Posted by: glenswatman | May 13, 2011

20110501-10 INDIA MALAYSIA

 

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SUNDAY 1 MAY – We are both asleep on the train when we arrive in Chandigarh at 5.15am.  Yesterday I phoned City Plaza 7 hotel to check they had a room so take a rickshaw there.  En route we can immediately see that this is a different type of city.  Designed by a French man it has wide streets and is laid out in different sectors grid style like in America.    It is around 6am when we get to the hotel and staff is sleeping on the coach and reception floor.  They tell us there are no rooms available.  We explain we don’t want a room immediately but want to check in later for tonight and tomorrow.   After much discussion and our insistence they offer a room from 8am.  The moment we get into the room there is a power cut and it is too dark to shower or do anything.  We take a rickshaw to Nek Chand fantasy rock garden (Rs15, 25p), the main reason we are visiting the city.  It is an amazing place with rocks and junk being used to create sculptures, waterfalls and lots of interesting narrow high walled pathways.  For Indians it is the second most visited place in the country (after the Taj Mahal).  There are small and large animal and human sculptures in large groups.  Often pieces of broken bangles are used to give colour, in other places broken tiles, crockery and even sanitary ware.  It is wonderful and we spend 1 ½ hours roaming round.  It is already over 40C before 11am so we feel lazy and take a cycle rickshaw to Sukhna Lake.  It’s a popular place with pedaloes on the water and fairground style attractions, including bucking bronco.  It is way too hot to do the lakeside walk so we settle for a snack before returning to our sector 7 hotel by cycle rickshaw.  On the map we are only 2 blocks lengths away and thought we could walk but now realise each city block is 1km long and ½ km wide.  On the Internet we try to book an onward bus ticket but the website fails at the last minute. We call the company and have a very confusing conversation where they confirm our booking but tell us to get our tickets and board at a hotel.  Neither the hotel name nor phone number they give us exist.  Call back and get a different hotel name which is a worry.  In the evening we walk to adjoining sector 26 where there are many nice restaurants.  Voodoo Zaika, (http://voodooindia.com/zweb/index1.html) has a good menu and is spotlessly clean and modern.  We get complimentary snacks before our main courses.  I have vegetable sizzler, a huge platter with mixed veg, cheese patties and spaghetti – strange combination but delicious.  Steve’s Chinese style lamb is in a wonderful sauce.  I can’t resist desert, chocolate brownie topped with ice cream with hot chocolate sauce served on the top.  Service is attentive and western style and this is probably the best all round meal we have had in India.  Total bill including drinks taxes etc around £10 – wonderful

CHANDIGARH 1, HOTEL CITY PLAZA 7 Rs1394 (£19.50) A/C TV Breakfast

MONDAY 2 MAY – Couchsurfer Rekha sends a car to pick us up.  She is a very nice lady and we get along immediately.  Walking through the central shopping area she tells us about Chandigarh then takes us out to lunch at a new trendy restaurant called “Girl in the café”.  The milk shakes are wonderful, I have chocolate Oreo and mint and Steve has butterscotch.  We’ve told Rekha about our bus ticket saga and she suggests we go to the hotel to pick them up to be sure.  Her driver takes our money (Rs330, £4.50 each) and returns with tickets, not from the hotel but from an office nearby.  Rekha never uses public transport in India because of the hassle.  Next Rekha has her driver show us around Chandigarh which is very well designed with lots of park areas.  Unfortunately Rekha is busy tonight as we would have liked to spend more time together.  In the evening we catch up on some episodes of “Amazing Race” on the Internet.

