Published: March 17th 2011March 11th 2011
(Day 1071 on the road)
And then, things got better. The further south we moved, the less hassle there seemed to be. After we left the northern Indian states behind and headed for the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Ellora Caves, Mumbai and Goa, things turned decidedly more relaxed. Of course there were still the constant "Hello sir, auto rickshaw?" cries from the drivers in the streets, but they seemed less persistent than in the north of the country, and non-rickshaw touts declined noticeably. Ah, niiice.
Speaking of auto rickshaws: One of these, painted bright yellow, made of plastic, maybe about 20cm long, and in the possession of naughty Luc, proved to be a near endless source of fun for us all and many passer-bys. Jasmin had bought the toy auto rickshaw for Luc in Udaipur, and Luc soon discovered - with a little help from yours truly – that he could wonderfully imitate the rickshaw drivers that constantly approached us at every corner. He would walk around the entrance of, say, a crowded train or bus station and ask anybody that happened to cross his path, in perfect English of course, “Hello my friend, auto rickshaw? Good price,
yes?” It was absolutely hilarious, and he never seemed to tire of it.
From Udaipur in Rajasthan we took yet another overnight train to Aurangabad and nearby Ellora Caves
, which feature some 34 Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves. They were built over a period of five centuries by generations of monks between 600 AD and 1000 AD, present the pinnacle of ancient Indian rock-cut architecture, and hints at the fact that religious tolerance back then was much better than today. Incredible attention to details was given to the in- and outside of the caves, some featuring elaborate courtyards out front and wondrously detailed carvings inside. There were also countless monkeys roaming the grounds, and I was able to take some great close-up shots of one particularly nosey tiny monkey-baby.
The raison d'être for Ellora's fame however lies in imaginatively-named cave number 16, better known as Kailasa temple. Kailasa is the world's largest monolithic sculpture, and it was truly amazing to see. It took over 7000 labourers 150 years to build it around 760 AD, and the whole complex was cut from a single piece of rock. Apparently, three massive trenches were built into the rock face with nothing
more than hammer and chisel, ever so slowly working on the final design of the structure, moving more than 200.000 tons of rock in the process. All the while, the workers had to be careful not to take away the sections of the rock that would later constitute the temple.
It might be difficult to imagine this engineering feast from my poor description here, but imagine an area covering twice the size of the Pantheon in Athens and build with the most primitive tools straight from head without any elaborate technical drawings and you get an idea.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to enjoy these grand caves as much as I would have liked to, as I was suffering from a rather bad spell of diarrhoea . They say that every traveller gets it in India after the first two weeks or so, so I figure I have done well holding it off for almost three months now until it finally got me. But once the diarrhoea had me in its grip, it just wouldn’t let go. I was actually pretty amazed that I did get it all, as during all my travels so far I have only been
sick of my stomach once, and I know that back than it was polluted water that caused it. But I guess the sanitary conditions here in India are just so poor that it is very tough not to get sick sooner or later.
In fact, by now all three of us were suffering badly and continuously for almost a week on end, and Luc had already been battling with on-off diarrhoea for a while. No matter what we did, it just wouldn’t go away; Luc and Jasmin were the same. It must have been a pretty bad virus that had gotten us all, and we were all very relieved when it finally, after almost a week, went away and the constant displeasure and stomach cramps with it.
Near Ellora caves we also made a beeline for the very impressive 12th century Daulatabad Fort, an hour or so away on one of the typical overcrowded Indian local buses. The fort is situated on a steep hill and boasts an ingenious defence system, including a long twisted, pitch-black corridor littered with trap doors and openings above to haul burning oil and the like on the intruders. Daulatabad (“City of Fortune”)
was never taken during the fort’s working days, except one time apparently, when smart invaders - just like in the case of the Great Wall of China - simply bribed the guards and entered the fort unharmed. Great.
The real reason to fame of the fort however derives from the fact that, in 13th century, eccentric sultan Mohammed Tughlaq shifted the nation’s capital to Daulatabad and marched the entire of population Delhi at the time 1100km south. Daulatabad however soon proved unsuitable as a capital, and the sultan forced its weary inhabitants to march back to Delhi, which had by then been reduced to a dusty ghost town. Pretty interesting story.
