Indian Journal October 2000 - January 2001

India (called in Hindi Bharat) a country in southern Asia occupying the greater part of the Indian subcontinent; pop. (est. 1991) 859,200,000; official languages, Hindi, English; capital, New Delhi. Of the many other languages spoken in India, fourteen are recognized as official in certain regions; of these, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu have most first-language speakers. The history of the subcontinent began in the 3rd millennium BC, when the Indus valley was the site of a fully developed civilization. This collapsed c.1760 BC, when Aryan invaders spread from the west through the northern part of the country. Consolidated first within the Buddhist empire of Asoka and then the Hindu empire of the Gupta dynasty, much of India was united under a Muslim sultanate based on Delhi from the 12th century until incorporated in the Mogul empire by Babur and Akbar the Great in the 16th century. The decline of Mogul power in the late 17th and early 18th centuries coincided with increasing European penetration, with Britain eventually triumphing over her colonial rivals. British interest had begun in the 17th century with the formation of the East India Company, which in 1765 acquired the right to administer Bengal and afterwards other parts. In 1858, after the Indian Mutiny, the Crown took over the Company's authority, and in 1876 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. Limited autonomy was granted under the provisions of the Government of India Act (1919); a system of diarchy was established whereby British governors headed provincial governments consisting of British-appointed councillors and Indian ministers selected by governors from locally elected officials. This system met with opposition, led by Mahatma Gandhi, and was replaced in 1935 by full provincial autonomy. However, rising nationalism eventually resulted in independence in 1947, at which time India was partitioned, Pakistan being created from mainly Muslim territories in the north-east (now Bangladesh) and the north-west. A member of the Commonwealth, India is the second most populous country in the world.

I decided to travel to India roughly a month ago. I had planned previously to travel to India, but my lung collapsed some weeks before the departure date, making it impossible for me to fly. Over a year later here I am about to try again. This time I have a good friend who is travelling to India with me. What follows is a brief and abrupt account of what happened.

I departed from Cooktown, which is the closest airport to where I live:

October 10 Kuala Lumpur

Cooktown early. Flight ten to eight, arrived Cairns a quarter to nine. Taxi to Esplanade. Some shopping, travelers cheques. Flight left at ten to two. Airbus A330, 2/3/2 seats. Arrived KL xxx, bus to Empress Sepang Hotel. Slept well, hotel good.

October 11 Delhi

Breakfast at hotel. Changed $20 Australian dollars to Malaysian Ringit, and caught a bus and train into Kuala Lumpur. Very clean and efficient train. Went to the worlds tallest building, but could not go to the top as the tour was booked out. Lunch at the hotel. Flew on the same type of Airplane to Delhi, arriving around eleven PM. Ric changed $US50, of which I got half. We got on a bus from the airport to Pahar Ganj (the main cheap tourist area of Delhi). Halfway there the bus driver tells us to get off into a rickshaw, as this is as close as the bus goes to Pahar Ganj. We comply, and a few minutes later a policeman stops the rickshaw and tells us that it is not safe to go to the Pahar Ganj area, as there have been Muslim riots. Fortunately Ric sees that we are close to the Pahar Ganj and we walk the rest of the way. There are no riots; it is all a scam to get tourists to go to certain expensive hotels. We stay the night at Hotel Ashoka Ocean, paying 150 rupees for a double. It is not too bad but quite hot.

October 12 Delhi

I do some shopping in the main bazaar at Pahar Ganj. I go to an email place and email back home. I changed $US50 (at 45.6 rupees to the dollar) and payed back Ric his half. It is very slow but only costs 10 rupees per hour. I also went to a big market near to where we were staying, called Palika Plaza in Connaught Place. We Booked a bus to RISHIKESH, which we boarded at 9:30Pm. We were made to sit up the front with the driver. We tried getting angry and demanding a seat, however it did no good. It ended up being not too bad as the driver was quite insane, often driving straight into oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road, and I got a good view of all the excitement and near accidents.

October 13 Rishikesh

We arrived in Rishikesh early in the morning. It was quite cold. A foolish Indian of the bus tries to charge us Rs10 (10 rupees) for letting our luggage out. We refused to pay and eventually got it-free. We stayed at the Hotel Rajdeep at Rs150 for a double. A nice and clean, but somewhat basic hotel. Ric washed his undies down the toilet by accident, and then I washed one of my socks down as well.

