An Indian Adventure part 1 – Mumbai, Aurangabad and the Ellora temple caves
In 2011 I went to India for three and half weeks and totally fell in love with it. To keep my memories fresh and because I have no lessons at the moment due to end of year exams, I thought I’d write some blog entries about that trip.
In February of 2011 I flew to south India. Ash had managed to get an extra two weeks off work so he left before me and travelled around a bit in the north. After a long flight, I arrived at Mumbai airport at 3am. The airport was still rammed and it took a while to get through immigration. Once formalities were sorted, I was released in to the warm night air and experienced immediate sensory overload! At the entrance there was a big circle of people waiting for relatives, shouting, bustling around and staring at me. I then saw Ash, dressed from head to toe in traditional Indian menswear with a sign saying ‘Miss Natalie’ and a flower necklace which he gave to me. What a good start to a trip I’d been dreaming about for years!
He ushered me to a taxi, but along the way we were approached by tout after tout trying to help us find a taxi for an additional fee. When we were inside the car some little children came to the window begging for money, which was heartbreaking. Talk about a baptism of fire in to the realities of travelling in India. It took about half an hour to get to our guesthouse. Along the way I could see people sleeping in the streets and setting up market stalls ready for a day’s trading. Even at night Mumbai was a hive of activity.
The next morning we were up and out early as we were only in Mumbai for two days. First though, it was breakfast and time for my first authentic Indian meal. I ordered a tasty dosa and sat feeling really hot and sweaty, but excited as anything whilst eating it. It was delicious! Whilst in this tiny restaurant eating, we were approached by a man who asked us if we wanted to be in a Bollywood movie. Erm yes please!!! We both got really excited at the thought of being dressed up in Indian clothes and make up, and dancing around on set with other actors. Unfortunately though, we had to commit to two evenings working from midnight until 6am, but we’d booked our train months ago (no mean feat) to leave Mumbai the following evening. I was GUTTED. Next time I go back I hope I get asked again, it’s apparently quite common in that area for movie casters to go looking for foreigners to be extras, so fingers crossed!
The next two days whirled by as we visited markets, museums and the impressive but hectic Victoria terminus train station, drank lots of lassi’s and generally got lost in the bustling streets. We walked through both the poorer looking districts with streets full of market stalls dodging debris from what looked like manic construction work, and also the more sanitised wealthy area of Marine drive. Even here signs of poverty were visible with families living on Chow Patty beach. Another highlight of Mumbai was walking through a park where hundreds of people were simultaneously playing hundreds of games of cricket! I don’t even understand how it was possible, it must have been hard to keep track of the balls.
Chai, chai, chai, coffee, coffee, coffee -my first time on a sleeper train
We were departing from Victoria terminus so we lugged our bags there and boarded the train to Aurangabad. We were absolutely shattered but as it was my first ever night on a sleeper train I wanted to stay up for a while.
The upper seats fold up and everyone sits on the bottom level until it’s time for bed. If anyone reading wants to book on to a sleeper train I would advise you tobook the top bunk, that’s the only one that is down all the time that you can sleep on. Vendors hop on and off the train at different stations selling their wares, and shouting about them. You will often hear someone coming up the carriage shouting CHAI CHAI CHAI, or COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE! We ordered a tasty egg biryani not long after we got on and sat watching the sun go down as the train chugged through the countryside. I think travelling by train through India is such a great experience, you get to see the scenery, its super cheap and pretty exciting. We had decided to save as much money as possible and stay in non-aircon sleeping class, which was fine apart from when it was really hot in the night and Indian families sleeping below us, who were of course used to the heat, got cold and turned the fans off! One other negative thing is the smell of the toilet, it’s never going to be pretty when hundreds of people are on a train for 24 hours!
