January - February 2019
  • Day37

    Heading Home

    February 20 in India ⋅ 🌙 24 °C

    Semi-early morning trip to the nearby airport, though definitely a sleep-in compared to catching the train! Huge check-in queue at the airport so we opted for the self check-in machines which were a bit finicky. It kept giving errors for our second flight (Singapore -> Sydney) when we chose seats, regardless of which seats we actually wanted. Eventually it finally worked for seats in the middle of the plane, but then printed out 16 boarding passes! At least the guy at the counter laughed and let us through.

    Shimozzle going through security as well, I waited five minutes behind a group of Muslim ladies unpacking their various bags and so on, only for a security man to tell me "gents have to go over there in that line" with a vague wave of the hand. So I stomped off to find this other line, which of course didn't exist! I just ended up waiting another five minutes behind a different group of Muslim ladies which just made me grumpier.

    Then I waited 10 minutes in line at Subway to get a ham & egg roll for breakfast as I hadn't eaten yet and needed to have my tablets before getting on the plane. Finally I was served and the guy was like "oh, the breakfast options aren't available". Even better! I ended up at Costa Coffee (a Starbucks copycat chain) where I paid $8 AUD for a coffee and muffin. Typical Australian prices but a comical ripoff when I've been used to paying 20 cents for a cup of masala tea.

    Finally we boarded and took off bound for Singapore. Food was OK and the flight wasn't especially turbulent, so not much to report. Annoyingly, although we'd booked Qantas flights this was operated by Jet Airways - a budget airline - so the seats were small and the entertainment was self-provided.

    Arrived in Singapore around 6pm local time with about five hours to kill before our Sydney flight. Lots of great options here (it's such a good airport); Shandos had dinner of Hainanese chicken & rice, a typical Singapore hawker dish. I felt bad about not eating local options but after six weeks of Indian food - I went to Burger King. Lucky we ate a substantial meal, since we only got a small snack on the plane for dinner - the proper meal was breakfast.

    This flight was actually operated by Qantas and was great, with a huge entertainment system loaded with lots of great movies. Annoyingly - it was an overnight flight and I knew sleeping the whole way was the only way to beat jet lag, so I didn't actually use any of it. Slept most of the way back to Sydney where we arrived on a rainy overcast morning. Mum graciously picked us up once again, taking us first to Forest Lodge to get Schnitzel and then to Erskineville to meet Harold, the dog we'll be looking after next week.

    Until next time!
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  • Day36

    A Day at the Mall

    February 19 in India ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    Decided to do about the least Indian thing possible for our last day here - we headed to the mall. Shandos has a conference the day after we arrive so needed to buy a couple of things for that, while I just wandered around the various shops looking at nothing in particular.

    Apparently it's the largest mall in India, and although it was fairly large there surprisingly isn't much competition. Western-style shopping malls just don't really exist here yet. The shops were all typical western brands and fairly expensive - honestly not much difference in price for the stuff I looked at versus the prices I'd expect back in Australia.

    We decided to splurge on lunch at a Jamie Oliver pizza restaurant which was tasty and quite cheap, though still comfortably our most expensive meal of the last three weeks. I think we paid about $30 AUD for two pizzas, a water and two non-alcoholic mixed drinks. Headed home in an Uber mid-afternoon and again just spent the rest of the day relaxing around the hostel.
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  • Day35

    Back to Mumbai

    February 18 in India ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Up early again, for the last time! Uber to the station and hopped on the train ahead of the typical 6am departure time. Not much to report from the train really, as it was just a repeat of the journey from a few days prior, except going in reverse!

    Since we were staying in a different part of Mumbai for our last stay (up north, near the airport), we decided to get out at a different station to what was on our ticket, and then make our way to the hostel from there. Another Uber, though this one was quite long as the traffic was fairly heavy. Still only a few dollars though which is nice - we'll definitely miss this.

