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Two months in Limbo

a travel blog by Capto

Having finished 5 years of study, and with a summer free before I start working professionally, I decided I needed to do something which would shock my system. Two months in India should do the trick! These are my adventures, confessions, and general ramblings.
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Wellington, New Zealand

permalink written by  Capto on December 28, 2009 from Wellington, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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The roller coaster ride begins

Mumbai, India

After very little sleep in a 48 hour period, Glen and I arrived into Mumbai at 10pm. What awaited us outisde the airport was our first shock in India. Hundreds of people were crammed up against barriers outside the airport, waiting for friends and family to arrive, climbing over each other to get a closer look.

We made our way to the pre paid taxi stand, and got in our designated taxi. Our driver had trouble understanding and locating the hotel we wanted to go to. After a little discussion, we were on our way. Shortly after the taxi had left the airport however, he stopped in a dark alley, and without a word, got out of the taxi. Glen and I looked at each other nervously, not knowing what was coming next. Luckily he was just getting better directions, and soon we were on our way, our nerves barely in tact.

The drive from the airport to our hotel made its work on the last of our nerves. We drove through slums where people lived in houses with cardboard roofs. We drove past parking lots which were crowded with women in beautiful saris, sleeping on the ground, and men and their sons drinking. We saw two story slum houses which seemed as if they would collapse with the slightest breeze.

What struck me most was the rubble and rubbish everywhere. There are no bins on the street, so it is no wonder that there is rubbish everywhere. But adding to that, it seems that when a house is teared (or falls) down, the remains are not cleared away. They simply build on top or around the rubble. The streets are lined with piles of dirt and concrete. Coming straight from pristine Singapore, this was a shock. We endured 40 mins of this before we got to our hotel, and were relieved to find we weren't being dropped at one of the two story shanty houses we saw. During this time Glen and I barely spoke a word to each other. There were no words that could describe how we felt, or comfort us.

We were glad to get a night's sleep. In the morning we were surprised to find that we were ready and excited to explore. I can see why people often hide in their rooms for the first day, but we were not going to be those people. We spent the day walking the streets, practicing our bartering skills but buying nothing. The only thing I picked up was a kurta and some churidar to wear. Despite being very decently clothed, the amount of stares I get is hilarious. Every man who walks past me stares at my chest. I don't mind too much. I don't feel threatened or in danger at all. It's pretty funny really. One man was walking behind us, and as he over took us craned his neck right around to stare at me. I caught him looking, and he took a moment longer to linger, then went on his way. I'm surprised he didn't walk into anything in his efforts.

Our hotel is basic but nice. There is a balcony from which we can watch the street below. We've braved two breakfasts (mostly eggs, omelet pancake things and lassi! mmmm lassi) and one dinner so far. No delhi belly yet. Picked up water and bananas to keep us going. The food has been surprisingly good, and at less than 3 dollars to feed two people for dinner, we certainly can't complain.

It was a bit of a mission to find the train station, and we were dubious of touts trying to sell us false tickets. Once we found the correct area to buy a ticket (after being wrongly told to take a bus across town, which we thankfully ignored) we kept being told to go upstairs to window 52. Eventually, after many people had told us the same thing, we realised we were being too untrusting, and went upstairs. We got overnight tickets to Udaipur, and we leave today.

Happy New Year's Eve everyone (or New Year your time). We will be spending New Year in a foreign land with floating castles!



permalink written by  Capto on December 30, 2009 from Mumbai, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
tagged MumbaiFirstDay

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Udaipur, India

Our train took us once again through the slums of Mumbai, but this time during the day. We got to see the reality of how 70% of people in this world, living in shack I can only describe as the kind you might have made as a kid, with scraps from the back of the shed. Some lived in makeshifts tents made out of tarpoleon, with huge piles of rubbish just metres from their door. But despite all this, children laughed and played, women did washing, and generally, life went on. Amazing.

The 7 hour train ride from Udaipur to Ahmedabad was long, but there was so much to see outside that I had no need for reading or writing. The area outside of Mumbai is full of vast planes which stretch on forever. There were rural slums, houses with thatched roofs, and five storey buildings which look so out of place. The sunset was amazing, with a sun of blood orange set over the fields.

