I’ve always thought about myself as a city person. In countryside I feel a bit out of place and have no idea what to do apart from, well, observing the countryside and being a little scared. In a city I function, cities for me mean people and the best things the people managed to produce: beautiful buildings, nice parks, theatres, museums, palaces, universities, quirky things of different kinds, bookshops, restaurants, etc, etc. I am not scared of crowds and can easily get lost in one, being amongst hundreds of people and spend the whole day without saying a word to anyone and feeling alone. People who don’t like cities often argue that it’s not nice to start your day from struggling to get on a bus or tube, that there is no fresh air and that everyone’s always in a rush. For me these disadvantages are offset easily by the things I like about cities. To be honest, I’ve never seen a city that would have been busy, crowded and polluted without being beautiful and with fun things to do. Before we came to Jabalpur that is.
When planning the trip, Jabalpur was included because of it’s location – really close to four national parks. A perfect point for a day trip, I though and started looking up a hotel. Surprisingly, booking.com didn’t give me a single hotel in this city of 1mln people. Hmmm… Later stating that we are going to Jabalpur raised eyebrows of several people, who explained to me that it’s not a tourist destination at all. But it’s not that bad, they added. To get there from Khajuraho, we bundled ourselves into a bus, the ticket guy decided that we deserve to be seated (or so it said on our tickets? Hard to tell, all in hindi), chased away two folks from two random seats, and we squeezed ourselves into something big enough for an adult plus maybe a child, or just a large adult. Backpack on the floor, bags on the lap, people hanging above our heads, all windows open and still it’s unbearably hot. We had a bottle of water with us, and locals were drinking water sold at bus stops, but there was no toilet anywhere, obviously, and a 4 hour bus ride ahead. I tried as much as I could to save that water for later, so much that at some point Vanya said he was blacking out, and I felt like that too. Gradually the heat subsided, and I started talking to a guy sitting nest to me, or rather he started talking. His English was enough for “how are you?” but not much else. I was answering the questions I thought he asked me, and I think he did the same. On one of the stops he started saying something like that we should get off here to get to the train station in Satna. We asked again, some more people told us to get off, and so we did. A 20 mins walk in some approximate direction – how happy I was that Vanya had his phone with maps and GPS! – and we indeed got to the train station. We decided not to stand out too much, pulled out the Spain beach towel and sat on it right there at platform one. People around were sleeping or sitting on some towels or pieces of cloth too – something we saw at every train station in every town. A bit more guessing about where our carriage will be and how late the train is, and we finally are in the train and can get a couple of hours of sleep. Just to make my point clear: trains are much, much better than buses, especially when you have a prebooked train ticket for an AC carriage, because of the AC, normal seats or places to lie down, toilets and food and tea/water that are being sold on the trains. It turned out that the hotel we booked in Jabalpur is the only 3-star hotel in that town, or so it claimed. We emailed them in advance and asked to pick us up at the train station, which they promised to do. When we arrived, there was no taxi but there were numerous rikshas (even in the middle of the night), some playing cards and others trying to drive us somewhere. We called the hotel again, they said the car was on its way. Let’s wait 10 mins and then take a riksha – said Vanya – I can’t be bothered to hang around here at night any more. But the car has arrived, and we were taken to the hotel where there was an AC, a bottle of water and a toilet – what else could you possibly want?
Next morning we started enquiring about the cost of a trip to a national park, and after talking to the hotel travel agent guy, calling up one of the parks and carefully reading the guidebook (should have done that earlier, shouldn’t we?) we realised that a trip like that was simply too expensive. But we had 3 days in Jabaplur, a city of nothing but a million people. The guidebook mentioned that for Indians Jabalpur is a set off point to the nearby waterfall and so-called Marble Rocks. This trip, according to the hotel receptionist, was much cheaper, so we asked for a car to drive us there tomorrow, and started wondering what to do today. Go for a walk, there is some river on the map far-ish away, and a shopping centre really close by. A week later, in Delhi airport, Vanya will say
<!---->- <!---->I’m happy we went to India
<!---->- <!---->Me too. Shouldn’t have gone to Jabalpur though, nothing much to see there.
<!---->- <!---->Well… there was a supermarket!
Indeed, this supermarket in the shopping centre was the only one we saw in 2 weeks. We were so overwhelmed by the opportunity to buy tea, juice and cookies without being forced to buy anything that our trip ended right there – loaded by supplies we went back to the hotel. So maybe the river was nice too, but we never saw it in the end. This, once again, made me think about how wrong the selling strategies of the local vendors are. If they were less pushy and noisy, and more like this superexpensive supermarket, they would have sold much more, at least to me. Or maybe I’m just too gentle, and other tourists are easier to convince this way? Another useful thing from the supermarket was washing powder. In every hotel we had a large empty bucket in the bathroom (not sure what for?), so now we can wash out stuff in it and hang around the room on the thoughtfully brought all the way from england washing line.
