Thursday, 5 July 2012

Aurangabad, Ellora & Ajanta

The train to Aurangabad arrived at 3am. Andy and I would take turns who would be awake for the next train ride, since you have to watch the stations and wake the other person up 10 minutes before the arrival to pack everything, wake people up who sleep on the floor to make it to the door and ensure quick exit when the train will arrive at the platform. Unfortunately a lot of times it involves stepping on people and waking up elders and babies. We went into the 1st class waiting room, and because we're white we were let in. We locked the luggage and fell asleep on the leather chairs, until 6am when we were kicked out and told that we can't sleep in there.
There were many roads leading from the train station, and of course we were sent along the wrong one. It took me an hour to walk around the area to find a suitable hotel while Andy waited with the luggage. After Hampi, Hyderabad and 3 sleepless nights, I couldn't stand another boiling night and we treated ourselves to an AC room. We asked how much would a tuk-tuk tour of the sights would be, were given ridiculous price, and happily went to sleep in our cool room. At 3:30 when we woke up and got out of the hotel the tuk-tuk driver was still sitting there in his tuk-tuk calling us in. Are we going for the tour?? No! We only asked for the price! This driver sat in his tuk-tuk from 7am till 3:30 waiting for us! In a city with world heritage site, there are no buses going there. We asked everybody, the only option was to take a taxi or a tour, so we signed up for the tour.
On the street, homeless kids started to follow us, and nothing helped, they would walk, say something, and tug at out shirts. I started thinking of Indian conversations, if they disagree with you, they wouldn't talk to you, they would start yelling. I'm not a yelling person, and "no, no, no, no" doesn't help. I decided to apply the strategy and yelled at them to go away. I felt bad, but they did go away, I haven't used that strategy since. Sometimes you have no choice but to adapt to a local way of life, at other times I'll let my heart decide. It didn't pass long until we were followed by other kids, we decided instead of yelling to find a shelter in a Sony store into which they wouldn't follow. Andy needed to buy a camera. We went into a few stores where he would be offered expensive cameras. When Andy would ask for the cheapest one, they would be very surprised. Why if he's from Australia where everybody's rich, does he want a cheap camera??
We went into a restaurant where we were treated like royalty again. Locals just love foreigners (in non touristic cities). They were at our table the minute I'd look at them, and would try to feed us more and more food (out of sense of hospitality). They were so insistent on deserts and coffee that Andy reluctantly agreed. I look at Andy. It's 8pm, do you really want a coffee? "No, I don't". Sir, we'd love to have a coffee, but some other time. Oh Andy ... it's ok, one day he'll learn :) We were given candies with the bill, I ate one, opened another one, and looked at Andy. "Do you want it?". He gave me a head wobble answer. To his shocked expression, I put the candy in my mouth ... I'm sorry, I just don't know what you meant :))
Early morning we wake up to go to the tour. I notice that every day I wake up with a headache, and I constantly feel sick until I drink at least a liter of water.
Before boarding the bus, we go get a breakfast. I don't think ordering a breakfast requires a lot of processing abilities especially when we order from their menu. Everything we ordered came out to be wrong:
2 eggs -> 1 egg
toast with butter -> warmed up bread
lemon tea -> black tea
a bit annoying... but at least it's food. A lot of the times we go to restaurants and what we get is a complete surprise ... is there a point of ordering at all? I don't drink coffee in the mornings, and Andy doesn't drink teas. He would order a coffee, they would come slowly to the table, hunching down, their face in fear they slowly slowly put tea on the table and run away. Means they don't have coffee, they feel ashamed, but they would give him at least something than nothing at all. Usually it's been followed by a heavy sigh and a mental repetition of "just keep breathing, keep breathing" ... that's in my case, in Andy's case, I'm quick to hold his hand and tell him that it's not a big deal, trying to prevent an explosion. It's ok if they serve tea instead of coffee, but I can't have coffee in the mornings, they go through the trouble of making extra coffee when I can't drink it anyway ... what's the use? Why can't they come to the table and say "excuse me sir/madam, we don't have coffee, would you like to have a tea instead?"
Arrived at the fort. I don't remember much of it except the story of how they broke the fort doors. In all the forts, the front doors are heavily spiked against elephant attacks. Well not in this case. Camels weren't worth much in this part of the country, so they would put a camel in front of the doors, give elephants alcohol, poke the elephant with a spear who would then charge, hit the camel thus opening the door... the camel died from hundreds of stabs that go into him :( Seems to me that the camel should've been given the alcohol instead. We then went to a maze through which the intruders had to wonder through in order to get inside. The maze is full of slides and holes which will lead into the river full of crocodiles and poisonous snakes. We didn't go through the wrong tunnels, but nevertheless a bunch of people were lead into pitch black tunnels (and who knew that kids are scared of the dark?) without lights, with flying bats, stairs and slippery surfaces??!!! Who's stupid idea was that? I kept pushing my camera's shutter button, since it will pre-flash before taking the picture, just to see the next few meters ahead of me.
