India

Travelling India 1996


See also: Goa 1994/5/6 & 2003 - India '96 - Goa 2009 - Goa 2012 - Goa 2013


From Goa to Goa via Darjeeling.  

I visited Goa ten times but travelled India proper three times. See the conservation blog for 2012 and 2013.

The 1996 journey took three months.

My travel map
Leaving (in those days) quiet Anjuna via Mapusa (pronounced Map-sa) for Pune on a 12 hour overnight bus ride nightmare, I witnessed the terror of lorries leaving survival up to the Gods when they pull out and overtake. The driver of the bus was finding it hard work too. Tip: To avoid Bombay going north 'Poona' is the quickest bypass route as Bombay is best avoided for travelling through

Pune - Northern Maharashtra - Was a staging post for me, hotels are thin on the ground. The hotel Ritz was out of a Dickens novel Get away: Took an early morning luxury bus: 7 hours

Aurangabad - Northern Maharashtra - And here we arrive at the Taj already, well no actually, this is the Bibi-ka-Maqbara built in 1679 the 'poor mans Taj', still: a pleasant place to be. The Panchakki (water mill) is well worth a visit, very calming in a hectic city. Aurangabad is a nice place and the locals are friendly. Try roadside omelette with chilli powder, divine. The hotel Natraj is thick with mosquitoes, but good value

Bibi-ka-Maqbara - Aurangabad
Panchakki - Aurangabad
Ellora Caves - Northern Maharashtra - The Ellora caves are many temples carved into the hillside, of which the Kailasa is the most over the top and unlike the others open to the air. The buddhist temples by contrast are calm and considered. Ellora is a totally fascinating place. Getting there: It is best to get the local bus from Aurangabad (stunning scenery) and then return. Unfortunately catching a bus back from Ellora is next to impossible. Best to club in with fellow travellers and hire a jeep

Ellora Caves - Buddhist temples
Ellora Caves - The Kailasa
Ajanta Caves - Northern Maharashtra - Same style at Ellora, though more about frescos than carving, in my opinion no where near as impressive. Ajanta is more about painting the walls rather than carving things out of them Getting there: Local bus from Aurangabad (3 hours daytime). I then went on from Ajanta to Jalgaon by local bus (short daytime journey). Tip: The hotel at Ajanta seems to be always full, and expensive. It is not really worth staying there anyway, you can see Ajanta in a day
Anjanta Caves
Jalgaon - Northern Maharashtra - An industrial city, I found getting a luxury bus away was best method (9 hours overnight)

Indore - Western Madhya Pradesh - Had a mad ride with a rickshaw walla after getting off the bus at 6:00am, he took me to far to expensive hotels or ones that looked like squats. In the end I decided to pay out for a nice place at 300 rupees. The hotel Tulsi, which I would recommend. TV, hot water, soft bed, good resturant, well I needed a splurge. I managed to get a long time here for only one nights payment due to arriving early in the morning. I saw a film that became very important to me: "Girl on a Motorcycle".

Next day I moved to the Hotel Shalimar at 45 rupees a night. Indore is a good place to have a walk around, the local museum is interesting.

The picture is of the Rajwada: the gateway of the old palace, there is not much to see beyond the gateway, only a courtyard, as the palace has burnt down many times. Even so it is a quiet refuge.

Disapointment awaited at the Lal Bagh Palace. The place was in a bad state of repair and the features were unviewable due to being hurded along a set narrow route around the building. As the actual building is whitewashed and quite modern looking is was less than eye candy. The saving grace were the quiet gardens. Even these were thin but quiet.

I tried to get to Mandu from here but it is impossible to travel through, it would have meant returning to Indore afterwards

Get away: Taking a lux bus (10 hours overnight) I found myself being violently sick at each stop, had a bad Thali in Indore: nice

Indore
Ahmedabad - Gujarat - Like a small Delhi, smelly and noisy. At the time I did not like it here. Food is quite hard to find, so is a good transport away. I had to hang around at the hotel Naigra for a few days to recover from my bad Thali. They had the earthquakes after I was there, and I worry for what happened to the city Get away: Took a nice train, 7 hours overnight

Bhavnagar - Gujarat - A cute quiet town with inquisitive locals! Probably they see very few foreigners Get away: Took a local bus to Una (near Diu) 7 hours daytime and then a rickshaw to get into Diu

Diu - Gujarat - Diu is supposed to be another Goa, it isn't. Interesting but mostly unremarkable, it is a little island tacked onto the side of Gujarat state. The fort is very good though (The dark bit to the right of the picture). Nagoa beach is worth a look but not very exciting. Best way there is by rickshaw. Food is a hit or miss affair in Diu Tip: Arriving late at Diu you may well find the hotels full. Get away: 9 hour daytime lux bus (well they called it a luxury)

Diu
Rajkot - Gujarat - Saw little here, the Watson Museum is closed on Wednesday, so I failed to see inside it Get away: 5 hours daytime lux bus