CHANDIGARH 2, HOTEL CITY PLAZA

TUESDAY 3 MAY – We are up at 4.30am and take a rickshaw to Picadilly Hotel for the bus connection pick up at 5.30am.  The Libra bus has many passengers on board and initially I think we are on a hospital bus.  Most of the passengers are Sikh men who have wide bandages going under their chins then tied on top of their turbans.  Are they to hold their mouths closed when they fall asleep or to keep their ears warm from the A/C?  Libra coaches are very modern, air-conditioned and comfortable so we should be able to sleep as it is a good road to Amritsar.  Wrong we still get the air horn.  There is a digital clock at the front and 3 times I count how many times the driver uses the horn in 5 minutes, it varies from 29 to 36 times.  Multiply this out over our 3 ½ hour journey and we will hear well over 1000 toots.  We are now in the state of PUNJAB and immediately notice how much cleaner and more modern it is than Rajasthan.  We stop at a lovely haveli for breakfast.  We arrive in Amritsar as scheduled at 9.30am.  Our Couchsurfing host Narinderjit Singh (he suggests it may be easier to call him Mr Singh) picks us up and drives us out to his farm 10km away.   He runs a shoe shop in the city but also inherited the family farm and runs it as a rural tourism resort.  When he is not busy he offers the rooms to Couchsurfers.  It is a lovely building with garden outside and central courtyard with a pool.  Many of the ceilings are magnificent, covered in coloured pieces of mirrored tiles and glass to created pictures.  There’s a restaurant where we can eat and we have a double A/C room at our disposal.  Other guests are Spanish couple Fernando and Diana but they are leaving tonight.  This is our first stay with a Sikh host so we are interested to learn about it.  We ask about the “bandages” that the men on the bus were wearing.  Sikhs never cut their hair or beards so each morning they prepare their beard with a type of starch then squash it flat with the “bandage” for about an hour.  Normally this is done in the privacy of home but for men taking an early bus ride this is not possible – mystery solved.  In the afternoon we share a rickshaw with Ferdinand and Diana to go 30km west to the Attari/India and Wagah/Pakistan border for the border closing ceremony.  We are screened 3 times for security, the last time to get into the VIP enclosure which is also for foreigners.  It is such a popular event they have grandstands and we reckon there are about 5000 people attending on the Indian side and about 500 in Pakistan where men and ladies are separated.  We take part in the ceremony when visitors are invited to run up and down no man’s land waving Indian flags.  After this loud music is played for people to dance to.  Finally things get serious a squad emerges from the guardroom.  In turn they do a rapid buttocks clutched kind of march (looks like they in a rush to get to the toilet) to the border point and then throw in a few Monty Python Ministry of Silly walks high kicks.   It is hilarious and we get to see this 8 times as each soldier repeats the process.  It sounds like we are amongst a football crowd with the Pakistani’s calling out Pakistan and Indians replying Hindustan zindabad (long live India).  The gates are flung open; commanding officers shake hands, salute then simultaneously lower the flags of both countries, fold them and march them back to the squad room.  The border is now officially closed for the night.  The whole thing takes about 2-hours and is the most unusual and funniest thing we have done in ages.  We drop Ferdinand and Diana at the station and when we get back to the haveli the evening entertainment is about to start.  Mr Singh has been sponsored by the government to put on a cultural dance show “bhangra” each evening.  3 men and 1 woman mime and act to “bollywood” style music.  One of the other regular diners joins them for the last song.  It ends and we are about to clap but realise no one else is.  Later we ask Mr Singh and he says people only clap if they really enjoyed it so we guess the other diners didn’t.  The restaurant staff and cooks are from Nepal and Mr Singh has also tried to make the menu healthy by having everything cooked in “zaitoon tara” oil.  A mixture of olive oil and other oils this is now said to be the healthiest oil in the world.  This show is repeated just before 11pm when the music stops for the night.

AMRITSAR, VISARAT HAVELI COUCHSURFING

WEDNESDAY 4 MAY – We are the only guests and it is so quiet we sleep in until 9am.  After ordering pineapple raita (yoghurt with sugar and pineapple) for breakfast we are surprised to receive some sort of roti bread.  We begin to eat and realise it is spiced so query it and find we have been served kulcha nan by mistake!  It’s good to cool down in the plunge pool but afternoons are just so hot that we prefer to take a siesta in the air conditioned room.  In the evening there are lots of visitors to the restaurant and they end up putting on 4 shows, one includes sword spinning.  We chat more to Mr Singh whose daughter, husband and grandchild live in Luton.  Most of the guests are groups of men who seem to enjoy drinking whisky.  One comes over to Steve and insists on giving him half a glass of neat whisky with just a little soda.  Luckily the man is leaving so Steve can take a sip before bringing the rest into our room to dilute much further.