Once in Ahmedabad we changed to a sleeper train which would take us to Udaipur. We knew this part of the trip would be cold - Rajasthan has a desert climate, which is freezing at night but hot during the day. Even with a hoodie, my silk liner (thanks Jess!), woollen slippers, and the woollen blankets we stole from the airplane (thanks Quantas!) we were still cold. I managed to get a decent amount of sleep, but Glen spent most of the night listening to music. Once the sun started to come up we opened the blinds, and watched the new year sunset. We found ourselves in a very different world again. Far from the planes of Mumbai, the landscape here is rugged and mountainous. Sparse trees are dotted over the hills, with slate cliffs. The ground is blanketed with straw orange grass. Against the New Year sunset, the place was golden. Ifound myself asking how I had never been here before.

Once in Udaipur we met a lovely taxi driver who took us to a fantastic hotel. Weary of paying the driver's commission on the room, we bargained a room for 400Rps. The room is gorgeous and slightly kitsch, with handpainted details around the doorways and windows, and saris hanging from the windows. It is so lovely, that we are sorry to leave it today as we move on to Jodhpur.

We have spent our time in Udaipur wandering the streets, bartering to get an idea of prices, and exploring back streets. Glen and I both bought lovely leather bound journals (sorry Mum, the journal you gave me is being retired) and a pashmina to keep us warm.

Walking back to our hotel, we saw our first elephant! It wasn't particularly happy looking though. A little sad. And we were offered a ride for 1000Rps. Not paying that much thanks! But cool to see one.

Last night we were sitting in a little cafe, talking to the owner, and we learnt he did reflexology massages. He gave us an evaluation, and could tell that one of Glen's legs is longer than the other by just feeling our hands. We considered having a massage, as he is praised in his 'visitor's book' by hundreds of travellers in all different languages. But we decided that we couldn't afford it this time. Maybe later in the trip.

The back streets are my favourite. We do not feel threatened or in danger exploring these parts, and love to get away from the tourist centres. Children are very keen to meet us, and many speak good English. We met a group of children who were particularly friendly, and later realised they wanted the bag of fruit we were carrying in our hands. We couldn't resist, and after a few minutes they had managed to extract all the fruit we had just bought.

Above all, the people here are amazing. Everyone wants to talk to us, and yes, some want to sell us stuff too. But the sales pitch comes at the end, as an aside. People are genuinely interested to know who we are and where we are from. Some have a scarily good eye for guessing where we come from. Wandering the streets we sometimes get calls of Haere Mai or Kia Ora.

Today we are getting an overnight bus to Jodhpur. We don't expect to sleep much, but by taking an overnight bus we effectively get a night's accommodation.

Happy New Year everyone

permalink written by  Capto on January 2, 2010 from Udaipur, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
tagged Udaipur

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Jodphurs and Blue Houses

Jodhpur, India

We took the overnight bus to Jodphur. I've not been carsick in years, but these roads are crazy enough to do it to the best of us. Even some of the locals were sick, so I don't feel so bad. I spent much of the day feeling sick though, but in hindsight it was probably partly lack of food too.

Jodhpur isn't as pretty of a city as Udaipur, with open sewer drains alongside the roads and lots of rubbish. But the people here are amazing. We made friends with kids on the street, a fruit vendor who kindly showed us that we had been ripped off buying fruit up until now, and passers by on the street who invite us in for chai. The owner of our hotel has been lovely, insisting that we meet his family, and finding us mates rates on our next hotel in Jaisalmer.

The markets here are much cheaper than in Udaipur, and we've picket up a few bits and pieces - some cheap jewllery and a kurta for me, and some baggy cotton pants for Glen. We're starting to look quite the tourists!

Just a quick note this time. Glen and I are about to climb the hill to the fort to watch the sunset.

Thinking of you all

permalink written by  Capto on January 5, 2010 from Jodhpur, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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Desserts and the Desert

Jaisalmer, India

The bus to Jaisalmer was far better than the last one. We managed to avoid another display of my digestive pyrotechnics thanks to a chair seat, rather than a sleeper compartment.