Aurangabad and Ellora temple caves
We arrived at Aurangabad station at about 5.30am. The tricky thing with Indian trains is it’s difficult to know when to get off. We set our alarms and luckily woke up just in time. The platform was dark but there were quite a few people who seemed to live there and were sleeping on the platform. We found a snack bar open outside the station and passed some time eating. Then we went back to the platform. After finding a free bench, we watched stray dogs running across the tracks and waited for the sun to rise. I have a vivid memory from Aurangabad station and that is of a family who lived there waking up. I lay on the bench watching them as they went about their normal morning ritual, the mum cleaning and feeding the baby and the baby going for a poop off the edge of the platform and then going back and sitting cuddling its dad.
We knew the general direction of the city bus station so decided to try to walk there at about 7am. A few minutes later we walked past an incredible scene. A group of people were sat next to a fire, next to a petrol station! So dangerous but no one was blinking an eye. It was then we noticed the level of pollution in this city. Our feet were already filthy from walking it was crazy. We got on a bus because we were worried that the walk was further than we’d anticipated, paid the fare and three minutes later were there! Along the way we saw what looked like a ‘walking track’, where loads of women dressed in beautiful colourful clothes were power walking. We didn’t have to wait long for the bus to Ellora and after a few miles the air cleared and we were able to appreciate the gorgeous early morning countryside.
The Ellora temple caves are a UNESCO World Heritage site. They consist of 34 caves which were excavated from the surrounding hills. The Buddhist, Jain and Hindu temple caves were built during different periods between the 5th and 10th century and are truly awe inspiring. When we arrived it was quite quiet and we looked at the Hindu caves first without realising these were the most recent. Ellora was more than just caves though, there are lots and lots of intricate religious sculptures carved in to the rock and each religion has its own style. It was breath taking and felt like I was in another world. On the way to the caves we came across a stray dog who waited outside each cave for us and showed us round for a while, bit strange but cute.
As the morning went on, more and more people arrived. They were mostly families but also a few buses of tiny school children. We walked past a class full of children with their teachers having their photos taken and they asked us to join in, so we did!
As more people arrivedwere there we found ourselves becoming the centre of attention, which was crazy considering where we were. I’ve lost count of the amount of photos that we had taken that day, usually wedged between some family members. At one point some little girls literally chased and cornered me to stroke my arm and call me a white princess! After a couple more hours the constant photo posing, combined with tiredness and the heat became too much. I’m not exaggerating when I say everyone wanted a picture taken either. In one area some guy was up on the next level whilst we were in a kind of courtyard and he shouted down to us and then bought all his friends down to see us. We decided to leave, eat and get the bus back to Aurangabad not long after this.
We somehow managed to get ourselves on to an extremely rammed bus on the way back to Aurangabad and I found myself wedged between Ash and the bus door, but still got to appreciate the scenery. We went to an internet café and wasted some time there before going to the train station to wait. It was busy now because it was the evening and people were waiting on the platform for the train. I was totally knackered by this point and was not prepared when a little boy came begging. It sounds heartless but I don’t give money to people begging, it actually makes me feel heartless too at times (like now when I’m writing this) but I have reasons. Over population and poverty is a big issue in India, so begging is also a big problem. As a foreigner it is very hard to not be upset when witnessing the level of poverty on a daily basis whilst travelling round, especially when it’s little children asking for money. However, after discussions with Ash I read up on this a bit before coming away and found article after article offering good reasons for not giving money to beggars, all of which I agreed with. You don’t know where your money goes, does it go to the children and their families or are those children being manipulated by people who want to make money out of begging. I just feel that by giving money to people on the street I’m contributing to the problem, even if it is upsetting to experience. I’d rather donate money to an organisation that can use it to help people.
At the train station I had a little boy tapping my knee, some dude sat next to me and Ash talking about I don’t know what and wanting money, another guy asking for money and then a guy in a wheelchair with a horn came over begging as well. It was quite intense for a while until we moved away down the platform.
The train was really late but Ash made friends with a really friendly guy called Richard who was going back to school in Hyderabad and told us about some good places to visit at our next destination. When the train did arrive, he escorted us to our bunks in the carriage. What a nice young man – I know I sound old but he was!
Finally we could rest. We wouldn’t arrive in Hyderabad until the next morning and that night I slept like a log.