October 14 Rishikesh

We walk to Rishikesh proper where Ric changes some money (which takes hours at the bank of India). I send an email that costs Rs50 per hour, but is a lot faster than Delhi. We stay at Rajdeep again, and meet 2 ladies who were on the plane with us. We book a bus ticket North.

October 15 Gangotri

We get up at 4:30 AM and make our way to the YATRA BUS STAND where we get a bus to GANGOTRI. There is no legroom in my seat so I have to go and sit up the back of the bus with a Dutchman and a Canadian man (there for the same reason). It is a 13-hour trip, with a 1-hour stop for lunch. The road is very steep and we risk falling off the edge all the time. We arrive in Gangotri at 6:30 Pm and get a double room for Rs100. There is no electricity but it is nice and clean. It is very cold in Gangotri. We have a nice curry and rice for dinner. It is slightly difficult to sleep due to the high altitude.

October 16 Gangotri

An uneventful day. I had jam and chapattis for breakfast, and some chocolate. The snow capped Himalayas can be seen in the distance. I get dry lips from the cold and have a fitful sleep.

October 17 Gaumukh

We left Gangotri around 9AM on a 6-hour (19KM) trek to GAUMUKH, the source of the Ganges. It is nearly 4 KM high. We were both very out of breath due to the altitude, and it was also very cold. We slept in a Baba's tent only a few hundred metres from where the glacier turns into water. It was extremely cold, and we were very tired from the altitude but could not sleep well because of it. The forest station on the way up charged us Rs50 each, which we found out later they had no right to do.

October 18 Gaumukh

We "donated" Rs200 each to the Baba and walked back, which only took 4 hours as it is down hill. All the water that had been running yesterday had frozen. I had a sort of cold-water wash, too cold for a proper one. We had an argument with our hosts as they said that we had not paid for last night when we had. A priest also tried to rip-of Ric and charge him Rs100 for putting a red string on his hand.

October 19 Rishikesh

We boarded the bus back to Rishikesh at 7Am at a cost of Rs155 each. We arrived in Rishikesh at 8PM after a "nightmare" trip looking down 300 foot cliffs only 1 foot from the wheels. We caught an auto-rickshaw to the bridge, then had some cornflakes at Ram café. We got a Rs50 (for both of us) hotel room with very thin mattresses, however it was the cheapest I ever saw. A bit sore from the bus trip.

October 20 Pahar Ganj

Cornflakes for breakfast, then to the bus stand and catch a bus at 9:15 for Delhi. It took 6 ½ hours. We then caught another bus to CONNAUGHT PLACE and went to the bank to get some money. I went and sent an email.

October 21 Pahar Ganj

I went to CONNAUGHT PLACE MARKET where I bought a short-wave radio and a torch, and then I went back to the bank to get some more money out.

October 22 Pahar Ganj

I met an Australian man in the café whilst having breakfast and he came back to our room and talked for a while. I emailed and managed to find a torch bulb for my torch, very rare in India. We walked up to a really big Hindu temple and had a look around.

October 23 Train

Went to New Delhi train station, booked ticket to Varanasi. Left on train to Varanasi at 1:15 PM. It took 13 3/4 hours. We got a bit squashed, 4 and 5 (6 and 7 at one stage) people in my side (supposed to be 3). However it was okay when we followed the sleepers out.

October 24 Varanasi

We arrived Varanasi at a bit past 3 AM. Auto rickshaw to Hanumans Ghat, slept on ghat steps. Got room at place in morning, 100 rupees for double. I e-mailed for 30 Rs per hour. The connection was not too bad. Ric paid for the room. They were some fireworks at night, which sounded like a revolution.

October 25 Varanasi

I went shopping for blankets, but couldn't find any good ones. There were some more fireworks at night.

October 26 Varanasi

I awoke sick. I tried to eat some cornflakes, but I could not. I lay in bed all-day only getting up at night, when I felt slightly better. There were fireworks all-night until 1:30 AM.

October 27 Varanasi

In the morning I walked to the burning ghats. I was ripped off 60 Rs. I walked to a Moslem mosque; it was very hot on the way back. There were some more fireworks at night. I think maybe I'm getting a cold.

October 28 Varanasi

I walked to the train station and bought a book "trains at a glance". On the way back from the train station I was conned into going into a silk seller's shop. I decided to go to place. It is a bit complicated involving two trains and two buses. I will try to leave 11:30 PM Monday. I sent e-mail and the connection was very slow, it actually took one-hour 15 minutes. I have slightly blocked sinuses.

