Friday, 29 February 2008

Transport in India

These comments on transport in India are based on my experiences in Rajasthan and may well bear no relationship to other parts of this sub-continent.

Trains. The very word brings to mind strange carriages, with barred windows, and people thick on the roof and hanging onto doors. We did no see anything like that. We did see trains with barred windows but no sign of people on the outside. These were "people" trains according to our Guide! They seemed to travel fast and we were led to believe that they were reliable. However - one couple decided that, rather than sit in the coach for a number of hours, they would take an express train from Agra to Delhi, with their luggage accompanying us. Seats were booked and off they went to the station about the same time as we left in the coach. They were taken by a representative of the Agents. A train came in with barred windows and looking much like one would have imagined. However, they were told it was not theirs. A little while later another identical train arrived. They were hurried to the end AC carriage and told to get in as this was were their seats were. It was packed to the gunnel's, including people on the upper level - the luggage rack in our speak but it was said to have air conditioning. Two sleeping Indians were evicted from their seats, but that did nothing to remove the feet hanging down in front from the rack above! Or the stink! As you will guess, they removed themselves from the train pdq! As a result they had to pay for a taxi to take them to Delhi which turned out to be a much better option. Goodness knows what the whole incident cost them. Their account of it was even funnier than my version, as you will no doubt guess.
We also saw a number of goods trains and tanker trains. These, like the people trains, were incredibly long and were doubtless a good means of transferring goods. There was no electricity in sight, so the diesel engines must have been adding to global warming.

Road Transport.

Buses. Here we really did see people hanging on to every available hand-hold as well as packed in tight, within. They are reasonably cheap and frequent, but I don't know how much they covered longer distances. We saw a lot of them on the main roads, without the hangers-on. Thi is not a good picture, unfortunately

Coaches. These are at least 20 years behind those in the West. They have cart springs and as they are narrow, there is not a lot of room. The luggage space above the seats is very limited and the seats themselves are rather narrow. This is our coach.

Cars. Car ownership has exploded in the last few years in the cities. Many of them are made by Tata, but there are a few American makes. The most common is the Indian version of the Morris Oxford. A great lack of pictures I am afraid - these are jeeps. Love the monkeys!

On the whole cars appear to be well cared for. The rule of the road is basically "do not keep to the rules". Left hand drive does apply but you overtake on either side, hooting like a maniac so's the guy driving knows you are there. On roundabouts, whoever gets there first goes, though I believe it is meant to be give way to the right, as here. The lorries are numerous and usually in your way, as are bullock and camel carts and cows, who wander down the middle of the road in their own good time. Pedestrians seem to be all over the place too. In other words, on no account drive yourself! They are building duel carriageways as main link roads but so far lane discipline is non existent. Oh yes - don't ever use your indicator!

Motor bikes are legion. Helmets are compulsory in some states but are only worn by some people.

Bicycles are even more legion.

Bullock carts and camel carts are the main form of transport of goods in the countryside but are to be found in towns and cities too, bringing in stuff from outside. On the whole, out in the country, they do keep to the left but are not so good in the towns. Often the camels and water buffalo are decorated with fascinating designs and colours. You see the occasional horse too and it will probably be covered in all sorts of decorative materials. Elephants are only used for ceremonies like weddings and for carrying the tourist up to the Meherangarh Fort above Jaipur.

Lorries and Tractors.

I have already mentioned lorries but there are a large number of tractors hauling stuff too. Both are likely to be very highly decorated and you often see stalls selling stuff to do it with. They take great pride in making them as beautiful as possible. Sometimes you wonder how they can see out of the windscreen and side windows! Unfortunately this is the best picture I can find - the tractor is hidden and neither are decorated I like the goats though!
Last but not least - auto and cycle rickshaws. Tuktuk is a name not used so much in India, though of course most tourists call them that. It ubiquitous and a very good way of getting around in the town. You agree a price before-hand and climb in. They are designed for 2 or 3 but we must have seen 6 or 7 at least crammed in on numerous occasions. The cycle rickshaw is not so common but there are plenty of them. Both sorts are driven/propelled by the poorest people, so using them is definitely a good thing to do and as they are cheap, a good tip should be payed too. There are also tongas drawn by scrawny and often lame horses. We had a ride in one. Two face forward and two back and the poor old horse is made to trot/canter, expecially as in our case where the group had several and the owners are very competetive!
This also applied to our ride in cycle rickshaws. G hated every minute of it as he hung on by his eyelashes! I was too busy trying to take pictures and keep my 'spare' hand inside and hang on all at the same time to be frightened.
The brown bit in this picture is the cycle rider, not a bit of a horse!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Delhi Street Scenes

