Saturday 10 March 2012

Forgive me for the delay!

Hello all!

I am so sorry for the delay in posting. Aurangabad was so hectic we didn't even have the energy to seek out an internet place, let alone the time! Here goes for a delayed post, for the last few days. 6 days!! Let's hope I don't forget anything...

So, we left Hampi looking forward to the magical caves of Ellora and Ajanta. The train journey was amazing, a sunset lighting up the wide and open sky:

(More pictures to follow, just wanted to get some more into the blog!)
We saw dust devils spinning up into the sky, and small groups of cattle herders huddled around campfires. One of our fellow passengers saw me taking pictures, asked to have a look and then pulled out his computer and begged for a copy of a few. Wow! I didn't think they were that good... which led me to a new idea. Would anyone be interested in buying prints of the pictures? Maybe another way for me to fund my travels... let me know eh?

So, after a long and tiring journey, lasting around 18 hours, we pulled into Aurangabad station at about 10PM. It was quite a shock, now being away from a touristy place. We were the centre of attention, everyone staring, everyone coming up to talk to us. This was shocking at first, kind of flattering second, and incredibly tiring very shortly afterwards. Very easy way to cure an attention seeker: drop them in Aurangabad.

Hotels were overpriced and disgusting I'm afraid to say. We were shown one place which had rubbish and cigarette butts on the floor. After making a hasty retreat, we found the Hotel Sheetal Palace on a side street, which had a new and clean room (brand new building), a TV, hot showers (this was a deal maker really) and who wanted Rs. 450 per night, but we talked them down to 400. It was late; they needed the custom.

Some of the 'hotel's on the main road are actually just restaurants, but some of them (Hotel Dreewal) offer cell like rooms for about Rs 300-400. If you want a nicer place, there are some nicer ones closer to the station for around 600-1200 depending on your bartering skills.

For food, we loved Hotel Preeshanth, which is opposite the MTDC Holiday Resort (rooms Rs 1200) and which offers decent food, fantastic service, smiles and a lovely patio area for a good price. We liked it so much we went back twice.

Originally, we were going to hit up Ajanta first, followed by Ellora the next day, but we woke up at 10, and thought that the 2 hour trip to Ajanta would take too long. So, we grabbed an auto to the bus stand (40 rupees, they'll say 50 but will always go to 40. Never managed to get anyone to accept 30, but it was 5km) and after buying a bottle of water from one of the many sellers in the bus station, had a guide to show us which bus to climb aboard. This is a good tip for any followers, buying water/cookies/chips from someone who can speak hindi will help you a lot. The whole karma you help me I help you ideal comes into effect.

Ellora was actually a bit of a let down. I think it had been hyped up so much we were expecting so much more. It was interesting, incredibly so, but the caves were in relatively awful condition and the statues were all starting to fall apart. Ellora doesn't have any barriers or really any protective measures at all, so everything is starting to look a little worn.

Still, the main temple, Kailasa temple, was jaw dropping. Carved out of the main cliff, they started at the top and just worked down. Standing in the back, looking up at this monument is quite amazing. It's a single piece of rock, all of it. The size of it is staggering (larger than the Parthenon for any Greece visitors). Sadly, the rest of the caves pale in comparison. But some of them do have some wonderful statues and carvings, especially cave 29.

The next day was Ajanta, and this was a much longer trip. The bus was 2 and a half hours each way. We were told 3 when we boarded. The fast buses to and from Ajanta start at 6.30 AM and finish around 8AM. Any time after that and you're looking at a loooong road ahead of you.

We actually preferred Ajanta, with it's well preserved paintings, more structured layout and the helpful guides who saw me explaining a picture to Aya (I had bought a guide book) and launched into a cheerful tour around the cave, insisting he was so happy that tourists were actually interested in the paintings.

Ajanta Caves.

Aya and I were a source of constant attention in Ajanta. Boys gathered around Aya like flies to meat, and I got my fair share of 'Picture! Picture!' and hand shakes as we walked along. Aya has been wearing a ring on one of her left toes, and we were told that in India, this is the mark of a married woman! Woops! They were slightly confused because it is usually accompanied by a nose piercing and a ring on the finger. Good to know though eh?

The train to Mumbai was only about 7 hours, and we spent it in the overcrowded second class (cheapest). It was an interesting journey, squashed onto our section of the bench with 3 other people (the seats are only supposed to take 3!) The general consensus is that you'll be here for a while, so you might as well make yourself comfortable, and you should too. So, feet are pressed against the seat next to you by the guy opposite, heads are rested on your shoulder, and you constantly have to fight for your space! My bum hurt by the end of the journey, the seats are NOT comfortable. We've promised each other we'll take sleeper from now on even for short journeys, just because the beds have a bit more padding!

Mumbai was a shock. We arrived at 10PM again, once more with no reserved hotel. We caught a cab down south towards the 'budget' area, according to Lonely Planet, and arrived behind the magnificent Taj Mahal Hotel after an expensive taxi ride. Get ready to blow your budgets here guys, Mumbai is expensive!

The first thing we've thought is how quiet this city is. It's the largest city in India, but there are no big main roads with endless shops, no thousands of pushing people to get through. There are quiet back streets with small family shops, large roads with occassional buses and taxis passing by, a distinct lack of restaurants and hotels and very quiet! We're still a little in shock, and for a brief moment this morning I wondered if we had gotten off at the wrong stop.

We had a look at the Carlton Hotel, behind the Taj Mahal Palace (TMP), which looked tatty from outside but boasted comfortable beds, good size rooms, clean black marble shared bathrooms and a slightly shocking Rs. 1300 price tag. I was tempted, especially because of the lack of other options, and day dreams of blowing a months spending on a night in the TMP started to flicker across my mind.

Aya shook me back to reality by heading into the Salvation Army Red Shield Guest House. A mouthful of a name, but they offer clean and decent sized rooms, private bathrooms and included breakfast at Rs. 725 per night, but come with a 9AM checkout and I think bed bugs, but I'm not sure. Found some sort of bug on the bed this morning, little red thing which spilled blood all over my hand when I popped it. Thank goodness for sleeping bag liners eh?

So, that's the last 6 days! Sorry for the delay, and thanks for reading. Will get more pictures up when I can.


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