October 29 Varanasi

I did nothing much. I bought some Pringles, which are very expensive in India. My cold does not seem to be eventuating; I only have lots of phlegm on my chest.

October 30 Train

I went to the train station to book a train at 8:30 AM. It cost 10 rupees to get there and 15 to get back. It was 140 rupees for the train. I booked out of my hotel room, 300 rupees in full paid. I caught an 11:30 PM train that was 90 minutes late, departing at 1 AM. I arrived in Satna at 7 AM. I am now travelling alone without Ric, who is still in Varanasi.

October 31 Satna-Khajuraho

I arrived at 7 AM. I booked a 50 Rs bus. The bus was near new; plastic wrapping was still on the seats. I left at 9:15 AM taking 4 hours. I paid 50 Rs for a room with three beds. I paid 10 $ US for a ticket to see temples, very expensive for India. I stayed at the Hotel New Bharat lodge. To Brussels of the train had had enough and were flying home. I had an okay dinner of spaghetti plus vegetables. I worked out my finances (I have spent $412 approximately so far). Probably on track I hope. The room has attached shower and toilet (Australian style toilet but no flush of seat, and the shower has no rose).

November 1 Khajuraho

Some local Indian boys drove me around on a motorcycle, showing me all the temples. I checked out of my hotel at 12 noon. I caught a 90 Rs bus at 4 PM, and also paid five Rs luggage charge. I arrived at Jhansi train station at 9 PM. There were no English signs, only Hindi. I booked a normal ticket to Agra, which cost 71 Rs. I slept on the station until 2 AM so as to not get to Agra too early. I hopped in a sleeper on the train anyway, and had no problems. I arrived at Agra 6 AM then caught a 20 Rs rickshaw to the Tag Ganj.

November 2 Agra

I had 20 Rs cornflakes for breakfast. I then got a 50 Rs hotel "Shajahan". However there was no water as they use electric water pumps and when there is no power, or early in the morning the water has not been pumped up to the roof. I went to bed early.

November 3 Fatehpur Sikri

I went to the Taj Mahal, which was free as the Moslems were rioting demanding that it be free. I then got a bus to place, leaving at 10:20 AM. It was a three and a three and a quarter hour trip. I looked at the free temples, as it was $10 US for the others. I left at 12:40 PM in a private car. I moved hotels to Gulshan Lodge for only 25 Rs per night. It is a double room with a speed-controlled fan, not too bad. I went to Agra Fort but as it was $10 it was too expensive. I stayed up until midnight talking to a few people on the roof. I got the e-mail of the Hong Kong man<edit> who gave me the free ride back from fatehpur sikri.

November 4 Vrindavan (Brindavan)

I had a good breakfast for 15 Rs at the hotel. I then caught an auto rickshaw for 20 rupees to idgah bus stand. From there I caught a 9:40 AM bus to Mathura. It was a one-hour 20 minute trip not too crowded arriving 11 AM. I then caught a five Rs tempo to Vrindavan. The local boy helped me locate Tulsi Nivas hotel, but I could not find the manager. My feet became sore from wearing thongs, so I had to wear my shoes. I walked to th ISKON centre and got a room just passed there for 50 Rs, very basic, not even a mattress. I looked at the temples and chowmein for tea. I had some kind of lung pain (hopefull just indigestion) so I went straight to my room at 6:30 PM. I slept well even though I do not have a mattress not waking until 9 AM.

November 5 Pahar Ganj (Delhi)

My lung appears to be okay. I went bead buying. I saw at least 15 air-conditioned tourist buses in one group. I left the hotel at 12:30 and got a five Rs tempo to Mathura. I waited 2 PM at the train station catching a 4:45 PM train for 50 Rs. It was a two-hour 20-minute journey arriving at 7 PM. I got a small place for 50 Rs called Vidyapeeth or "Hakak Stones" or something. It feels like home being back in Delhi. I had macaroni cheese for dinner at place cafe. I sent and checked e-mail, printing out mums address list. I got a go to bed. I e-mailed at the 10 Rs place, which was not too slow.

November 6 Pahar Ganj

Beans on toast and cornflakes for breakfast. I walked up to Connaught Place and stayed there for hours. I bought 150 Rs earphones. I went to Keventers Place milk bar and had a milk shake and had a vegetable burger. I went to Citibank and withdrew 10,000 rupees. I still have 68,624.38 Rs left. I bought 10 postcards for 20 rupees. I looked at pressure stoves. I booked a ticket for Jodhpur tomorrow. I spent 30 minutes in the silk shop plus 20 minutes with the Kashmiri. Oh well it is a cheap room. I did 2 hours of e-mailing at the cheap place and wrote postcards and mums letter. I also bought a 25 Rs Bible.

