I’ve Arrived Home

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Does certainly feel strange to be back home. I’m sure I will be seeing many of you soon enough. Thanks for following the blog. Below is a map with all the places I’ve been in the world, zoom straight in on India for a recap of all the places I’ve visited on this trip. Thanks again, Ollie.

<a href="http://www.whereivebeen.com/map/cities?id=1481019&token=edf2c0ae039d753b6f1884902ba78e26&mode=view“>Where I’ve Been

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Goa

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So arrived in Goa a couple of days ago after my brief trip to Afghanistan. The geography here in the south is just so different and I’m sure Charlie would be able to explain the hills, bizarre rock shapes and rain forests better than I could.

The train journey was comfortable, the tourist quota tickets put all the foreigners together in the train and so it was nice to be able to chat to a few of them, one of which was travelling to the same beach as me. Arrived in Goa’s second city Margao (Madgaon) at about 11am, had a bite to eat and then headed for the bus stand to reach Palolem, about 40km away.

The bus stand was interesting, there were no numbers for the buses and no signs, the only way of knowing which bus was yours was by listening intently to the bus conductors who scream their buses destination out of open windows and doors. The bus journey was great too, the road winding its way through dense forest and high up in to the hills offering spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. Palolem beach is conforms the closest to the archetypal asian beach, with palm trees stretching over the beach that curves round in a perfect bay. There is also a strict local government ruling that no concrete buildings can be built within close proximity to the beach, which actually resulted in the government bulldozing half of the beach a few years back. Arriving in Palolem I spent about an hour wondering up and down the beach trying to find the best accommodation. Some offered prices of Rs400-500 and others Rs200-300. The guest-houses here own little courtyards, some that are right off the beach and some further back. The cheapest option offered to me was actually very cute. What I liked about it was that because it was far back from the beach – by about 30 or so yards – it meant that the huts were surrounded by forest and palms and also a small stream next to it. Resisting the jungle feel of this establishment I eventually found a place that is 5 yards from the start of the beach and is Rs250 a night, so a pretty good deal.

On the first night I met an English lot who were on gap years and there were working near by as a group of about 15 or so. After a few beers and a game of pool, it transpired that 3 of the girls there were from Cambridge and went to Hills Road. Even more coincidentally, one of them was from Haslingfield, which is literally 5 minutes away from Chateaus Kenz. Furthermore it transpired that we had many mutual acquaintances including one of the girls apparently having a short amour in recent times. We then continued on to the Silent Noise club, which digitally streams music to headphones that every entrant is required to have. You have a choice of 3 channels and after the drinks flow well in to the evening, I tended to forget I even had headphones on.

The next day I got up at 12, had fried eggs, went to the beach, swam, rented a kayak, swam, went to the beach, had a shower, got dressed, had a beer, had dinner, had a beer, had a beer, met some aussies, had a chat, had a beer and went to bed, Yesterday I did exactly the same, the exception being the aussies were exchanged for 2 yanks, a Dane, and 2 Canadians.

Its so laid back and relaxed here. I am having a great time but its a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the North. In fact its hard for me to even except that this is in India, although its just as much a part of it as anywhere. But I think I’m used to almost constantly think, when in some areas of India such as Delhi or Jaipur I’ve found that my brain is always stimulated in some way. Here it is a shock to the system just to be able to not use any sort of, or very little, brain power. Anyway enough said for today, hope you’re all well, Happy Easter and happy Royal Wedding Celebrations.

Ollie x

Photos of Palolem Beach can be viewed here.

Mumbai Photos

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Mumbai Photos

Ranthambore National Park & Tiger Reserve

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Pictures from the tiger safari

Mumbai magic!

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So I’ve been in Mumbai for just under a day arriving at 8:50pm yesterday evening. The last 10-20 minutes of the journey were very interesting, travelling through rows and rows of run-down housing rail-side slums. However, the closer one got to the centre the more developed the area seemed to become, naturally, with large skyscrapers and apartment blocks rising high in the hazy night sky.

Their are no Auto-Rikshaws in Mumbai central districts, which makes a pleasant change from the fool-hardy driving style of many of those drivers. Instead the city is littered with iconic Black & Yellow cabs which somehow look typically Indian for a reason I can’t put my finger on.

Just travelling through by taxi from the railway station to my hotel at 9pm I could sense that the atmosphere of Mumbai is totally different to anywhere else I’ve been. The first thing was, that even though in a big city I wasn’t accosted like some film-star by hoardes of taxi and rikshaw drivers. Of course some who were standing around offered to take me but it wasn’t the usual swarm of punters. Secondly, as I walked to find a restaurant that evening and even sitting in the restaurant, hardly anyone if anyone at all was staring at me. Everywhere else I’ve been, it is impossible to walk or sit anywhere without someone having a good gaze. But in Mumbai, it appears as if they had seen it before, or as if they just didn’t care.

The answer to why I don’t think Mumbaikars are as intrigued as those from the North came to me the following morning, today, as I walked the very short distance from my hotel to Mumbai Victoria station to try and book a train to Goa. Mumbai Victoria or CST is in a very central area and is one of the world’s busiest railway stations. Here at 8 in the morning hundreds upon hundreds of men and women smartly dressed for work in offices streamed out of the station, much alike Kings Cross or Liverpool Street at 8 or 9am in the UK. And every person seemed to have a purpose of some kind, somewhere to go, something more important to them than just setting their eyes on an Englishman. It also suggests that Mumbai is the sort of city in which you can see and find almost anything. It is true to say that it is by far India’s most diverse and perhaps also developed city. I had heard that the city was a drain on many people, that 2 days for most tourists was enough, but I feel with just an extra few hours tomorrow until a train to Goa at 11pm I would like to spend more time here.