When the bus arrived we were met at the stop before ours by a man from the hotel we were booked into. He told us that at the next stop there would be many hotel touts, and that we should stick to him. When we got off at the next stop we saw that he was right. Another couple who were moving from the same hotel as us, to the same hotel was met by four touts who all knew his name, claiming to be from the hotel he was being referred to! I was asked to explain to them that we were from the same hotel, and that they should come with the man who had met us. Tricky people these touts.

We went for a wander around the city after settling in with an awesome cup of chai. Jaisalmer is a small place, and fairly touristy, but very laid back as the tourists never stay long. Leatherworking seems to be the specialty here, and there are some lovely leather bags. Glen and I eventually picked up a satchel each for around NZ$10. We've also started to get a bit more adventurous with our food. We've played it safe for much of the trip, but stuck to curries (veg of course) which have been cooked for so long that it's a lot harder to get sick. While we're still too scared to try street food like pakora and samosa, we've started sampling the sweet stalls.

We made friends with a man in a tailor shop, who was offering decent prices. It's funny here; when you browse a shop they make you sit down and literally start throwing things at you to look at. And I mean piles and piles of clothes. It's a bit overwhelming, but I guess this is their ploy. After a couple of chai with him and a browse around, we ended up buying a couple of things each - I got some aladin type pants for travelling (Ingrid, you would LOVE these), and glen got some pants and a shirt to keep cool in the heat. He insisted that we stay for one more chai, and we had a chat about our lives. He was so lovely, giving me a free scarf that I was interested in, because it was his last and he didn't have the colour I wanted. He made us promise to go back for another chai before were to leave.

The next day we headed out on a camel safari into the Thar desert. We were taken by car 40km out of Jaisalmer, where we met our camel drivers, Dalpat and Leelo. The camels here are huge! Their back is about 1 1/4 times our height, so riding on them is quite an experience.

We trekked a couple of hours before stopping to cook lunch on a basic campfire (chai first of course). They showed us how to make chai, chapathi and curry. Very tasty. Afterwards, we had a quick nap, then back off on the safari. We camped that night in the great dunes, behind a bush to block the wind. We sat up drinking chai and talking around the camp fire, and they sang us some camfire songs (C-A-M-P-F-I-R-E S-O-N-G songs, aye Lana).

The camel drivers are desert people; they live in one of the villiages scattered around the desert, living in mud huts. Their families were farming people, but there has been no rain in these parts for three years. We had talked to a boy in the city who was working at the restaurant we ate at, whose family was in the same position. They sent him to the city to work and make money to send back home.

Out in the desert you could see that this was true. The ground was baked solid like clay in parts, and in others it was cracked like mosaic tiles. The trees have all been trimmed short by animals who cannot find any grass to graze.

After a freezing night on the sand we started out in the morning to head home. Up on the camels it was even colder, as we caught the icy wind. In these parts, the day does not start to heat up until midday, so we were frozen solid by the time we stopped for lunch. Once back in Jaisalmer we were craving a hot shower, but found there was no hot water. So cold bucket showers it was. Still, it was good to get all that sand out of my hair.

Before leaving Jaisalmer the next day, we went to see our friend the tailor one last time, as we had promised. He came back with chai and various family members for us to meet. So sweet. He's made us promise that we'll come back next time we're in India, and that I'll bring my husband (yet to be), and Glen will bring his wife. Very cute. We expressed our doubts about our respective marital statuses in 5 years time.

I will fill you all in on Pushkar in a day or two, once we've really got a feel for it. Needless to say, we love it. As we go along our trip we keep declaring each new place our new favourite. India just keeps surprising us!

Sorry about the lack of photos. We've taken hundreds. It's just hard to find a fast internet connection here. As soon as we do, we'll post some for you all.



permalink written by  Capto on January 10, 2010 from Jaisalmer, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
tagged CamelSafariJaisalmer

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Pushkar, India

Pushkar is by far the smallest city we've stayed in yet; only 15,000 people. Legend has it that Lord Brahma released a swan with a lotus in its beak, and would perform a sacrifice where it fell to earth. Where it fell, Pushkar was created. This is a very holy place to the Hindu people, and some of Gandhi's ashes were sprinkled here. It is a very small town situated in a basin, surrounded by ranges on either side. To the North stretches the desert, from which some small mountains pop out like volcanos. At the top of some of those peaks are temples (there are supposed to be 1000 temples in the small region)

We arrived into Pushkar at 2am, thankful that the bus didn't break down and we didn't have to push the car (bahahaha. Damn, I'm funny). As always, there were touts at the bus stops trying to convince us to stay at their hotel, despite us already having booked ahead. One tout even told us that our hotel was over 15mins walk away. When we decided that we'd make the hike to the hotel rather than go to his, he admitted our was just around the corner, and told us the direction to go in. In India, though there is little malice or real danger, you never trust anyone! Because our room was not available until the next morning, they set us up in a tent on the rooftop!

