Troublesome travel companions

Perhaps a more experienced traveller can help me with this.

Our flight has now been officially cancelled. Air Asia has sent an SMS advising the flight isn’t happening and suggesting I read an email that they haven’t sent. That isn’t the problem.

My anxiety comes from the fact that we aren’t leaving in 24 hours and Erna still hasn’t unpacked. Does she plan on leaving it to the last minute?

If this is how our non-trip starts, what is going to happen when we don’t arrive in India?

Your suggestions are welcome.

Less that one week to not go

We’ve been looking forward to our trip to India for months and it is now less than one week until we don’t leave.

We are pretty excited as we start unpacking all those special things we bought for this trip.

Of course it is important to make sure that all the necessary documents are in order:

Visa cancelled? CHECK!

visa cancelled

Refund status: Don’t be ridiculous

Air ticket cancelled? CHECK!

air asia cancelled

Refund status: Amount credited for 1 year

Train tickets cancelled? CHECK!

Refund status: 100% refunded!

We are so not looking forward to not leaving next Saturday.

Starting then you should keep your eyes open for regular updates on where we haven’t been.

Internet permitting, of course.

Heading home

Location: Jaipur, Barala, Kuala Lumpur

My flight to the Gold Coast leaves from Jaipur. This was a deliberate choice when I booked back in August. I wanted to come see my friends at Chillout Hostel on my way home.

Coming back from Rishikesh I had 5 days before my flight. Decisions. Pushkar? Udaipur? Somewhere else?

Ready for the wedding procession

As I said a few posts ago, plans are for wusses. Counting days isn’t of much interest, but I would guess that I ended up spending maybe 1/3 of my time in Jaipur. And oh, what fun.

Or, as it turned out, one option, and the one I unintentionally took was to I just hang in Jaipur. There is plenty of adventures to be had, some when you least expect it.

Having paid for a bag in the hold I decided I might as well buy some gifts for peiple – something I don’t normally do – and found something that is unique, exotic and actually useful. Also light, easy to pack, not expensive and a couple of other check boxes ticked.

Some great hipster hair options as worn by no one in India.

The concept of me as part of the Singh family was being strengthened and Mumma Ji is now my sister, I am an uncle. It is actually quite special and I am honoured to be loved and included by everyone.

Here is an example, out of order chronologically but a good place to include it. My last day in Jaipur. I am flying out at 2315hrs and not sure what to do with the day. Chilling is a good option.

With Ballu and Shaked

In the morning Ballu, my “nephew” asks if I would like to come to the village. Of course I would, having no idea who, what, why or where is involved. As long as I am back my 1800hrs it is fine.

In the car is Ballu driving, Mumma Ji, a cute young girl whose name I forget already but she is my great niece nowadays. We are going to Mumma’s village of Barala.

Unfortunately Mumma Ji is out of focus, but you get the idea of how gorgeous she is.

It isn’t where she was brought up, that is Mohchingpura, site of the wedding. Barala is where Mumma lived after getting married. It is traditional that the bride moves in with the groom’s family.

Barala is only 30km from Jaipur and most of the roads are pretty good. Most. One section would qualify for Worst Road Ever and included a partially collapsed bridge…or it may have been partially constructed, it can be difficult to tell.

First stop is at a shrine where respect is paid. This is for men only, women must remain outside. I don’t know how they know this as the shrines have no obvious markings. It is just knowledge.

Then to another shrine. This time it gets more serious. We are first there and over the next 30 minutes or so people keep arriving. Men inside, women outside. I say outside, but we are all out in the open, women are outside of a wall around the shrine.

Most people arrive with a bag with what I assume to be an offering. There is wheat, young coconuts, incense, sweets, cigarettes and ghee.

One man is responsible for preparing everything. He has a fire burning the coconut meat, feeding it with ghee and what looks like tea.

Another man develops what looks and sounds like the hiccups. He is getting louder and more frequent when he suddenly jumps into a small mattress and is on his knees bowing.

Everyone bows and Puja begins. There are many rituals, I don’t understand any of them. I have so many questions.

Kite shop. I wish we had a fighting kite culture. Just about everything you see are spools of string, including glass coated for cutting your opponent’s line.