I met a very interesting man on the train, a commuter in Mumbai, yesterday evening. As a Mumbai resident, and clearly an intelligent man too, he seemed to epitomize the new India and I think in a way that is what Mumbai is. The central areas are mostly clean and green areas and trees are plentiful. The architecture is a mishmash of Victorian British-Indian architecture, swanky modern apartments and office blocks and small winding streets of 3 or 4 storey appartment blocks, flats and street side business ventures. Mumbai is what I think many forward-thinking Indians would like to think as the developing India, the India that is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and probably within 50 years will have the economic fire power to compete with many European states if not the USA and China.

I have also been successful in booking my train tickets to and from Goa. I went to the special tourist counter at Mumbai CST and it appears, although checking online there was a waiting list of over 300, I have been able to book a confirmed seat. I am even more confused now about the Indian rail system than before but I think there must be some sort of tourist quota. Anyway, Goa to back and sleeper, Rs550, so at the end of the day that has worked out very very well.

Furthermore, I will return to Mumbai on 2nd May, on which Mumbai Indians play Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League T20 Cricket Tournament, and so I’ve bought myself a ticket for that as a final day treat before I fly from Mumbai at lunch time on 3rd May. It cost Rs1875 (£25) but as I’ve said above, it will be a nice way to round off the trip.

Train rides and conversation

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Finally completed my absolute mamoth journey from Sawai Madhopur (a small boring town that was a base for the tiger reserve) to Mumbai central. The journey took 10 minutes under 24 hours. Quite glad to get off on walk about to be honest after that.

Keeping yourself occupied is difficult but most of the journey is made up of copious amounts of reading and staring out of the window. The short moments in between consist of answering the same bloody questions, “which country?” “What is your name” “Where are you going” and “Which hotel”. In fact it seems more part of Indian culture to chat to random people on train rides. This provides some very enlightening and interesting encounters but often the conversation will last no longer than a few minutes before a million leaflets appear from nowhere advertising their ‘cousin’s’ hotel. And the questions are so forward they tend to frustrate from time to time. Why someone I’m just meeting for 5 minutes on a train needs to know, my hotel name and my mobile number is beyond me other than the fact that they want to tell their friends they have an english friend. Sometimes when it gets too much the well rehearsed back-up (I can’t be bothered to talk to you) response is used. Many girls I’ve met in India use a fake speech, to deter harassing individuals, usually saying that they are married and their husband is just around the corner.

If you say you are from England, USA, Germany, France, Holland, Canada or Australia or in fact any reasonably well known western country, the reaction is more often than not the same. “Ah yes, nice country, very nice country, lots of moneys”. However, a Dutch man I met said he pretended he was from the Czech Republic on numerable occasions, and not many people know where that is, with no disrespect to any Czechs who happen to stumble across my blog.

So taking this on board, when tired and up early for the tiger safari at 5am, and 4 young Indians stroll over and reel off the usual “which hotel, what is your name and which country”, I decided to reply (in my best imitative accent), “I’m from Zimbabwe”. “Oh…”, they replied. And that was the last I saw of them.

Travelling = Difficult + Expensive

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Things seem to have got very pricey very quickly out here in India. Although I bagged my room for Rs400 a night in Sawai Madhopur the Tiger Safari amounted to Rs850 – although totally worth it as the last blog suggests. However because of the Indian school holidays, train tickets are increasingly difficult to get hold of. A strange system called ‘Taktal’ allows passengers to purchase tickets at less then 2 days notice but for usually an added third or double the price. I had to pay Rs900 for a train to Mumbai (tonight) when the ticket price is 500. I don’t mind paying as long as I can get there, Sawai Madhopur is a very small town and the only thing worth doing here is the Tiger Safari. In addition, the price for a room in Mumbai is Rs850, by far the most I’ve paid for a room throughout my trip. Although this works out at £11.40, I’m sure I’ll get literally a cabin and its shared bath which is in fact ridiculous when one considers I have a large double room here with my own bathroom with hot western shower for over half the price. The most daunting prospect of all is getting to Goa, which the guidebook says is busy at the best of times. I checked online yesterday for the waiting list number and it was 350 long. No chance bassically. I am sure I will have to travel Taktal, which will probably work out at no less than Rs1500 but I fear it will be much more. If the train doesn’t work out, I’ll have to fly which will cost anything between Rs3-4000. My plan is to arrive in Mumbai and as soon as I can get myself to a travel agent. The websites in India crash a lot, and their are no travel agents in this town. The travel agents are good, although you usually pay a Rs60 comission, because they no the best deals, the best trains and can pretty much get you a seat (as long as you pay enough).

So getting to Goa is all a bit up in the air at the moment. Most people I’ve met decide to fly because it is quicker and often easier to get hold of a ticket. If the train rises above the plane in price, I will definitely fly, to save time and money. I’m sure it will resolve itself in some way.

Anyway first to Mumbai, an 18 hour train ride!

Ollie x

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