Sorry everyone, I am well aware it’s been over two months since my last blog post and so much has happened since then I have no idea where to start! I’m currently on my long six week holidays, which involves touring around India. We left the comfort of our home in Anaikatti on Saturday 20th April and have travelled over 2500km in the last two weeks to reach Jaipur this morning. Over that time we have had adventures in Mysore, Hampi, Mumbai and Aurangabad, ridden on trains for three days at a time, slept overnight in skanky railway station beds, eaten lots and lots of chocolate cake, spent far too much money and overall had great fun.
Caitlin and I eased our way into travelling gently; we began in Mysore which is a classic small Indian town, famed for silk and sandalwood. We spent our days exploring, admiring the silk saris (but not buying-Caitlin guilt tripped me into feeling sorry for the worms), soaking up the atmosphere and tucking into fresh fruit from the market every evening. The market was an overflowing and eclectic mix of everything you could ever want. It ranged from stacks of fruit and veg, to rows and rows of bright sparkling bangles, to mounds of colourful powder used for festivals and men desperate to sell us some of their lotions and potions and essential oils. We giggled as we bartered for bangles and tested the firmness of our fruit but the catcalls of the market sellers were just a taste of what it would be like when we got further north. The palace in Mysore was gorgeous, a large building with turrets at each corner and surrounded by temples, with a surprising Scottish influence. Inside, as we wandered down the dusty corridors, admiring the lovely interior, I was pleased to see a painting of Indian soldiers sporting bagpipes and playing them for the maharaja! After a relaxing few days of our holiday, we took the overnight train to Hampi where we were reunited with a great friend and fellow PT volunteer.
Hampi is literally one of the most beautiful places in the world. There’s an other worldly feel about the place as it’s a small hubbub of restaurants and hotels, nestled amongst large boulders and temples. There’s monolithic sculptures made from stone and beautiful temples. On our first day, Caitlin and I scrambled up this rocky path of steep stone steps and edged around corners to reach a temple. It was right at the top and had views of the surrounding area-alll you could see were boulders and temples mixed in with palm trees, and the ladies performing pooja in their bright saris stuck out amongst the rocks. On our second day, we collected Katie from Hospet train station. It was lovely to be reunited with someone we had spent so much time with at the beginning (we visited her project for a week shortly after we arrived in India) but not seen since and we had so many stories to share and things to catch up on. The next day we took an auto rickshaw tour of the area, visiting all the major sites and soaking up the historical atmosphere. After too short a time in Hampi, we moved on to Mumbai, but I reckon Hampi has been the highlight of my holiday so far.
Mumbai hit us the minute the bus dropped us off at 8am in the middle of a roundabout in central Mumbai. ‘Where are we?!’ we asked the driver in baffled morning drowsiness as he hurried us off the bus. Next thing we knew we were in an auto and being rushed off to our hotel. Perplexed as to whether the driver had a meter or was ripping us off with his price, we all winced as he parked outside our ‘hotel’. A shabby set of stairs belonging to what looked like an abandoned apartment block awaited us, the name of our hotel was declared on the outside. Begrudgingly we tramped up the stairs to the third floor, passed sleeping security guards, dead cockroaches and floors which hadn’t been sweeped in a long time. Luckily we were greeted by a very pleasant, if somewhat peculiar, man who showed us into the clean, budget but clean, hotel. It was most certainly a relief.
One day, we took a small ferry to Elephanta Island. This island was home to a collection of stone caves and large statues, chiselled out of the rock. It was an incredibly holy place of worship and was interesting to see how sacred it was, tucked away on this minute island which was an hour by boat away from the mainland of Mumbai.
Mumbai truly does have some gorgeous architecture and the city was incredibly stylish. I felt out of place in my frumpy salwar and old fashioned fiddling with my doopita (shawl) to ensure it fully covered my chest. We saw men and women holding hands and a lady even wore a dress which showed her shoulders and was above her knees! Scandalous! I took full advantage of the restaurants, even persuading a stingy Caitlin to splash out on a delicious lunch in a French restuarant. I enjoyed a cappachino and cake nearly every morning…well, that is until I realised my budget was about to run out if I carried on living like the elite! Mumbai was a sharp contrast to my India, it was totally different to everything I know, but that’s part of what makes it so special. It was surreal being out in the dark, and at first I was terribly nervous-I literally have not stepped off campus past 6.30pm ever since I reached Anaikatti in September. It was fun to spend some time there, but it left me yearning for my children and the slow pace f village life.
From Mumbai we travelled to Aurangabad-a stop over for visitors the the Ellora and Ajanta caves. Despite feeling, (as Katie put it) like we were in a war zone during our stay in Aurangabad, it facilitated us to see some incredible caves. Now, I do feel like I’ve seen an awful lot of stones on this holiday so far, but they have all been so special. The Ajanta caves are all set into one side of a rock, curving in a semi circle, quite high up the ground. They contain beautiful detailed paintings from a long time ago and are full of temples worshipping Buddha and Hindu deities. The sense of calm and serenity which reflects from these sights is immense, although somewhat disturbed by the cheeky monkeys who occassionally ambushed your thoughts. Ellora had a larger quantity of caves but they were more spread out. These were newer than the Ajanta ones and apparantly caused a large proportion of pilgrims to leave Ajanta and pray in Ellora. The first one we saw was astounding, but some were tiny little things which could easily be skipped past. The old stone looked a little weathered and you could see there had been attempts to preserve the caves but they still remained wonderful.
Two nights in Aurangabad was enough and we were swift to get back on the overnight train to Mumbai, enjoying another coffee and cake in our fave cafe, before taking a 6 hour train to Ahmedhabad. By this stage we were hungry, thirsty and exhausted. It was all we could do to drag ourselves upstairs to the bedrooms and pass out asleep. The next morning, our empty stomachs growled, but we were up at 5am, ready to find the correct platform then food. Unfortunately, with the strength of Hindi and weaker English in the North, it was a struggle, and we found the train ten minutes before it left. This meant there was no time to get food or water or go to a loo. As the 12 hour journey dragged on, and we passed sand bank station after station and still no sign of civilisation was near, we realised we had not made a clever decision. This was a local, rural train which was too slow and passed through villages smaller than Anaikatti! There was also nobody to buy water or snacks from, so as the hours passed we became more and more dehydrated. At every station I would peer out the window as far as possible and search for any sign of life. After 9 hrs we finally saw a platform with a tiny stall. Katie and Caitlin sprinted off the train and bought as many samosas and bottles of water as possible and ran back to the carriage before the train slowly chugged on! Soon we reached Udaipur City and from there, we knew we were close. A last overnight train brought us to Jaipur this morning, and it’s all been going well since.
I will keep you all updated as much as possible on the rest of my travels as I still have three weeks left! But for now I have to go and meet some other PT vols for dinner. PS-I hear there’s record temperatures in the UK, it’s 43 degrees centigrade here!