Next was Ellora caves, it was first build by Buddhist for meditation purposes, then had Muslim additions and finally finished by Hindus. It has a largest monolith temple in the world, and that's all I know about it. These caves were abandoned after a fall of the empire, and completely forgotten. The jungle took over and they became invisible to the outside world. They were just discovered 200 years ago by the British guy who accidently stumbled upon them while hunting for a tiger, so they're in great shape, without bullet or cannon holes and without gods faces removed.
We then went to a mini Taj Mahal. It wasn't too impressive. It's a copy of the real Taj Mahal, but I'm wondering, if you want to build a mausoleum for your beloved mother, why wouldn't you come up with something original? Mostly it's built out of lime stone instead of marble, and hence is in a bad bad shape.
Next was Ajanta caves. They are similar to Ellora caves, except that they have more paintings in them rather than carvings. Ellora caves were abandoned in order to build Ajanta, but when they were discovered, they were both empty, and nobody knows much history about these places. Even though Ellora are considered to be more superior to Ajanta, and lonely planet says that if you have time for only one, Ellora wins hands down ... I liked Ajanta more. But it could've only been for the reason that we had more time to explore without being time pressured by the tour. There were some steps to reach the caves ... not a lot though, and if you didn't want to take the stairs, you can take the ramp, otherwise the path was pretty flat, so I was quite surprised to see an Indian couple sitting on a chair held in the air by 4 men and walked between the caves. I don't understand that, and I refuse to understand it. If you can walk, then walk, regardless of money or status, why make men kneel down to you? They already feel inferior. But there is a caste system that works, and everybody respects it. You can do anything to the lower class/status people, and it's even expected of them to behave in such a way. I understand that I'm being very critical here. For ex. if I go to a spa and get a pedicure, someone is kneeling in front of me and cleaning my feet, but I see it as a choice. They chose to work in this profession, and I pay them money, they don't have to do it if they don't want to ... I guess it's the same with these people porters ... I don't know ... I still don't like it.
Outside the caves we were bombarded with souvenir sellers who I shooed away with NHAI, JAAO! "No, go away!" remark. Seemed to work :)
Went to eat in the restaurant, it was good food, but not so good service. Cricket was playing on TV and every time we needed something, we had to go to the counter and pretty much talk to the back of their heads. When the bill came it was all wrong. I ordered 1 naan, but was charged for 2. Instead of 30 rps (as in the menu) it was 40 and the numbers didn't add up to the final amount. We went to the counter where everybody got a chance to stick their nose in it. I said that I ordered 1 naan, why are there 2 on the bill? He said that there are 2 of us (in India a couple is considered to be 1 entity as opposed to 2 separate people. It's not unusual to order 1 tea, and be served 2). I said that I only ordered 1. He said then why did I eat 2? I said that how do I know it's 2 when they're cut? He said, what if you order 1 and get 10, you'll eat all 10? I said, if I order tea and get served the whole menu, you'd expect me to pay for all of it? We went back and forth about the subject, they tried to recalculate everything again and again. At the end they gave up tore the bill and asked us how much we want to pay. We took the menu, calculated all the items that we ordered and paid that much. I wasn't even angry, I was just laughing at the whole situation.
On the way back to the hotel, the tuk-tuk that we took during the day stopped and gave us a free lift to the hotel. In the country where every cent counts, where you can rip off tourists as much as you want, we get a free lift... very heart warming. Just as I said before, one moment you're pushed into the gutter, the next you're being offered a helping hand.
In the morning we're on the road waiting for a bus. Buses are hungry for people, and would stop and drop you off anywhere you'd like, except it seems that morning. We waited for an hour in a shadow of a tree, with every bus speeding past us.  While every bus speed past, every truck slowed down and honked. Why are they honking? We’re pretty far away from the road? Apparently it was a hello greeting. In lots of trucks, 10s guys who sat in the cabin or on the roof, were waving at us and screaming hello in a bunch of languages. Yell hello a much as you like, but for goodness sake, stop with the honking!!
 One of the motorbikes stopped, they went in 1 direction when we were already waiting. When they went back, we were still standing. They told us that we should go to a nearby town where there is a bus station. What's going on?? Why just when we need to catch a bus in the middle of the road, specifically on that day and a very hot day they decide to pass? Fine, we started walking. Of course just as we walk along a dirty side of the road, sweating, with heavy packs, and every car that's passing us beeping at our ears we get stopped by a group guys asking for a picture. I don't pay attention and keep on walking, but Andy's calm mood doesn't seem to be very calm anymore. How can they think looking at us, tired, hot with heavy packs that to stop for a picture is a good idea!!!!!! What a bunch of knob-heads!! Andy, relax, I try to calm him down again. We both take turns calming each other down, since apparently we get frustrated in different situations, so it works very well :) I don't even know what would've happened if we were both very frustrated and exploding in the same time. I don't think that someone who caused it, or just happened to be in the way would’ve lived to see the next day.
