India: Extream heat and sensory overload
POSTED BY Thamar IN Adventures, India, Nepal @ November 18, 2014 - 3:34 pm

The next morning we made the 4km trip to the border town of Sonali. It was straight forward leaving Nepal and entering India. The first difference we noticed was more dirt and more flies! We decided to take a bus to Gorakhpur since we heard that the road was not so safe to travel on. 3 hours later we arrived in Gorakhpur some 100km down the road. Super busy and dirty. We found a reasonably priced place to stay which was very run down, something we have gotten used to. Trying to order two cheese sandwiches and a pot of tea turned into almost an hour and a half wait! Go figure.

We caught a rickshaw to one of the nearby malls, which was fun. On our way back we walked. At one point I heard Tham gasp and at that moment I kicked something wet, it was a big rat almost the size of a small cat. I can't believe it but I let out a yell. Anyway good news is the Ac is working!

May 21st

On the road at 7am, still a little late for my liking but I suppose it’s quite difficult to get up early when you tired. The city was busy already with taxis, busses, trucks, motor bikes and bicycles. Then there was all the action on the side of the roads - little kiosks, kids running around and the sacred cows who would wonder into the road from time to time. We stopped a lot for drinks; the temp was above 40c for the whole day. In the afternoon a strong cross wind picked up and it felt as if someone had opened the oven door on us.

Gorakhpur to Azangarh was 100km away and we both took strain in the heat. It was 6:30pm by the time we arrived at a rundown hotel which we stayed for the night. It's now 10pm and it doesn't feel like the temp has dropped much. The heat is really insane.

May 25th

6:30am and we were on the road, it was an uncomfortable sleep in the heat last night. No sooner had we started on our way then there was a barricade across the main road. We saw people pushing bicycles and motor bikes under the beam, so we followed suit. Seems like the road was either under construction or left to deteriorate, so they closed it off to vehicles with more than 2 wheels. A short push then over the railway line and about a 500m cycle over this bumpy dirt road and back onto the main road. We got into our stride and made a quick exit from the town of Azangarh. The road was busy with street vendors and little villages dotted around. One of our longer stops was in small village where we had cold water "fruit juice" and some little pastry biscuit thing, quite sweet with a nutty flavour. We had made good progress by 1pm but we still had 20km to go.

There was one local chap who cycled with us for a bit. He was full of questions which was a nice distraction from the heat. We were now entering the city limits of Varanasi and it started getting very busy on the roads again. It's a chaotic city if you live in it and even more so if it’s your first time there. It seemed like a maze of busy streets buzzing with tuk tuks, motor bikes and pedestrians. Not to mention all the dogs and cows. Eventually we found the little haven amongst the chaos we were looking for - Rahul’s. It was another long haul today some 113km but we were planning to stay in Varanasi for a few days so rest was on the cards.

Rahul and his staff made us feel comfortable and right at home. The rooms are clean and nothing seems to be falling apart. The guest house is on a slight rise and has a great view of the river Ganges. Close but not too close cause that river smells. They have a roof top restaurant where we enjoyed some good food over the following days.

P5244329_sml

After a testing day wandering the streets of Varanasi in intense heat we made it back to Rahul’s in time to organise a sunset boat ride on the Ganges. It was about 45min down the river past the Ghats where they do all the cremations, which was quite surreal and weird, and onto the main Dashash Wamedh Ghat where they have the evening "departure" ceremony for all the souls of those who have been cremated. It was very colourful and mesmerizing with the music and singing. There must have been about 20/30 boats just off the shore where we were and the ghat was packed with onlookers. It lasted about an hour after which we paddled back up stream to the guest house. That was a real Indian cultural experience... very cool!

The next day we found refuge at a cafe run by a South African lady called Open Hand. She had Wi-Fi and aircon there which was amazing. We have come to a point where we need to make alternative plans, the heat is just too much for us. We didn't realise the response we would get but we posted 3 options on FB to our friends, family and followers. We wanted to hear what they had to say. We had a good idea of where we wanted to relocate to by the time we posted the options but thought it would be fun to see what people had to say.

