go in. We had enough time, so we first went outside to find the place to register. That wasn’t so difficult, because at every small corner there were more police sitting. We finally found the place to register. It turned out only Jain people could enter. We didn’t want to pretend we were Jain, so we just looked from the outside. We were now just on the other side of the temple, via a big circle. Temple looked like lots of white marble inside and with a golden roof. We also went to shops on the way to the golden temple, and some stuff was quite interested. For example a small wooden train, but we thought a bit too expensive. Later we found out that it was a quite good price, too bad we didn’t buy. It would have been difficult to carry anyway though. Also bought a (probably fake) silk small blue scarf there for 60Rps. Even though we bargained, it was still overpriced of course, probably should be 40Rps or even less.

We left Sita after an early dinner (16:15) and walked through alleys. We went to the main road again. Rickshaw and motor- rickshaw. The motorized versions were too expensive: 100Rps or more. We took cycle rickshaw for 40Rps. It was quite far away actually. Seeing the guy cycle so long for 40Rps made us feel a bit bad, so when we arrived we gave him 50Rps, what he asked at first. He more happy and we more happy J

Train station in Varanasi was very busy: big hall. We didn’t see our train at first, so we walked around. From the 2nd floor we saw a screen shows the train numbers. A guy from the train station said the trains will only be displayed on the board shortly in advance. He said we could wait in the corner, together with the other foreigners. When the platform was confirmed at 18:10, we all followed him to the train. There we followed B1 coach to the front of the platform. Many foreigners in our coach. We left a bit late at 18:35 and probably will arrive next morning around 6. In the train two army guys with big guns asked every foreigner to fill out some form. That form was almost not readable, but didn’t seem to matter so much what we filled out. In our compartment also an Indian family with two small children. We ate in the train again, most Indian people bring their own food instead. We also saw lots of other foreigners and some Japanese group.

 

24th September

We arrived in Agra around 07:30. Before we stopped we could already see the Taj Mahal in the distance and red Agra Fort next to the train station. There was an old guy to tell us to tell Agra Fort, but quite strong accent so bit difficult to understand. After we got out the train station, we found a motor rickshaw. He asked 80Rps, but we bargained for 40Rps. On purpose we didn’t say we already had a reservation, so then he thinks he can earn extra money and will not charge us too much. When we arrived and he walked with us to the hotel, I mentioned we already have a reservation. He seemed a bit disappointed.

Hotel Sheela is located extremely convenient, next to the Taj Mahal. It costs 600Rps per night and looks like those motor hotels in American movies next to the road. There is a small courtyard when you entered. The outside walls are a bit red. There is a small restaurant in the courtyard with white plastic garden furniture. Very pleasant to sit and relax there. The owner must be quite rich, because quite a few cars. No Asian people except XX. The rooms are all on the same level. We had a room on the inner courtyard, very quiet. We drank cup of chai, toast, veg omelet, fried egg 115Rps total.

We hired taxi to Mausoleum Akbar and an abandoned city Fatehpur Sikri for 900Rps. It’s quite far away, about 1 hour to get there. The weather is very hot. We first wen to the mosque, too many people try to sell stuff and follow you. Very annoying; also asked money to store shoes. Mosque was ok, not so special. In the center a white marble mausoleum. After this, we went to the abandoned city, just across the parking space. 260Rps pp and 25Rps for camera. Beautiful lawns and buildings in good shape, all in red sandstone. Quite big there, but not so much to see. Still good to come here before you go to the Taj Mahal if you have enough time.

Rickshaw back 15Rps back. Car back to Akbar’s mausoleum with beautiful gate. Main building also looks impressive from the outside. We thought we lost our camera here, but I made a mistake and put it in another pocket. Glad we didn’t lose it. Inside the mausoleum not so much to see. There were deer and squirrels on the lawns around the building, nice and peaceful there.

Afterward we went back to the hotel. Xx proposed to eat at Shanti Lodge restaurant, a very good idea because they have an excellent view from their rooftop restaurant. We also saw several people from the train there again. We watched the sunset on the Taj Mahal while we ate. Food was ok, but the view was best.

 

more later!

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 25 October 2008 )
 
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