The most intriguing is where and individual would lie prostrate and the holy man (I assume) would “sweep” from the altar toward them about 10 times with a bunch of peacock feathers and then use it to slap them on the back. Some people got a gentle tap with the feathers, others got quite a whack with the other end.

We left before it was finished, interestingly there was no red dot put on foreheads or the string around wrists. So many questions.

We head off and getting answers to the questions was no longer important. It was incredible just being there.

One thing I did want to know was whether the ceremony was because Mumma came or it was on and Mumma came for it. I know, but it doesn’t matter.

Next stop is at Papa’s home, where Mumma would have spent many years. It is a farm growing wheat mostly. I meet Ajeet and Ballu’s grandmother and aunts and they sit and catch up while I sit or wander.

Eventually we drop Mumma at a bus, she is heading to Mohchingpura, where she grew up. We head back to Jaipur.

That was Friday 15th. Thursday 14th is Valentines Day and if you think it isn’t celebrated in India you have no understanding of the spread of western culture.

Heading out to the “club”

Chillout is planning a party and it was fun helping set up. The guys bought a big bag of rose flowers (no stems) and we hung them around the place. Candles were lit. It looked great. I even managed to convince them that party music was needed, not the love ballads they were playing.

Not a lot of outside people came but finally, some dancing! I had also prepared for the night with some fireworks and a bottle of rum. Thanks Shaked for asking me to not get drunk and fall asleep because we are going to a club later…that’s what friends are for – seriously. Not that I was going to. After the last party where I wrote myself off I was taking it easy this time.

Hmmmm…the club…India style. Fact is it was a cool place, done quite well with a big curved roof but no walls upstairs. But the recently deceased Martian rover likely had more atmosphere. All it needed was background music and some lighting. Instead it was like a venue that had just opened for the day…except it was midnight or so.

The owner was a pretty great host. There was food and drinks, not sure who paid, I didn’t order it.

Then we went downstairs and after I spent some time in the kitchen (maybe my favourite place in India) I found the others in a small room with some decent dance music happening…loudly. REALLY FUCKING LOUDLY! This Is Spinal Tap did the “turn it up to 11” scene, this was at 12. But we danced. A lot.

Shadow dancing…the photo kind of worked.

Playing with the photo in the Snapseed app. Easy and fun.

At 0130 I had had enough and decided to head back to Chillout. No tuk tuks were around (incredible!), maps said it was 1 km. My new shoes were hurting so a peaceful barefoot walk got me back.

Oooh…I nearly forgot. When we arrived 8 or so of us squeezed into a tiny lift to go up to the club on the 2nd floor. The light indicated we were going up but we weren’t. For around 10 minutes we weren’t. I admit to having a moment of claustrophobia but kept breathing and it passed.

Eventually someone opened the door from the outside and we thankfully went up the stairs. I suppose it should have been obvious only 6 people could fit in, but at least we didn’t plummet to our deaths. I went to the lift on the way out but one look and I changed my mind.

I need to get this video from Agra in somewhere…this will do

My plan is to write this on the plane between Kuala Lumpur and Gold Coast and publish it while waiting for my bag. Am I being ambitious? Over confident? (I ended up publishing at home).

KLIA2 (Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2) is a big place. Arriving at 0430 isn’t fun. Arriving at 0430 when your next flight is at 2315 is really not fun. I got a room in the capsule hotel in the airport. Too tired to go into the city I could sleep, shower, rest and enjoy the delights of an airport that is just like all other airports.

I did find this gem in a toy store.

Epilogue:

By the time you read this I will be back in Australia.

Each time I go to India I expect it to be my last. Each time the place is more amazing than ever. I am already invited to Ballu’s wedding, he just needs to find a girl ;o) I have promised I will come, and I mean it.

It’s been a deeply personal trip for me for many reasons. If you don’t know, my wife Sheila and I separated late last year, after I had booked tickets. I am not sure I would have come had I known how life would change. In retrospect, not coming would have been one of the greatest mistakes I could make.

I was invited to the wedding in Mohchingpura after I had my flights booked and I contemplated whether or not to go, it would turn my plans upside down. Not going to the wedding would have been a huge mistake, it was life changing in ways I don’t yet understand. I still can’t speak about the event without getting emotional. I may never be able to.