AMRITSAR 2, VISARANT HAVELI COUCHSURFING

THURSDAY 5 MAY – Late morning we are in the room, I’m reading and Steve is napping.  I hear a dog come into the courtyard and shortly after hear it yelping and banging noises.  I go to the front of the haveli to investigate and am shocked to see the dog cowering by the closed gate.  3 of the kitchen youths are beating it with long sticks whilst others are looking on laughing.  I shout for them to stop and ask why they are doing this.  They just laugh and continue.  I’m really upset and angry so walk towards the boys shouting at them.  Rishkesh, the lady who seems to oversee things here, hears my shouting and comes out and tells the boys to stop.  The security guard, who is stood outside, opens the gate and the dog limps off.  By now I am very upset and crying.  I go back to the room and decide that I don’t want to stay in a place with such cruel people.  I begin to pack our bags and disturb Steve.  He wakes and I tell him the story and he says we should first call Mr Singh and gauge his reaction.  He is very angry as he is an animal lover and had no idea his staff behaved like this and he will reprimand them.  Rishkesh comes to see me and says she will take me to show me the dog is OK, it is in a field nearby and we don’t go too close but it obviously alive but may have a broken leg.  Later someone brings the boys to our room and with Mr Singh making it a 3 way conversation on the phone they apologise, if you could call it that as they stand grinning at us and laugh out sorry.  We decide we will stay for our last night but dare we order food from the restaurant or will they tamper with it?  Rishkesh asks if we would like to see her village and home.  We walk past the fields with the hand bailed wheat.  Next we pass an area with piles of buffalo dung and hay.  This is where they mix the two together, make them into patties and dry them on the wall for later use as cooking fuel – in fact they cook the chapattis directly on the cow pats, for extra flavour?  Call in to the local school; in India all children must have a school within walking distance of their homes.  There are 3 classrooms, boy girl ration seems about 75/25 and the lessons are from 8am – 2pm.  As usual everyone wants to ask our name, where we are from, shake our hands and have photos.  In the village we see 3 small boys, smartly dressed in uniform, hauling a big bag of something that they can hardly carry between them.  They are impressed when Steve offers to help and carries it alone to their home.  Rishkesh lives is a typical home entered through large gates.  First you are in a mud floor open area, this leads to a small room where food is kept and prepared and this area is absolutely covered in flies.  Indians seem to treat flies the same way as dirt, they just don’t see it.  Beyond this is a bedroom complete with large bed, fridge, and TV and DVD player.  This is basically where everyone lives and her daughter in law and grandson are here lazing on the bed.  The little boy is really funny and dances to bollywood music and drags us up to join him.  Next we call in at 2 other lots of her family, where many more people are gathered in the same size simple type homes.  Rishkesh explains it is common for 10 people to live in one such area.    In the last home they insist we have dinner and serve us chapatti and potato curry.  Having seen all the flies around we are very wary but feel it polite to accept.  They also want us to lie down with them all on the bed for a nap but at this stage we explain we are not coping with the heat and need to get back to our A/C room.   Late afternoon we meet our new neighbours fellow Couchsurfers Hansa and Velma from South Africa.  They are a similar age to us and we have lots to talk about.    It’s a big event in the evening as a local landowner is having his son’s 5th birthday party here.  The boy is dressed up like a mini maharaja and looks really cute.  Tonight the shows are almost continuous with just short breaks in between.  Everyone gathers on stage for presentation of the “Mickey Mouse” shaped birthday cake and birthday boy gets cream plastered on each of his cheeks and is presented with a large picture of the golden temple.  We are given birthday cake and invited to join in the birthday buffet meal.  Later the women drag me up to dance with them.  Mr Singh tells us about the last act of the show where a dwarf and his girlfriend are ridiculed.  Her brothers beat the dwarf and she seems to sway from being on the dwarf’s side and then her brothers.  Everyone cheers when the little man is chased and beaten with shoes; maybe the dog beating was not so strange after all.

