Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Cyclone approaching the east coast? Must be time to travel up the east coast

Given that Indian trains tend to be fully reserved a couple of weeks before, I had to do a bit of planning ahead. So I booked a sleeper train for the night of the 27th - but it would actually arrive mid-afternoon on the 28th. 

And the fast train was already fully booked. Well, everything's relative - getting on that one would have made it an 18 hour trip. 

No, it's going to be 23 hours. 

An 1140 kilometre journey - that's over 700 miles. 

My destination? The capital of Orissa, Bhubaneswar. 

Worse: it was due to hit just after my train passed through the area. Which meant that any delays would be a bit of a problem. And this is the main line up the east coast of India - not exactly some local backwater line.

This is the back half of the train
Filled me with confidence then when the train turned up to Secunderabad half an hour late - especially when Secunderabad was the FIRST station on the line. 

By the time I woke up, at what must be considered a lie-in for a sleeper train, all the seats below me were full. Or rather, there were 4 people on a bench designed for 3 people. Despite the fact that this was a reserved coach. And one of those seats was mine. 

Ah well, this is India - and I'll stay on the top bunk. And I'll lie down so noone tries to join me up there. The worst thing that could happen? I could get a bit more sleep I suppose. It's not like I've got another 12 hours on this thing or anything. 

Oh wait. 

Thankfully, the train had caught up on lost time and was going to get out of the way of the storm in time. 

I was just faced with a familiar first world problem: a picturesque journey was just dull and grey for most of it. And wow, it was windy. 

Oop dat Ganjam style?
At least the train emptied out fairly quickly, and not only did I have a seat, but there were less people to stare at me. 

But unfortunately the one guy left kept staring fairly blatantly for a good 4 hours, now and then interrupted by getting up and wandering up and down the train, just to get a better view. 

Even by Indian standards this was a bit creepy, and all was explained when I got off in Bhubaneswar. I got handed a scrap of paper with a few select English words he seemed to know.

I've never run so fast in my life. 

And a white man running down a station platform is highly amusing for the locals. 

Actually, the staring here was even more intense than I'd experienced so far. The whole place felt incredibly uncivilised actually - and this was the state capital. 

Didn't make the autorickshaw drivers any different to those in the rest of the country though.

And the cheapest hotel I could find was for 800 rupees a night. The one that was a relative bargain at 550 a night was fully booked. OK, decision made, I'll stay for one night then escape to Puri. 

Temple territory entered
So the next day, I thought it would be only appropriate to go and look at some temples. I thought I'd take an auto to take me the 4km or so to one of the temples, then I could walk around for a bit. 

But of course that would cost the white man fare of 100 rupees. 

No, I'll give you 50. Maximum. Stop giving me rubbish about how far it is, and about how you'll have to drive back afterwards, and whatever other generic English phrases you've learnt. 

But this one was quite clever. He said he'd take me around all the temples for 400 rupees. 

OK, not so bad. 

Except that temples start to look the same very quickly. Even the ones here that all seem to be coated in some cheap fake tan. 

And various "priests" come around asking for donations, and seem highly offended when you won't give them money. Because everyone else has given 200 rupees, or 500 rupees, or 1000 rupees. And you definitely haven't just written down a few fake names and amounts.

Eventually I got bored of temples, and I'd planned to head back into town and get a bus up to the caves, the other apparent must-see here. 

For 400 extra, I'll take you, he said. 

How about 600 total? 

I always try to get a guideline amount of how much these things will cost me, especially given that they'll try all sorts to get more money out of me. My LP said 200 including waiting time should be enough. 

I even went all soft and offered him 700 total. 

No, only 800. And please stop laughing at me when I try to bargain down to a more reasonable price. It's not cricket when I'm being reasonable. 

You have my permission to laugh at me when I try to offer you 400 for everything - not when I try to push white man price down to local price plus a reasonable premium. 

So I told him to go back into town. 

But eventually, for some reason, I caved in and just let him overcharge me. I must be mellowing. At least it gives me something else to complain about I suppose. 

"Adorned" with stone carvings
The caves were apparently adorned with stone carvings. OK, maybe some of them were, and those were pretty impressive - but all in all, I was a little underwhelmed. Maybe it was just the 500 rupees extra I paid for the privilege. 

At least I got my feet washed.

Oh, and there was another monkey temple. 

And monkey temples are cool. 

And now I need to make up some more generic text to split up the photos of monkeys. 

What was I saying about stereotypes?
The guy selling bananas on the steps had a nice little business going as well - especially when he moved around, and had a trail of monkeys following. 

But eventually I had to leave the poor monkeys alone before they decided that my camera looked tasty, or something otherwise logical - and given the humidity, it was time for a shower before I went to take the bus to Puri. 

Though the walk to the bus station totally negated the purpose of that. 

And the bus that was sat there going to Puri didn't actually leave for another 90 minutes. Nice of them to tell me. 

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