Other small aha moments, one big one which I hope to stay focussed on to be a better human.

Although I start and end alone and love travelling alone, this has been a trip of friends and family.

Thanks to my new Indian family for welcoming me. Ajeet, Jyoti, Ballu, Gopal (?), Mumma, Swati & Anant and so many more. I can’t possibly list you all but you have touched me deeply.

Shaked, Anouk, Tom & Laura, Mimmi, Fernanda. Will we ever meet again? I so hope we do, somewhere. You are always welcome in my home.

I travel alone but people at home helped when I needed it. Megs and Aaron with the card, Jasmine with medical advice for me and others. Thanks to those who stayed in touch Lesley, Dave and George, Tiff and Dawne, Tina, Di, Erna and you.

Namaste.

Who said “it’s the journey…”?

Location: Jaipur, finally

Hotel: Chillout Hostel

I have a Citibank debit card. I deposit $AUD and can withdraw local currency from ATMs anywhere in the world. Exchange rates are reasonable (3% fixed spread) and zero fees. It is perfect for travelling and it is all I use the account for. I pretty much only use it in ATMs.

One day I noticed a transaction for $1.36 from January 29th. No big deal, hardly worth the effort of disputing but if these people do it 1 million times it is lucrative, so plan to dispute when I get back.

Random photos as you may not find lots photos of train compartments too rivetting.

February 1st a transaction for $71.48. on the 2nd $74.05 but I don’t notice at first because I don’t need to check the balance ever. But now they have my attention.

I am unable to put the card on hold via the app so need to call Australia which is harder than you think…at first.

Did you see my call for help on Facebook? I have since deleted it to stop people responding, but it was a shout out to someone who had some time who could call the bank for me. Thanks Aaron and Megs for the ideas and willingness to help.

It wasn’t until Alecia was going to ask me some questions to be certain it is me that I remembered the scam that is likely still going but I haven’t seen for a while.

Your Facebook or email is hacked and they send a message “I am in (somewhere) and have been robbed. I need some money to get to the embassy and have my passport replaced”. Except the person who sent it from (somewhere) was sitting with me. It sounded just like my situation.

Eventually I find the Rebtel app that gives free calls anywhere in the world for a week, then $5 a month. I call the bank and have 2 options: block the card or leave it and end up with no money in the account.

Blocking it there and then was not possible, I had little money. It took a few hours to find an ATM that worked and I withdrew what I thought I would need for the 10 days left: R1000 for a bed plus R500 for food per day + some travel plus some breathing room.

I call back and get the card blocked. Later I check the transactions and there is one more for $322.51. Crap. I will get it back but not having a card and now having something to sort out is a hassle.

Cut to Rishikesh. Specifically leaving. How am I going to buy a ticket online without a card?

A couple of people offer to pay and I will give them cash, but a weird thing is that many Indian web sites won’t accept foreign credit cards.

Eventually an Indian guy in our dorm at Live Free Hostel offers, we buy a ticket for R1210 and I give him the money. Sweet. The train leaves at 1840hrs, arriving in Jaipur at 0700hrs. This is why a comfy bed is a good idea. But, unfortunately, it is just an idea.

I am 9th on a wait list with a suggested 74%+ chance of getting a ticket. Good odds I reckon.

With plenty of time to spare, I am on the back of a Royal Enfield motorcycle heading for the bus station. Still on the waitlist, now 3rd in line.

A 40 minute ride to Haridwar and the train station. Still 3rd.

In a miracle of modern India the train is going to leave on time. I am still 3rd in line. If I don’t get on board, I am stuck in Haridwar again and I know the train is full tomorrow night. I get on board and innocently sit in the 2AC car where I have booked.

There are several different classes of rail travel. 2nd class is cattle class – it can be crazy. Here is a video from a previous trip.

Up one level is Sleeper class. Three high, no AC or any frills. On the way to Haridwar I was in Sleeper and it was freezing at night. Windows didn’t close. Everyone was wrapped in blankets.

Next is 3AC. Three high but with AC and you get linen.

Better is 2AC which is 2 high, AC, linen and curtains for compartment privacy.

There is also 1st class, but not on every train. Small private compartments with doors.