Option 1: Continue as planned and finish in Mumbai

Option 2: Sell bicycles, buy Enfields and ride to Mumbai

Option 3: Travel to Agra then fly from Delhi to Vietnam and cycle to Bangkok where we would fly home from.

After this frenzy of what to do to escape the heat we took a walk past some of the Ghats then wandered through the maze of streets having a look at all the small shops. On our way back we met a young Indian guy (may be 18/20) who spoke with wisdom way beyond his years. He was talking about life, what’s important in life and the impact you make on others. Quite interesting to listen to him. He wished us well and a long life in marriage before parting ways.

P5244366_sml

There was such great support from our close friends and family who have all given a slightly different perspective or rather outsider’s perspective. Everyone has been very positive and it shows me how special our relationships are.

 

May 27th

The next morning the alarm went off at 3am. It was a struggle to get up but we did and peddled down the road leaving Rahul's at 4:30am. We had a long day ahead of us to get to Allahabad, some 135km away. The morning went well and we made great progress. By 11am we had already done 90km. We stopped at a road side kiosk for a long break drinking Masala tea, juice and water and the usual peanut butter sandwiches. By this time it was getting really hot and the wind had picked up. We started getting tired quickly and landed up stopping for drinks quite often. We made it to Allahabad by early afternoon, both feeling really tired and dusty. The town was dug up, dirty and noise as we followed a map from the Rough Guide to hotels we thought were appropriate for us. Well after the 4th one we decided to ditch the book as they were way off the mark. They all seemed very expensive for what they were. The one we landed up staying at was still a tad expensive for us but by that stage our options were up. Besides we were exhausted and in need of cleaning.

We walked down the dusty road and found a food hall/canteen style eatery. The staff were very pleasant and we ate well. Back at the room we zoned out in front of the TV before falling into a deep sleep.

We woke up late this morning as we planned to take a rest day. Feeling quite shattered we made a slow start. The streets were quiet today, didn't realise it was Sunday! Back at the same spot for coffee and biscuits before we headed off to see some sights. The first one was the St Joseph's Roman Catholic Cathedral. A really impressive Gothic style church. Looks a little out of place in this town. It had a semi maintained garden which was fenced off along with the church from the road.

Next we made our way past the railway station to Khusrau Bagh. - Three elaborate tombs which look like three buildings in a garden. (Linked to Taj Mahal) The ruler at the time (Mughal Empire?? 1600's) had 2 sons and only 1 would succeed him so the one son got killed. Might have been a family feud, details are a little vague. The 1 tomb is for the brother and the other 2 are for his sister and mother. Very elaborately decorated sand stone structures.

We sat under 1 of the trees in the "grave yard" and discussed how we were going to get to Agra. We are both feeling tired and demotivated and our walk through the crap on the roads was slow and hot. We did however stop in at a sweat shop on the way back to our room, so yummy! It's amazing what pleasures you get out of the simple things.

 

May 29th

This morning we are catching the bus to Lucknow. We decided that another 120km would be too much at this stage. So after finding a bus to Lucknow, packing the bikes on the roof racks and buying drinks for the 6hour trip, we were off on what was to be the most hair-raising form of transport we have ever experienced. It was probably better that we landed up sleeping because of the heat. It was another uniquely Indian experience, but something I'll try avoid in the future. Once we arrived it was a 7km ride into town and after the 5th attempt we found a reasonable place to stay for the night. The staff we quite friendly for a change and the one waiter, who was an older guy, was a hoot! He was quite pedantic about revisiting our table to adjust the table settings if we moved them around. Dinner at the hotel was quiet and romantic and the food was pretty tasty. I tried the Palak Paneer for the first time which is basically puréed spinach with chunks of cottage cheese then Naan bread on the side.

It was early to bed and when the alarm went off at 4am we had to peel ourselves from the covers. The first 2 hours was a blurry haze, not because we were going fast but because we were still half asleep. At least the road was quiet. At our first road side stop we had more Masala tea and stared into space. The last hour after lunch was hot and windy and we arrived in Kanpur around 1pm. Wow what a hole this place is! We quickly decided that was the last straw and made a B-line for the train station. A pleasant old man gave me directions. We caught the train from Kanpur to Agra which was another uniquely Indian experience.

