Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Flag of India  ,
Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Both of our India videos are now uploaded!  See the Contents Page (entry #1) for all the videos.

Aurangabad is described in the guide book as a mid-sized city. In most countries, a city of 1.2 million people would be considered 'large' but here it really is just 'mid-sized'. As usual, the bus just stops on the side of the road somewhere, at 6am. It's cold, we have just been woken up and half a dozen rickshaw drivers are standing at the front door of the bus, eagerly shouting "where you going?" We choose one guy because he speaks a bit of English and he finds us a reasonable hotel. He also rigs us up for a day-long rickshaw tour tomorrow to visit the major sights around town.

We take it easy for the rest of the day, starting with a nap to catch up on the sleep we inevitably didn't get on the overnight bus.

Aurangabad itself doesn't have anything to attract tourists such as ourselves. It is just another of the numerous million-person, dusty, noisy, crowded cities sprinkled across this crazy country. Its attraction is its proximity to a number of notable attractions, in particular the famous Ellora Caves.

Our driver for the day sends another guy in his place, perhaps because he picked up a better paying gig for himself in the meantime. Our new driver's name is Bharat and he whisks us out of town to our first stop, the Daulatabad Fort. Back in the 9th century it was regarded as the second most impenetrable fort in India after the Amber Fort in Rajasthan. One eccentric Sultan of the time reckoned this area was so great that he decided to relocate the capital of India from Delhi to here. He marched the entire population of Delhi the thousand or so miles to populate Daulatabad. Those who didn't die along the way were so pissed off that they revolted once they got here. Nowadays the only thing left is the fortress, which circles a large area, featuring a series of palaces inside a large citadel. The fortress included a number of clever traps to confuse and delay attackers. There are a number of paths that simply lead to walls or disorienting mazes. Even if attackers made it through the outer areas of the fortress and across the deep moat, there is a long indoor staircase that goes through a pitch-black passage - ideal for ambushes.

At every turn, Jane and I are ambushed by lively groups of teenage school kids. "Hello, sir!" they shout, "What is your country? What is your good name? What is your job?" As soon as you stop to talk, dozens more swarm around to stare at you while one brave kid will continue to pepper you with questions. "What is India? Good, yes? Photo, please!" A request for a photo can mean one of two things. The first is where the kid will bus out his huge old camera and get a friend to take a snap with him standing next to us as if we were movie stars. Only every other kid within 100 metres, and a fair few adults, will sprint over and push their way into the photo, usually obscuring the poor bugger whose camera it is. Ths other request is when the kid doesn't even have a camera but wants you to take a photo of them, with your camera, for some reason. When we sit down for a rest at the top of a very tall staircase, we are immediately surrounded by one such group of school children, themselves tourists from another province. Jane holds court as an English-speaking teacher grills her about anything and everything while the kids stand transfixed. At one point she makes a joke about the overnight bus giving us sore backsides and illustrates this by bouncing up and down, sending the kids into hysterics. By the time we escape the herds of friendly youngsters and make our way back down to our driver, it is nearly midday and we have only seen one of the things on our list.

The Ellora Caves, the top tourist attraction in the province, aren't exactly caves so much as huge, elaborate sculptures carved out of the mountain. They were created between the years 600 and 1000 and comprise the world's largest sculpture carved from a single piece of rock, around 80 metres deep by 100 metres long and 50 metres wide. The centrepiece, Kailasa Temple, is incredibly complex and took 150 years to be carved from the top down in the eighth and ninth centuries. The detail in the carving is amazing.

Our tour then takes us to what is known as the 'Mini Taj Mahal'. It does actually look like the Taj Mahal, only quite a bit smaller and quite a bit grimier. Bharat has only allocated us half an hour for this stop, so we do a lap and then start the drive back into town in time to catch our overnight bus to Indore.

Now, we thought that we had suffered some tough bus rides on this trip but nothing really comes close to the 14-hour Aurangabad to Indore odyssey on the 'government bus'. Every budget traveller has a bus story from hell and I'm sure we can't compete, suffice to say that it was a very long night. The bus station before we left should have been a warning to us. It evoked visions of some dank and dingy olden day prison or refugee camp, with raggedy people floating around like extras from the 'Thriller' music video.

At one point, Jane bravely ventures to the ladies washroom to powder her noise. This is her description of events: "I walked in an there were four doors leading to toilet stalls but none of them were occupied. Instead, the place was full of women who had just stopped in their tracks to take a shit or a pee or whatever. There was urine and poo everywhere on the floor. I brushed my teeth, with drinking water of course, and spat it out on the floor because there were no sinks or taps. I stepped over the women squatting on the floor and headed to one of the stalls. The hole was literally overflowing with poo. The next one was relatively useable, so I used it and ran for my life."

The sight of our overnight bus is not something to ease an upset mind or stomach. Like most things in India, the beaten-up red contraption looks about 50 years old. Further, it looks like it has worked very, very hard during those 50 years with very little or no TLC in between. The paint is chipped, the entire surface is coated in grime and it appears to be tilted on some decrepit angle, like and old man who favours his weak leg. Inside, stern, right-angled steel benches serve as seats. The bus rapidly fills up with an assortment of shabby characters, including several toothless, phlegm-hacking, dusty men, some weather-beaten, tiny old ladies, and a few well-dressed young men. One such young man, seated in front of us, is named Ravi. Ravi speaks good English and he apologises for the state of the buses. He tells us that he is travelling to Indore, having spent the day in Aurangabad with his father meeting a potential bride for his arranged marriage. I ask him if he liked her and he gives an unconvincing "yes, I think so". The next step is for the two families to discuss terms, so we wish him luck.

To be fair, for the first two hours, the bus is rather enjoyable, in a hyperactive, ADHD kind of way. People are hanging out the door, men are shouting at each other within the bus and the driver is honking his horn continually to force he way through the city traffic. Once we burst out into the highway and the novelty wears off, it isn't quite as fun. The cold draught starts to whistle through the numerous gaps in the windows and the cushions on the seats feel thinner and thinner with every pothole. The thought that, after three hours of this, it is only 9:30 and we still have nine hours to go, is a little disheartening. Any suggestion of sleep is immediately quashed by either a protracted musical blast on the horn directed at nothing in particular, a sudden and loud discussion between someone at the front of the bus and someone at the back, or an especially jarring bump in the road that causes everyone to fly three inches out of their seat.

All good things must come to an end and we finally roll into the bustling metropolis of Indore, another of these million-plus person cities that barely rates a mention on most maps. It appears that the main industry in the town is bothering bleary-eyed tourists as they get off buses. A gaggle of enthusiastic men wait impatiently while all the Indians disembark then go nuts when we start to climb off. "Where are you going, sir? You need rickshaw? Hotel? Bus to Delhi? Cigarettes? Newspaper? Some strange smelly fruit? A cartoon book completely in Hindi?" and so on. Although these guys can be annoying, especially when you are in the state we are in, they can sometimes be useful. The trick, we have found, is to respond to their inevitable question "where are you going?" by saying "toilet", as this is invariably where you need to go after a 14-hour bus ride. The touts will then happily direct you to the washroom. Or, if you need to buy a ticket to somewhere else, you just say "ticket counter". By the time you've finished at either of these places, most of the touts have disappeared.

In this case, we want to go to the small mountain village of Mandhu, for the main reason that it is described as "quiet". So we simply say "Mandhu" to the expectant gang of touts. They all go away except for one chap who takes us straight to the Mandhu bus that is just about to leave. Although catching another bus, particularly a 5-hour one, is not really our idea of paradise right now, the lure of a peaceful village leads us on.
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