Our hotel is very cute, with plants popping out of every corner, and even with a lawn on part of the roof. It's so nice to be able to sit on grass again! most of the grass around here (and there is very little of it) is like straw. They even have basil plants and mint growing, which makes me think of NZ summe - mojitos and pasta salad.

We headed into the city markets the next day, and were handed a flower each as we walked in, to be gifted at the lake in respect. We headed down to the lake, took off our shoes, and were given a plate with rice and dyes, to which we should add our flower, and take it down to the priests. Once down there, they took us each aside individually took us through a prayer and blessing for us and our families. We had been warned that they would expect a donation for this, but it still takes you by surprise. We each offered a small but decent sum, but they still asked for more. They wanted NZ$10 per family member from us each. They didn't get that much, but still, I feel like I gave too much. In return we got a red mark on our forehead (which we later dubbed our 'stamp of stupidity') and a red and yellow string bracelet, which proves that we have already paid our pittance.

While these people are legitimate, and there is honest belief behind it, it's a little bitter sweet. They say you can donate as you feel is right, but then they say that we have not offered enough. It feels like an abuse of spirituality, trying to squeeze as much money out of us as possible. When we later walked to Shiva temple, people were at the bottom of the hill trying to pursuade us that we had to buy these sweets to give at the temple, as at the top they would charge us 50Rs per piece. We rightly didn't believe them. Again, it sometimes feels that people are using religion (and our efforts to respect it) to scam us out of money.

After spending some time in the market place (where I was attacked, or 'kissed' as I was told by people in the street, by a holy cow who insisted on headbutting me) we climbed a small hill to a temple and watched the sunset. The caretaker of the temple was up there as we arrived, and we spent some time talking to him through his broken English and our nonexistant Hindi. He noticed the bracelets we had been given and said they were our 'passports' to the temples around here. On the way down we were befriended by some kids playing on the hillside. They all fly kites here - there is a kite festival which starts tomorrow. Sadly, we are leaving tomorrow morning to head to Jaipur.

Yesterday we walked up a big hill to a temple at the top (sensing a theme here?!). It was an hour's walk or so, and I got pretty lightheaded in the heat. But we took it slow, and sat to watch the monkeys playing half way up. Got some good pictures. Can't wait to post them. The view from the top was incredible. Because Pushkar is so small, we had a view of the city, the farmlands, and the desert. We sat up there for an hour or so, lapping up the solitude, before making our way back down to the city madness.

We love this place so much we've decided to spend another day here, just relaxing. We've been all go since we arrived in India, so it's nice to take a day to do nothing much. I plan on reading my book, writing my travel journal, and taking a cooking class in the afternoon. Might wander down to the fruit market and pick up some papaya, fresh guava, and maybe a melon for lunch. Making you all jealous yet?

Much love to my gorgeous flatmates who are moving flat for me the next few days. Love you guys!



permalink written by  Capto on January 11, 2010 from Pushkar, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
tagged PushkarMonkeysTempleBlessing

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Jaipur, India

permalink written by  Capto on January 13, 2010 from Jaipur, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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A tear drop on the face of eternity

Agra, India

We started our journey across the country east-ward. Jaipur was our first stop, but only for a day. Turned out that this day was the local kite festival, and almost everything was closed. We wandered the streets (which seemed oddly quiet) in the morning, but were quickly bored with the lack of streetside entertainment which we are now used to. After attempting to go to a movie but lacking the energy to figure out how the queues worked, we settled for grabbing a couple of beers at a local shop and heading back to our hotel room to sit on the roof top and watch the kite flying.