November 7 Pahar Ganj-Jodhpur

The Kashmiri man came and tried to get me to pay 150 Rs for my room. I refused and only paid 100 rupees. I left the hotel at 9:30 AM. I e-mailed and then went to the Post Office where I posted 1 letter and 9 postcards. I then walked through old Delhi to the Delhi train station. I arrived one hour early and the train left on time. It was a 12 hour 35 minute trip arriving at 5:50 AM in Jodhpur. The train cost 225 rupees. It was okay, after 3 PM it wasn't too busy although I had a perverted bunk mate.

November 8 Jaisalmer

I got on a bus from Jodhpur at 6:30 AM. It was a four-hour 50 minute journey. I got a hotel room for 35 rupees at Jaisalmer. The bus cost me 92 rupees. I had an amazing (by Indian standards) lunch. I found an ice cream shop, and had a soft serve in a waffle cone, and a chocolate cake from a German bakery. I got blocked sinuses and it hurt to raise or lower my head. I had an okay dinner.

November 9 Jaisalmer

I still have blocked sinuses. I had cornflakes and milk (twice) for breakfast. I lay in bed reading my Bible/dozing until 3:30 PM. I then got up, listened to the news, packed and prepared to leave the hotel. I felt sick and went to the toilet, feeling immediately better afterwards. I also bought some more toilet paper. I paid for the room and the hotel man gave me a lift on his motorcycle to the bus stand. The bus cost 142 rupees, left at 5 PM, and took 10 hours and 20 minutes to get to Ajmer. The journey was uncomfortable due to the bumps hurting my head because of my blocked sinuses.

November 10 Ajmer-Pushkar

I arrived at Ajmer at 3:30 AM. I caught an eight rupee bus (one half-hour) to Pushkar. Due to the many people (because of the camel fair) accommodation was very scarce and very expensive so I caught another five rupee bus back to Ajmer. After much looking I found a 60 rupee room which was very small but okay. My sinuses are still blocked, maybe a little better. I met another pervert in a Jeep. I went to Pushkar and walked around, looked at the camel's etc. I came back at 6:30 PM.

November 11 Ajmer-Pushkar

I bought milk powder and Chocos for breakfast. I then went to place again, where it was extremely busy. I was nearly trampled. I e-mailed but the e247 server was down. On a city bus on the way home I was pick--pocketed. I think I would have had < 250 Rs in my wallet, plus my pen. I met an American/Indian. On the positive side I had the best lunch I have yet had in India. It was an "eat all you can" buffet.

November 12 Bharatpur

I left Ajmer at 7:30 AM and caught a 7 hour and 30 minute bus to Bharatpur. I went to the train station but they did not have any computer booking facilities available. The bus cost me 130 rupees. I got a room at "Babble Guest House" for 50 rupees. I bought a bag of milk, full cream, extremely good milk, better than Australian milk. I finished off my Chocos, very nice, tasted like it was with cream. I will go to bed early at 7:30 PM.

Monday 13 November - Bharatpur (Keoladeo Bird Park)

I went to Keoladeo Bird Park at 6:30 AM. It was very cold. There are notices all around warning of a Tiger, which has taken up residence in the park. Little signs showing how to tell a tiger dropping and what their paw prints look like and what to do when it tries to eat me. I left the hotel at 11 AM after staying at the bird park for 4 hours. I waited on the side of a road, with one Indian telling me that the bus wouldn't stop and I had to take his rickshaw to the bus stop, and another Indian telling me it would stop and not to listen to the other. Typically Indian. The bus did stop, both Indians grinned at me and one hour and 20 minutes later I was in AGRA. I just wanted to get back to Varanasi as fast as I could. I tried to get a train to Varanasi, but they were all booked out. Not surprisingly as I was trying to get one with only an hour or two notice. This is also a popular route. I took a train to GWALIOR, planning to catch a connecting train from GWALIOR to VARANASI. It's a very long-cut way to get to Varanasi - but that's one of the joys of travelling in India. I didn't feel like sitting in AGRA all day, so I just took the train. I left at 3 PM, taking 1 and half hours to get to GWALIOR. I sat with a group of National Service Cadets, who were all very interested to learn about my travels and meet an Australian. The GWALIOR-VARANASI train left at 5:28 PM, only 3 minutes late.

