01.06.2011 - 14.06.2011 46 °C
Sitting on a 3AC bench in the 12996 Bandra Express from Udaipur to Mumbai (formerly know as Bombay), I'm watching India flow by. Seen through a train window, India is a dirty place. In cities the shanty towns tend to be built next to train lines. A woman, doing puja at a miniscule shrine at a corner, dirty childreen playing cricket in streets that look more like dumps. That is, in their freetime. At other time they are busy going through the dustbins, begging, trying to convince me, that my flip flops are in need of their shoe shine service.
In the countryside (which is uniformly flat around here), in between dry fields, you can see a solitary hut from time to time. After a while a farmer with a pick, a guy releasing himself in a trench. And cows (well, there seem to be more cows in the city streets than in the countryside...).
Inside the train the air is cool, on the verge of being cold: we're travelling in the cheapest of the AC sleeper classes (3AC, for some pics of diefferent train classes and a comprehensive beginners guide for train travel in India visit www.seat61.com/India). We share our compartment with an elder couple and their grandchild (I assume) and a varying portion of a wedding party on their way home to Goa. The two elder men are nice examples for two stereotypic Indians. The first is heavy set, with a big white moustache and coloured, orange red hair, reminding of an orang utan. He is noisy, taking up a lot of place, seeming totally inconsiderate of the people surrounding him. He seems to emit a certain agressiveness: Whenever he speaks, he makes sure to be heard. Every sentence sounding like an accusation or complaint. But then again, that might only be my total lack of understanding of his language. Just a few minutes ago, seeing me pointing on a train next to us in the station, he smilingly explains: "Local train, Surat. Local", before messing up his granddaughters hair.
The other elder man is thin, ever smiling and nearly sittng on my lap right now. He has some words of english and is happy to try and chat away. Surround by about a million family members running up and down the aisle, he invites everyone to sit with us, as soon as a few centimeters of bench are free. This Indian family travels in style and excellently equipped. For breakfast about 5 of them walked down the aisle, each with a box full of something to eat, handing out rotis and dosa, curries and pickles, idlies with coconut chutney, ... The only thing they are missing is tea, but that is no problems thanks to the chai wallahs walking up and down the train and selling milkey spicey massala chai for 5 rupees (7cent) a cup. Right now one of the younger men gave me a sweet to try. A sticky green triangle, tasting of rese water and mint, filled with honey and nuts. Nice. And VERY sweet.
And in this mood our 16 hour trip swings by. The nice thing is that so far every train ride was a different experience. From a quiet and uneventful night in a two bed private (with a door!) first class trip to Varanasi, an interesting trip from there to Agra, sharing our compartment with a cultivated middle class couple, who seemed slightly embarassed, whenever Indian poverty, dirt or general train travel chaos appeared in our vicinity, to this very entertaining if slightly tiring trip to our final Indian destination, Mumbai.
Just a short stopover on our trip to Varanasi. We didnt see anything but the bus- and train stations.
One of the holiest cities in India, people from all over the country come here to die or at least be cremated. A funeral pyre on the ghats of the Ganges consumes about 200kg of wood, costing, depending on the quality of the wood, around €400 (and thats only for the wood...) so many people opt for the cheaper "electric" cremation in a crematory next to the river.
We went on a 6am river cruise to watch Varanasi waking up, with people taking their morning baths just a few metres from the funeral pyres.
Not much to see here. Oh yes there was one thing, the Taj Mahal!
We where really looking forward to visting Rajastan with it's colourful cities and deserts. But the weather changed our plans: With Temperatures of up to 46° in Jaipur we cancelled our trip to Jaisalmer, where it was around 49° at that time.
So we only went to Udaipur instead, beautfully situated next to a lake, allegedly the most romantic city of India (and the place where Octopussy was shot!).
The main sights here are the palace of the winds...
...and the world famous polo player (he won the world cup with India in 1933) and last Maharajah of Jaipur, Sawai Man Singh II:
South Mumbai (the old part of the city) is quite different to anything else we saw in India. No Tuktuks (aka, Autos or Threewheelers) here, nearly no beggars, clean(ish) streets with sidewalks(!!) and lots of Victorian buildings the British left behind.
Victoria Terminus (or "VT", nowadays know as Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus), Mumbais main train station
The Indian Gate, facing Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, where the 2008 terrorist attacks took place
And, well, Mumbai Skyline, as seen from Haji Ali Mosque
And after having seen the newest Bollywood blockbuster "Ready" (in Hindi, well it was fun anyways...) we are now looking forward to seeing Sri Lanka!