<!---->- <!---->Tomorrow we will pay 7k rupees for this hotel, and today we are hand-washing our pants here in a bucket. What do you think those people at the reception would think if they knew?
<!---->- <!---->I dunno what they would think, but I think this is damn funny! And I hope they won’t try to clean up our room while we are out.
They didn’t, and missed such a sight!
Next day we are driven to the Marble rocks first, and then to the waterfall. Marble rocks possibly are indeed pieces of marble, sticking out of a river. So you get into a boat with about 10 other people, and are being sailed down this small river, looking at the white, pink and black rocks. Very nice and kinda tranquil, the guide tells something in hindi but I am busy taking pictures of everything around, including the guide. By the boat pier they were selling amazingly bright colourful spices, so red, cherry and yellow that I could not have painted that in photoshop even on purpose. Somehow later it turned out that I didn’t save almost any pictures from this day, so all pics from Jabalpur are by Vanya. No Marble Rocks there, just in case you were looking. Also by the boat pier local kids are diving, possibly the only local people in India I have seen actually swimming and doing it well. Richer Indians who we share the boat with have another kind of entertainment – they throw 1 and 2 rupee coins in the water, and the kids dive to get the coins, which they then can keep. They hide the coins in the mouth and wait for more to dive after. It may not sound that dramatic, but this is completely mindboggling for us – how on earth can adult people, ok even rich adult people, do this, especially in front of their own kids of the same age? I start searching for the coins, Vanya looks at me puzzled
<!---->- <!---->You also want to take part in the game?
<!---->- <!---->God, no. I just want to give the kids some money.
No idea what else I could have done.
A little bit of driving, and we are by the waterfall. You can either walk up to it really close, sit down and dip your feet in the cold running water, or go above it by the cable railroad. We do both. The waterfalls are really nice, and on the more practical side, they consist of nice cold water that they splash around. Around the waterfalls someone is selling stuff for tourists, and since we only have large banknotes and the waterfall ticket guy doesn’t have any change, we decide to finally buy some souvenirs.
<!---->- <!---->How much is this hat?
<!---->- <!---->150 rupees
<!---->- <!---->And this elephant?
<!---->- <!---->This is an elephant within an elephant, cut from a solid piece of stone. It’s 150 too.
<!---->- <!---->Ok, we’ll have both for 200.
Here I realise that this is not going to help us much to exchange money.
<!---->- <!---->No wait, for 190.
<!---->- <!---->Ok! – he is still happy, possibly a bit surprised too. Yes, I am crap at haggling, I know, so we pay quickly and leave with the hat and the elephant - or was is two?
There are many ways to enjoy free cold running water in the middle of the summer. You can walk into it, wash your saree and put it out on the rocks to dry, splash the water onto your friends, place some statues of gods in the bush by it, sit on the rocks and watch it falling, bubbling, foaming and spraying onto you when the wind is in the right direction, or sell stuff to people who come to do all the above. You can also catch two foreign tourists and take a picture with them, no matter if you are six or sixty years old. Six I can understand, but sixty? Better later than never, I suppose. In return for the picture we decide to get some insiders info into the activities around.
<!---->- <!---->What is this plant that they are squeezing out the juice out? – it looks like long pale-green sticks and are put through two wide heave rollers that squeeze the sticks. The thing is set in motion manually, by spinning the handle. On spins, two supervise.
<!---->- <!---->Sugar-cane! Very sweet, do you want to try?
<!---->- <!---->Ohhh!!! We should have guessed this, really. No, thank you! Just were curious.
We are still trying to stick to the rule of “no raw water in any rendition” – no drinking of tap water, no juice or other cold drink, no raw fruit or vegetable, no icecream, no drinks with ice, no brushing your teeth with tap water, no sipping water from a swimming pool. Soon we will give up, find our pills, take them and enjoy all the above. Pills help, I have to say, if taken every day.
Back in the hotel we discovered that it has more than just a room and a restaurant to offer. It has a small swimming pool and a gym. I suspect the swimming pool was to sit around in the evening, have dinner and look at the nice blue water. But during the day we can resist, and head for a swim. No-one else is swimming there of course, but the frequency of the busy hotel staff members walking back and forth somewhat increases. I don’t care, sitting in the water makes me happy, and whoever wants to look at me can do so. The gym feels good too, after not going to one for several weeks. Running barefoot (no running shoes!) on a treadmill is kinda funny, but can’t do it for long. They even had separate small rooms for spa and massage, but that is not present, the rooms are empty. Shame, massage would be nice! I said I don’t care, right? I already washed my pants in the bucket, let me enjoy all the three stars of this hotel the way I want. Yes, maybe it’s good sometimes to end up in the place where there is nothing to do. Then you can enjoy doing absolutely nothing without distractions.
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