Tuesday 14 November - Varanasi

The train trip from GWALIOR was a pleasant seventeen hours, much of which I slept. I really enjoy sleeping in trains. Something about the clickety-click and rocking motion is very soothing, especially in a hectic India. I arrived in VARANASI at 10:30 AM and caught a rickshaw from the train station to the main ghat. I made my way straight to the Shiva International and found Ric still staying there. It was nice to see him again. I went down the little alleyway, which serves as a main thoroughfare and checked my emails and sent a few (on a very slow 30 rupee per hour connection). I managed to get a little room below the one Ric was staying in for a low 40 rupees per night. It is hard to describe, it is a small room behind a temple, jutting out over the Ganges River.

Ric is feeling a bit sick; he thinks he might have flu. I bought some cornflakes, 24 rupees for 200 grams, and 7 rupees for 500 mL of fine Indian milk.

Wednesday 15 November - Varanasi

I had cornflakes for breakfast, followed by a nice quiet relaxing day. I didn't do a thing all day, making a pleasant change from my hectic travelling of the past few weeks. Ric patted a horse's rump and got kicked. He was fortunate to not get injured. He still has a slight flu.

Thursday 16 November - Varanasi

Ric and I took a rickshaw to the train station to book tickets out of Varanasi. I was planning to go to CALCUTTA and Ric was planning on going to BOMBAY (MUMBAI) and then on to MADGAON in GOA. The ticket booking computer was inoperable, some kind of network problem, so it took two hours for us to book our tickets. We just sat in line with the rest of the tourists in the tourist booking office, and waited. And waited. Its quite a common thing to do in India, waiting. It cost 255 rupees to CALCUTTA and over 600 to GOA.

After returning to the ghat area, I wrote an email to Sarah and Silas, and got one from Shan saying his Gramps was unwell. I also bought some butter, then to top it all off, I was bitten by a dog. It was a nice white fluffy dog, on a leash and all, which is in itself a very rare sight in India where most dogs are beyond mange. Fortunately (in a country where rabies is common) it only bit my shorts.

Here is a little bit about Indian Rail.

Many Indian trains have a "tourist quota" set aside for foreign tourists. The train station will sell you a book "Trains at a Glance" which lists all major trains and their departure times etc. throughout the whole of India. The June 2000 - June 2001 book cost 25 rupees, is 192 pages long, and comes with a free foldout map. If you really must know every single train, the 300 pages long Indian Bradshaw, which is published monthly, lists each and every single passenger train that runs on Indian Rail. Larger stations have separate ticket booking windows to deal with tourists and other minorities (such as "freedom fighters"). Ladies may barge to the front of the queue (and will do so). If paying in rupees, an encashment certificate must be shown (which is obtained when changing foreign currency into local currency) and a passport must always be shown to obtain a tourist quota booking.

There are three main types of passenger train in India. Mail, Express and Passenger. Express and mail trains average 50 km/h while passenger trains only manage to average 30 km/h. On most major rail routes, super fast Shatabdi Express and Rajdhani Express trains run. These average around 130 km/h, which is convincingly faster than trains in Australia. Very convincingly on sections where the track is slightly warped and the train gets up a nice wobble - at 160 km/h or so. I would tend to sit in the door of the carriage, watching the country going by, and hanging on very tightly.

There are basically two classes or rail travel, first class and second class. But within them, there is first class and then there is first class air-con. Then there is a slightly cheaper air-con two-tiered sleeper, followed by air-con three-tiered sleeper and air-con chair car. Second class comes in reserved sleeper, and unreserved. Unreserved is NOT recommended. Seats are wooden slats designed to hold four people. They will be holding eighteen. And that's before you get on the train and try to find a place for you to sit. Second class sleeper, which is how I travelled most of the time, has two cushioned benches facing each other, each of which will have four people reserved to sit on them. The backrest folds up at night to make a bunk, there is another bunk near the roof, and the seat itself becomes a bunk. Thus six people can sleep in a berth, and eight can sit, and will hold reserved tickets for the seats, but this won't stop their being anything from two to six more people squashed in. It is a constant battle to ensure one's seat remains sittable.

