Friday. Mumbai. Hot. On budget.
No sleep at all last night - staff kept us awake until 1 or 2am, then a very noisy couple arrived at 3am and haggled outside our room for a long time (from 700 Rs to 550 Rs, so not bad really). They then shagged for the next hour, so noisily that an Australian man from the next room hammered on their door and demanded that they stop. This went on for another hour or so - shouting and threats of fights. At about 8am there were more arguments outside over money for a while, with some Israelis demanding cash loudly.
So, we didn't leave Mumbai today. We got up at about noon and walked to CST station (about an hour, including being lost). We found the correct counter, but it was closed. We plan to return tomorrow at 8am to book a berth on the Mumbai - Bhopal Punjab Mail train (14 hours) at 1930h. Fingers crossed.
Took breakfast at the very Indian 'Eat-In' where we had cheese omelette toast sandwiches and an awful banana lassi that tasted of sick.
We walked more and returned eventually to the room (via sugarcane juice and watermelon juice stops) and played backgammon.
Just been for a late supper at the 'Eat-In' again, which had turned decidedly Western since the morning - must be in Lonely Planet I guess. Had vegetable Punjabi, Veg Afghani, naan, chapati, rice and lime soda for a princely 70 Rs all in, or about $1.50 US.
Still much hassle near the Taj Mahal Hotel - 'Buy my inflatable banana / Buy my squeaky hammer.'
Monday. Pachmari. Hot am, cool pm. On Budget.
Quite a journey here from Mumbai. Sleepless night followed by 7.30am start - taxi to CST, bought tickets to Bhopal for 610Rs for two. Went back to hotel the and haggled a 200 Rs price to keep the room until about 4pm. Slept an hour or two and had a little food and drink. Taxi to the station at 4pm, and then sitting on the platform playing Labyrinth etc. Caro bought some onion bahjis, some red-hot potato bahjis and some pomegranites for the journey (21 Rs). Commentless journey for the most part, we retired to our top berths at 9.30pm as it was getting busy below. No sleep whatsoever until about 4am, when I drifted off until about 7am. In the middle of the night lots of young army lads got on without reservations and proceeded to bully their way into sharing peoples' berths. Luckily, we were unmolested.
Got into Bhopal at about 10am, I was beginning to feel a little ill. Dirty, busy town greeted us. Ripped off fora rickshaw ride to the bus station which was only just around the corner for 20 Rs. The bus station was crazily chaotic. No-one spoke any English and we were lost for a while there. They refused to sell us a ticket for Pachmari, but also told us that a bus was leaving soon. I almost passed out and had to sit down for a while to recover. The, out of the blue, they decided to sell us a ticket (88 Rs for two). So we finally got our bus at 10.20am. Long, long journey. I was a feeling a little sick and was very dehydrated but didn't drink much to avoid toilet nightmares. After man stops we arrived here at about 7pm.
At the bottom of the foothills the driver stopped the bus and made a quick prayer, and at the top (usual hairpin bends with sheer drops) he made an offering of a coconut ad incense at a small temple in thanks for safe passage one more time. We were invited to sit in the front with him, and he even asked me to light his incense.
A couple of touts at the bus station, but we eventually shook them off and went to the 'Misty Meadows' - double room, en suite, TV, a/c, for 150 Rs, which seems very cheap after Mumbai.
I ate soup last night as I couldn't face more, Caro had an aloo palak.
Then we had cold showers and slept - oh! Joyful sleep! For 12 hours solid.
Gelt much better today and had a walk around the town - saw two outher westerners - the rest seem to be Indian tourists. Pretty relaxed place, it seems. Had breakfast at out hostel - masala omelette with coffee and toast (60 Rs for two) [NB. Exchange rate £1 = 66 Rs, $1 US = 47 Rs]. Took a walk to check out other hotels, which seem similar to this one in town, and out of town where they seem to cater for groups of four or more (lodges for 400 - 800 Rs), so I think we'll stay here for the moment.
Just got back from a walk around the lake - saw monkeys and a kingfisher.
Many people shouting hello at us, a man showed me his motorbike. Caro has learned how to say 'thank you' and 'one more night please' in Hindi - very impressive. Now relax and then some food and perhaps a French lesson.
