Ahmedabad, Gujerat, India

Ahmedabad, Gujerat, India
November 15th – 17th 2010

The 15-hour (really, 17.5 hours) bus-ride from Aurangabad was quite brutal. As I couldn’t get a sleeper, I had to sit in a chair that, despite its ‘luxury’ status, had small roaches crawling on the walls beside me. I spent some time battling them but I soon realized there were just too many to kill so I just leaned away from the walls. I wish they would do some pest control on the bus. I’m too scared to take another Indian bus now so I’m going to stick to trains if I can help it. (Depends on where you are and where you want to go, sometimes, there are no trains so buses are the only option.)

The guidebook was right – Ahmedabad is a very smog-filled city. The auto-rickshaw driver that brought me to my hotel followed me right in. I’m assuming he wanted to claim he recommended the hotel to me, thereby getting a commission. Of course, any commission paid will mean I would have to pay more. But this time, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t think the commission would be that much. (I recently read that some places even give up to 80% of the room rate as commission, meaning the guest is paying a TON more! From now on, I’ll say something to the guesthouse if the auto-rickshaw driver did not bring me there on his own recommendation.) Luckily for me, that day, the rates were roughly what they were in my guidebook so I wasn’t cheated big time.


(Good street food.)

The streets were packed with people, some cars, many auto-rickshaws, bicycles, and motorcycles. At times, I found it difficult to breathe. There were plenty of shops lining the streets. One thing I’ve noticed is that in India, they love having multiple shops in a row selling the same products. (This theme was also constant throughout Africa and Turkey.) Is this because the city mandates this, where shops are grouped by product types? If I were a business owner, I’d want to set up shop where there are very few other shops selling my products, not where all my competition is. Of course, this would probably help the consumer in terms of prices.

I managed to visit the Dada Hari Ni Vav, a great looking stepwell, located a little ways from the city center. I actually walked there after plenty of auto-rickshaw drivers didn’t know what it was (come on fellas, it’s supposed to be famous!). The closer I got though, I started meeting people who could point me in the right direction. After spending some time checking it out (it was eerily quiet as I descended the steps to the bottom of the well), I walked back and found some auto-rickshaws. I asked one of the drivers if he could take me to the supposedly ‘world-famous’ (guidebook famous but not locally famous I suppose) Calico Textile Museum. The guy looked a little lost but told me to hop on. I figured maybe he did know where it was. I also wanted to do an experiment – use the meter instead of agreeing on a price beforehand. So he set up his meter and off he went.

Based on the map in my book, it was supposed to be relatively close. I started getting suspicious when he drove around, stopped here and there to ask people on the street for directions, then driving in what I thought to be circles. When he started crossing the Subash Bridge, that’s when I knew he was truly lost. Not only that, he had run up the meter as well. I told him to stop and let me get off, which he did. The meter read ‘160 rupees’ – ludicrous, as most trips are around 30-50 rupees. Why did I not act sooner? I had faith that he would get me there and I didn’t realize the meter ran up that fast. I pulled out 50 rupees and told him that’s all he was going to get because he was trying to scam me. We ended up getting into a slightly heated argument about how much I was giving him. He tried to pull a few street vendors into the mix, pleading his case with them and I was trying to do the same, albeit without much success as those fellas couldn’t really understand English. We finally pulled in a street vendor who could speak some English who also knew where the Calico Textile Museum was. The driver and I agreed on 20 more rupees for him to get off my back and me hoping he would drive off a cliff. I walked all the way to the museum and barely missed the 10:30 am tour. What’s worst of all is that, no matter what time I arrived, I probably would’ve missed out as the tour was booked full for that day but the day ahead as well. A French couple there and myself tried pleading to the front office to let us in that day as we weren’t staying very long but they were staunch. So after all that, I didn’t get anything out of it. At least the next auto-rickshaw driver knew where Gandhi Sabarmathi Ashram was so I got to enjoy a little glimpse of Gandhi’s years in Ahmedabad, doing his thing.

Ahmedabad Pics

Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India

Aurangabad, India
November 11-13th 2010

Since Aurangabad was only 7 hours by train from Mumbai and it had the famous Ellora and Ajanta Caves, I decided to head there. I was expecting the place to be more touristy but it wasn’t. Let me clarify – I expected more foreigners but there were actually quite a number of Indian tourists instead.


(My tour group.)

I took a separate tour over 2 days for each of the caves. I was the only foreigner in the Ellora tour. As a result, I was the only one who didn’t speak Hindi. And the tour was given in Hindi because there were more non-English speakers than non-Hindi speakers. The tour guide was kind enough to give me the Cliff- notes version of a particular section before he went on giving an elaborate explanation to the Indians. I was disappointed of course but what could I do.


(What some caves looked like from the outside. These were the Buddhist monks’s quarters.)


(Inside one of the many Ellora Caves.)


(A closer look at some rock-cut carvings.)


(Part of the Kailasanath Temple.)


(Doesn’t the Baba ka Maqbara look a lot like the Taj Mahal?)


(Daulatabad Fort from a distance.)

What was cool about the Ellora tour was that it included several other local spots, including one of twelve jyotirlinga temples dedicated to the god Shiva in India, the Grishneshvara Temple. The Indians told me that Hindus make pilgrimages to visit these temples. It looked a lot like a mound coming from the ground. To see it, I had to remove my shirt. No shirts (for guys) and no leather allowed inside. The other temple we visited was the ‘Sleeping Hanuman’ temple which had their famous monkey god in a lying pose, one of only two in all of India so it was a special place for Hindus. At the end of the day, we got to see the ‘mini Taj Mahal’, the Bibi ka Maqbara. In fact, they timed it so we arrived around sunset, which made the scene a lot more impressive than it actually is. As for the Ellora caves themselves, impressive structures but didn’t exactly blow me away, although the Kailasanatha Temple, the main cave, did.

