Train from Mumbai to Pune. Our first mistake was getting a taxi to the station, as he turned up 20 mins late. Each time we put our packs to walk there, the bell boys at the hotel rushed over saying it would only be 5 minutes. They ended up hailing a cab that was just going passed.
Mistake no2: The taxi driver asked which platform we needed, platform 17 I pluck from somewhere. So we got dropped off at the arse end of the furthest platform to where we actually needed to be, in fact the hotel was closer to the main train station entrance than where we were compared to where we needed to be. So we hightail it, bags in arms (mine being held like a giant baby and Janet in only what I an describe as a Margaret Thatcher handbag style), to our train, The Hyderbad Express!
We had an air conditioned four person booth to ourselves and we settled down for our four hour (see what I did there?) journey.
The scenery was a mixture of sprawling city suburbs, slums, beautiful green hillocks and people walking home from work along the tracks. Highlights for us include the ladies whose brightly coloured saris shone like gems against the muddy trails that led to the towns and the gentleman in pristinely pressed shirt and trousers, cufflinks and highly polished shoes traipsing home along the tracks . There were waterfalls that started in the hills hundreds of feet above that cascaded down through the thick forest and ended in a ferocious deluge at the trackside. We also saw a single troupe of monkeys foraging in the vegetation. As we pull into the station, we're caught unprepared to disembark "it's Pune, it's Pune" we rushed to the train door, tried to open it, still locked. A brief panic and another look out the window we saw that we weren't at Pune at all. Panic over just a couple of red faces as we slunk back to our seats while the rest if the carriage looked on (mistake 3).
We arrived at Pune Junction bang on time and after a bit of getting lost, we finally made it out of the station. Our hotel was a 20 minute walk in the wrong direction and then a 5 minute walk in the right direction (mistake 4).
The hotel is much nicer than the one in Mumbai, however we were a little concerned about its location. The immediate area was like a ghost town and all the shops looked like they'd closed down. We'd had the wind taken out of our sails a little as after the quiet area of Mumbai, we were hoping for a bit more life. We got to our room and after changing rooms due to a plethora of pubes lying around ( the second room was immaculate) we ordered room service and individually contemplated how long our trip to India was going to last.
After a great night's sleep we went down for breakfast, I had the full English and Janet had beans on toast. I'm kidding! The breakfast room is quite simply beautiful, hints of the middle east but most definitely Indian. Lots of purples and ochres, lounging seats and high backed dining chairs. There was a delicate smell of incense but mostly you could smell the food. We had puris and medu wada with sambar, misal pav, poha and of course doodie halwa. You can googlise these yourself but suffice to say everything was delicious and we had to be very disciplined to not go back for more.
After breakfast we decided to go for a walk down to Koregoan Park, we were feeling a little apprehensive given the surrounding area but it was time to fly the nest. We stepped out onto the street and BINGO! The street was full of life, there were fruit sellers, sweet stalls, puri stands, chai wallas, pedestrians of all walks of life and much to Janet's relief, women. This was what we came here for, this was where and when our holiday truly began. The walk to Koregoan park was maybe 20 minutes, when we stopped for directions everyone was so keen to help, despite the language barrier. We got approached by only a couple of beggars but we've noticed that they don't seem to stray too far from their patch of pavement and if you walk in the road (as the locals do) you get a lot less bother.
Our walk was slowed at one point when the local herdsmen drove their goats along the road in front us.
Pune is the second largest city in the state of Maharashtra (after Mumbai) but is so much more chilled out than Mumbai. It's a university town and at the various street food stalls the students crowded round to get their fill. We couldn't tell what they were eating but everything looked and mostly smelled pretty good too. Koregoan park is a very affluent part of Pune, we were turned back from going down one of the roads as it was private. The houses behind the high wrought iron gates are enormous and perfectly kept, just like many other cities the world over, the rich living shoulder to shoulder with the destitute.
We walked around for about three hours, the day was warm the air was sweet.
We asked at the hotel reception to recommend a couple of places to eat, and they suggested restaurant called Paprika, when we enquired about all the other restaurants just round the corner we were told " you won't like them, the food is made by/for Indians"...