    The hostel is fairly nice, we have a private room and the staff are quite friendly. Didn't really do anything for the afternoon other than chill out in the common room and in our room too. There was a kitchen on site so we just ate food from there, though we were a bit limited since we didn't have much cash left and weren't super inclined to head out and get more, given we're leaving soon and can't take rupees out of the country.
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  • Day34

    Champaner Archaeological Site

    February 17 in India ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Last world heritage site of the trip, almost seems hard to believe! And we've managed to see them all without any major disruptions (aside from the Red Fort, which people have said isn't that great inside anyway).

    Hired a driver again for the day trip; hoped that we'd get a different one but unfortunately the same guy turned up. And off we went heading southwards out of Ahmedabad along a fairly modern expressway. The drive out was about 2.5 hours.

    Champaner is a large archaeological site that was once a fortress and citadel housing the kings of Gujarat, and it largely dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Surprisingly, most of it is actually still unexcavated! But we drove around to a few different points and saw quite a few things, including a couple of mosques, city walls, gates and bastions, a customs house, tombs, and a royal pavilion. Interesting style of architecture, and you can see how they're about halfway between the Hindu style of India and the Mughal style that developed over the following century. Quite interesting, though honestly not a huge amount to see.

    The site also includes a Hindu temple atop a nearby hill, but it's an active worship site and super popular, so we decided to skip after seeing the crowds heading that direction. You also have to get a cable car up to the top, and we'd looked into the safety record of that too. Nah.

    So a quick stop for lunch in the early afternoon, and then it was another 3 hour drive back to Ahmedabad, arriving in the early evening. At least the driver didn't get lost on the way back! Though he did let out a ridiculously stinky fart at one point; Shandos and I were both gagging. And of course we all acted like nothing happened.
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  • Day33

    Rani-ki-Vaav

    February 16 in India ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    Long day trip today. Hired a driver from our hotel and headed north out of Ahmedabad, aiming for the town of Patan. Here were aiming for Rani-ki-Vaav, or the Queen's Stepwell. These are common sights in India, essentially just decorated wells that have large and ornate steps leading straight down into them. But it was a 2.5 hour drive out from Ahmedabad, so off we went.

    Not super impressed with the driver since his car only had one seatbelt in the back, and he kept on getting lost despite us telling him where to go. I think he sort of knew roughly where it was, but was just following the signs and when there were no signs he'd go straight. Then he'd ask someone where to find x, while we got more and more frustrated. So we finally arrived, but it took about an hour longer than we'd expected.

    Good news was that the stepwell was actually really great. It's not a huge site, by any means, probably about half a football field, but the carvings and decorations were really intricate and quite impressive. We spent about 45 minutes going down the stairs and back up, taking photos etc. But we exhausted the site's potential fairly quickly, and so piled back in the car and set off for home.

    Stopped for lunch on the driver's recommendation at a place that was a bit more expensive than we wanted, but oh well. Though our mood wasn't helped by the driver ordering himself a plate of noodles and adding it to our bill. We've had them add a cup of tea to a bill before which is fine, but a 150 rupee plate of noodles is a bit rich. Sure it's only $3, but when you've just paid him 3500 rupees for the day I don't think he's going hungry.

    Anyway we eventually made it back to Ahmedabad with no real issues. Picked up our laundry and discovered the hotel had given me someone else's socks instead of my own - not happy! And of course trying to sort it out with the guys at the desk is hopeless, just like being on the phone to a call centre where they can speak okay English, but don't really understand what the problem is. Frustrating.
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  • Day32

    Ahmedabad Old City

    February 15 in India ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Today's WHS was the Old City in Ahmedabad. The most notable feature of it were the wooden house neighbourhoods, known as pols. We'd had recommendations to do a walking tour, so that's what we did - a local showed us and about 30 friends around for a couple of hours early in the morning, before the city got too busy.

    Quite a few interesting details and places we never would've gone to otherwise, so it was absolutely a worthwhile effort! The only downside was that since we started at 8am, the tour took two hours and our entire day was done just after 10am! We retreated to the hotel (quite a nice room though the front desk staff are hopeless) and chilled out for a while.