Since I don’t actually have a ticket I don’t have an assigned seat, so I plonk myself down in an empty one and hope for the best. Pretty soon a bunch of Uruguayans show up and I have to move. This is to become a recurring theme.

The train departs, I am on board, on.my way. I breathe a sigh of relief that turns out to be premature.

It isn’t long before the conductor comes around and I play dumb tourist who can show the app saying “booked” and that I have paid. But he says I am not on his list.

He is genuinely as confused as I was pretending to be. One would have thought he would have this down pat, but he was looking up my PNR (ticket reference) on a commercial site rather than India rail. It wasn’t working.

A passenger comes to the rescue and it is determined that my ticket hadn’t been issued, so it was cancelled. I feign shock and disbelief and stop short of outrage. None of it works.

What about the money I have paid? He doesn’t care, I will get a refund. But I paid it to someone, not my card. If it is possible, he cares even less and I am banished to a hard wooden seat outside the heat in the area between carriages. This was not going to be fun for 10 hours.

Uruguayan tour guide is cool. He comes out and says he had overbooked and I can have a spare seat. I am back in on the same one I left earlier. Soon, so is the conductor and he explains that because of the no shows, the seats have been reassigned.

However I can have it until Delhi, where the people are boarding, for R1350. I only paid R1210 all the way to Jaipur. I don’t have money, can you take a card? (I don’t have one) Of course not. Is there an ATM on board? I actually said this with a straight face. Did I mention how much he cared?

Now I am sent to 2nd class. His care level had plummeted. My survival instinct had increased inversely proportionally and I stealthily grabbed a blanket as I don’t have one.

I walk along the train in that direction and 3AC is absolutely full. But there is an empty compartment in Sleeper. Not perfect but by now it is getting late and I am tired.

At some time during the night, not late enough to have had a lot of sleep, the people whose seats they are get on board. I move to the next compartment. This was fortunate because it isn’t often you get to hear people having a loud mini party through the night.

All along I am.doing my best to cover the railway blanket with my own stuff as I reckon conductor will kick me off the train if he spots it. At least this is successful and I am quite warm.

In Delhi most people get off along with the pressure I feel. Conductor prods me every time he passes and I say I am here in 2nd class and he moves on until next prod.

I am at the bottom of 3 high and an easy target. Someone gets off and I climb to the top berth. My only fear now is sleeping though Jaipur, there are no announcements or indication of any sort. Thank you google maps for helping out.

There is no need for this adventure to end yet. I am so fearful of missing my station I get off one too soon in Jaipur. It is only 10 minutes to Chillout Hostel. I estimate R100 tuk tuk ride is generous. Interestingly autocorrect first suggested rude instead of ride which is appropriate since driver said R300. I laughed and started looking at Ola where I was quoted R102.

Now he was down to R150 and would do it for R100. Too late. Ola was on its way and instead of an open tuk tuk I would be in a car for the same price.

Uber and Ola are a big problem for tuk tuk drivers and normally I only use them, they don’t make a lot of Rupees. But he has tried to rip me off, I was tired and keen to get there.

Which I did.

Now what? Maybe Pushkar for a night or 2. Maybe hang here until I fly out in Friday.

I don’t know yet. Stand by.

Rishikesh, the original destination

Location: Rishikesh

Hotel: Live Free Hostel

If you read the previous post and thought it ended kind of abruptly, you were right.

I had spent 2 days trying to write what I knew would be a long post. The photos on my phone are a mess, I can find a specific photo in one app but not another, I am not certain where they are exactly. It was frustrating. Add to that so many distractions; talking and eating and walking. I eventually had to keep my word to publish yesterday.

As close as I got to the Taj Mahal this trip

The rest of the mob was heading back to Jaipur, I reluctantly left them in Agra, heading to Rishikesh. This was my original destination and the reason I flew into Amritsar in the first place.

Rishikesh is likely the yoga capital of the world, it is almost compulsory to walk around carrying a yoga mat wearing yoga pants. There is a vast number of yoga schools and plenty of people qualifying as teachers.

The location is beautiful, on the Ganges River in the hills. Very relaxed.

It is also the location of the best aloo (potato) parantha I have had in India. This costs R30 (60c) and is soooo good.

