Good Horn, Good Brakes, Good Luck!

Trip Start Nov 02, 2003
Trip End Mar 01, 2005

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Flag of India  ,
Sunday, September 5, 2004

C... After travelling for 10 months, you think that there is nothing left out there that is going to surprise you or scare the pants off you, that is until you land in Delhi.

We arrived in the early hours, luckily we had a pick-up from our guesthouse, so the airport taxi wolves howling at us could be happily ignored. Delhi was very dark and quiet, the only people around seemed to be the ones asleep on the pavement, the only movement was from the sleep-walking cows and the odd car.

Our Looney Planet suggestion was the Hotel Blue on the old central ring road, Connaught Place. The once grand buildings have been neglected since they were built, so have a lovely derelict, squatter like charm. After all the additional charges and the "luxury tax", we discovered that the room price was now double as quoted. At 2.30am, we did not care. That was until we got into the room.

A... An estate agent would describe our room as having old world character, but in need of some rennovation. We'd describe it as just plain grim. I've never been a great fan of bare wires in bathrooms, I prefer washbasins to be attached to walls, and the running water was more in evidence dripping out of the plumbing than out the showerhead. Still, it was nice to see that they had the basics like the 100 channel cable TV working - only the luxuries like cleaning and washed bedding were missing.

The hotel also provided a free entertainment service, in the form of drunk Indians phoning the room and knocking on the door late at night. It was when we noticed the very strong smell of urine outside our room door we decided it was time to go.

C... Deciding that we needed to get out of Delhi as quickly as possible, we dashed around trying to find the tourist office and train station. There are hundreds of tourist offices in Delhi, but there are only two that are government run and worth visiting. Everyone in Delhi seems to know the way to them as well, which always seem to be their tourist office where they can earn a nice big fat commission.

While rushing around trying to avoid the con-artists, a man stopped us in the street and started shouting "shit, shit" and was pointing at my shoe. I had been hit by the shit-flicker. Mainly aiming for tourists footwear, they flick the brown stuff without you even noticing, then offer to clean it off - for a price. I wipped it off myself with a tissue, but he ran off before I could give it back.

A... Run for the hills was the decision on leaving Delhi - the Himalayan foothills at Shimla to be precise. It's a delightfully proper sort of Hill station place, where the whole parliament used to pack up and jolly well go there for the whole bally summer before Ghandi and his chums sent them packing back to old Blighty.

The 5 hour journey from Kalka took us winding pittifully slowly up through the hills round countless bends and through numerous tunnels to get to Shimla in the evening. The lush greenery and cool air was such a great change from Delhi that it almost felt like another world; until we met the touts off the train that is!

Shimla tting there was a 5 hour express train ride to Kalka, where the narrow guage toy train is a popular honeymoon destination for Indians, and they spend their days strolling up and down the very British Mall to the charmingly named Scandal Point and admiring the Himalayan views. I'm not sure what they do in the evenings, but I think the profusion of mirrors on the walls and ceiling of our hotel room are probably a clue.

C... Agra is to be avoided at all costs was the plan, but we did want to see the famous Taj Mahal. To make life easier, we got the hotel to pick us up from the train station and take us straight into hiding - our air-conditioned room. Of course the hotel had a plan for us, as every hotel owner in India seems to. For a reasonable price, we would be driven to the Taj, back again, then the Red Fort the following day as well as a stop at the post office and a drop off at the airport. We accepted.

All seemed to be going well, except the hotel manager insisted that we took his stroppy younger brother with us, to be our free guide. After 20 minutes of his half-hearted ramblings, we managed to get the truth out of him, that he was to lead us into a local craft shop to look at some carvings. We made it clear that we wanted to stay and watch the sunset, so we just sat there and watched the beautiful Taj change colour, while Mr Stroppy knickers stormed off, no money, no commission and probably a touch of heatstroke after making him stand around waiting for us.

A... Varanassi is India at its most spiritual and its craziest. The old centre looks truly ancient, with tiny alleys lined with crubmling buildings and filled with cows and cow by-products. The best way to see this holiest of Indian cities though is from a boat trip along the Ganges. We dutifully dragged ourselves out of our beds at dawn and wandered into the bathroom to splash air on our faces to wake up (note to self - thats 2 days running with no water in the morning - must fill up that big buckety thing later) and then headed out for our rendezvous with the boatman.

Being gently rowed down the Ganges we passed ancient crumbling overgrown palaces and I felt a tingly feeling all over. I then realised I'd been splashed with water, and the tingly feeling was my skin slowly dissolving. Apparently the Ganges in Varanasi contains 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 100ml of water, about 3,000 times the safe level for bathing. This though doesn't stop 60,000 Hindus heading down there for a dip every day; in order to purify themselves (!).

As we drifted down the river we could see many of them, including regular locals, pilgrims and Saddhus, Hindu holy men. Further downstream, we came to another of Varanasi's great attractions, as a favoured place for Hindus to see out their final days before being cremated on the banks of the river. It's probably not the best thing to watch before breakfast, but at least we hadn't planned on a barbecue!

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