What can you say to that???
We ended up going to a vegetarian restaurant just round the corner. Jan was freaking about the cleanliness of the place but equally, we figured it was full of locals so how bad could it be. Jan asked for a menu in Hindi and they duly brought one in English. The waiter was very attentive and helpful . 2 curry dishes, a plain rice, a naan and a bottle of water. The size of the portions were huge and we couldn't finish everything which we felt a little guilty about. Both curries were pretty mild even by our western standards but pretty tasty.
15th August 2012 was India's 66th Independence Day, and the fireworks started at 00:01. We were woken early by the music coming from the local Hindu temple (beats cockerels in Crawley). It's a bank holiday but not a full public holiday so some stalls were out and some shops were open but it was a much quieter day on the streets. We went to Aga Khan Palace, where Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba were imprisoned during his 'Quit India Movement'. Their "samadhies" (ashes) are also interned there. As the roads were quieter we decided it would be a good opportunity to experience the auto rickshaw for the first time. To be honest, it was actually alright, we had a little haggle with the elderly driver (it's considered rude not to) he started off at Rs200 and he was very quick to accept our offer of Rs100 (about £1.15), we felt so foolish ;-). We turned up at the huge iron gates and...and...they were locked shut. The rickshaw driver looked at us apologetically, then motioned for us to stay put. The nimble little chap hopped out and played a game of real life Frogger as he went over 8 lanes of traffic to get more information for us. He came back looking dejected and we all looked at each other. We decided to negotiate a second journey with him to the other side of town to see some temples. We agreed a price and as we set off, he saw the 'other' gates which were of course open on this auspicious day. Big smiles from the rickshaw driver, big smiles from us. We pulled in to the palace grounds and as we paid, I did my first 'palms-together-at-chest-level' thank you, it was warmly received with another big smile and of course a little head wobble.
We had our concerns about being Brits, going to the site of Gandhi's imprisonment on Independence Day, I had vision of a mob pointing fingers at us, blaming us for MGs death ( I was once blamed for the death of Jesus but that's another story). The other visitors were certainly curious about us (we had two separate groups ask if they could take pictures of us) but of course they were there for their own personal reasons and our presence was insignificant.
Only a few of the rooms on the ground floor are open to the public and these contain paintings and photos of Gandhi at various stages of his life. The rooms where his wife and his secretary were imprisoned and ultimately died were particularly solemn. Some of Kasturba Gandhi's prison clothes and some of Mahatma Gandhi's personal effects were on display and this brought the very human aspect of this piece of history home.
We visited the gardens where the ashes of Mahatma and Kasturba Gandhi and those of Mahadevbhai Desai are kept. They were naturally tranquil and understated, not overly beautiful but certainly peaceful and absolutely thought provoking.
We walked around the grounds of the palace and these were beautiful, perfect lawns, sculptured shrubs and trees. Flowers of every hue were visited by butterflies of equally amazing colours. This oasis of tranquility in the middle of the dusty, chaotic city couldn't be a better representation of the man it honours.
Our rickshaw back cost us Rs30, again the rickshaw driver was so quick to accept our barter, I suspect we are being taken for fools, but when their smiles come thick and fast, we don't mind so much. We live by the mantra "if it feels like a good deal to us, then it's a good deal".
We ate at the hotel tonight as many of the local restaurants are shut. The food was amazing and we had as follows:- Paneer chilli, Vegetable dumplings (starters) IT'S INDEPENDENCE DAY! Paneer tikka masala (not like what we have I UK) and Methi Mutter Malai, rice and roti. We were stuffed. The food in this hotel is exceptional all served by silver service. The waiters are such a gracious bunch of guys all so eager to please. It seems that this may be an appropriate time to answer the most common question we've been asked, our bellies have been fine the worst thing we have both had is a bad case of 'dippy finger' this is where the tips of your fingers go yellow from going in your curry.
By the way we're experiencing some IT problems so can't upload any photos from the camera just from the phones.