We boarded the train for Aurangabad. Our seats weren't together but the young chap next to me agreed to swap so we could sit together. We had a chat with an old boy sat near us who told us about the places we were visiting. He also explained which were good banks etc. Not sure why.
Once underway the guard came round and checked the tickets. This was followed by the char wallah. 'Chai, chai, special chai' was the call. Jill had a cup from his tin urn. Soon the coffee came. 'Nes coffee, nes coffee' served milky but still welcome. Should I have been concerned by the sign saying 'Keep the carriage clean to prevent rats and cockroaches'?
After a short while the steward arrived and took our breakfast order. Omelette sandwich. When it arrived it was as described, an omelette and slices of bread. Again very welcome. By the third stop the cabin had filled up. The chairs were fairly comfortable and the cabin was air conditioned. This is called an AC chair car. It is the preferred method for the better off Indians.
It was a long journey. Most trips are quicker by road but not so relaxing. The train is also cheaper. The landscape in this area has been quite flat but was now starting to get some hills. It is also very arid with not much greenery. What you do see from a train is a mix of living. Passing through towns then seeing people living under canvas.
We eventually arrived in Aurangabad and were met at the station for a free transfer. It turns out our driver works for the tour office in the hotel so clearly looking for business. Our hotel is a strange mix. Downstairs the lobby and restaurant are clean and looked recently decorated. Our room on the other hand looked a little tired. The bedding was two sleeping bags and a nylon bed spread. Interesting.
Whilst the bell boys didn't sleep on the landing they did sit there all day and evening ready to do room service. We threw our bags and went downstairs for a cold beer. They told us we would get unlimited complimentary snacks with our drinks. They weren't kidding. Plates of peanuts and maize things just kept coming and coming and coming. In the end we had to say 'Stop'. Any weight I lost in South East Asia is clearly going on again here.
After a beer we went to the tour office. Our reason for coming to Aurangabad was to see the caves at Ellora. These are centuries old temples carved from the rock face. It's now a world heritage site like half of South America.
We spoke with a young lad and two older chaps. We bought a driver and car for the next day to take us to the caves and a few other local sites. 600 rupees was the agreed price.
It was still light so we went for a look around. Aurangabad is a big place with 1.9 million inhabitants. How best to describe it? Imagine a landfill site with shops on it. Dirty,noisy and at times very smelly. There didn't appear to be much in the way of places to eat nearby so we decided to eat in the hotel. The reviews had said the food was good and well priced. They were correct. Although the service was a little slow the food was delicious.
As we came back from our look around we were met at the hotel door by a chap who said his dad owned the tour office. The conversation went a bit like this.
'You are Gale?' We knew what he meant so replied 'Yes'. 'The boy gave you the wrong price. It is not 600 it is 1200 rupees. You give me more money'. 'What is the problem' I asked. 'He gave you price for a bus not a car' was the curt reply. 'He is new and doesn't know the price' he continued. 'So it's now 5.30pm. Too late for us to book with another company and you want twice the price' I asked. 'Yes' he said. 'Ok we'll just have our money back' I said. He didn't look happy as he handed over the money. Jill said to him 'You could at least apologise'. He didn't.
As we walked into the hotel the manager said hello. 'Good tour office' Jill said sarcastically. He enquired if there was a problem so we explained. 'Leave it with me' he said. Twenty minutes later and he called us to apologise for the mistake. Could we agree on 900 rupees? Apology accepted and yes.
I went back to the tour office and matey was so apologetic I thought I may be sick. I smell a k*** ing.
Next day our driver is ready and waiting to take us out for the day. First stop was the caves at Ellora. They are thirty or so temples of varying sizes carved into the basalt rock by hand. They were carved over generations by different religions and so there are Hindu, Buddhist and Jainism temples.
We decided to hire a local guide whose named was Maddhu. He was very knowledgeable and spoke good English. His first question was 'What religion are you'? 'Atheist so no religion' we both replied. 'No problem 'he said. He explained that the temples some of which are huge are not a construction. They are not built from the ground up with separate pieces. Rather they are carved from the top down from the rock face. He explained the perfect symmetry of the pillars. Once you realise how they were made you realise what a massive undertaking they were. We spent several hours getting a history lesson. He explained that Hinduism is really more of a philosophy than a religion. It is built on four pillars of knowledge, making money, having good sex and enjoyment. This explained much about the Indian work ethic and desire to make money. It's a religion to them!! Hinduism also absorbs bits from other religions so as not have conflict.