What are the Ellora Caves?


(Ajanta caves from the outside.)


(One of the more famous Ajanta murals.)

As for the Ajanta tour which I did the next day, there were a few other foreigners on it but still the majority were Indians. We had to travel 3 hours each way. It was a lot more crowded but the Buddhist cave murals were real cool and so well-preserved. Our guide was excellent too and since we had quite a number of non-Hindi speakers, I finally got my money’s worth for a guide. I didn’t take many pics of the murals because it wouldn’t justify them. There are plenty of professional pictures online so do look them up if you’re curious.

What are the Ajanta Caves?

Random Images:


(Cow wants a nightcap.)


(Gang of goats who tried to mug me.)


(Bengali sweets are awesome.)

Aurangabad, India Pics

Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Mumbai, India
November 4th – 9th 2010

**I stayed in Mumbai for a week, longer than I had intended, so I’m going to try to condense it all down. I would like to write so much more about what I did but it’s just too long.

I arrived from Nairobi around 4:30 am. The humidity kicked my ass the moment I stepped out of the airport. Took a pre-paid taxi to a particular hotel but spent some time looking for it in the dark with the taxi driver and then found out they were out of rooms. Luckily, a late-night tout saw me looking around and recommended I stay at a nearby place called ‘Delight Guesthouse’. I was too tired to go looking elsewhere at this hour so I decided to stay there in one of their super-tiny jail-cell rooms. The rooms were very hot and stuffy at night but I survived. Claustrophobes won’t. But at the end of my stay, the place and staff there grew on me.


(Taj Mahal Hotel.)

I found out the next day that President Obama was scheduled to visit Mumbai that weekend. There was a lot of police around and plenty of barriers being set up. The first day I was there, I walked past the Taj Mahal Hotel and failed to realize it was the site of the November 26th 2008 (the Indians refer to it as ‘26/11’) terrorist attacks. It was also where the President was scheduled to stay at. It was booked out for him. I think American citizens in the area should’ve been given a room there for the night.


(Haji Ali Mosque.)


(The line to Haji Ali Mosque.)


(Muslims taking a dip behind the mosque.)


(Scene outside the mosque. People swarming each bus that arrived.)


(The line to Mahalaxmi Temple. Pictures inside are banned so none.)


(Dhobi Ghats: Where the dirty laundry in Mumbai gather.)

I avoided all the museums and art galleries but had a good time checking out the Haji Ali Mosque, which was located on an ‘island’; whether you get there depends on the tide. The weekend had coincided with the Diwali celebration and holiday crowd so it was jam-packed with Muslims and beggars. The nearby Mahalaxmi Temple was also an interesting place (and also jam-packed). I lined up with the rest of the Hindu population going to pray to the goddess Lakshmi (goddess of beauty and prosperity). Just to be inside a Hindu temple, to be in line barefoot with everyone holding plates of gifts, and to watch them leave their gifts and request blessings from the goddess, was quite an eye-opening experience. Right after that, I went to see the ‘dhobi ghats’, the place where all the dirty laundry in Mumbai go to be washed and beaten by sticks.


(Victoria Terminus.)

The Victoria Terminus train station has a very nice exterior but inside, it was dirty and chaotic, just what one would expect from one of the busiest train stations in all of India. I had spent some time trying to look out for the famous ‘dabbahwallahs’ (tiffin lunch delivery-guys, supposedly only having a 1-in-6,000,000 failure rate, earning a Forbes Six-Sigma rating) but didn’t see any. I had wanted to sign up to follow one around for a day but kept forgetting. It would’ve been interesting to know how these guys pick up and deliver hundreds (or maybe thousands?) of lunches to the proper people each day, without getting them mixed up.


(Street cricket.)


(The “mall”.)


(That’s a monkey with a juice box.)


(Diwali preparations by sweets shopkeeper.)


(Nocturnal chaos.)

Some additional notes: I saw several guys holding hands, a few palm in palm with interlocking fingers sort of way but mostly by finger-holding. Nothing gay — I read it had something to do with being close friends. (It’s acceptable for men to hold hands but PDA between a man and woman is frowned upon. Go figure.) I also had an interesting episode where I was negotiating to buy a roll of toilet paper (!).

Mumbai, India Pics

Short Update…

Just reached Ahmedabad (Gujerat region) after a 17-18 hour bus ride from Aurangabad (where I visited some awesome caves).

Sorry for lack of updates, I’m working on it but haven’t had much writing inspiration lately and outside of Mumbai, the internet (and computers at cyber cafes) hasn’t been stellar.

Short Update…

I’m currently in Mumbai, India. Today, I saw lots of security (police + commandos) near the area I’m staying at. I found out President Obama is visiting this Saturday. And I later realized, the hotel he will be visiting, the Taj Mahal, was the site of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. I walked past it just now, it’s all fixed up but wow, THAT was the place?! Did not realize it. The (edit : Not true) USA is spending $200 mil/day for his visit and he gets the ENTIRE hotel (570 rooms) to himself. Just last week, a suicide bomber killed himself in Taksim Square, in Istanbul. I was there many times while in Istanbul months ago. It’s probably the same feeling people who have visited the Twin Towers in NYC get.

Also, Divali (Deepavali) starts tomorrow. Good timing. I’ll go check out President Obama this Saturday too. Quite excited.

Other things of note:

1) I saw some albinos in Tanzania but at that time, didn’t think they were actually ‘albinos’…

2) Thank goodness I got out of Zambia in time before this happened.

3) I’ve said all along, Malaysian cooking is #1. The world is realizing it now (hopefully!).

4) More Malaysian stuff on CNN, on front page.