The people we have encountered have been a mixed bunch. The man on the street has been quite friendly and wants to ask you some general questions. But most of the people in the service industry have been quite abrupt and seemingly rude.

It was dark by the time we arrived at the Agra Fort station. The lights were flickering on and off due to the power outages. On checking in at luggage arrival we found our bikes had not arrived yet so we would have to pick them up in the morning. They have been put on another baggage train. As we left the station there were hordes off rickshaw and tuk tuk taxis waiting to pick up new arrivals. There was a kind old man who found us and reassured us he knew where to go. So we bundled our panniers into his small tuk tuk and drove about 3km to our accommodation which was very close to the Taj Mahal.

They had an AC room for us at the Shanti Hotel where we dumped our stuff, had a quick shower and headed to the roof top restaurant for some grub. A lot of accommodation in this area offers a roof top restaurant since they have some of the best views of the Taj. It's been another long and full day - up at 4am, cycled 94kms, arrived at an absolute hole of a town. Then decided to catch a four-hour train ride to Agra.

IMG_4364_sml

 

May 30th

Smashing our faces in the pillow! We only surfaced at 10am this morning. We dragged ourselves up to the roof top for a late breakfast and were greeted by the spectacular Taj Mahal. We are about 500m away from it, as the crow flies. Truly amazing structure. We plan to visit it tomorrow.

Back to the train station to pick up our bikes. We decide to walk there and passed the Agra Fort, another important land mark/heritage site. At the station the guy in charge of luggage collection wanted to fine us Rs200 for being late. We both kicked up a fuss and tracked down the manager to work this out. Apparently there was some late collection penalty fee we were not old about. In the end we got our bikes and didn't have to pay the fine.

That afternoon we did some research on Vietnam and looked for flights. We booked on Singapore airlines for the 5th of June leaving from Delhi and arriving in Ho Chi Min city the next day. That night we visited the next door hotel for dinner which also had a roof top restaurant and seemed quite busy. The vibe was better and more romantic and we had a cool evening chatting and enjoying some vegetarian dishes.

 

May 31st

It was an early start in an attempt to beat the heat and visit the Taj Mahal, but not before a coffee stop along the way. It was a short 800m walk to the West Gate of the Taj. As we parted with the Rs1500 entry fee for 2 people we picked up an audio guide and made our way into the grounds. The audio guide is a must and really gives you an insight and history behind this work of art. As you walk through the main archway at the one end, the mausoleum reveals itself in spectacular fashion. The intricate details of the buildings and the ornate finishes are outstanding. The Taj is made from solid white marble and there is a colourful floral inlay made up of various semi-precious stones which were sourced from various countries in Asia and Europe. The layout of the grounds is symmetrical and has a garden in the middle. It's a superb place and truly a marvel. We spent 2 hours wondering around, sitting under the trees from time to time enjoying views of the Taj.

 

June 1st

4 months of travelling down! After a brief early morning run we stopped in at the Agra Fort. A large red sand stone complex with thick outer walls. There is also a moat, which has no water in it.  The Agra Fort is just as impressive as the Taj and is steeped in Mughal history and before. The finishes on pillars, arches and roof supports are so intricately detailed.

IMG_4424_sml

This evening for fun we went to see the latest Bollywood blockbuster movie. Apparently tonight is the opening night. The cinema was inconspicuous and terribly dire on the inside, but the atmosphere was tangible. From what I could see in the atrium Tham was the only female and all the guys were between the ages of 18 and 25. As the lights dimmed and the film started to role the shouting, whistling and cheering started which was contagious. Every time the hero appeared or the leading lady started to dance the audience went wild. The movie was in Hindi so we had no idea what they were saying but apart from the odd English word - "Don't angry me!" and the over acting we got the just of the story. Along with all this action there were 3 power outages during the movie and 1 interval, what a cool experience.

