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Travel Diary #9: 2-8 May 2016, India, Nepal

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2nd April 2016 – Mumbai, India

Ilze: After a 12-hour trip by night train we arrived to Mumbai at 6am. We got to the hotel and luckily they immediately gave us a room. I was afraid from what I will see in Mumbai or how I will feel about it. Indeed, the city is very crowded and loud, but I could handle it better than I expected. It has quite a few majestic buildings, big markets, churches and parks, etc. As in all cities some areas are nicer than others. And in such a big place one can see it all: expensive cars and well-maintained beautiful gardens, skyscrapers and posh cafes and restaurants, and on other side extremely poor, sometimes crippled people that live on the streets, dirty children begging money, street dogs and rats fighting cats. Mumbai has it all. I could never live there, though.

Luis: After the whole night on a train that was more like a freezer we arrived to Mumbai. It was surprisingly calm in the early morning and we spent some time to find a place for breakfast, as most were closed until after 9am. And then we walked, we did some sightseeing, we walked more… and we continued walking more and more… And when we were exhausted by the heat and by the lack of sleep, we walked all the way back to the hotel… Sometimes I cannot understand why I do these silly things…

Asia, India, Maharashtra, Mumbai, travel diary
Inside Crawford Market, Mumbai, India

3rd May 2016 – Mumbai, India

Ilze: The visit to the Dharavi slum was definitely the highlight of the day. Before going there I was not sure how I feel about it: is it cynical to do “poverty tourism”? is it curiosity that outweighs the moral? Nevertheless, we organised our tour via the company Reality Travel and Tours that claims returning 80% of their revenue to the community.

We were not allowed to take pictures, and I believe it was a good decision. The people from the slum would feel even more intimidated… We walked around places where people work in extremely tough and even dangerous conditions. We passed by apartments and rooms where families live. We saw children playing in the narrow and dark pathways between buildings where barely two people can pass by each other. We were warned not to step on dead rats and watch out for open drains where the water looked and smelled terrible.

However, it was completely different from what I imagined prior our visit. Indeed, people live there in very poor conditions, but they somehow manage to settle down and most of them have a job in the city, and children go to school.

In any case, it was quite an experience…

Luis: I’ve been to other slums before so I was sort of prepared for this one. As in others, no matter how difficult life is, there is lot of dignity and hard-working people. There are of course people with bad intentions but I believe that no more than in any other middle or upper-class area. What I found more interesting was about the industrial area inside the slum. There is a lot of recycling of plastic that comes from all around the world. There’s production of aluminium, dying of fabrics, clay pottery, and many more. A few people makes lots of money inside the slum.

Asia, India, Maharashtra, Mumbai, travel diary
Overview of Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India

4th May 2016 – Mumbai, Train to Aurangabad, India

Ilze: We visited the National Gallery of Modern Arts in Mumbai. There was an exhibition of a prominent Indian artist A.A. Almelkar (1920-1982). He developed his style and had lots of students and followers. The Gallery is a very nice four-floor building and almost all space was taken by Almelkar’s works. I really liked his paintings and drawings, as well as pieces of provided information about his personality and creative life. I took my time to stroll around and contemplate. It was like a peaceful oasis in the hectic and loud Mumbai.

The entrance fee for tourist is quite high, though… For locals it is 20 rupees, and for foreigners – 500 rupees. It seems it’s the same all over in India…

Luis: Mumbai is an extremely loud city, the worst we’ve been in India. And plenty of traffic. We felt we had to get away from it so we spent the last morning in Mumbai visiting art museums and galleries. It is something I like to do, as I believe that art can tell as much about a country as visiting villages and meeting locals.

In the afternoon we took a train to Aurangabad where we will spend the last days in India.

Asia, India, Maharashtra, Mumbai, travel diary
Poster for Almelkar Exhibition, Mumbai, India

5th May 2016 – Aurangabad, India

Ilze: We had our dose of culture and sightseeing, i.e. we visited Ajanta caves. Quite an impressive complex consisting of 28 caves and temples dated from 6th and 7th century. As they are 105km away from Aurangabad, we discussed whether to go in “touristy way” (and much more expensive) or use a public transport getting there and back. After all, we decided to “go touristy”. And I was happy we did. The temperature was around +40C, and the place we stayed was a bit remote in the quite chaotic city. Sometimes one has to pay for comfort and again – time is money.

Luis: The inland India is really hot these days, around 40ºC most of the time. Ajanta Caves are quite impressive, a set of 28 caves with Buddhist statues and paintings. The paintings were particularly impressive but some are pretty much washed-out.

Nice Tandoori meal (barbecue style) for dinner, in a place with a waiter that was very enthusiastic about me being Portuguese.