Getting here turned out to be a mission. Dropped off at Agra Cantt station at 1015 for a 1050 train the first thing I see is that the departure is now 1300hrs. Sigh…the others have gone, I have 3 hours to kill. It turns into almost 4 hours.

This isn’t too bad normally except arrival in Haridwar was 2130hrs then a bus to Rishikesh and tuk tuk to the hotel. But buses stop at midnight so after arriving at 0045 I had to find a hotel.

On the suspension bridge at Rishikesh

After getting turned away from a bunch of hotels that seem to not want foreign tourists (there is a lot of paperwork), a cycle rickshaw driver offers to take me to a hotel for R10.

I forgot that a R10 trip isn’t far and this was about 50m to a hotel that claimed to be full. Driver urges me back into rickshaw and stops at the next hotel. Ten metres down the road :o) It would have been quicker to walk. Then it dawned on me that he wanted it to look like he had brought me so he could get a commission. This place had a bed…expensive for 7 hours but can’t complain.

Fernanda from Brazil (L) and Mimmi from the UK are artists who barter their art at hostels in return for accommodation

Fernanda makes unique macrame pieces

Mimi with her mural growing up the wall

After the intensity this was a place to chill and it has been. I like dorms rather than private rooms because I get to meet the Mimmis of this world.

But there are so many excellent distractions from catching up with the blog.

This relaxing view is from the Shanti Shanti restaurant (I thought of you Dawne, Jane and Tiff). I was sitting sharing a meal with a British woman when she suddenly said “no! no!” and suddenly a monkey swooped through and grabbed 3 or 4 chapattis from our tray and was gone. I was about to take a swipe at it and thought that giving up food (which was replaced) would be a better option than it getting aggressive.

It has been a couple of relaxing warm and sunny days.

Though not so relaxing these men who entered all a pouring slab.

Tonight I am booked on a train* to Jaipur from where I fly home on Friday. I may head to Pushkar for a couple of days, maybe Udaipur. I may sit and drink chai and stay in Jaipur.

* Because T.I.I. I am actually only wait listed on the train. Number 9 on the list. I haven’t missed a train yet and am optimistic I will be sleeping my way to Jaipur.

Road trip to Kumbh Mela – Part II

Location: Khajuraho and Prayagraj

Hotel: read on…

This road trip with Ajeet, Shaked and Tom has been incredible and so much fun and we aren’t even at the Kumbh Mela yet.

Google maps is excellent and I wonder how I managed on trips years ago with paper maps and no navigation app.

But it does have weaknesses that can be a bit annoying. Sure you will be given the most direct route to a destination, but you may be taken via a permanently closed road (beside the Taj Mahal), down city streets that are too narrow for a car, or to the wrong destination that is associated with but not the yoga centre where you plan to sleep.

Khajuraho is the location of the Duladpeo Shiva Temple which was built in the early 10th century, only 25 or so of the original 84 buildings are left. What a shame…

This is the appropriately named Kama Sutra temple featuring erotic carvings.

And what would a road trip with a bunch of friends be without an attempt to recreate the carvings…fully clothed unfortunately.

From here to Prayagraj, formerly Allahabad. Many places in India have changed their names in recent years. Some the reasons is obvious e.g. Bombay to Mumbai, some not so obvious as in this case.

Another horror road made worse by the ever increasing traffic.

Finally we arrive with a hostel in mind but no booking. I love an adventure and do try to stay positive but was a bit concerned about this.} The chances of finding 3 beds at the largest peace time gathering of humanity seemed close to impossible. Especially in India.

This was one hotel’s version of an omelette. The omelette part was actually really good, but the white bread…

We had an address but it is not unusual for there to be no obvious signage. It was about 9PM and we were in the right area but no one knew the Kumbh Maya hostel. The booking website doesn’t give contact details until you have a booking so I booked a night 6 months ahead (keep this in mind) and found a phone number.

Getting to the place wasn’t easy. Many roads were closed but Indian police barriers fell to the privilege of being a foreign tourist.

After an hour of going circles asking for directions, we discovered it was a school we had passed a few times. Once inside it turned out to be home base for the hostel which is inside the Mela (fair) ground.