We got to the rooftop to find the owner of the hotel and his son flying a kite. Glen had a go at flyinh it, but after he lost it we thought a more hands off approach was best. The skies were filled with kites - everyone was on the rooftops celebrating with their families. It had the same kind of feeling as Guy Fawkes. {Once I load the photo, all the dots in the sky are kites).

After a little, some of the owner's family started to arrive. They were having an afternoon meal in celebration, and kindly let us join in for part. These people clearly had money, so talking to them was an interesting contrast to many of the people we've met so far in India, particularly to our camel drivers in Jaisalmer (who presumably emphasised their poverty to get a bigger tip). They were particularly interested in our career plans and marital statuses, and couldnt believe that Glen and I were just friends. While we managed to convince them of this, I don't think we convinced them that we could sleep in the same bed without 'touching each other'. He thought that must be "very difficult" at our age.

We left this morning at 6am for Agra - the home of the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, despite knowing the Taj is closed on Fridays, we had stupidly booked a ticket for Friday, and our onward ticket to Varanasi for that evening. I blame holidays and not knowing what day of the week it is. Hard life huh!

We went to see the fort with its amazing architecture, and then walked along the river to the Taj area. Along the way we were followed by rickshaw drivers who were pleading with us to take a ride. We've been starting to learn a little Hindi, and kept telling them nahi chai'iya, which means "I don't need it". They love when we make the effort to speak some Hindi, and it usually cuts us a break with insistant beggars or touts. But here, they've been using it as a conversation starter, to convince us that we really need this rickshaw ride, portable chess set, or Taj Mahal keychain. Still, they persist with a smile.

Once in the taj area, we walked down to the back of the Taj around the river, which got us close to it (but not inside the grounds). It's pretty impressive close up, but still, not as big as we'd always imagined. We walked back up to the city around it, and sat on a rooftop sipping chai, with an amazing view, and watching the monkeys and squirrels play. We sat there for three or so hours and had a meal, feeding a cheeky squirrel who wanted a share of our food. I don't think the restaurant owners were too impressed by our encouraging it onto the table. In all honesty, this was a perfect way to see the Taj, as neither Glen or I really like to do the touristy thing. This way we could chill out without being barrated to buy things we don't need, and battle queues of people.

Tonight we catch an overnight train to Varanasi. We are trying to mentally prepare ourselves for this leg of the journey. Varanasi is by all accounts, spiritually amazing, but emotionally draining. It is full of aggressive touts, scams, beggars, and Delhi Belly. But many people we've met have said that it was also their favourite place of all. Very excited (and nervous)


permalink written by  Capto on January 15, 2010 from Agra, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
tagged AgraJaipurTajMahal

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Varanasi = very nasty?

Varanasi, India

So we jumped on a train to Varanasi, which is thought to be the holiest Hindu city. We woke up the next morning expecting to be just an hour away, but found that we were only about half way. The train had been delayed by 4 hours (though we had to try and ask other travelers this in very bad hindi, because they don't come around and tell you). 4 hours delay turned into 8, and we got off the train at 8pm, instead of 12, after about 19hrs travel. Despite, we were relieved to get off the train, which was pretty cold. The weather in these parts is abnormally cold at the moment. 5 people died yesterday from exposure including a 23yr old, though it only gets down to about 7 degrees at night, and 15ish during the day. I guess they just aren't prepared for that kind of cold.

We spent our time wandering the very narrow bazaar streets of the old city, dodging cows (who seem to know they have right of way, and take up the whole street) and cows' (ahem...) "blessings". Very cool back streets here, full of cheap jewelery and bead work. Glen and I are looking pretty hippy traveller at the moment, with bead necklaces. Glen bought a very warm woolen jersey with a hood like a wizard jacket. So cliche, but cool in its own way. It's been pretty useful for him to ward off the cold. Because the houses are built to keep out the heat in summer, they get pretty cold at night. We also bought a couple of duvet/comforters, which are SO cute! I'm determined to take mine home, despite its size.

The best find in Varanasi however, was a little restaurant which is popular with the locals. We tried their paneer chilli, and fell in love! Went back every night for dinner, it's just that good. Spicy too, but not overwhelming. Thanks family for bringing me up on spicy food. We've been eating local spicy and loving it, though we're gonna do something non spicy tonight. THough I love all the spice, my tummy does not. Three nights of paneer chilli has left me feeling a tiny bit iffy, and in the interests of avoiding the dreaded delhi belly (especially before a long train trip), we're gonna go for pizza tonight. Apparently everyone gets sick in Varanasi, and we hope not to have the same memories.