AMRITSAR 3, VISARANT HAVELI COUCHSURFING

FRIDAY 6 MAY – In the afternoon Velma and Hansa share a rickshaw for a sightseeing trip.  We head into Amritsar and begin At Sri Durgiana temple.  This is the Hindu version of the Golden Temple with impressive silver doors.  Set in the middle of a tank you enter over a causeway which makes it very scenic.  The Mata temple is something completely different.  On approach we hear a baby crying and a crowd gathered round.  The baby is having its head shaved before entering the temple for the first time.  Judging by the number of nicks on the head there is no wonder it is crying.  Entering the temple we are directed up a staircase and from there we have follow stairs, corridors, crawl through tunnels, wade through ankle deep water in a cave, pass many mirrored rooms and statues to eventually emerge in the temple hall.  In Ram Bagh Park we visit the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Panorama (Rs15, 23p).  There are dioramas then a huge 360 degree panorama complete with life size characters and background battle sounds.  We are leaving Mr Singh today so call in to his shoe shop to say goodbye.  He has some fantastic sandals for sale at very good prices but I am definitely not Cinderella as my feet are way too big to fit in.  Finally the rickshaw driver parks and tells us which way to walk to the Golden Temple.  We have to leave our shoes and cover our heads; Steve is given a special scarf.  This is the main Sikh pilgrimage temple, rather like Mecca is to Muslims.  It is very impressive as we enter the compound from the side to see the causeway leading to the Golden Temple in the centre of the tank.  Walking round we reach the canteen where 80.000 meals are served each day.   There is no charge but donations are welcome.  We are given stainless steel plates and cutlery then directed to a large hall where we sit on mats facing another row of people.  Servers walk down the middle putting dal and sauce onto our platter.  To receive a chapatti you must put both hands out together.  As soon as a row is cleared of diners people come along and put water on the floor whilst others follow with a squeegee type mop to clean up.  On the way out you have the opportunity to either help with the washing up or food preparation and we would like to do this but are too short on time.  Out towards the airport we are dropped at our next host “Jolly” Singh’s home.  He lives in a gated community in a large modern house and makes us most welcome.  His wife and 2 kids are out at the Golden Temple helping out.  His wife Neelu, 14 year old daughter Sukhbani and 10 year old son Sumer arrive back later.  They all speak very good English and here it is much less accented and easier to understand.  Sumer is exceptionally friendly, outgoing and funny.  We learn about the family and many of the customs which is very interesting.

AMRITSAR 4, COUCHSURFING WITH JOLLY SINGH AND FAMILY

SATURDAY 7 MAY – From 7am onwards the door bell rings as the gardener, maid, cook and car cleaner arrive.  Sumer and Neelu go out to his school because it is mother’s day tomorrow and they want Mums to go in and talk about their work.  Neelu runs a boutique and has people making clothes that she enhances with painted flowers.  We have a late breakfast then when Neelu returns we take her and the kids to her Mums for the afternoon whilst Jolly takes us shopping.  I am stocking up on Tiger Balm, incense sticks and spices for use in the motorhome as they are much cheaper here.  We didn’t have time to go into the Golden Temple last night due to the queues but each evening there is a live broadcast on TV so we get to see it that way.  One of Neelu’s friends calls round in the evening and we are amazed to hear she has visited relatives in East Morton and been to Keighley.  Jolly was recently in England setting up pilgrimage tours for the Sikhs who have never been to India.

AMRITSAR 5, COUCHSURFING WITH JOLLY SINGH AND FAMILY

SUNDAY 8 MAY – Just after mid day Jolly suggest we go out for breakfast.  Neelu stays behind as she has many workers in making clothes.  We got to K.H. Sweets where they serve the best “puri” in Amritsar.  This is a big puffed up doughnut type ball that you pop and then use to scoop up the curry sauce and pickle.  It is the best we have had as others were very greasy.  Jolly drives us out to another famous Sikh temple Bir Baba Budha Temple and visiting it with Sikhs we learn more about the rituals.   Early evening Neelu takes me out to buy things so that I can cook a shepherd’s pie and bread and butter pudding.  Here mutton mince is the most popular so this will be the real McCoy.  Jolly particularly likes it and takes second servings of both.