We speak to someone on the phone and eventually are following a car into the Mela ground past rows and row and rows of tents and people walking and more.

Left, right, along, right, along, left along seemingly random – in retrospect it was random. When we leave it was a single turn and we were on our way out, though a long way.

But I get ahead of myself.

We arrive at a gate beside a restaurant and into what is an oasis in the chaos outside. Bamboo huts, an attempt at a peaceful space.

The actual room was a small plywood bungalow that smelled like the paint was still wet. It was the only room so 4 of us crammed in so tightly that if someone wanted to come in, everyone had to stand in a bed. But we agreed with the manager to pay the price listed on hostel world website of 13 Euros = R1000 = $20 – another winner. But there will be a protest…

Once again, how to describe the place and event is difficult.

It is what I imagine a refugee camp would be like. Sort of organised crowded temporary housing with vendors and all the resources of a city. This city has a religious purpose, full of pilgrims.

The next morning we are up at 5am because there are things happening. Ajeet is going to immerse in the Ganges and must be done before dawn. Needless to say everyone is going to the river before dawn and it is too daunting to try to get over the crowded one way there bridge across the river.

So foreign privilege to the rescue and we are allowed to walk there on the back bridge, it was too early for many returnees.

The reason the there bridge was so crowded was due to a procession of Babas and their followers.

There are a lot of them here and I imagine a Baba of the Year competition as they try to outdo each other with colour and the number of followers and other events.

We hit a police pedestrian block, but foreign privilege prevails and we are soon making our way to the river in-between the fences as part of the Baba procession.

Busker

Once we reach the river it got a little scary. There suddenly a crush of people and we are in the middle or maybe near the edge, no idea. It was probably more of a push than a crush, people trying to get through in different directions. But it was tight.

A lady fell down and I was really concerned to get her on her feet as the crowd surged. Of course it dissipated in the end and suddenly we are at the river, Ajeet disrobing. That’s the point I noticed my glasses are gone.

If you don’t know, these are magnetic Click glasses and have miracle glasses (TM) properties. That I have had them for nearly 2 years is proof of that.

But now they are gone, lost and mangled for sure. By describing them as miracle glasses I have preempted the outcome besides, I have mentioned it in Facebook.

This is the not-so-auspicious part of the river. You should see the other side.

We are there for 20 minutes or so, the throughput of people is captivating, intense, incessant.

The Babas and their followers are coming through. Ahhh, now that I think about it, the crush was likely caused by the arrival or departure of a Baba and his followers clearing a path. Because they just push through often with a protective circle around the revered one.

Tom, Shaked and Ajeet insist on looking for my glasses. I am convinced that even if we find them, more than one of the thousands of people will have stood on them. Of course you already have figured out that the Ganges will provide what you need and I needed miracle glasses. Ajeet found them and they were undamaged.

We are walking back and there is a kerfuffle (no relation) with the police putting up a rope barricade, pushing us off the road we are walking on. They keep moving us back and back, then a row of soldiers with a sniffer dog (I assume) come through, clearing more.

Next is police on horses, pushing us further back. I am signing to mounted police and saying Shanti Shanti (calm, calm) as the horses did their thing.

Then along the road comes a crowd. It is the next event in Baba of the Year. Named for the running of the bulls, I call it Running of the Naked Saddhus. They are running to jump in the river, a couple of hundred of them.

Watch for yourself…

Talk about being in the right place at the right time, it was incredible and all over way too fast. Shaked managed to get this wonderful shot.


The continuing coming and going of people across the river was seemingly endless. The number of people in the river was countless. Except they did do a count and apparently on the day we were there, so were 30 million other people! No shit!

Kumbh Mela structure

A temporary structure built for the 1 month festival.

Kumbh Mela 8nside temple

Inside, 100 fires are lit at night, one in each of the hearths.

This place has a bigger population than the whole of Australia. All in one place. At one time.

We are going to stay 2 days but it was so intense we all agreed 1 night was enough.

I refer you back to the protest being lodged. When we went to pay R1000 we were met with a quizzical look and news that the “room” was R7,000

Uh oh. We didn’t get very far talking to the man who wasn’t the man who agreed to the price. Thought it good to get him in and discuss it, so we go for a walk.