For anyone that thinks India would have a substandard rail system, here are a few statistics:

Indian Railways are the largest rail network in Asia and the world's second largest under one management. Criss-crossing the country's vast geographical spread, Indian Railways are a multi-gauge, multi-traction system covering over one hundred thousand track kilometres, 300 yards, 2300 goods sheds and 700 repair shops. Its rolling stock fleet includes 8,300 locomotives, 39,000 coaching vehicles and 350,000 freight wagons. It runs some 11,000 trains everyday, including over 7,000 passenger trains. That's more than 7,000 passenger trains, which carry a bit over 10.5 million passengers between 7,100 stations. Every day. It is also the world's largest employer, with over 1.65 million employees! They carried 4.2 billion passengers in 1999 and predict a 60% increase for the year 2000. That would bring yearly passenger carriage up to about 6.7 billion passengers, or 18 million passengers every day.

When I was there, track quality was considered better than the equivalent British Rail.

The standard menu on Indian Rail trains, when I was using them was:
Indian Railways Catering Services:
Tea with tea bag (150 ml) Rs. 3/-
Coffee Rs. 4/-
Mineral Water (1 Litre) Rs. 10/-
Standard breakfast (Veg.) Rs. 15/-
Standard breakfast (Non-veg.) Rs. 18/-
Casserole Meal (Veg.) Rs. 25/-
Casserole Meal (Non-veg.) Rs. 30/-
Janata Khana Rs 6/-
Economy Meal (in refreshment room, i.e. at a station, not onboard) Rs 12/-
Veg. Thali Meal (in refreshment room) Rs. 25/-

Friday 17 November - Varanasi

I had a relaxing day and just lazed about. Everything a tourist needs is situated along the one street just outside the door. This street is more like what we would call an alleyway, only about two metres wide and cobbled. It is lined with small restaurants and shops selling everything from cigarettes to fire works, and many other shops, some very tiny. There are a few radio repair shops, a few silk selling shops (VARANASI is famous for its silk) and a couple of cobblers. Some of the shops are nothing more than the space required for a man to sit. They pack them in as many as can possibly fit, and then put a few more in the spaces left over. Add to this all the buffalos that walk down the alleyway, which is less than two metres wide in many places, remembering that the buffalos haven't been house-trained and you get what most westerners would agree is a real experience.

There was a wedding party right next door to my room, just outside my window in fact. All the ladies made loud noises and much music until 2:30 AM. I did manage to get a bit of sleep though. Indians seem to really like bright lights; they use millions for something like a wedding. I have been getting up at 6:30 AM to buy milk; it's only available between 5 and 7 AM and then again in the evenings. It is 7 rupees for full cream, and 5 for the others. All are 500 mL sealed square plastic bags, vitamin C enriched and stronger and creamier than Australian milk.

Saturday 18 November - Varanasi

I had another nice restful day. Ric's flu seems to be better. I did some washing in preparation for leaving on Monday, and the exciting event of the day, I bought another toilet roll for 36 rupees. Indians don't use toilet paper. The vast majority don't have flushing toilets either. A water basin with a dipper in it is provided, and a bucket to dip into, and also to flush with. Toilets are at ground level; one squats upon them.

The days feeding frenzy started with cornflakes for breakfast and an ice-cream and chocolate bar for morning tea, followed by chocolate pudding, cheese pizza and banana and chocolate pancakes for lunch. Some more cornflakes were eaten for afternoon tea, they are so scrumptious with the wonderful milk the Indians have. It really makes our Australian milk seem like dishwater.

I went to bed nice and early at 8:30 PM, but next door woke me up with drumming and loud music at 4:30 AM. They are still celebrating their wedding. Ric said they had made noise all night up to 1:30, so I must have slept through it all.

Sunday 19 November - Varanasi

After the rude awakening at 4:30, it was a quiet morning. I had a nice lunch, another cheese pizza and vegetable chowmein. I paid for the room, 190 rupees for 6 nights, which when worked out with the 50 rupees I already paid comes to 240, which is 40 rupees per night. It always pays to work out exactly what you are being charged in India. Honesty is simply unheard of throughout the entire country. I don't think they see it as dishonest; it's a similar theory to tax evasion. Its not bad... its just how one makes a living.

Sleep came at ten past eleven, with my alarm set for 6 AM, so I can get up and buy some milk before it is all gone. Apparently elections are going to be held tomorrow, and the shops might be closed. Dinner was chowmein, which costs 20 rupees; the lunchtime pizza was 25.

Monday 20 November - Varanasi

I checked my emails nice and early, then Ric and I left the Shiva International Guesthouse (I recommend it if you're ever in Varanasi, cheap, clean, and a nice family) at 10 AM. Being Election Day, nearly everything was closed. All the roads were shut, no traffic was allowed; so Ric and I were forced to walk to the station. It took us an hour, arriving 11 AM. Ric's train for BOMBAY (MUMBAI) left on time at 11:30. I left my luggage at the station cloakroom for 7 rupees and went for a bit of a walk around, having not seen this part of VARANASI. My train left at 5:36 PM, only 46 minutes late. It cost 225 rupees and will no doubt lead to more adventures.

