18th - 23rd March
18.03.2009 - 23.03.2009 30 °C
We got a flight from Singapore to the final country that we are visiting this trip: India. We arrived in Mumbai quite late and got a taxi from the airport to our hotel. We chose that hotel as it was the cheapest we could find on the internet and it turned out to be relatively close to the airport (the right side of the city at least) which was good for that night.
The following morning we got a taxi into the city centre to see some of the sights and as we were driving through the streets it was very apparent that we weren't staying in the nicest of areas. We did kind of get that impression when we arrived as there were a number of people sleeping rough outside the hotel. Later in the day we were speaking to a friendly Indian woman at a train station and when we told her where we were staying her response was; 'Who the hell put you out there?'
We found the centre of Mumbai to be extremely chaotic with people, cows, shops, market stalls and vehicles all over the place. There were some impressive buildings amidst the chaos though such as the High Court and the Royal Mint. After walking through some interesting markets we came across Azad Maidan park where an improbable number of games of cricket were taking place simultaneously.
From there we walked down to Colaba, the area where most foreigners stay, which is home to the Gateway of India, an imposing basalt arch which looks out to Mumbai Harbour. We then got a taxi back to the Northern part of the city which we explored for an hour or so before going back to our hotel and heading for Mumbai Central for our first taste of the Indian railways.
As we expected the station was extremely busy. There were people everywhere, especially on the floor in the huge central plaza. Most folk were waiting for trains whilst others were there as it was a good a place as any for them to be. There was even a family living in the women’s toilets.
We walked up the platform where our train, which was unbelievably long, was waiting to depart. We had a slight moment of panic when we realized that our carriage didn't exist but someone explained to us that more carriages would be added to the already massive train at the next stop. We squeezed on and stood in a cramped corridor with a number of others for twenty minutes or so until we got off and waited for the extra carriages to be attached. Once this happened we found our seats (which turn into beds) and the rest of the journey went smoothly.
We arrived at our destination, Ahmedabad, just before 7am and got a rickshaw to an area where we could find a cheap hotel. We took refuge in our room for a bit then had lunch at a street stall before getting a rickshaw to Ghandi's Ashram which is the only real tourist attraction in Ahmedabad.
The Ashram was a peaceful place and felt like an antidote to the rest of the city which is very crowded and noisy. We saw where Ghandi lived and had a look at the museum dedicated to him. Amongst other things the museum featured photographs of Ghandi taken throughout his life, a letter he wrote to Hitler in 1939 advocating peace, and the envelopes of letters which Ghandi received some of which were delivered from overseas despite only having a sketch of him in place of an address.
That evening we went out for a nice meal at a restaurant in a hotel and enjoyed more of the fantastic food available in India. This meal, including drinks, cost less than ₤2 each and is indicative of how cheap things are here. The overnight trains, in Sleeper Class, cost about ₤3 each, lunch at a street stall can be less than 10p and hotel rooms cost about ₤4.
After the meal we went back to our room, got our bags, and headed back to the train station to get a night train to Udaipur. We arrived at about 8am and got a rickshaw to a hotel where we stayed for three days. The hotel had nice rooms and a roof terrace that looks across the river to the main part of the city. It was good to get to somewhere that we could properly relax and wouldn’t be leaving straight away after all the traveling we’d been doing recently.
Despite being quite touristy in parts Udaipur is an enchanting place which is graced with a number of palaces and temples. During our time in Udaipur we visited the Mountain Palace where we watched the sunset, walked around the City Palace and saw the Lake Palace (which is now a luxury hotel) from the shores of the lake.
Whilst we were there we also walked around the streets a fair bit, adjusting ourselves to life in India.
Udaipur was used as one of the main locations for filming the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy, a fact which the locals seem very proud of. It is shown at bars and restaurants around the town on a daily basis and it is practically obligatory for tourists to watch it at some point during their stay. We watched it at the restaurant at our hotel and felt sorry for the staff who must know every line in the film backwards.
We also did an Indian cookery course which was fun and very informative. It took place at the house of the teacher, Vijay, so it was also interesting to meet his family and see inside an Indian household. Obviously this isn’t the place to give away any of the secrets we learnt!