Tomorrow - ½ day trek to somewhere.
Tuesday. Pachmari. Hot and then cool. On budget.
Last night: Ate some awful kofte and some goodish dopyaza. The kofte made us feel ill all evening. Walked around the town, which was full of life - looks like most shop business is during the cooler evening time. Checked out some ISD phone shops for prices to call Canada, and they ranged from 30 Rs to 75 Rs per minute. Eventually one guy promised us 9 Rs per min, which turned out to be 19 in the end, but still better than the rest. Called the folks for 38 seconds to tell them we are alive and where we are, they sounded fine.
Sleepless night, fell into an uneasy sleep at about 3am, so got up at around 11.30am.
Did some hand washing this am, paid for the room, planned a trek and had breakfast (veg club sandwich - odd - three layers consisting of veg burger, salad and eggs with some kind of BBQ sauce), with cold coffee for 90 Rs for two. Trek was an easy ½ day to the 'fairy pool' and 'big falls'. In total about 4½ to 5 hours. Trail was quite well marked (we bought a map from the tourist office for 10 Rs), dusty and full of concrete steps down steep parts. Steep valleys, sheer hills, all wooded - blues, greens and browns contrasting well with the intense reds of the mud paths. Cost us a huge 100 Rs entry fee, plus an extra 25 Rs for a camera. Pool was okay, but not the most beautiful. A local tells me that it is better in the wet season (full then). Trekked upstream for a while which was pleasant - monkeys, lizards and dragonflies. Then up to the 'big falls', which had some excellent views and scary drops to sit near. Had some lemon juice, which had both salt and sugar in it - unpleasant. Journey back was mainly uphill and tiring, as we are both still pretty unfit. Got a ride in a jeep for the last bit to town with some Bombay tourists - very nice girls, full of smiles. Had a fresh lime soda and now chilling out in the room waiting for hot water to appear (some hope).
Hot water duly appeared and we washed like there was no tomorrow. Ate at the hotel - veg jalfrezi and veg makenwala with roti, rice, masala milkshake and lassi (120 Rs for two). Great food in nice garden environment, but the tablecloth smelled like shite.
Went to find a tailor for Caro to have her jeans copied in a cotton fabric. Complex operation. Two tailors, one elderly Sikh and a family fabric shop later she got it sorted - 80 Rs for stitching, 100 Rs for fabric. She is now very excited. If it goes well, I may try it myself. Trousers will be ready on Thursday at 8pm.
Copied out all the Hindi consonants and vowels. Reading Che Guevara's Bolivian Diaries. Tired.
Pachmari. Hot am, cool pm. On budget.
Another sleepless night. Drifted off at about 3am, and at about 6am our neighbours' children turned on the TV at super-volume, complete with open door. This lasted until about 9am when I fell asleep until about 11am.
Breakfasted at a restaurant near the bus station (masala omelette, coffee, and toast, 60 Rs for two). Earlier we had done some washing with out new blue bar of Indian clothes-washing soap. Not much else.
Today's trek was tame - to Jata Shankar shrine - a short walk through some lovely rocks, past a line of souvenir stalls (looking depressed due to lack of any visitors) selling holy water in old whisky bottles (or was it whisky?). Passed a number of small shrines and temples, ever descending. Eventually, shoes off and shoulders covered for a look at a dank pool of holy water. Almost left, but then discovered the rocks shaped like Shiva's matted locks, and his 'linga'. Good vibrations.
Left to the melodious and wonderful voice of a Hindu woman singing 'nama Shiva' and other mantras from the rocks - haunting.
After a negative conversation, Caro and I didn't feel like walking anywhere else, so we came back to chill out in the room, read, wash my trousers, and play Labyrinth (2½:½ to me).
Took supper at the Nandanvan, a short walk out of town - deserted like everywhere else. Caro felt ill so took tomato soup and veg noodles and lassi. I had a lassi, Kashmiri biryani and roti. 130 Rs.
