Saturday, June 28, 2008

Finally made it! (Aurangabad, Ellora, Ajanta)

Well. I really wasn't sure if I was going to make it to Aurangabad. I wanted to go to visit the World Heritage sites of the Ellora and Ajanta Caves in the region. I originally made plans to go to Aurangabad with someone... and then he came down with jaundice. Then I made plans to go to Aurangabad with someone else... and then we were at the bus station, had purchased our tickets, when he had received a call saying that he had to be at his office early the next morning... so we didn't go. And then we made plans to go the following weekend, and then news comes that he has to attend a funeral! He really wanted to go to Aurangabad, and we made tentative plans around the schedule of the funeral, but instead I ended up going with his friend Anand and Anand's friend.

Anand and friend were in Mumbai, and I was still in Pune, so to make it easier on myself so I wouldn't have to travel to Aurangabad by myself and be lost there, I decided to take the trip back to Mumbai to meet them there.

They are working people, so it was going to be a weekend trip for them. I met them Friday evening, and we headed to the bus stand to catch the 10pm overnight bus to Aurangabad. Mumbai to Aurangabad by bus I believe was around a 10 hour ride. Surprisingly, I got a decent amount of rest! It wasn't a sleeper, but the seats reclined back pretty far. Initially it was hot since it was non-AC, but once we got going, the breeze from the windows helped.

So we got to Aurangabad early Saturday morning, and we hopped off the bus. I gave Ranjeet a call so he could give us guidance in the city, and he came and picked us up. He then took us to his guest house so we could drop off our stuff, which is where we stayed.

After that, he took us for a little drive around Aurangabad. He had a friend who sold electric motorcycles and suggested that I try driving one. Okay, I had never driven a motorcycle and I was like, sure let me try. WELL! I definitely could not handle it! Even going a short distance was a wee bit of a challenge for me. So, I most likely will not be attempting to drive a motorcycle for quite awhile. haha. Following that, Ranjeet took us to show us around his furniture plant. It kinda turned into a business meeting between Ranjeet and Anand... kinda funny. On the bright side, I learned the meaning of "acha," as Anand was constantly using the term! haha. (It means good, okay, well, etc.)

Anyway, after that Anand arranged a car (and chauffeur) to drive us out to the Ellora Caves, about 30 km from Aurangabad. There were 34 caves which were all carvings, and were split up, so you first walked around and saw one group of the caves, and then went around to the other side to see the rest.

Following the Ellora Caves, we went back to Aurangabad to visit the Bibi-ka Maqbara aka the Taj Mahal replica aka the poor man's Taj. Then we met up with Ranjeet again for dinner.
On Sunday, we drove out to the Ajanta Caves, about 100 km from Aurangabad. These caves had a different set up than the Ellora Caves, and there were lots of steps and ramps. (Yay! Me like!) So it was a slight work out getting to see the caves. These caves were not only carvings, but lots of paintings as well.
We headed back to Aurangabad and made our way to the market area. We also went in search of an internet cafe to see if I would be able to find a train ticket to Bangalore. (I was! Anand was actually surprised, he thought it'd be sold out.)

We then headed back to the guest house to grab our belongings, then headed for a quick bite, and then on to catch an overnight bus back to Mumbai. The ride wasn't so bad, as it was a sleeper bus!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cycling! (Mahabaleshwar to Wai)

Yayyy I have officially cycled in India!!! haha. From a hill station situated about 70 miles outside Pune, called Mahabaleshwar... it was mostly downhill, buttt it was great to go for a ride!! Rode to a small village near Mahabaleshwar called Wai!

Read more about my cycling adventures in Europe!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chillin out in Pune

In Mumbai, I went to the Dadar train station, and with the help of my handy dandy compass, got off on the east side to find a taxi to Pune. Asking around, I was pointed in the right direction, and it was maybe a 5-10 minute walk to find a bunch of Pune-destined taxis. I think I paid like 250 rupees for the three hour shared taxi from Mumbai to Pune. We stopped at a rest area along the way that had a playground, how fun! haha.

I believe someone told me the Mumbai-Pune expressway was the first that was built in India?

But Pune was just a lot of chillin out... loooved it!! (Hooray for having wifi the whole time, haha!!) And met lots of people.

Oh, and for those that know Pune, I stayed in Koregaon Park, and I did not go to the Osho Ashram... Someone said to me, "You're the first foreigner I've met that's stayed in Koregaon Park and didn't go to the Osho Ashram." haha. I thought about going... but it just didn't happen... I have also been told that the shrewsbury biscuits are a Pune specialty... I never got around to trying those either. Hrmph. Next time, I guess.

