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India: Ahmedabad and Mumbai

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After a lovely, more chilled few days in Udaipur we were off on an early local bus to Ahmedabad. The bus had sleeper cabins or pods (with a bottom and top 'bunk') on one side and standard coach-like seats on the other. RaJ told us that the sleeper cabins were a 'free for all'; if you got on the bus you were entitled to climb into the cabin, regardless of space or who might already be in there. The seats on the other hand were reserved to whomever had booked a ticket. So unfortunately there was no chance of any Indians climbing all over us. Damn.

The bus was very comfortable and pleasant and I managed to fit in some napping and blogging despite the often bumpy roads. One memorable feature of the journey was the bus's unique horn sound. I could not make out if it was a specific tune but it certainly wasn't your average honk. I will try and put a video up for you to enjoy.

As usual we stopped for a quick refreshment break at a little rural truck-stop. This particular stop had what we would define as the most 'rustic' toilets; dark and smelly sheds with squats (and doors that didn't close properly) and an area opposite that can only be described as a women's urinal. Always eager to try out as many weird and wonderful toilets as we can (yes we're odd), Lauren and I did our deeds while the other ladies in our group held everything in.
We managed our usual chai and a even fit in a pakora which had definitely been handled by numerous men and flies but what the hell we were feeling adventurous that day.

After 5 hours we arrived at Ahemedabad (try saying that after a few pints) which is the biggest city in the state of Gujarat. We weren't staying overnight so we had two large day-rooms were we could freshen up and chill out before our little excursion. The day room had an amazing internet connection (the best we'd had) so we pretty much didn't talk to each other for an hour.

Raj told us about a massive mall in the city and obviously being orthodox consumers we all said we'd love to go. The mall was incredibly Western and while we were in there Lauren and I kind of forgot we were in India. First point of call was food; so we split off and us two decided on Subway (easiest familiar veggie option) and the other picked KFC. The subway wasn't all that different to those at home except there were many more delicious veggie options over and above the 'pattie'. I got a spicy pea burger 6 inch which was pretty darn good. It was easily one of the most expensive places we'd eaten in India though! We wandered into the KFC to meet the others where they explained that the restaurant's entire staff were deaf. We looked over to see the servers signing to each other. How bloody brilliant!

Sufficiently stuffed with chain food we were let of our leads to do some shopping. I ended up buying a mini second-hand laptop from, believe it or not, CEX. This blogging and photographing malarkey has proved very difficult/near impossible with only a crap Kindle and a crap phone so I figured it was an investment. We then picked up a few snacks in the supermarket in preparation for our sleeper train journey later that evening.

Our next sight was a little more cultural; Mahatma Ghandi's Sabarmati Ashram. One of two Ashram's in Ahmedabad, this one was where Ghandi spent most of his time during his key political years in India and now houses a museum in his honour. Although I've read some fairly disparaging articles on Ghandi's treatment of his wife (I won't say any more here), the Ashram really painted a great picture of what he, and his followers sacrificed and achieved for India. I even had a go at weaving some thread (charakha), a practice upheld greatly by Ghandi and the Indian people. I felt pretty inspired and emotional by the end of our visit but was quickly distracted and annoyed by my anti-tragus piercing falling out - first world problems hey.

After another hour at the day room to shower and repack we made our way to the train station. Lauren and I had a tuk tuk to ourselves to the station and boy was it the scariest ride of our lives. The driver was incredibly reckless and at one point actually crashed into the back of a motorcycle (only a nudge but still). Clearly sensing our fragile state a local bird at the train station very generously decided to shit on Lauren's head for good luck. A good omen after a near-death ride.

Raj showed us to our cabin where we would be hanging out for 9 hours on the overnight train to Mumbai. Lauren and I were sharing a double bunk and beside us Jack and Helen were on a triple-bunk with another triple-bunk adjacent. We saw a few cockroaches scurrying around but we were pretty exhilarated to be experiencing a proper Indian rail experience alongside local people. Earlier at the mall I'd bought a few little juice cartons for the journey. One of them was called Jaljeera juice and let me tell you it's a taste sensation. If you've ever thought to yourself, ooo I'm really thirsty but I'm also really craving a curry, this is the drink for you. Essentially a curry in juice form, jaljeera won the award for the only Indian foodstuff that I've disliked. Anyway back to the train; the beds came with clean sheets and a pillow and after securing our bags as best we could we were off to dreamland.

Amazingly, despite being on what I can only imagine is the nearest thing to a prison bed, but on a moving vehicle, we did manage to get a few hours of sleep. We were awoken at 5am by the family opposite who were getting off at the first stop but 6 hours is pretty good I reckon. At around 6am Raj came through looking fresh as a daisy as always and told us to get our bags ready for our imminent disembarkation.

I must mention the toilet situation on the train, as expected the loo was a long-drop style squat, with a sink but no soap or loo roll. There was also a handy bar to hold on to when in transit. When we were waiting at the station to get on the train we noticed rail staff sweeping and hosing down the tracks. Raj told us that they were cleaning away the crap (literally) from the previous train's toilet. So basically when you do your business on the train it goes directly onto the tracks. Not too crazy I know but then Raj told us a story of a woman who was using the train squat and suddenly gave birth (onto the tracks) while the train was in motion. Miraculously the newborn baby and the mother survived and were reunited at a hospital a few hours after the event. Who knew having a baby was as easy as taking a shit!?

And so we were in Mumbai at Hotel Fortune; where the floor in reception is some sort of weird and seemingly cruel fish tank. The room was the worst to date; it had an ant infestation, reeked of diesel and the toilet didn't flush. But we were only there for one night. We went for a very expensive and very disappointing Westernised breakfast followed by a taxi tour around the city. Mumbai was incredibly hot and as you'd expect very very busy.

The next activity was a city taxi tour. We were both incredibly tired from the multiple early starts and fractured train sleep and in all honesty our hearts just weren't in said tour. But we went along anyway, keen not to miss anything in our one allocated day in former Bombay.
During the tour, while some of the others stopped for an energy lift in McDonalds (pfft) Lauren found a stall selling sugar cane juice for 10p. Wow that stuff hits you straight in the diabetes - yum!
We visited all the usual sights; the old colonial architecture present in university, government and hospital buildings, another Ghandi museum, Dhobi Ghat (open laundrette slum), Malabar hill (where all the super-rich Indians live) and, in complete opposition, a huge slum. We didn't go into the slum just saw the outside and frankly I don't think we could really appreciate the scale and reality of it all from just looking for a few minutes.

Raj took us on a quick walk through some markets and to the Gateway of India; a left over colonial monstrosity built for King George V. At the Gateway we were inundated with requests for photographs to the point were it got little too much. Lauren even had one man taking photos of her calf tattoo - which made her regret getting her legs out. Here's a snippet of some of the attention;

Then, after 3 ATMs declining our card, we went for dinner at Leopald café; a Western establishment that had been the target of a terrorist attack in 2008. Food was naff and expensive and really we weren't at all enamoured with Mumbai. The timing wasn't great as we were super exhausted and we only had a day there, but overall we found it too busy, too much like any familiar city and a bit void of substance.

Back at our hotel we grabbed a Baskin Robbins ice-cream and Michael got himself a haircut in a proper Indian 'saloon' as they call it. We set our alarms for 2am for our flight to Goa... yawn. Oh well, at least we weren't in our crappy room for too long. Onto our final India destination!

Posted by advensha 07:08 Archived in India Tagged india ahmedabad tour mumbai mall backpacking travelling maharashtra gateway_of_india ghandi colonialism g_adventures fake_celebrities

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