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Published: April 23rd 2010
After leaving Hampi, I took the night bus out to Goa and was informed that it would arrive at about 06:30am which would be fine. However, rather unhelpfully it arrived at Palolem beach at 04:30 which was too early to go and look for accommodation, fortunately there was a 24 hour bar en route from the bus stop to the beach so we stopped for a few clever ones before finding a beach hut at about 6 in the morning. The huts were dirt cheap and only 20-30 metres from the beach, perfect. Originally my plan was to stay at Palolem for a few days and then head north to Ajuna or Arambol, but in the end I decided a day spent on buses would be a waste of time and that time would be much better spent on the beach in Palolem. I ended up staying put for six days and had a great time sat back relaxing, swimming, and eating fresh seafood. It was my last opportunity for a beach until I get to Vietnam sometime in June so best to make the most of it.
Whilst in Goa I had the fun task of working out my plan for the next part of the trip, a task rendered particularly troublesome by the difficulty of reserving a place on a train in India. More on this later. I jumped on a night bus and headed to Aurangabad on the recommendation of a German fellow I’d met in Kerela to see the carved caves of Ajanta and Ellora. I’d originally only planned to see Ellora but due to poor organisation I ended up in Aurangabad on the day they were closed. I was ok because I’d stayed in a very cheap youth hostel, which was the epitome of only getting what you paid for; I even had to pay extra to charge my phone! The following day I headed out to Ajanta, approximately 150KM from Aurangabad. The place was much more impressive than I thought, there are over 20 caves carved out of the sheer rock face, some of them are immense considering they were all done with no more than a hammer and a chisel around 2000 years ago, you can see all the chisel marks in the stone on the walls and ceilings. If this wasn’t already impressive enough then some of the caves have the most exquisite paintings and stone carvings, I was amazed, and it was also really nice and cool inside the caves.
The next morning I was up early to be at the travel agents in time to book myself a train ticket on the tourist quota which is available around 48 hours prior to travelling. By this point I’d booked myself my train from Aurangabad to Mumbai, but was having serious problems getting out of Mumbai. Alas, it was all in vain as the internet at the travel agents was insufficient to the task involved, and was too slow and I missed it. The day had not started well. Hopefully the trip to Ellora would cheer me up. On the way to Ellora we stopped off at an 11th Century fort which had a vast array of battlements and inner walls surrounding a hill upon which the citadel was constructed. The only way into the citadel was through an underground passage which was very narrow and pitch black, it was also filled with screeching bats which made it even more exciting, it was quite like something out of Indiana Jones! After this we arrived at Ellora, where the caves were even bigger and more impressive than the sister caves at Ajanta. Some of them had three floors and were almost 50 metres in length; it’s almost how I would imagine the Mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings to be. The carvings were also more extensive and better. By far the best of the 31 caves is cave 16, in front of it there is a giant monolithic temple carved out of the solid stone, it’s immense! Apparently ten generations worked on carving out the temple, which is larger than the Parthenon of Athens, and is arguably the most impressive man made structure that I’ve seen anywhere (including the Pyramids of Giza). However, after this everything was an anticlimax and I wasn’t really interested in the ‘ordinary’ caves anymore.
That night I headed to Mumbai on the night train (still with no onward ticket booked) in first class as this was the only ticket I could book at the time and was booked at great (relative) expense. First class was nothing special; they didn’t even come round with any food, boo! Upon arrival at Bombay Victoria station, an incredible station designed by the same man that did London St Pancreas, I headed to the tourist counter and somehow managed to book my next two trains, so the problems would be postponed until I attempted to go from Agra to Amritsar. I stayed in the Salvation Army Red Shield hostel which was very grimy and often the running water wasn’t even working! One thing the place does have going for it is location, it’s literally the building behind the famous Taj Mahal Hotel (attacked by terrorists last year), and the Gateway to India. I only had one full day in Bombay (as all the locals still call it), so spent it walking round the old centre, the place has some beautiful old colonial era buildings, the highlights of which are the Victoria station, the university, and the court buildings. The place has a really good vibe, very busy, but not too much hassle as everyone has things to do, not like in Egypt where people have nothing better to do than sit around. This is a place where you can get anything and sort almost anything out; I will quite happily come back to Bombay at a later date. That evening we went to the famous backpacker ‘institution’ that is Leopold’s, which whilst it was nice it was ridiculously overpriced, with beer a similar price to home, so after the first beer we headed to a cheaper local place round the corner. I’m about to leave here now to take my 18 hour journey to Udaipur in Rajasthan, only a few more touristy places in the heat left now and I’ll be in the Himalayas. Bring it on!
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