From Gandhi To 007 – First Days In India

From Bangkok to Mumbai

It was time to leave Southeast Asia to spend the last weeks of my journey in the orient. I got my passport stamped at the international airport Bangkok at around 3am, a few hours after my 30-days-visa expired, thus with an endorsement. Nevertheless, I left Thailand to fly to India. On my way to Mumbai I had a stopover in Kalkutta, in the Southwest of India. I had to do the immigration there, which took quite some time, so that I had to rush to get my connection flight to Mumbai.

Even 11 month of traveling around the globe could not prepare me for the culture shock I got when I arrived in this mega-metropolis. Already when the sliding doors went open, everything was loud, overcrowded and hectic. I took a cab to the hostel and took a long nab. Shortly out to get some food, a refreshing shower after that and day 1 in India was done. I simply didn’t have the energy to face Mumbai’s streets.

I planed to do some sightseeing at my 2nd day. With Tim and Julia from Germany, I wanted to go to the Gate of India and Taj Mahal Hotel and explore the city from there a bit. Unfortunately the ferries to the Elephant Caves do not run on Mondays, so we couldn’t go to the island next to the south of Mumbai.

To describe our sightseeing trip, a quick brief beforehand: it is monsoon time in India at the moment. Especially at the South and the coast it rains a lot. A lot lot! When we started our way, the weather was yet alright. But punctually at the Gate of India it started heavily raining. So the sightseeing literally felt through. We had a short glimpse on the gate before we hastened back in the dry, stopped every few meters by Indians, who wanted to take pictures of us.

Even if the weather was bad, the way to the very South of Mumbai was worth it itself. It was quit an experience. Our hostel was about 20km far from the Gate of India. That gives you a hint how brutal the dimensions in this metropolis are. The 1st part in the metro was relatively relaxed, while the 2nd part in the local train was a real “Indian experience”. I never saw such a crowded train. Overstuffed till the forest corner, you stand there jammed between all the Indians and wait till you can finally get out again. But this is not as easy as it sounds. If you don’t make it near the doors about 2 stations before, there is no way you make it out in time (especially during rush hour). Crowds of people try to jump out of the train, while people try to run in at any sacrifice.

Back in the hostel, I met an Indian chef, who works in Italy. A lucky strike. He could give me a bit of an understanding of the Inidan kitchen. We walked trough the streets and ate the typical Mumbai street food, kind of a fried ball, filled with vegetables, potatoes and slightly hot spices, served in a white bread. Really delicious and super cheap (unfortunately I forgot the name).

The Bus Desaster

I booked an overnight bus with my hostel to Ahmedabad, because I was already too late to get a train ticket for that day (you better book 2 days in advance to make sure you get a ticket; too many people = too much demand). It should go up North and more interior in a a/c sleeper bus. Departure time: 10:15pm. Unfortunately, at 11pm I still waited for my bus. I was standing beside a dark road, my cell phone out of service and completely stranded, if a super friendly Indian couple wouldn’t have helped me. First, we tried to reach the bus company with their (working) cell phone. After a never ending search, we finally got someone on the phone. the bus already left, the hotline-jane told us the shocking news. I waited on the wrong place, she said. But I was right under the awning of the travel agency, where the bus was supposed to pick me up an hour before (location written on my ticket). Ok, we need a plan B. So  the hotline-jane assured my Indian angels, the bus will wait for me at another bus station. Luckily, I could drive there in the bus of my new friends, which also went to Ahmedabad with the tiny but subtle difference that their bus picked them up punctually at 11:15pm. This bus was passing by the station my actual vehicle should wait for me. I cached a breath, still skeptical and a bit tensed. I was right. 5min later, the hotline-jane called again and asked where I am. Suddenly she said, the bus does not wait at this station and waits somewhere else for me. I had no other choice then hoping, the bus of my Inidan friends takes me to Ahmedabad. At the end I had to pay about 5€ on top of the 15€ for the never disappeared bus to get on a normal seat without aircon to Gandhi’s Ashram-town. For sure, this bus took way more time, including a wheel change and stopped about 6km out of the city center. I had to take a rickshaw to my hotel, of course not without paying a big touri extra. I did no longer care, I just wanted to get to my hotel, take a shower and go to bed.