Bhuj - Gujarat - Interesting town, quite in the back of beyond. The Kutch Museum is interesting but unfortunately full of stuffed animals. Also the Aina Mahal (old palace) is good but you get a warehouse feeling as all the exhibits a laid out in rows. You also have to take of your shoes for all the palace museums here, and I hate walking barefoot. They had earthquakes after I was there too, and I worry for what happened here as well. Get away: Actually very hard to get away from, as transport from here is a little shady, the trains are no good and the station is hard to find. Took a overnight lux bus back to Ahmedabad! Could find no other way. Then on to Jodhpur on a lux bus 10 hours overnight

Jodhpur - Western Rajasthan - The only two interesting things about Jodhpur are the amazing fort and the name! The Mehrangarh Fort towers over the city a really fine lump of bricks. In the streets here it is not unusual to come face to face with the odd working camel. And the place is where those funny trousers come from. Here I fell into a tourist trap. The Lonely Planet book said goto this place and have the best Lassi ever. I did and it was super disgusting! Get away: 7 hours early morning lux bus booked from the tourist bungalow

Jodhpur
Jaisalmer - Western Rajasthan - At first I thought Jaisalmer was going to be a flop. Arriving at the tourist bungalow the touts were held at bay while we were farmed out to jeeps going to hotels. I was charged a small amount for the hotel but told to leave when I didn't want to go on a dessert 'safari'. Something to watch for. The huge fortified town is quite something to see and a trip to the Sam Dunes is a slice of 'genuine' dessert. Get away: 11 hour daytime lux bus

Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer - Sam Dunes
Pushkar - Eastern Rajasthan - Very nice place, the holy lake had half dried up, as you can see, but a nice place to stop a definite place to relax. Great food and excellent bookshops Get away: One thing to watch here is when you book a luxury bus they dump you on the a state bus. Still it is only a 3 hour journey to Jaipur

Pushkar
Jaipur - Eastern Rajasthan - I personally hated this place, total tourist trap! The rickshaw drivers latch onto you and charge to much. They also think they can become your personal guide. I think the 'sites' are here are vastly overrated. I just couldn't wait to move on from the place Get away: 6 hour daytime lux bus

Bharatpur - Eastern Rajasthan - The Keoladeo National Park: a bird sanctuary, one of the most amazing places I have ever been, the birds are there because they want to be and
there are so many it blows your mind. Best time is early morning, but I spent all day from dawn to dusk there. Painted Storks, Cormorants holding out their wings to dry, Vultures, Deer, Crested Great Tits, Kingfishers diving into the water, Pelicans at a distance, Coot and the constant calls of thousands of birds. Stunning. I heard after I was there that the lakes dried up as the farmers wanted the water, I never heard if this was resolved. The town is not worth a look. Get away: 3 hour daytime lux bus

Keoladeo National Park
Agra - Uttar Pradesh - O.k. so I had to see the Taj Mahal didn't I? I never expected much of the Taj, but it is a really nice place. One thing I never realised was the fact that the walls are inlaid with jewels. Have a closer look... I also never really realised that the Taj is a big tomb. Also the actual gardens and buildings around the Taj add as much to the place as the main building itself. I hate to say it but the Taj is a 'must see' All the other places in Agra can be safely overlooked and the 'torn money' scam is simply annoying, where they will not take a note if it is slightly torn, which is a description of most Indian notes. Get away: Short lux bus jorniey

Taj Mahal
Taj

Gwalior - Northern Madhya Pradesh - I came here to look at the Jai Vilas Palace Museum, it was interesting, but perhaps not worth the diversion. 'Leda & the Swan' is very kinky.
Leda and Swan - source
Seeing how the Raj used to live is the experience to be gained here. Gwalior is another nice place to simply walk around I was taken on a mad ride with a rickshaw walla here. I told him the hotel I wanted and we went round and round. There was some sort of carnival going on with load bands with lights walking the streets. My rickshaw walla kept showing me dreadful, cheap, hotels. I thought he was going to fleece me. But in the end we arrive at the hotel I had asked for anyway and he charged me very little. Odd. Get away: Daytime train 9 hours 
Lucknow - Central Uttar Pradesh - The old British residency. Beginning place of the 'Indian Revolution' a spooky ruin. The picture shows the cannon ball shelled gateway. Get away: Daytime train

Lucknow
Lucknow
Varanasi - Uttar Pradesh - This place is a 'must see' like the Taj. A city on the river Ganges with the ghats leading down to the water. Unfortunately I never took a picture of it. There is something about seeing the Ganges for the first time My favorite place to eat here was the 'Aces New Deal Restaurant' not only because the food was good but because the owner was mad. His daft Basil Faulty esqe running of the place kept me quietly amused.

Only cycle rickshaws are allowed closer into the ghats. So a motor rickshaw will quote you a price and then half way there say he can go no further. Then you pay again for a cycle rickshaw!

Shame I neglected to use the camera!

Get away: Booking a way out is very hard. There is a tourist quota on the trains but the tourist lounge is always packed. I went to a travel agent in the end who did all the hard work for me. Got a daytime train 12 hour journey

Patna - Bihar - A town with a very British feel to it, and the best museum I saw in India. A good place to walk around and see the Ganges again. The railway retiring rooms are a great place to stay, very British Raj. The picture shows the Ganges taken from on top of the Golghar (grain store) Get away: Tricky. There is no tourist quota on the trains. In the end I booked a lux bus for Silligri the closest stop for Darjeeling.