Plenty of things to see and do and when we get back guy is there. There is a lot of back and forth since we expect to pay the advertised price, but he doesn’t see it that way. We settle for R2000, noone completely happy.

I could go into the long version of what happened but this post has already taken me 2 frustrating days to write. So many distractions.

And then we are out of the Mela ground, the easy way, and on our way to Kanpur. Where not much happened.

Overloaded truck full of pilgrims

This is the trip home for some people, it must be awful over Indian roads.

But that is for another day.

Oh, that hostel booking? I cancelled and got a refund. But the booking was for 1st July, months after the Kumbh Mela is over and the city dismantled. T.I.I.

Kumbh Mela Road Trip

Location: Orchha

Hotel: Hotel Sunset

The plan was to hit the road for Kumbh Mela at 0700hrs. But T.I.I. and between India time and Ajeet time I was glad our departure slipped back to 0930hrs.

You see, last night was Ajeet’s son’s 7th birthday party at their home in Hathroi Fort.

I am sort of embarrassed to admit that despite staying at Chillout at least 6 times over 4 years and walking the streets around the hotel dozens of times, I had never spotted Hathroi Fort.

It was actually a soldiers garrison and is now the home to 10 families, including Ajeet’s.

Ajeet, his wife Jyoti and their kids live in the wall of Hathroi Fort.

The night was such great fun made a little more fun with a bottle of rum.

Foreigners really do need their wits about them here…as they do anywhere. The guy wanted to charge us R1,500 for 2 bottles. We pointed out that the price marked on the bottle was R400 each. He wasn’t fazed by this and we paid the right price.

There was plenty of dancing and setting off of Gorilla Bombs. It. Was so lovely to see Jyoti let her hair down a bit. Beneath the modest Indian wife exterior is a gorgeous young woman wanting to have fun. She was a great dancer.

But I paid a big price. I don’t remember walking back to the hotel but I must have because I do remember Balu putting a blanket over me as I slept on the seats in the rooftop restaurant.

Well, this post has been sitting gathering more dust than my clothes. There is no way I can fill in all the details nor can I put them in order, so here are photos and bits and pieces.

At great personal risk I had a haircut. There is not much curly hair for them to practice.

Great lighting provided by a Jaipur sunset, with the gorgeous and talented Anouk from France. What a singing voice. She has albums that I am going to track down.

Our first stop on the road trip, apart from for food or chai or to pee was in Orchha.

Ajeet and Shaked – I wish I could rotate this slightly, but not on my phone.

One of the major contributors to the truly awful air quality is using cow dung as fuel for fires. But poor people and those in rural India don’t have much choice. Who would have thought cow shit could be unintended art?

All over India there are brickworks with tall chimneys. When on a bus it is impossible to stop and check them out, but not when you are in a car.

Thousands and thousands of bricks, all made by hand, one at a time.

They get paid R1 per brick apparently and the bricks then sell for R3.

The whole place pretty much stopped when everyone came to check us out. This is just the kids.

Yes, young kids working too

It was all interesting and we were having a ball, but these must be the worst roads in India, maybe the world.

This screenshot is the last stage, into the Kumbh Mela but it gives you an idea. 7 hours to travel 260km. I thought it must be a mistake. It wasn’t.

It was exhausting but at the same time.it was one of the more beautiful drives. As idyllic as India can get with simple villages, fields of yellow flowering mustard plants, hills and animals.

We weren’t quite hurtling along a road when Shaked called for us to stop and back up. There was a wetland with a pair of Sarus Cranes and about 30 of the smaller unidentified cranes. It was very cool to see.

There is always something to see.

The next day over roads just as bad if not worse than the worst roads, we headed to Kajuraho which also was full of surprises.

Hmmmm…I think I am getting locations of things mixed up. But checking is too hard. I am currently on a train from Agra to Rishikesh and am happy to just get this post done.

In no particular order and without naming the city in case I get it wrong.

Raja Mahal is not only spectacular, it is a photographer’s dream. An old palace with lots of narrow stairs, a bit of a maze. Huge.

And some very old painted ceilings.

Right next door was a temple complex with beautiful buildings

And well maintained. The more observant will notice that the right hand edge above is the left hand edge below. Try to imagine I have the software tools on my phone to make a panorama.

