Due to the immense troubles with India's "local transportation system" we've changed our plans and rejected the further possibility of exploring Radjastan. It's too unforeseen for us whether we'll really get a train ticket, and even then it's not yet guaranteed that trains will arrive in time. Only within the last week, 3 major train accidents were reported.. In addition, we found quite a cheap option to head on to Thailand: Flight from Jaipur to Bangkok with an overnight stop at Calcutta.
Unfurtunately we were still forced with some health issues (quite a bad cold has Rene knocked-out first, and now it's me who need to stay in bed). So the Calcutta experience was restricted to some few hours in a rickshaw from Airport to metro station and backwards. (Some words to
Calcutta India Metro station: expect to proceed a "security check" like on airport - but just without the x-ray facility! How does this work? Well, you need show the "inserts of your pocket". One can already guess now, that we've prevented the one or the other businessmen from getting their train, when we arrived with our 80l Backpacks ... ;-) Nevertheless, what we've seen is quite an impressive city! The old colonial flair is still present everywhere, with historical buildings everywhere showing the faded glamour of previous times. But as to be expected, everything was quite ramped down .. Architectural belovers would really feel pains in the heart while staring at the facades; while the traffic and noise level is the same like Delhi, the appearance of Calcutta's roads is quite a different one: Palm trees and lots of green provides the city quite a "green" touch. Small roads (some paved, some not) are winding through the wide city, Bycicle-Rickshaws are lining up with the oldfashioned Aston Taxis. One may feel back to the 30s - when one wouldn't again be confronted with all the (plastic) rubbish of 21st Century, that's everywhere along the road. However, we felt indeed quite sorry for not having the chance to get some more experience of Calcutta - but health comes first!
On 19.7. the plane left (more the less) in time the Indian ground and we made at 17:00 our immigration through the Thai boarder of new Bangkok Airport.
Again - we're in a different world! After all the noise, dirt and hassle of India, we iow feel confronted with "quietness", incredibly friendly people and an impressive transportation system. Rene has made a nice article on the "Tour Eleven" site for that.. :-)
So we've switched-on the Chill Mode, while enjoying all the delicacys of Thai kitchen (which sometimes is quite painful as well ;-) Indeed , it's fun to just stroll along the roads - including CROSSING a street (okay, no further adventure here.. your chance to reach the other road side alive is almost 100% here!). And we hope to get also some of our to-do's done here, including the arrangements for the Vietnam visa.
Plan is to stay some further 2 days here in this fantastic city and then - YESS - head on to the Island; it's really really time to get the head underwater!
We have managed to survive the first couple of days in india - yeah! Some poeple told us beforehands that it will be a "different experience", and well - it is! You feel a bit like having entered another planet - you see a new world totally uncommon to what you are used to know, and the locals around might wonder what kind of alien you are. But as always when travelling, it's all about getting used to a country and it's habits.
Nevertheless it's quite hard to get used to that level of business, and not getting some relaxed seconds unless you close your hotel room door behind you (from the inside I mean…). Some findings, totally random and unordered:
- Prepare your ears. Indian English is an experience by itself, especially when you aren't a native speaker yourself. Nevertheless one can get used to it very soon, and we had already some really nice encounters and good chats with Indian people.
- Get yourself a pair of Oropax™. You may read this as "get your ears prepared, part two" - it's so freakin' loud on the streets (maybe also in your hotel …) you won't believe. Every vehicle has some horn, and I guess the driver will immediately lose his driving license if he doesn't use it.
- Prepare your nose. You will experience both all kind of exotic flavours, but also all the way smells you would not like to experience. Train your nose to ignore these.
- If you - the guy wearing the "I'm a tourist!" sign above your head - are in a metropolitan area (some would say all of India is a metropolitan area), be prepared to having not a single second without someone talking to you - be prepared that at least in the third sentence the guy talking to you will praise the best x of y. Replace x with tourist office / shop / taxi / rikshaw, and y with the city you are currently staying at
- Also, another guy may show up helping you to get rid of some more annoying encounters. Some of them are really just friendly and are trying to help you. Sadly, most of which we met needed six to eight sentences and maybe one more "random" encounter to praise the very best x of y.
- Food is simply awesome - full stop.
- An Indian train is a wonderful commuting option, as long as it arrives. We had some issues with a train arriving behind schedule - when we gave up, the current estimate was six (!!!) hours.
- An Indian railway station has it's charme. If you have to stay longer than an hour, the charme gets somewhat lost.
- Don't let a rikshaw driver decide at which tourist office (rather than bus terminal!) you could get a late bus ticket. Never. Ever. This is nothing specific to India, and we should have known better from various other journeys. For our justification, we were desperate to get to Jaipur at that time, and I guess when actually left by bus there were a couple of people dancing in the streets, because we made their days.
- Traffic is mind blowing. But it never stops! Drivers of any kind have a simple rule: Don't break! Never! Ever! Somehow they manage to pass anything, and the traffic is continuously running. Your rikshaw driver will get you anywhere in the city, in a couple of minutes. No exceptions.
- Beautiful coulours - full stop.
- Don't envy the guy next to you that brought his / her DSLR camera (grrrr!). Have a look at your rucksack, think of your last commute, and embrace your pocket cam!
15.07.11 - Time to leave Agra.
After a relaxed Rickshaw-Tour throug Agra (really nice fiew from the other side of the river to the TajMahal! No crowds, just some Camels, Cows and we), we've checked out at our hotel at 18:00. According the "lessons learned" = better arrive early at a train station, you never know what may happen.