 

June 4th

We spent time packing and working out where we would stay in Delhi. I'm looking forward to making the next step towards our departure to Vietnam. After our 2nd run this morning we sat at a nearby cafe and worked out some more details and routes for South East Asia. Our time in India has been brief and trying, mainly due to the intense heat and partly to do with dirt we travel through on the roads to get to major cities.

Agra has been quite a nice place to stay and the guys at the hotel have been very pleasant. Dinner that night was back at the roof top restaurant with the vibe and good food, not to mention the silhouette of the Taj Mahal in the background.

The next morning was an early start in an attempt to catch a train from Agra to Delhi. There was a train leaving at 6am. We road to the station and I joined the masses to get tickets. A police officer was there trying to restore some order to the chaos. Eventually I made it to the front of the queue and got 2 general class tickets, which means get on the train as quickly as you can and try find an open seat. Then it was the bike story. Last time we didn't have any trouble getting our bikes on the train, it cost us Rs100 and we had 1 form to fill in. Now for some reason there was a problem. The luggage guy said we had to insure our bikes for Rs3000 which is a fraction of the actual cost and his reason was that all bikes are insured for that amount. Then there was an issue about packaging the bikes, something which we did not do last time. After a few visits to the station manager a couple of shouting matches we left and got a refund for our train tickets. They were too lazy and rude to be bothered to help us get our bikes onto the train. By that stage we had missed our train and Tham was in tears from frustration.

Our other option was to head over to the bus station. We didn't want to go by bus after our previous excursions. But we landed up back at the bus station and or luck was in, there was a bus leaving in 10min. We paid for the bikes to stand inside the bus because it had no roof racks and it landed up being more expensive than the train would have been. That was fine since our bikes were right in front of us... no problem. The bus ride was mainly uneventful and the road was in good condition with limited oncoming traffic due to an island in the road. We did however stop for 30min while the one tire was replaced at a roadside "tire shop". By the time we arrived in Delhi it was after 2pm where we off loaded and packed our bikes. It was a direct 10km to get to our accommodation for the next few days in Paharganj. Ajay's hotel is clean with a great restaurant downstairs to cater for the droves of foreign tourist, something that we haven't seen on our leg through India.

Once we cleaned ourselves of the sweat, grit and grim of the day we went exploring in the most modern city we've visited in India. Bigger buildings and more upmarket shops. That evening after dinner we made our way up to the roof of the hotel we were staying at to watch a movie. The movie we watched was irrelevant to the story but it was such a cool setting. It was hot and a little hazy with a full moon rising just off to the left of the screen. We were sitting in the open on mismatched chairs relaxing and enjoying a drink.

 

June 4th

Today we rode the Metro line, quite well run for India I suppose, very clean and orderly. We wanted to visit the Red Fort today but it was closed so we braved the masses and walked the streets of downtown Delhi. Stopping in at a chain food stall for lunch which was great. Tham commented on all the people in there saying if this was in South Africa we would never have gone inside, it was jammed. But it landed up being fine and we shared our table with a couple of different people.

In the hustle and bustle we found a bike shop which had bike boxes for us to use for our flight tomorrow. It was quite a sight as we walked the 1km back to our hotel with the large boxes on our heads.

 

June 10th

We visited the National Museum today; this part of town is where all the government buildings and the India Gate are. It's very clean around here with well-manicured lawns and gardens and wide uncluttered roads - quite a contrast from the rest of town. It was an interesting 2/3 hours wandering around the museum with an audio guide.

IMG_4490_sml

Back at the hotel and we hadn't left ourselves much time to get packed for the airport so it was a bit of a scramble betting bikes dismantled, packed and carted down 3 flights of stairs. Fortunately we had a taxi waiting for us which we had called ahead for. The taxi driver knew that we had 2 bikes but went we questioned the size of his car and how we were going to fit everything in, he said "no problem" and strapped the 2 bike boxes to the roof of his dinky car.

After the rush we had a long wait at the airport until our midnight flight, but I wanted to get there early to avoid any possible hiccups. We settled down at Costa Coffee for the remaining time and landed up talking to British women who had just been on a month long yoga retreat near Daramsala. It was great chatting to her and that helped the time pass quickly.