After the caves we went to Daulatabad fort. It was once a huge hill top fort albeit it has seen better days. We didn't have time to climb right to the top. Just as well really as the route is up narrow pitch black stairs with bats the size of pigeons flying around you. The smell of bat s*** was also a bit over powering.
While at the fort we regained our celebrity status. People were staring and giggling and taking sly photos of us. One youngster came over and said 'hello whitey'. Maddhu had said that many of the visitors to the sites were from rural areas and had probably never seen a foreigner before. One man and his family engaged us in conversation and asked for some photos with us. He then invited us to have lunch on the grass with them. It would have been lovely but we had a driver waiting and needed to go to the next site.
The next place is known as the 'Little Taj Mahal'. It describes it perfectly. A rich local had decided a miniature copy of the Taj Mahal would be his resting place. I say miniature but believe me it's still pretty big. It seems he started by building it from marble but ran short of cash and so parts are concrete with tiles. Are manners a sign of being civilised? I don't know. But it has been a common theme on our travels that people lack manners. Today I was paying for the entrance tickets when a guy literally shoved me to one side and tried to buy a ticket. Needless to say he got shoved right back and made to wait.
We visited a couple more local attractions which weren't very impressive but hey hum it can't all be fab. At one small temple as usual we had to leave our shoes outside. This time when we came out our shoes were missing. We looked through the pile of sandals but they weren't there. Some people were watching us and giggling. I started scanning and just when we were about to have a huge sense of humour failure I spotted a wizened old lady sat nearby with our shoes. It seemed she was 'looking after them' for us. A small donation and they were returned. She basically sits with a young girl and when foreigners turn up the youngster whips the shoes.
In the end we had a good day and had escaped the city for some open spaces. Our driver returned us safely to the hotel. We were met by the owner of the travel operator. 'Hello' he said. 'How was your trip, you pay only 900 rupees'. 'It was good' I said. Nice to be recognised as Mr and Mrs 900 rupees.
Next day we went to the bus station for our bus to Pune. We were ushered into the executive lounge. A room with some old bus seats in it. The bus was actually ok and the journey not too bad.
We had left Mumbai, scene of the massacre and were now in Pune where the one captured gunman had just been hanged. The Taliban were threatening revenge so it didn't feel very safe. We left the bus station and took an auto rickshaw to the hotel. We agreed the price and set off. At the hotel the driver asked for more money. Go forth was my reply.
We had booked a serviced apartment. At reception it was immediately clear something was wrong. We were soon put on the phone to the boss who said we were a day late and he had let our room. We could try the Bel Air down the road. 'We are not a day late' I said. 'I have the booking confirmation and I don't want to go to the Bel Air'. More conversation and we were soon in an upgraded room. As always there is something wrong. This time the shower didn't work. The chap came to see and said it was a bucket and you tip water over you. Nope not having it. Back to reception. More phone calls. It went 'Hindi Hindi Hindi English. Hindi Hindi English, ok' I think the gist was we are English and won't put up with washing from a bucket. Ten minutes later and the plumber arrived and fixed the shower.
Pune was just a staging post on route south. I did decide to get a PAYG SIM card so we had an Indian phone number for booking hotels etc. It was nothing like England. The first shop we tried refused to sell us one. The second shop did but I then understood why the first didn't. We needed to fill out a Police form, have two photos and copies of our passport and visa. Then they wanted details of anyone we knew in India etc etc etc. It's an anti terrorism thing but it took an age. Then I had to pay and now have to wait one week for the Police to ok me before I can use it. I wouldn't be surprised if the shop keeper just threw it all in the bin when I left.
After our short stop it was on a train to Kolhapur. Some trains have 'women only' carriages. As we boarded the train there was a sign saying 'Men are reminded that it is an offence with two years imprisonment for touching,leering,staring,singing or gesturing to women on the train'. I guess that explains that one.