Patna - Golghar
Patna view of the Ganges from the top of the Golghar
Darjeeling - West Bengal - Get there: You can go up the hill to Darjeeling from Silligri on the toy train, a small stream train. But it takes 10 hours or so! Less romantic but far quicker you can take a bus which takes 3 hours. Arriving after a 12 hour bus ride on very bumpy roads at 6.30am I was in no mood far a slow climb up the hill Darjeeling was my ultimate destination and I spent 2 weeks here. A sort of holiday within a holiday. It fulfilled all my expectations and more, a really nice place in the hills, with very British overtones and lots of tea! Sipping tea with a fresh cake at Genarys Tea Rooms is superb. The Botanical Gardens are a quiet oasis with many types of tree and a wonderful glass house. The natural history museum is a horrid collection of moth eaten stuffed animals. The town is great for walking around and being amaised at scenery and old British architecture. It is also a good idea to tell yourself not to buy too many books here!

My favourite restaurant was the Dekevas restaurant. They do great breakfasts and it is a really cozy place to relax before a day exploring.

Snow Leopards: If you come here you must see them at the 'special' part of the Zoo. As the actual Zoo was too harrowing for me, with Indians teasing animals and some cramped conditions. The Snow Leopards have their own part of the Zoo a little distance away and have a permanent caretaker. I was lucky and at the time there were young cubs. They say that they are disinclined to breed, so I think I was lucky to see the them. At one point I heard someone doing very bad cat meow impressions, until I realised is was a Snow Leopard meowing. they say that Snow Leopards in captivity loose their spark, but the ones here were certainly in high spirits gambling about and having cat style games with each other.

Pictures include: The Windamere Hotel for posh people, Gymkhana Club for the faded Raj feel, Oxford Book Store still stocking a good selection

Tip: Be careful of the 'strikes'. All the shops close and you cannot get any food!

Get away: I avoided that toy train and went down to Silligri on the bus, from there I took the train to as I was advised that the roads were too bad for the buses, and it would be a journey from hell. The night train took 12 hours

Darjeeling
Darjeeling - Windamere Hotel
Darjeeling
Darjeeling
Darjeeling - Gymkhana Club
Darjeeling - looks like England!
Darjeeling - Oxford Book Store
Calcutta - West Bengal - Get there: As the train came into the city it was rush hour and quite something to see fast commuter trains with people clinging to the outsides of the carriages! Calcutta is just Calcutta, a nice city. Picture is of British 'Victoria Memorial'. British pretentious nonsense, but a nice building all the same, even as 'Lonely Planet' suggested they were tying to build a better Taj. Get away: By now I was a bit fed up and I just wanted to get back to Goa a.s.a.p. I bought a ticket for the Coromandal Express 2nd class air con for an easy ride for 28 hours cutting out an awful lot of distance in one go

Victoria Memorial - Calcutta
Madras - Tamil Nadu - I was in and out of here quickly, so I cant say much. I arrived at 5:30pm, booked a lux bus and was out by 10:30pm

Bangalore - Karnataka - Very cosmopolitan and has an English language cinema and a KFC! There are also many really nice and almost gone wild parks here Get away: Night Lux bus to Panaji and motorbike taxi into Anjuna took 15 hours Note in 2015: I have been back to Bangalore and Madras since 1996 due to my conservation in 2012/3 and they are both very changed. Bangalore being the center of their IT is a mad city now, so busy in places it is untrue, even for India!

Anjuna - Goa - Back in Goa. From Calcutta to Anjuna it took me 5 days! Whereas going the other way had taken just under three months.

The circle was complete! Anjuna to Anjuna via Darjeeling.

Additional travel notes in 1996:

Bombay to Goa

I found my best way was to take a taxi from the international airport to the domestic airport. Then book an internal flight to Goa. From Goa airport to take a taxi to Anjuna. To have waited for an overnight bus when feeling jet lag would have been too much I think. 2015 note: things are much easier now and Bombay airport is much changed.

Goa to Bombay

On my first visit to India I flew back to Bombay, but the second time I fancied trying the bus. Taking a night bus fitted with bunks for 17 hours which leaves from Mapusa. Arriving at the Colaba causeway to hang around until the evening. The Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel to look at made an interesting day. Before my flight I took a taxi to the airport, beating the taxi drivers down on the price. That journey was one of the journeys of my life. The road cuts along by the bays on which buildings thrust out into the sea. At night with the lights reflecting on the water of the bays it was an amazing sight Then onto the plane and wave goodbye to India, probably for ever. 2015 note: as we know, this was not the case, since 1996 I have been in India further 8 times, who knows how many more to come? None or many, who can say? India will always be a part of me.

Gateway to India
Bombay - Taj Mahal Hotel
Note in 2015 disclaimer on names: yes I know Bombay is now Mumbai. Also Calcutta is Kolkata and Madras is Chennai. However when I visited in 1996 they were still the old names. Many of the Bombay locals still call it Bombay too.

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