Next up: Mumbai. We had considered skipping this somewhat menacing-sounding city, but in the end were glad we didn’t. Mumbai boasts over 16 million people, with an unbelievable 60% of its residents living in slums. But judging by the parts of the city that we explored, you wouldn’t know any of this, although homeless people and beggars were prevalent everywhere. We based ourselves in relaxed and definitely middle- to upper-class Colaba in southern Mumbai, with our hotel being literally two minutes' walk from the Gate of India
right by the sea. Expensive coffee shops, foreign brand boutiques and exclusive hotels and restaurants lined the surprisingly clean streets; hell, there was even a rubbish collection system in place and cleaners sweeping the streets. What was going on, are we in India here of what? I was very impressed.
For a few days we explored the city, taking in some of the major sights including the small but very well-kept Gandhi museum (his former house in Mumbai) and the grand colonial buildings in the Fort area, including Mumbai University, the High Court and nearby grand Victoria Station, with 2.5 million passing passengers daily the busiest railway station in Asia. Less pretty was the city’s filthy Chowpatty beach – I have seen a few non-perfect beaches during my travels, but the amount of rubbish people had to literally wade through here to reach the (toxic) water tops it all. Unbelievable.
And of course I couldn’t leave the city, the movie capital of the world, without watching a flick in one of its countless cinemas. In a city that has churned out almost 70.000 Bollywood movies since the 1930s, movies are definitely a big thing. And it was a
great experience. No sooner had I entered the movie theatre and was settling into the comfy chair when everybody literally jumped to their feet and stood up straight. On the screen, a digitised Indian flag appeared, and the, to my ears, rather unmelodious national anthem was being played. At first I thought it was a joke, but when I saw the guy a few rows behind me singing along for all it was worth, I knew better. Interesting, imagine a similar scene in, say, a European cinema. And by the way, shouldn’t Bollywood be renamed Mollywood now that Bombay is called Mumbai I wonder?
Later that night, our departure from Mumbai was a little embarrassing, with our hotel manager showing up at the train station at eleven o’clock at night demanding payment for the final night. It turned out that both Jasmin and I had assumed the other one had paid for the room and had left the hotel without paying. We had no idea how on earth how the guy from the hotel had possibly been able to find out how, where and when we were leaving this massive city, but he had. And he was, understandably, not
happy. Not a pleasant encounter at all.
But then: Goa. Ah. We had been looking forward to a few seriously relaxing days by the beach in this famed tropical paradise, and were not disappointed. Unfortunately we realised that we had less time left than we had thought (we still wanted to leave ample time for the state of Kerala a little further south and wanted to be in Hyderabad for the famous Holi festival on March 20th), so we had to rush things a bit and only had two days in the countryside and two days by the beach.
For exploring the inland sights around Panaji and Old Goa we opted for our own transport in the form of two scooters, which was a great way to zip around with and feel the wind in my (non-existing) hair. Indian traffic is typically very bad with people driving like madmen, with the constant honking of the horn replacing your eyes or common traffic rules in many instances. We had so far seen a number of horrendous crashes and accidents and Jasmin was understandably a little apprehensive of riding a scooter with Luc, but fortunately traffic on the back roads
of Goa was much more relaxed than elsewhere. We spent a great day cruising around, admiring the beautiful churches in Old Goa (including Se Cathedral, the largest church in Asia) and learning about local spices at a peaceful spice plantation.
Afterwards, it was finally time to relax for a couple of days on beautiful Palolem beach. We shared the beach with other backpackers and the omni-present cows (it wouldn’t be an Indian beach without them), and did little more than swim and sleep. After all the hassle we had to endure so far, we felt that he had well-earned this. It was even possible to walk the rows of souvenir stall on the road without being approached more than a few times, an absolute novel experience for us in India.
We had found a nice and affordable room, and were endlessly fascinated by the way the outhouse toilet worked: Of course they had no canalisation and had not even bothered to dig a hole for the excrements to fall into. Instead, the toilet outlet opened straight into the backyard of the people’s home and the hotel. Whenever one would approach the toilet one of the many pigs running
around would come literally rushing over to the outlet of the toilet, eagerly eating and drinking everything that happened to come its way. Splendid – feasting on bbq pig in one of the restaurants here was definitely out after this.
Next stop: Kochin (Kerala, India). Also have a look at my pictures at http://pictures.beiske.com