    For the afternoon we headed out to the Gandhi Ashram, a sort of school/commune thing established by Gandhi in 1917. He lived here for about 15 years, and was originally from not too far away though not Ahmedabad itself. Lots of information about Gandhi, his life, his work, and of course the ashram itself. Fairly pleasant spot with lots of trees, overlooking the river etc.

    Had a fast food style lunch nearby, then headed home and relaxed for the afternoon/evening.
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  • Day31

    Northwards to Ahmedabad

    February 14 in India ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    Another day, another early morning train ride - only two remaining now! Rolled out of the station at 6am and took about 6.5 hours to head northwards up to Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat. Very hot, dusty and intense here - more like the other cities we've been in and definitely step up from the slightly more relaxed atmosphere in Mumbai.

    We arrived, got a cab to our hotel, walked a couple of nearby blocks and had dinner but did very little else for the day.
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  • Day30

    Elephanta Caves & Mumbai

    February 13 in India ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Feeling a bit better today so decided to head out and tackle the three (3!!) world heritage sites in Mumbai. After some breakfast at a western style cafe with tasty food and glacial service, we headed for the Gateway to India at the entrance to Mumbai harbour and caught a ferry across to Elephanta Caves.

    Here there were more Hindu rock art caves, pretty similar to what we'd just seen at Ellora and Ajanta, and sadly these were by far the least impressive. Only five caves here, and really only the first cave has something interesting in it - a huge three-headed statue of Shiva known as the Trimurti. It was quite interesting looking at the three-faced head sculpture and reading the Wikipedia article, learning about it. Apparently it represents the three aspects of Shiva, the chief god of Hindus.

    One side was slightly feminine, wearing jewellery and holding a lotus leaf, representing fertility. The centre face was serene and holding a shield, showing protection. While the third face looked furious and held a sword, representing destruction. It was probably the best single carving we'd seen in any of the three cave sites, but there was very little else here besides aggro monkeys and souvenir stands, so we beat a hasty retreat.

    Sailed back across the harbour in the early afternoon and started wandering. The two sites in Mumbai are the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Buildings, as well as a separate listing for the huge Chhatrapatti Shivastri Terminus railway station.

    Mumbai is actually probably my favourite Indian city, as the buildings are quite interesting. You can really see how important it was during the colonial era, as there's heaps of old buildings like that around. These days they're occupied by government offices, law courts, post offices and so on, but they're dotted around and very interesting to see. More trees here than elsewhere too, plus a large park in the centre of town called the Maidan. It was actually mostly green and of course had about 10 different cricket matches happening.

    Last stop as evening approached was the main railway station. Dating from the 19th century and formerly known as Victoria Terminus, it was renamed after independence for an Indian king of yesteryear. The building itself is magnificent, with Gothic flourishes, sculptures and incredible details all over the front and interior. I'd hoped to do the building tour which ran frequently in the afternoon (and which Shandos had done the day prior), but alas we were just too late. Oh well.

    Back to the nearby hotel where we went to the western-style cafe across the road for dinner. I managed a chicken burger for dinner even though it was way too spicy, but didn't feel up to a beer. Realised I hadn't had a single beer since arriving in India!
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  • Day28

    Westwards to Mumbai

    February 11 in India ⋅ 🌫 29 °C

    Out early again, on the train at 6am heading west towards Mumbai. Slightly older chair car this time so not as comfortable, but still fine and definitely way better than the base price carriages at the back of the train! I wasn't feeling too crash hot - my stomach had felt weird basically since lunchtime yesterday (though no symptoms of anything), so I just grinned and bore it for the following 6.5 hours until we arrived at Dadar station about halfway into Mumbai. That's where all of the central India trains terminal, for some reason.

    Caught an Uber to the hotel where I basically just went straight to bed and stayed there the rest of the day. Went out in the evening to a western cafe across the road from the hotel, but could only manage a Sprite and some fries. Shandos had been out and enjoyed looking around the city a bit.
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