Ajanta Caves, Asia, India, Maharashtra, travel diary
Ajanta Caves, India
Ajanta Caves, Asia, India, Maharashtra, travel diary
Painting at Ajanta Caves, India

6th May 2016 – Aurangabad, Plane to Delhi, India

Ilze: Another sightseeing – this time the much closer Ellora caves. There are 34 of them, dated also from 6th to 10th century. While walking in the heat for three hours from cave to cave (and some of them are quite remote from each other) I was wondering why they couldn’t make just a couple of them close to each other.

In the afternoon we had a flight to Delhi. No sightseeing there, though… Just a transit, therefore we stayed in an airport hotel as we had an early morning flight to Kathmandu. The flight next morning was late, but at least they warned us twice, the first time was a message close to midnight, the second time was a call at 4:50am 🙂

Luis: Today more caves, the Ellora caves. Quite different from Ajanta. Less paintings and more sculptures. A really impressive temple carved-out from a monolithic rock with many chambers. Interesting the fact that there are caves for three different religions: Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. I enjoyed these more than Ajanta, but if you ask me, Dambulla in Sri Lanka are still my favourite.

Afternoon flight to Delhi, just a stopover on the way to Nepal.

Asia, Ellora Caves, India, Maharashtra, travel diary
Buddhist temple, Ellora Caves, India

7th May 2016 – Plane to Kathmandu, Nepal

Ilze: A “good” start of the day: the taxi driver we arranged on previous evening didn’t arrive, we had to get a taxi urgently from the street. In the notice board the check-in desk was wrongly marked for our flight. When we went there, they told us the check-in would start in 30 min. We waited, and when it appeared it was a different and later flight to Kathmandu. When we found the correct check-in desk, the queue in front of us consisted of at least one hundred military guys. An airport staff member took us to the front of line. It appeared that we should have picked up our luggage the previous evening when arrived to Delhi, although we were told that our bags will be transferred directly to the final destination. Since we had only 20min left till boarding, they just advised to sort it out in Kathmandu, if the luggage doesn’t arrive. After the least efficient security control we finally arrived to the gate, and it appeared that the flight would be slightly delayed. We arrived to Kathmandu, and our luggage didn’t (although I was so much hoping for the miracle). A staff member from the airport just came with a notebook and pen and marked our luggage sticker number in his book and asked what colour are our bags. We left airport without any document or confirmation that our bags were lost.

All the rest of the day I was in bad mood thinking how stupid I was leaving in the backpack cash in euros, Latvian ID, driving license and couple of other important things.

Luis: After some confusion and delays we managed to get to Kathmandu but our bags stayed behind. Could not help remembering about 10 years ago when I waited more than a week for my bags in New Zealand. Frustrated all day, and annoyed with myself for not being more careful (we should have asked to pick our bags in Delhi airport).

Anyway, Kathmandu with a pleasant temperature of 20 something celsius. Our couchsurfer host was waiting for us and took us to his place in Gongabu, a residential neighbourhood north of town. The area was quite affected by the earthquake last year and we passed some ruins of buildings. Today was his little girl’s birthday so we had a party with lots of dancing and kids.

8th May 2016 – Kathmandu, Nepal

Ilze: In the morning we went to the airport to find out the state of our lost luggage. Someone pointed to the arrivals’ hall and said we should go there, a man that was passing by asked: Lost luggage? Come! Just some minutes later we were inside the airport in the area of arriving luggage. The man from yesterday just appeared in front of us, he recognised us and directly took us to a room where magically both of our backpacks were already waiting for us. No proofs, no documents needed. Oh, happy day! 🙂

Later on we finally visited the city centre. Wow, Kathmandu is a very crazy city! Loud, chaotic and extremely polluted. I was afraid to make a deep breath in. So, after walking around 20min, we had to buy a mask. Yesterday I asked Luis if he knows what actions need to be taken in case of earthquake. Probably it is a silly question, but one cannot neglect it when seeing so many damaged buildings around…

Luis: It is my third time in Nepal and Kathmandu still surprises me. The traffic, the people on the streets, the pollution and dust (which seems worse these days, maybe because of all the rebuilding after earthquake). Thamel is still Thamel, with an unbelievable amount of restaurants, guesthouses, travel agencies, souvenir shops, bookshops, trekking equipment shops, and many other places to please tourists. It is possibly the best place in all Asia to find anything a traveller needs. What is difficult is to find a specific place, and the streets are such a mess that no maps or Google can help you. We had to find a car rental, an hotel and a travel company and it was a nightmare.

We spent most of the day working on our plans for the next days, had a fix of Europe with a cappuccino and cake, and did a bit of sightseeing around Durbar Square (again, damaged by the earthquake).

Asia, Kathmandu, Nepal, travel diary
Thamel signs, Kathmandu, Nepal

This post is part of our on-going weekly travel diary. You can read previous posts in our Travel Diary page.

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