Tuesday 21 November - Train

I particularly chose this train because it would arrive in CALCUTTA at 7:30 AM. It is supposed to be hard to find a good room in Calcutta so I wanted a whole day to look around. After a nice sleep onboard the train, which I really enjoy, we stopped at MASAGRAM around 8 AM. It is a very small place, not much more than a group of shanty shops and a concrete platform. We didn't get moving again until a quarter to one. A Welshman, and American and I nearly set out on foot to find a road and hitch, as we figured we couldn't be too far from Calcutta, having been supposed to arrive at 7:30 AM. Apparently there had been another engine further on which had broken down on the line, and because of this delay, when we did get going again already scheduled trains kept stopping us. That's a serious limitation with rail; it's really hard to pass another train on the same line. This made the train trip into a 22-hour saga.

We arrived in Calcutta at 3:30 PM, some eight hours late. The station isn't far from the river, and a quick ferry trip brought me to the other side of the river, and a short ten minute walk from there took me into the tourist area of SUDDER ST. There are no cycle rickshaws in Calcutta; instead there are human drawn rickshaws and automobile taxis. This means it's very expensive (in Indian terms) to travel about the city, except by bus or tube. The people who draw the rickshaws have an average life expectancy of something like 25 to 30.

After a good two hours of walking and asking, I finally found a room within my price range. It was a very small 100-rupee room at the grandly named Central Guest Inn, just off Hotel Plaza. It seemed a nice clean, but very small room and I was happy to have found it. I collapsed into bed shortly after, at 8:45 PM.

Wednesday 22 November - Calcutta

I woke up and went to look for breakfast. It is colder here, there are people sitting on the corners of the streets with chopped up 44-gallon drums with last night's rubbish burning in them, to keep warm. This is in the very centre of one of the world's largest cities with a population of over twelve million, it is so smoky that my eyes sting. There is a very high incidence of chest and throat disease in Calcutta. It's not hard to work out why.

I found a place that sold corn flakes. They are really rare in India; it can take quite a long time to find some. Milk is cheap here; there are even two brands. I got a litre for 11 rupees. After breakfast, I went looking to see if I could find a cheaper room, and to have a bit of a look around. I did eventually find a 75-rupee room but didn't know if I would wake up alive if I stayed there. I paid my 100 rupees for tonight (check-out is usually 10 AM although some places offer check-outs 24 hours after check-in) and went and had a look at HOGG MARKET, and a few other markets around about the area. Hogg Market is a large underground market, selling everything imaginable - and quiet a few unimaginable things.

After lunch, I found a large and old British graveyard and had a look around it. There are some pretty big and grand graves, small marble and granite buildings really. I also bought a large 250-gram bag of cashews for 60 rupees. Not long after going to sleep, a mouse running over me woke me, and it had also eaten my cornflakes. I wasn't too impressed, but in Calcutta there isn't enough cheap accommodation to be overly picky.

Thursday 23 November - Calcutta

After waking, I paid my 100 rupees for tonight, and signed the book. All foreign tourists in India must sign a book stating where they came from, where they plan to go next, and including passport numbers and such like. I skipped my cornflake breakfast on account of the mouse eaten hole in the bag and went to the Indian Museum instead. After paying the 150-rupee entry fee, I spent the next two and a half hours engrossed in a very interesting display of nearly everything imaginable.

Built in 1874, the Indian Museum is a grand and imposing colonial building with a very impressive façade and India's finest collection of treasures. It was evident that some sections were urgently in need of funding, and restoration work was underway on one section of the building. It then being lunchtime, I left in search of a fabled Hare Krishna bakery that had been recommended to me. After an awful lot of looking, I decided that it was not to be found, so went to St. Paul's Cathedral instead. Built between 1839 and 1847, it is one of the first important churches in India, and also quite impressive. I also came across a rarity in India, an air-conditioned supermarket, aptly named the AC Markets. What would be totally normal in most other countries, touted as a speciality here.

I then made my way to the famous Victoria Memorial, probably the most impressive reminder of India's British past. A huge white-marble museum, stepping inside instantly transports one from bustling Calcutta to the centre of London. Amid huge pillars, and in near silence, one can meet the busts and paintings of nearly everyone who is famous in British-Indian history. It is truly an amazing experience, the extreme difference between outside the grounds, and inside.