Guess what, a bus stopped on the way while we were walking ... how strange!
The road wasn't that great or maybe it was the bus or the driver wasn't that great, but we hit many bumps, and with every bump, I was almost flying to the ceiling. I tried to sit differently, but the only thing that seemed to work is to hold on tight, and to squat above the seat not touching it, then the legs would act like springs, and I would just rise about the chair without my feet leaving the ground. Of course I can't "sit" like that all the time, and there were times when I missed the bump and was learning how to fly again. At one point a bunch of people left, and the driver was shouting at something while driving. There are no cars at the front, no one beside him, who's he shouting at, very bizarre. Appears that he was shouting at me to move to the front of the bus. Aahhhh ... life became so much simpler after that :)
As it turns out, there is no direct bus (again!), and we had no idea where to go. I go to the information counter, he tells me something, but I can't understand with too many people jamming and pushing and shouting at him when he tries to speak to me. I leave the luggage with Andy, get out of the line and go to the back of the office. I stand at the door, and say "I need help, I don't know where to go". They immediately assigned me one of the officers who explained me everything in a quite space with a patient manner, took me to the bus, told me where to get off, and where to catch the next bus. I sat down at the platform while Andy went to buy some snacks. The officer comes to find me, "Madam, this bus is leaving, you must hurry up!". Was so nice of him to inform me :) Andy came just in time for us to board.
On the next stop someone else volunteered to look after us. He found us the correct bus, sorted out the luggage, told us where to buy water, told us where to sit, showed me the toilet, and then asked politely "May I go now?" :) I wasn't holding him, or asking him any questions. He was just showing me everything around on his own ... that was cute :)
Toilet was disgusting though. They weren’t cleaned in a while I guess, and all the cabins were dirty, so dirty that in fact one woman was doing her business (number 2 business) right in the middle of the yard!!
Waited 2 hours for the bus to go. It was getting very annoying, the journey of ~200 kms, takes us 11 hours! At the front of the bus there was a goddess as usual, and they blessed her with flowers and incent. I was trying to hide my laughter when he knelt in front of her, and with closed eyes said a prayer and moved the incent in circles around his head and around the goddess :) Even though I'm so cynical, I thanked (my) god for that. The driver was absolutely crazy! They hung lemon and chili to take the evil spirits out, but I think they should've hung them on the driver! He ruthlessly moved through the packed bus terminal not stopping or slowing down for anybody, just his hand on the horn. He almost crashed a motorcycle and a person. It was his fault, but while driving forward at a high speed, he looked backwards out of the window and was yelling and cursing the motorcycle driver! It became very crowded and at one point there was a puppy whining, music blasting, honking of the bus, and of the other vehicles on the street, it was a complete chaos! Signs "blind corner, speed 20 km/hr" meant go at least 80, and turn off the lights and speed up through complete darkness, to see if there are lights coming your way and take the corner to test the speed when the bus would flip. He would overtake everybody while holding the horn for a minute, and while he was overtaking, the cars going in our direction would have to go on the side of the road. It was the scariest bus ride ever! I don't know if any of my hair turned white, but I won't be surprised if they did. People were jumping on and off the bus without it stopping, and I was scared that we have to pick our luggage from the back ... would he just take off? I made sure that he would wait, until we picked it up! Andy has a bad knee, and the front compartment of the bus was overfilled with people, he needed to straighten his leg out. Just as he did that, someone slapped his leg and told him to move it! I think Andy by this point run dry of his swearing vocabulary! He then was told by someone that his shoe was too close to the goddess, and if he'll take it off, he could straighten his leg! *#&$(@*$^^#*@!!!!!!
I think that finally after 4 months in India I went through the 3 stages of denial, anger and acceptance. Now that I'm up north, and been to many touristic places, I miss the real India, and real Indians with whom you almost have to mime to understand each other, speak sloooooowly, get frustrated at our misunderstandings and differences, find comfort in their acceptance of all and easy going-ness. They can yell at you, but the next minute will offer you their food or shove you out of their way and then ask with their genuine interest the same 2 questions that seem to be on the mind of every local that we've met, the questions that we've been asked 100s of times "What's your name? Your country?" be very pleased at the response and continue staring and smiling at you, paying attention to every movement that we make as though we come from a different planet. India is hard to love, but once you start to understand it, you love it with all your heart even though at times it's too much to handle, and you feel all the cells of your body screaming, but if you continue to travel, you have no other choice but to forgive and trust that it's not personal ... it's just the way of life.

Song that I like that is very popular in here: one of the guys (who's the cuter one :) ), it's the actor from the movie which I've been an extra in, in Mumbai.

pix are here:

1 comment:

  1. Damn, you make me sound like a psycho...#@$("((@$#)