And yes, I was chilling out in Pune just like Ronald McDonald does all around the world apparently.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Elephanta Caves (and Island)

I visited Elephanta Island, which is home to the Elephanta Caves, which is a World Heritage Site. The island is off the coast of Mumbai, about an hour by ferry. As soon as I got off the ferry, this tour guide approached me, and he took me around the island.

While I was on the tour, a lady who lives on the island approached me, and she insisted that we take picture together (with my camera). At first I was hesitant, but when both she and the guide continued to persist, I gave in, and we took a picture together. And then what happens? She asks for 10 rupees! It cost me 10 rupees to take a picture that I didn't want to take! (So 10 rupees is like a quarter, but that is besides the point!)

At the end, of course I overpaid him (it really is embarassing how much extra I continue to pay), but I am glad that he showed me around the island, because I probably wouldn't have gone to the areas he took me.... definitely not worth as much as I paid, but still. Might I add, while on the tour, he had me buy him a beer at the cafe on the island! I learned afterwards, if you get a guide on the island, pay maximum 150 rupees. I have also heard that there are government issued guides who are free, but I'm not sure.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A week in Mumbai

Well! The Rajdhani Express from Delhi to Mumbai was my first train ride in India. It really wasn't bad, despite the 16 hour train ride turning into a 27 hour journey... it was made very much bearable because of the entertaining kids that were in my compartment. I was sharing the compartment with an Indian family, mom and two kids, who actually live in the US--Houston to be exact. There was a girl, 8, and a boy, 3... and omg the little boy was sooooo funny!!! He kept saying ridiculous things and doing ridiculous things, it was just so funny.

But overall, the train ride was relatively comfortable. (I was in AC 2-tier.)

I was in Mumbai for about a week. Lotssss of chillin out!! Which of course was great! ...met a ton of people in Mumbai... went to a few malls... of course I didn't buy anything, except food haha... saw a movie at the theatre (an American movie, ha)... ate quite a few home-cooked Indian meals... saw the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel... took a stroll along Marine Drive... went to the planetarium... areas I wandered around were Colaba, Andheri, Goregaon, Bandra, and Worly... got comfortable riding the local train!! a ride on a motorcycle! ...went to a couple of well-known bars/pubs-- Leopold's in Colaba, which is famous for foreigners visiting, and Toto's in Bandra, which... I forget why it is more well-known!

Ohhh yes!! And since it is rainy season, I should mention the weather!! Yes, it did rain quite a bit, however, because I did not experience the heavy heavy rains, I actually did like it when it rained because it was much cooler!! When the sun was out, it was just hot and humid!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

An obvious foreigner (Delhi)

My first step outside the airport was complete chaos. I didn't know what to do, and I found an airport official to ask about a taxi. He pointed me in the direction of the pre-paid taxi counter. I was waiting in line when a taxi driver came up to me offering his help. (Wrongly) assuming he was there to assist the guys at the counter, I decided to take his help, and he led me to a taxi. Along the way I was bombarded by many more taxi drivers who were hoping for my business. Well, of course it turns out that he has no association with the pre-paid counter, and was only trying to overcharge me... and was successful. Lesson to be learned: whether you are at an airport or a train station, go straight to the pre-paid taxi/rickshaw counter!!! You will be nearly guaranteed the best price!

Most of my time in Delhi was spent getting ripped off. The taxi ride from the airport, buying a SIM card and minutes for my phone, and buying a last minute train ticket from a travel agent. (If you need a ticket, go to the train station, and major destinations have a foreigner's quota for last minute foreign travelers that will allow you to book a ticket). The three days I was in Delhi, I probably paid US$50 more than I should have. But I am not even mad about being ripped off, just sad. Because I knew foreigners had a tendency to get ripped off, and I am sad that I became a victim... many times.

But when I was not being ripped off, I found people to be very nice... Actually, even when I was being ripped off, I found them to be nice... which is why I would like to trust them, but obviously I cannot. But when walking down the street, people would stop me to try to get me to buy something... and even after I have clearly indicated that I am not interested, they will still ask if I need help with anything. So in that respect, people are very helpful.

And the driving is crazy! Drivers are constantly honking their horns... literally. In fact, on the back of buses it even says "horn please." Honking seems to be a way to let others know of their presence... constantly. And most of the time there are no lanes, and even if there are, it really means nothing. They just drive where ever their vehicles fit.

Some random occurrences:
-I saw two monkeys chillin out on the side of the road.
-I've seen many people jump on and off moving buses.
-I was in a rickshaw and my driver stops to pee on the side of the road.