That was great. But what makes this place special is that for some reason I don’t know, a species of vultures that is critically endangered roost and breed there. It is a conservation area for them.

The last one is a downy chick. And when they flew overhead? Bird watcher’s heaven!

A combination of motion sickness and had enough means I have had enough. There is so much more to tell I can never get it in a blog.

I could devote one post to all the times we have laughed hysterically at something. But you had to be there.

Plans are for wusses

Location: Jaipur

Hotel: Chillout Hostel – my favourite Indian hotel

After the wedding I have returned to Jaipur. Not part of the plan at all, but neither was the wedding.

To recap: When planning this trip I wanted to go to Rishikesh as my main objective. Flying into Amritsar made it convenient to stay in the north. I also really wanted to catch up with my friends at Chillout Hostel in Jaipur, so booked my return flight from there. This was perfect.

Then Ajayraj invited me to the wedding, just near Jaipur, right at the beginning of the trip, so I ended up in Jaipur on day 5 instead of day 28. But it was worth it, so worth it. Read about the wedding if you haven’t.

I have bought this dhoti as my primary souvenir. Getting it back in hand luggage under 7Kg will be a challenge 😛

Of course Rishikesh is still possible and I hear that Fernanda, a talented macrame artist from Brazil is heading there by bus the next (Tuesday) night. COOL! We get along like a house on fire immediately and I get Ajeet to book a ticket. Great plan indeed.

Have you heard about the Kumbh Mela? Wikipedia describes it like this:

The festival is the largest peaceful gathering in the world, and considered as the “world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims”. There is no precise method of ascertaining the number of pilgrims, and the estimates of the number of pilgrims bathing on the most auspicious day may vary. An estimated 120 million people visited Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013 in Allahabad over a two-month period,[ including over 30 million on a single day, on 10 February 2013

Out of the blue Ajeet said “We are going to Kumbh Mela, do you want to come?”. He must know how little I like crowds, but in the spirit of my India travels I say “yes, of course, as long as you can cancel the bus ticket you made 12 hours ago” which he can and does.

Firewood stack Jaipur, India
Oh, to be able to stack firewood like this.

So that is the new plan. Leaving tomorrow (Friday) for 5 days. This gives me a couple of days in Jaipur to explore new places.

This is not sped up at all, though it sure looks like it.

I have made some great new friends here. Tom from Germany also with me at the wedding, Anouk from France, Shaked from Israel, Fernanda from Brazil, Isabelle from Scotland/New Zealand/Australia and a chance to catch up with the wonderful Anant and Swati. So having a chilled time at the Chillout Hostel has been awesome.

So, you think you work hard…

People set off fireworks every night, mostly rockets. Being a boy, I had to buy some and did. I have mentioned the bombs in previous year posts, here is a bit more detailed explanation of the fun and danger associated with Gorilla Bombs.

I am not exaggerating when I say they would blow your hand off. They are frighteningly powerful and I give them the respect they deserve – which is most unlike me.

I don’t think I have included this video from the wedding. My understanding is that this guy is an itinerant musician. He showed up at the house and started playing in the family temple. No doubt he had a plan, knowing that the wedding was on might improve how many tips he received.

The instrument is incredible and many people say they have never seen it before. I know he made it and suspect it might be a one of a kind. Obviously it is played like bagpipes, inflating the bladder and then squeezing it. But it is the bladder that is special, it is an entire goat skin. The animal must have been removed through the neck as the skin is intact. The mouthpiece is at the end of one leg, the playing bit (technical name) is another leg. It even has the teats visible. Yet another surprise in India.

The world’s largest sundial dates back to about 1724 an is accurate to 2 seconds! This is a pretty unique view and will give you absolutely no idea of what it looks like. Check out Jantar Mantar somewhere on the web.

OK. It is 2PM and I haven’t eaten yet today, not such great planning but I find I am not nearly as hungry as at home. However it is time to find something to eat. FYI, India is 4.5 hours behind Brisbane time.

Next post should be during or after Kumbh Mela. I have little idea of what to expect in any aspect of this. Where we are staying, what we will see, how it will be. So ultimately there is hardly a plan at all.

Well planned.