18:15 at the Agra Fort Railway station: scheduled departure time of our train moved from 19:35 to 23:50; wow! Outside the station: rain, rain, rain. Inside the station: sometimes rain (yes, indeed), everywhere people and nowhere a free chair / waiting space. Temperature was with 28° quite moderate, but still sweaty. Found a pillar and declared this as "our personal waiting area".
18:45 gave it a try at the ticket counter to ask for an alternative; at least the 20:00 train seems to be in time. But we weren't lucky - no single seat left for us, no chance to change tickets.
19:00 decided to go outside and look for some coffee.. the smell inside the waiting area is horrible (okay, we've chosen exactly that pillar next to the "official restroom"..)
19:20 back at the station; no coffee - still rain rain rain, and people everywhere. Our "pillar" is occupied now and there's just some few sqm space left on the ground. Train arrival date now scheduled for 00:50. Another 1 hr delay just within 60 minutes?! Calculating further...
when will the train arrive? Will the train ever arrive? We give up. Plan B needed!
19:30 tour through Agra; we wanted to go to a recommended restaurant just opposite the bus terminal. Found the restaurant, but haven't detected a ticket counter there.. our Rickshaw driver is a "quite friendly guy" (those who follow our blog may know already what's coming next ..) and of course he knows an office for bus tickets - drives us there.
20:00 proud holder of 2 bus tickets (sleeper - non AC) for the 23:30 bus to Jaipur. Yes, we've done it, paid about double the official price for the drive, but we've capitulated for today. We head on for some light dinner and were put at the "bus station" at 22:10. Okay, the word "bus station" it's somewhat exaggerated.. But there was a bus! Our bus, that will us bring to our next destination!
23:50 bus departure.. got indeed some sleep (at least between the time, when the driver is NOT pressing the horn!) and reached Jaipur at 05:20. Good night, JohnBoy ;-)
I guess we become used with the behaviours and cultures here.. Else we wouldn't be able to explain, why the hell we're leaving our well beloved hotel early and head on for the railway station already 2 hrs prior to scheduled train departure.. But, well done! So we've had enough time to listen to the "officer" who's grabbed us at the gate entry with the welcoming words of "hey, your train is 6-7 hrs delayed! Take a rickshaw (not to mention, oh wonder, there was just one) and go to the official tourist office to change your ticket".
This was at 12:18. After lots of refusing to go THERE again (we've had aready fights yesterday to get OUT of this office again, we were brought to the "official foreign travellers office - first floor" again. Also already well known spot. Well, this time the communication seemed to run little slower and the guy there was somewhat helpless to explain to us, why our ticket wasn't valid, and - even worse - didn't get the instruction that our train was late. So we walked out that door with best wishes for our journey..
We were free! Please, no further rickshaw, we'll make the way by ourselves. Those 15 kgs on the back don't worry. No, indeed ;-) One cannot imagine the incredible wide smile when we've boarded "our" train, non-AC, but berth, no window but steel bars,.. Doesn't matter! We're about to leave Delhi!
One thing about the ride: Remarkable views out of the window. One cannot imagine the amount of rubbish, waste and worst ever seen murky, dirty waters all along the way. Endless carpets of plastics along the houses' backside, incredible smell.. And no one seems to care. Delhi (currently approx. 160 m above sea level) will soon reach a next platform, as well as all the other cities..
Arrived at Agra at 17:50' had some troubles to find our hotel (okay, one shouldn't walk the wrong direction..)' have just detected our mistake right at the gate of TajMahal. Hmmmm.. Okay, surprise is gone now, but at least we know where to go tomorrow then ;-)
Hunting for Dinner was quite an experience. Once again nearly lost, but now we know Agra - even from the "non-tourist" side. Dark, wet, dirty - but still busy - sideways. On other places than India one would have wished to make his last will.. Main concern was to not survive without having at least 2-3 bones broken in one of the road's potholes...
Yesss, India is different! Cows, sheep and donkeys right in front of the world heritage, death dog on the sideway (looked and smelled like there for at least one week..), children asking for bakhshish.. And a few metres (or kms?) further the touristy area with Restaurants, shops and - again - rickshaws. At least that step back into pseudo-civilisation prevented us from the " dinner out of the minibar" ( aka "peanuts"). So, what's coming next??
Busy day - and nothing seen. Stranded. No escape...
After healthy breakfast we wanted "quickly buy a train ticket for the afternoon train"; neither the broken down internet page nor the loudly loughing concierge (who I've asked for some assistance with calling the railway dept) did reduce my optimism. We jumped in a rickshaw and drove to the railway station. "No train today. All booked. As well as for tomorrow. There was a heavy train accident the day before..."
Oookay, our western inhabitants would immediately return all their tickets and won't book any journey with this vhcl /this company within the next 1 1/2 years for any further trips. But the Indians are different.. ! We've jumped from tour operator to turist office, forth and back - the only thing that took longer than the rides were those endless "no we don't want to have a rickshaw/a tour operator /a private car driver" discussions along our way with the countless "fishermen"...
But as said, one never should give up hope. After endless hours, 12 internet breakdowns, feeled 3 nervous breakdowns and 5 newly detected grey hairs, we've done it: at exact 17:13 The booking was confirmed. For the next day. Yeah! Leaving Delhi!
Hm... Honestly, after all the today's troubles and 17 "asking for help at the reception" we meanwhile feel nearly at home in our hotel - even more with the unforeseen stay ;-) our peaceful rest in the middle of a chaotic city. I really need to bite my tongue for not saying "I'll miss it.." Picture of today: the fortune cookies of tonight's dinner. so true..
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