AMRITSAR 6, COUCHSURFING WITH JOLLY SINGH AND FAMILY

MONDAY 9 MAY – A friend has asked me to take back a couple of men’s Indian style long shirts as she uses them as night dresses.  I bought one but it was expensive (Rs 550, £8.50) so last night Neelu sent one of her workers home with it so he could make another (Rs400, £6).  She picks it up just in time for Jolly to take us to the airport.  Our 1-hour Jetlite flight to Delhi is late leaving (Total price for 2 people Rs5923, £82).  Captain announces this was because we had to wait for one late passenger who obviously thought it was his own airline!  Landing at T3 around 11am we check out the Delhi prepaid Police Taxi’s booths for a price to the toilet museum.  The first quotes Rs200. the next Rs270.  Outside the price quoted is Rs240.  This is ridiculous as the whole point of this system is that it is a fixed price a no one gets ripped off.  We speak to the tourist Police about it and he takes us back to the last booth where they agree it should be Rs200 but quoted higher because they didn’t understand exactly where we were go (so how could they give a price?).  We set off with the “badged” official drive put at the airport perimeter he pulls over and his brother takes over, suspect the official driver is going back in a different car to pick up another passenger.  He gets lost many times but we eventually arrive at Sulabh International Museum of Toilets.  Sulabh is a big foundation dealing with sanitation problems with India and the neither charge for the museum nor accept donations.  First someone talks us through the highlights of the museum before leaving us to go round and study things more thoroughly.  It shows us the history of toilets plus info on unusual toilets, modern designs and artistic ones and more.  We are offered a chance to learn more about the Sulabh sanitation projects and are first shown the various designs of basic pit toilets with explanations of cost of building and duration of use for a certain number of people.  Sulabh have place toilet complexes all over India and the one here shows us how the waste is treated then the gases separated and used for lighting, heating and cooking.  The residual water is so clean it can be used for virtually anything except drinking.  All in we spend almost 2-hours visiting.   One of the curators offers to help us get a rickshaw back to the airport and we are glad we did.  Many say they are just going to lunch whilst others won’t do the airport run.  Eventually we get one and are told the price will be Rs100 max.  Luckily we are on a meter and opt to return to the nearer T1, Rs80 (£1.20) on the meter but he asks for, and doesn’t get, Rs100.  We have come 9km and the curator explained the vehicles work on natural gas which works out at R1 for 2km.  T1 has much better choices of food and drink so we take lunch before boarding the free transfer bus back to T1 for international departure.  It is now 2.30pm and our flight leaves at 10pm.  Before passing security to enter the terminal and confirm there are comfortable seating areas.  Not so you have stainless steel benches or hard flat plastic chairs and it is quite hot.  After a couple of hours I try to go out for some fresh air but am refused.  In India even if you haven’t checked in once you enter a departure terminal you cannot leave for any reason.  3-hours before departure we can move on to the departure lounge which is very good.  There are lots of shops including duty free shops where foreigners can only pay in US$ whilst Indians can use rupees.  We find plenty of comfortable seats with foot rests, internet and a good choice of eating places.  We play safe and just eat western food.    Someone comes round the lounge rounding up passengers for our flight and hustling us onto the Air Asia plane early so that we can get underway ½ hour sooner.  With 3 seats between the 2 of use we manage a nap during the 5-hour flight.

At the end of our 101 days in India we have spent roughly £2400, (this includes internal flights). 

Our best journey was by coach from Chandigarh to Amritsar, the worst by train in cattle class from Kanyakumari to Madurai, 5 hours of hell packed like sardines

Our cheapest room was in Varkala at Rs400 and the most expensive Cross Bill on the Andaman Islands Rs1500

The most comfortable bed was at Hotel Ajanta in Udaipur.

Best meal in Chandigarh at Voodoo Zaika, a close call with the fish in banana leaves at Tratoria Varkala

Most interesting sight, Akshardham Temple in Delhi due to the unexpectedness

Most memorable things we would like to forget, bad smells, dirt, noise, white tax, miss information and general hassle.

Things we will remember fondly, the nice encounters with people who were not trying to sell us things, CS hosts, going to a Hindu wedding, our Taj Mahal photo

FLIGHT FROM NEW DELHI TO KUALA LUMPUR

TUESDAY 10 MAY – We land early in Kuala Lumpur MALAYSIA and make the 6.15am Air Asia skybus into the city.  Returning to our host we look like locals knowing exactly where we are going.  Vina picks us up from the station and we arrive at her home around 8am.  Her Mum Honey is still sleeping and when Vina goes to work we are only too happy to do the same.  I get up first to chat to Honey.  As they come from and have visited India many times she can relate to our trip details.  Honey leaves mid afternoon to stay overnight looking after her granddaughter.  Vina arrives back in the evening and we got out to the hawker market for another excellent meal.  Reckon we could visit many times and still not work our way through the options from the different stalls.  Later I help Vina with some websites for her trip around Europe.

KUALA LUMPUR, CS WITH VINA

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Responses

  1. Good to see you two are still on the road. We enjoy the updates. Doug and Jeanette (Andaman Islands)


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