Finally Ahmedabad

I granted myself a private hotel room, because of the lack of hostels there. Really nice to have some privacy by way of variation. Before I entered the hotel, Jagdish approached me, the owner of a clothing store right next to the hotel. Jagdish was all in one, tour guide, travel agency and clothing seller. Even if he seemed to be super friendly, I was pretty sceptic. In India you get approached really everywhere and from everyone. The standard question is: “Where are you from?“ or alternatively , “What country?“. We started to make fun of this and respond with Iceland to Nigeria with every country that comes in our mind.

I fobbed him off and made myself cozy on my kingsize bed, before I went at late afternoon to the train station to get a ticket to Udaipur, my next destination. I thought the train would be more trustworthy. But somehow it won’t work for me in India traveling by the rail transport. Because of the monsoon, all trains were canceled. I postponed my travel schemes for that day and had a relaxing movie night. Everything else will get fixed tomorrow.

On tour with Jagdish

I decided to trust the elderly, friendly Indian and explore the city with him. He also helped me to book a bus ticket and buy an Indian sim card. To buy a sim is not as easy as one think. We went to the Vodafone shop across the street. Needed equipment: passport, 2 passport photos, confirmation of the hotel you stay in, copy of the visa plus lots of additional infos. Like the name of your father (why in God’s name do they need to know???) and your home address. The Indians always uses landmarks in their addresses, like “the building a in street b, close to xy”. So I had to explain the stunning Vodafone guys, that in the 4000 people village I live, the only possible landmark for all houses may be the church. But at the end it was worth the effort, a few hours later my sim was activated!

It could start. Jagdish showed me “his” city. Actually, we visited almost every Hindu temple and mosques in the city center, which was quite interesting. My highlight, of course, was the fort, directly in front of the market place. You can see cows, goats and elephants walking as naturally through the crowd. To my amazement lots of eagles circled over the meat market. One of them even consorted with us at the fort and took place on a wall about 10m far from us. After the temples and the fort we went to see the Ashram “Sabarmati”, where Gandhi lived for 12 years (1918-1930) and organized the nonviolent resistance against the British occupiers. We ended our day in Jagdish’s almost 200 years old house, where we had dinner on his kitchen floor. Everything is quite rudimentary there. No stove or other comforts. Our dinner was cooked by his sister in her house. Then she brought the food to Jagdish. It was really delicious. Unfortunately, my stomach didn’t like it that much. The next morning I woke up really early with a threatening grunt of my belly, feeling a bit febrile. Soon after, I hauled myself to the bus to go to Udaipur. Again without aircon (in the baking heat), but this time punctual and in the right bus.

Octopussy-Town

The same scenario like in Ahmedabad. The bus stopped again out of town and I had to take a rickshaw to the hostel, where I immediately felt asleep till the next morning. I felt already a bit better. In the lobby I met Anderea (Mexico), Sol (France), Johannes (Germany) and Nicolas from Belgium, which I joined spontaneously to a boat trip on the adjacent lake. We got a perfect view at the city and the “island-hotel”, where the James Bond movie “Octopus” was shot. After the tour we went straight to a hotel right next to our accommodation. There, you can enjoy the rooftop pool for converted 2,70€ the whole day. Garnished with a great view over Udaipur and the lake.

To be honest, Udaipur was the first place I really liked in India. the old buildings with their rooftops directly at the lake gives the city a special atmosphere. It is way calmer and more relaxed (in Indian circumstances). Plus my hostel was awesome. Easy to socialize, great building and a super-friendly staff.

At day 3 in Udaipur, the city palace with its museum was on the agenda. Also quite interesting and with a great view. And then the monsoon rain reached Udaipur. It rained pitchforks. We only went out for dinner and chilled at the hostel afterwards, which was better, because we had to take the bus to Jodhpur at 6am the next morning. I went to the “blue city” together with Sol and Nicholas. That was the plan at least. Nicolas hit it that hard, that he spent the night more in the bathroom than in bed. Watch out, really disgusting: when he puked the first time, he saw living worms in it. To recover a bit more, he took a later bus. So Sol and I arrived already around noon in our guesthouse, while Nicolas turned up in the evening.

216 comments on “From Gandhi To 007 – First Days In India

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