While in Delhi, we went for a ride on a bicycle rickshaw. These are a few of the pictures I took:

This is typicla of the electricity wiring in Delhi streets. In fact it is a rather better example than some.

Sorry that the lay-out is so bad. I still haven't got the mastery of it!

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Indian Summary Part 2

I omitted the Jain Temple in Part 1. We visited it on the way between Udaipur and Jodhpur.

The complex is said to be the most beautiful in India and is at Ranakpur. It is the most incredible place. Quite large. I have many pictures and will do an item on it by itself at some point.

From Jodhpur to Jaipur – the rose pink city. It has a terrific amber-coloured fortress on the hill above the town. We were originally going up on elephants, but our guide wisely decided to use jeeps. The elly’s were definitely exploited and I don’t think any of us would have liked to use them, quite apart from the queues etc. The fortress had very rich royal apartments. It was quite a marathon to tour it, so our guide, sensibly transferred the afternoon’s schedule to the next day, when we visited the Palace of Winds and City Palace and then a most extraordinary Observatory built in the 17th century. They had an amazing amount of knowledge about the stars and time and all sorts. As we were tired by then and as the guide was not very easy to understand, I found I couldn’t really follow it all, but there were all sorts of extraordinary objects spread about, that told the time or date or something or other. Also it was a hot afternoon with very little shade and we hadn’t had lunch!!!!

Next day we drove to Ranthambhore. This is a game reserve and a National Park. Our hotel was a few miles outside the Reserve. It consisted of a central building and ‘tents’ scattered about. The top was a tent, with guy ropes and things, but the walls were solid, with doors and windows. Inside was a large bed-sitting room, bathroom, loo dressing space etc. Outside a private sitting space, with 2 chaise-longue on one side and on the other a table and 2 chairs, so you could choose the degree of shade. On arrival we went on a game drive when we saw lots of deer and birds and the odd croc. There was great excitement later on because the warning sound of the monkeys was heard, so the tiger or tigress was about. As a result of an unsuccessful hunt for her/him we were late out and the drive back to the gate was done at great speed, which shook us all up to a considerable degree. Then we had to wait for a man to come and unlock the gate to let us out! Next morning, at 6.00, 10 of us (minus G and another couple) set off again and it was not long before we found the tigress and her 3 cubs. She had killed in the night (which was known to all the guides) and, having called her cubs, was leading them to their breakfast. That was major magic, but before long there were at least 9 vehicles following them, which we didn’t like. After that the tension was released and we visited pieces of water in a leisurely manner – turning off the engine and just watching and listening. Lots of birds and crocodiles and extra-ordinary beauty. We got back about 10.00 and had brunch. The rest of the day was at leisure, and we made the most of it. G lay for hours on a chaise longue. I sat by the pool and read and then joined G for tea on the other side of the ‘tent’.

The good done by this rest day was entirely undone by our trip to Agra. The roads in India a not good on the whole and this one was being turned into a duel carriageway which meant short stretches on one side or the other, or going round bridges being built or on original road etc in a ‘coach with cart springs! We left about 9.30, stopped once or twice at filling stations for the ‘conveniences’ and once for lunch in a lovely restaurant with gardens all around. At about 4.00 we reached Fatehpur Sikri – the Ghost city. Some of the group desperately wanted to leave it out, but the rest of us could not bare to miss it. As we were rather late, so had to do a bit of whistle-stop tour, but got a good idea of it. Then on again, reaching Agra about 6.30 or 7.0. It was a marathon but the sight of the Taj Mahal just visible in the gloom and smog from our balconies made up for it!