Walked back into town and bought supplies for the 'big trek' tomorrow (16 miles), we have nine hours of light, so we should be okay. So we now have: cream biscuits, Bombay mix, oranges, pomegranates and a big papaya (impulse buy), should suffice with a good breakfast (I suspect the existence of food stalls en route anyway).
Tired, both a little low.
Thursday. Pachmari. Medium hot. On budget.
A night of little sleep. Restless for many hours, dropped off for three hours, then woken by religious music that blasted out for about two or three hours. Drifted off after the finale, then woke at 11am. Decided to do the 'Duchess falls' trek instead, as it is shorter.
Took breakfast here (Masala omelette, Caro had a club sandwich, with cold coffee). Started on trek at 1pm. Very quiet roads lead to a dusty path through forest. Excellent views from 'Belle point' of distant peaks and forest colours. Many monkeys, leaf-disguised butterflies, large spider webs, little birds, etc. Saw no people fir an hour or more and then discovered some Indian tourists having a BBQ.
The route to the falls is an 880m, almost sheet, descent from the BBQ point. Quite tiring. At the bottom we found the usual tea sellers and a quite nice (if a little polluted by Indian tourists) pool with a small waterfall feeding it. Had biscuits, water, orange and pomegranate and bathed our feet (v. cold). Explored upstream above the falls and found some lovely green pools and the source of the stream (inside a gorge / cave).
Trek back up the 800m was somewhat harder than the descent. Exhausted upon return (6pm). Had lemon tea at the Sikh hotel on the corner.
Just has to argue to demand hot water this evening. They gave in grudgingly.
Friday (Shukravaar). Pachmari. Hot then cool. On budget.
Good night's sleep, finally. Up at 8.30am to get ready. We headed out for the Saptura Retreat for breakfast, but ended off walking round in circles looking for it. The morning was chilly, so spirits dropped as energy levels fell. Eventually found it down a long, lonely road. The place appeared deserted but in fact had a ready chef, lurking inside, ready to cook scrambled eggs on toast and veg cutlets for us (plus coffee, 90 Rs). But, at the end another man appeared, and with him a mysterious tax was added to the (verbal only) bill. I argued a little and for them down 5 Rs. Fools, in the end they conned us out of 10 Rs, and lost the usual 10 Rs tip - where's the point?
Trail was mostly down a single track road (destination was a mountain temple with 1,300 steps). Walked for about two hours or so, stopping at Forsythe Point for good views of a nearby valley. We travelled most of the way on our map when we were accosted by a van full of Indian tourists who wanted to take pictures of us. They gave us a ride as a payment.
Arrived at the temple and had lunch (biscuits, orange) and walked up to the temple (only a few steps) and a temple guardian took us through the ropes (wash hands at this sacred drip, walk past the smoky pool on your right, etc), past the pool were a lot of rocks - one shaped like a Shiva linga, some shaped like Shiva's locks and a round one covered in odd symbols. There was even a natural rock cobra there too. The guardian pointed out each of the rocks to us and then magically plucked cloves out of the incense smoke and gave one to each of us with a coconut. He told me earnestly to say OM, 'meditate' he said. He told me the shrine was very powerful. Nice chap.
We rescued our shoes and broke our coconut on a rock that seemed to have been designated for that purpose, and fed the monkeys, ourselves and some Bhopal tourists, out on a weekend pilgrimage - lovely people who insisted on giving us a ride back to Pachmari - they couldn't comprehend why we would want to walk, and didn't let us.
Back at Nandanvan we had cold coffee and ice cream. It was then that we realised that we had not climbed 1,300 steps, and indeed, that the temple was not on the top of a mountain giving a commanding view of the surrounding area... We had been taken to the wrong temple by our friendly photographers. Ah well.
Chilled out, did some coconut wood carving, played Labyrinth, ate some rank papaya, changed and went off to the tailors, for good news this time - rather professional looking pants for Caro. Less than £3 for materials and labour - not bad at all.
Ate a huge dinner at the Sikh hotel (veg chop-suey, veg manchurian, egg fried rice, hot and sour soup, tomato soup, two lassis, for 200 Rs). Took a look at the rooms upstairs - super luxury for the same price, or even less, as here. Still, we live and learn - 'You'd better shop around...'