A quick walk past the Calcutta Cricket Ground (Ranji Stadium) brought me to the Eden Gardens. It is here that the tame 'sacred' rats live, and like most rats, they enjoy being fed. The gardens are nice and peaceful, in the centre of the MAIDAN. Originally a large area cleared around a fort, to allow clear shooting of cannons for defence, the Maidan is now a large grassed area, with a few gardens and sports fields, following alongside Calcutta's Hooghly River and a nice place to walk.

At the southern end of the Maidan is the Birla Planetarium, apparently one of the largest in the world. This sounded pretty impressive to me so I went and had a look. 20 rupees got me a 40-minute show, during which the sun set, the stars rose and rotated, and the sun rose again. I've never been to a planetarium before, so had no idea what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.

There isn't much in the way of nightlife in Calcutta. Or to rephrase that, what nightlife there is in Calcutta, I wasn't game to find out, so I went and watched "Perfect Storm" at a local cinema with the Welshman I'd met on the train (name withheld by memory department for reasons unstated). This is the first movie I've seen outside Australia, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The cinema was very large compared to Aussie ones. Huge in fact, with a balcony upstairs part which cost more, and a large back downstairs area which also cost more, and the cheapskates place down the front, which is where I sat of course. The seats up the back where very plush, but mine were fairly standard. The movie and sound seemed much the same as back in Australia, although the screen was necessarily larger.

On the downside, I got a very sore throat and blocked nose, all the symptoms of a bad flu coming on, around lunchtime. I think all this pollution isn't doing me any good.

Friday 24 November - Calcutta

I payed my 100 rupees for the room for tonight then went and booked a train ticket to PURI, leaving Saturday night at 9:45 PM, which cost 194 rupees. I then made my way down to the zoo on the metro. This underground metro is India's only underground city rail system, and in stark contrast to all the other city rail systems, it is spotlessly clean and efficient. It cost a princely three rupees to get to the nearest metro station to the zoo, then a hot several minutes walk until I got there. Another two rupees saw me into the zoo compound, which is quite large. It is a little bit daggy, looking as though a budget increase wouldn't hurt anything, but contains a large collection of animals (most of which seemed alive) housed in semi-natural surroundings. Altogether, a large and interesting zoo, I spent a tiring few hours walking around it. A few Indians stopped me and asked to have their photos taken with me.

I still feel quite affected by the flu, or pollution, and quite worn out from walking so much. My throat is very sore; the pollution really is terrible here. In the evening I tried to email, but e247 (the email server) was not working. Internet is very slow, and reasonably expensive too. As night came on, and with nothing to do after darkness had fallen, I went and watched the movie "SHAFT"; which didn't impress me very much. The theatre, on the other hand, did impress me. By Australian standards, it was very large, with an upper balcony and two different lower sections, all of which had different pricing structures. The music was very loud. Straight after the movie finished I went to bed, at 11 PM.

Saturday 25 November - Calcutta - Train

I woke up and set off on my traditional pre-breakfast search for milk and cornflakes. I sent and read my emails for 25 rupees. I heard that Sarah wants to go to Perth to do school? I caught a ferry to HOWRAH, then a three-rupee bus to the BOTANICAL GARDENS at about lunchtime, having checked out of my hotel at 10:40 and sending an addendum email to Mum about Sarah. I stayed at the botanical gardens for nearly four hours, wandering around. They are very big (apparently 109 hectares), with some areas really nicely set out, and other areas nearly forest. This is where Darjeeling tea was developed. I saw what is claimed to be the biggest banyan tree in the world and about 200 years old. It has a circumference of about 400 metres. That is BIG, although it looks more like a small grove of trees, than a single tree.

I caught a bus and ferry back to SUDDER STREET, where I met the two men I'd met on the train on the way into Calcutta, and we went and had dinner. 7:15 PM saw me on the ferry across the river and back to Howrah, where the train station is. I had a few more of my traditional cornflakes with milk while waiting for the train, which left on time at 9:45 PM, and I chuffed out of Calcutta.

Just as the train was leaving, there was a fuss in the next compartment, and some police came. Apparently a man had left his bag on his seat, walked out of the carriage and stood at the door waiting for the train to leave. While he was standing there, another man walked out with his bag. Hardly surprisingly, he was a bit miffed, and called some police that were standing nearby.


I am currently in the process of transferring my journal from paper to here.