Next day we visited the 1st modern wonder on the world and were not disappointed. More details at a later date so you will have to wait. Next day we saw the Agra Fort, which played an important part in the Indian Mutiny and in which the builder of the Taj was held in house arrest and looked over at his beautiful creation.

Then we started the haul home. We left about 10.30 and headed for Delhi. The road was much better and we thought we were doing very well until we reached the outskirts of Delhi. It then took us over an hour to get to the hotel. We only had 1 ½ hours before setting out for a dinner given by Cox and Kings, Cricketers Agents. Due to a confusion, we went to the wrong restaurant, so it was another 1 ½ hours before we got to the right place. There was a serious sense of humour failure, but the place was very good, the food was good, C and K gave the drink (unlike all other included meals) and the three men from C and K really listened to our comments etc. And so back to the hotel, a night’s sleep, and then off to the Airport and on our way to London.
Next I will do some detail about something yet to be decided.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Summary - Part 1

Just as a start, here is a summary of the Indian holiday –

We arrived about lunch time in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi. After a night flight, we both felt the need of a leg-stretch so we went out of the gate and into India! The road was incredibly noisy with masses of traffic. A Sheikh tuktuk driver attached himself to us and was incredibly nice about trying to persuade us that we needed a lift! We picked our way along, half on the pavement, half in the road, due to pipes being laid across from the wall to the roadside. We reached the India Arch, a war memorial. It was an introduction to the hard sell/begging that we were to get very used to. We then gave in to our friendly Sheikh and let him take us up to the Lutyans buildings from the old Raj, before going back to the hotel.

Next day we visited the Red Fort. After that, as well as other places, we went to see Ghandi’s tomb. Of course he isn’t buried there – it is the site of his cremation, in a wide open area that allowed huge numbers to be present. It has since been landscaped and has a terrific atmosphere.

Friday, we flew to Udaipur, a very beautiful place of palaces and lake. Our hotel, the Udaivilas, was as impressive as the rest! It was opened in 2001 and is all open areas, running water, plants and grass as well as very comfortable rooms, each with its own outside area. All on one level. The standard of service was incredibly high. Next day, we visited various places but mainly the City Palace, a large and beautiful place along the edge of the lake. There is a collection of crystal, including an entire bed, tables, chairs etc. A ride on the lake took us round an island with an ex-palace on it, which is now a hotel and to another island, where they were preparing for the marriage of the daughter of an American to an American man. When we went back to the landing, they were waiting for his arrival, with an elephant for him to ride and decorated horses and music. Don’t quite know where he was going to ride to – he had to go to the island in a boat, don’t think the elephant was going to swim!

That evening we had dinner in the Island Palace Hotel. That was the one failure. The food was fairly OK but they gave every impression of not wanting us there. The service was appalling (most unusual for India) and we ended up having a major falling out. The agents are omitting it from future groups.

We went next to Jodhpur – the blue city. All Brahmins painted their houses blue. There was only one of them once upon a time but they have bred somewhat since then! The town is dominated by a very large fort, standing 393 feet above it. Here we had our first chance to study a collection of Miniature paintings. We had already had a demo (followed by hard sell!) so knew what we were looking at. The picture is of an ordinary size but the work is miniature, The brushes used can have only 1 or 2 squirrel hairs, and the lines are incredibly fine. I came to love them. On the way back to the hotel, we visited our first bazaar. Teeming people, tuktuks, cows, stalls, barbers, food providers, bright colours………

The next day, we all boarded jeeps and set out into their version of a desert. It is sandy, but there is quite a lot of scrub growing. We visited several places – a school, with 2 groups, one the equivalent of Reception and Yr 1, the other a little older. There were quite a lot of children in the former, but not many in the second. The assumption was that many older children are working It was interesting to see cards with pictures and the Hindi word! Next we visited a village where they made jars etc out of a fawn clay followed again by a hard sell! Then to another place where they were weaving carpets. After the demo, another hard sell. And at some point, we saw the opium ceremony, They produce a frequently filtered solution, which we all had a sip of!
End of Part 1.