We've also started (nervously) trying street food from places which we know are busy. From our upstairs balcony seat we could see a local samosa walla working, and decided he was popular enough and clean enough to try. Oh god, the samosas here are soo tasty!

Anywho, I've gotta get going. We're about to grab pizza (which I've heard are amazing, thin and crispy base, of the woodfired variety) and run to catch our train. Heading to Kolkata tonight for 5 days, then flying down to Chennai. Hope you guys are following us on the blog's map.



permalink written by  Capto on January 19, 2010 from Varanasi, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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A word about train rides...

Kolkata, India

I think I should give you all an idea about train rides here in India.

Glen and I have been travelling on sleeper trains. They have six beds to each berth (one upper, one middle, one lower). These are long (semi hard but not unbearable) seats which are suspended from the compartment. During the day they fold down to form a long seat (three on each side, facing each other), and at night you hook them up to form you bed. Thus, you can sleep at night, and watch the world go by out the window during the day. This way of travelling is super cheap (it cost us 500 Rps for both of us to go from Varanasi to Kolkata - about NZ$8 each for 700kms), but very basic. They don't give you blankets or pillows, and because the windows don't seal completely, it can get pretty cold up north during the winter nights.

This class of travelling is popular with families and middle class folks. We've made a few friends on these rides, though it seems that many only speak very halting English. We always seem to draw audiences for simple things like playing a game of cards, or just because we're different. Men here aren't afraid to stare, though it's generally innocent. Still, when you're tired or trying to sleep, it can be unnerving when some 30yr old man keeps watching you.

At the bigger stops, there's a mad rush as travellers, chai wallas, and every other walla (loosely translated as sales person) climb on board. They walk up an down the aisles, chanting their now familiar call, tempting us with their amazing chai(Indian tea) which as likely been simmering all day, infusing with spices. Other people sell roasted peanuts in their shells, fresh fruit, dodgy looking street food, water, locks and chains, toys, basically everything you can imagine. There were even shoe polishers on our last train.

The trains take us through farmland and the backs of towns. In the early morning we see farmers rising, walking to the train tracks to do their morning business (many people don't have indoor toilets, and the side of the train tracks serve this function nicely, or so they would have us believe). In the evenings we see teeming bazaars, with people selling fruit and vegetables late into the night. Once the sun has gone down, we see very little! There are very few houses, and those which are out there have few lights.

At the smaller stops, the train doesn't even stop, it just slows. You have to jump off when it's still moving (a feat we have not yet had to master). The Indian people have this down though. Women in saris with a child in one arm and a bag in the other seem to glide off the train (which is a good half metre above the station platform) without effort. Chai wallas or men with armfuls of fruit do the same. I don't think I could bring quite so much grace.

For the most part, I love this travelling. There's something about the fresh air which rushes in through the window, and the endless fields and farms which is so India. I don't mind the long period of reading or just watching, but this is largely due to my sailing upbringing, when I would spend long hours reading or sleeping or doing very little. Glen on the other hand gets a bit more easily bored, and finds the rides tedious.

Unfortunately - as we are starting to learn - the Indian rail system is far from efficient, and delays are common. OUr last train was delayed by 6 hours at the time we were supposed to board, was delayed a further 4 hours before we even got on the train (which was evenutally at 3 am), and then delayed another 5 while we were on the train. We ended up spending 30 hours in transit for what should have been a 14hr train ride.

Oh yeah, one last note. Here there are no bins on the train. Everything goes out the window when you're done with it (Miyuke, you would cry. You really would). Water bottles, plastic bags, fruit skins, broken clothing. Everything goes out the window. Glen and I collect our rubbish in a plastic bag and leave it for the cleaners who come through, but I have sneaking suspicion that this ends up on the tracks anyway.

We are in Kolkata now, here for 4 more days, then flying to where it's stinking hot. It's hot here already! Ugh. Still, it's good for Glen, who's getting over a cold (probably induced by cold train rides).



permalink written by  Capto on January 21, 2010 from Kolkata, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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