From September 14th to September 28th, James and myself took a holiday to India (hence the lack of coding posts recently - it's been manic back in the office since our return!). The trip was designed as a holiday for James to revisit India (having been in 2010) and for me to use my passport on my first international trip. We booked it all in May and James sorted out accommodation (having experience in India) and we flew out at just gone midday on Monday the 14th September from Gatwick. This post, while not interesting to coders in the slightest, serves as a digital memoir of the trip from the log I wrote each day we were out there.
Day 1 - 14th September 2015
Set off from home on the 7:49 train to Gatwick. Flew to Istanbul but the flight was delayed so we arrived late in Istanbul and had to run to make the connection to Mumbai. Flew to Mumbai arriving at 4:30am local time.
My first view of Mumbai on leaving the airport.
Day 2 - 15th September 2015
Arrived at Mumbai early. Bags were not transferred at Istanbul despite assurances that they would be. So we had no luggage. With little choice, we chose to go to our first hotel, Apollo Guesthouse, in Navi Mumbai. We took a Tuk-Tuk (my first experience of anything of the kind) to the nearest train station, Andheri. Here, James acquired us tickets to Vashi (the stop nearest our hotel) for 15 rupees each (approx. 15p in British money) before we went to the platform. Here I encountered my first experience with local beggars. The first simply stuck their hand out and, following advice prior to arriving I simply ignored them and they went away. The second beggar was a little more disturbing, they were a child themselves carrying a baby which, while I'm not a medical expert, I'm fairly sure was deceased. I judged this from the way the baby's neck was bent over and the slightly bloated look about it. There was nowt to indicate life within the child. Luckily the train arrived so we made a move towards it.
A lot of Tuk-Tuks parked - most are blocking each other in!
We jumped on the first carriage to a lot of shouting. It took us a moment to realise we were the only males in the carriage and we'd stepped into the ladies only carriage by mistake. I didn't even know they existed and was simply following James but we quickly found another carriage that was correct for our tickets. It was quiet at first but we were the first stop for this train, it soon became very busy, with very little space to move. The rush hour tube in London seemed like a distant paradise compared to the cramped conditions on Mumbai's second class unreserved carriages.
We arrived in Navi very hot and sweaty (we were still in western clothes due to the lack of luggage). Foolishly, we opted to walk to the hotel not knowing how far it was - it took a long time in very humid conditions. However, on finally finding the hotel, we were told (in very broken English) that the reservation James had made online and paid for didn't exist, and they had no room to put us up in. It was difficult to communicate due to the language differences so we left Vashi to seek a room elsewhere. We went down the road to the Yogi Executive but were told they were also full but they would let us have breakfast, which gave us a chance to chill in the air-con and refuel. I had a lot of watermelon to re-hydrate while James tried a traditional Indian breakfast. We came up with a plan for our predicament at the breakfast table.
One of many trains at Vashi station
We decided to head to CST, the touristy area of Mumbai (according to James' Lonely Planet guide) where the Gate of India is. We took another Tuk-Tuk to the train station and a train from Vashi to CST, which was still packed despite being about 11am at this point. On arrival at CST we found a hotel, City Palace, which had a room with air-con which we took. We cooled down in here for a while before heading back out at about 4pm (cooling down and having a nap - it had been an exhausting morning!).
After the nap we headed out for a walk to find a change of clothes and see the Gate of India (no point wasting the time in CST). While at the Gate, Indian people took their photo of us - white people are a strange sight it seems. On the way back to the hotel we tried to find a change of clothes, but we could only find a change of underwear and a t-shirt for James (an XL in India is equivalent to an English medium, which didn't fit me but would just fit James). We also stopped at a local pharmacy for washing supplied. On returning to the hotel it was time for dinner and, because of the complete mess of a first day with a lack of luggage and first hotel, we opted for something familiar - a McDonald's opposite the hotel. Alas, curried burgers do not taste nice...
Mandatory tourist photo at the Gate of India
Day 3 - 16th September 2015
We woke early to decide what to do about our lack of luggage options (and lack of clean clothes). We decided to head back to the airport early and see if the bags had arrived yet (despite no emails or phone calls confirming this like the airline promised). We took the train from CST to Andheri, changing at Dadar which was busy - preparations for a festival of some kind were taking place. The train to Andheri was packed but we managed to push on and push-off, just, when we arrived. It took a while to find out where to go within the airport - we got sent to several different places all over the shop, eventually having to wait outside for someone to come and speak to us (we weren't allowed into the airport without good reason - apparently them having our bags is not a good enough reason...). Luckily, it turned out our bags had arrived that morning and we were able to obtain them, though it left us a bit tight for getting the train back to CST for our afternoon train to Pune, so we opted to take a taxi from the airport to CST. It was an interesting journey, but the memorable bit was stopping at a red light and the driver apologising, saying he only stopped because of the police officer on the corner. James then tried to explain the concept of red lights in the UK (how we stop at all of them even if it's 3am and we're the only car on the road) but the driver couldn't understand the concept. Thanks to the taxi though we got back to CST with about an hour to spare before our journey off to Pune.
Hotel reception in Pune
We had seats in the 3rd tier air-con carriage which was very comfortable in comparison to the other train journeys we had taken in Mumbai. The journey was uneventful, arriving in Pune around 5pm local time. It wasn't as hot or muggy as Mumbai and we took a Tuk-Tuk to our hotel. Unfortunately it got lost and we ended up at the wrong hotel but it was only a short walk to our actual hotel. The hotel in Pune was much nicer than the last-minute one in Mumbai. We took advantage of having our luggage to have a shower and a full change of clothes before going to dinner in the hotels restaurant. The dinner was nice, we shared some curry stuff and then went for a walk before bed. Now that we had our baggage, a nice hotel and a decent place to be, it felt like the holiday could really begin...
Day 4 - 17th September 2015
Woke early to have breakfast. I played it safe and stuck with cornflakes, jam and a boiled egg. After breakfast we went for coffee round the corner from the hotel before taking a Tuk-Tuk to the North-East of Pune and had lunch at a German Bakery, which, while nice was still distinctly Indian. After lunch we went for a walk down North Main Street, stopping only for another coffee after a dog had started following us persistently. Clearly some western people had fed it at some point and so it latched onto us. After coffee, we went to Aga Khan palace, the place where Ghandi was imprisoned during the second world war and where some of his ashes are now interned.
Monument containing Ghandi's ashes
After Aga Khan, we went back tot he hotel briefly before going out to see a festival/market we'd noticed on our way out in the morning. There was a lot of music and noise and we joined in, had our photos taken with lots of locals and ended up with red dust (paste?) all over our faces and clothes. On the way back to the hotel, we saw a parade with drummers and dancers as part of the festival before having dinner in a local veg restaurant.
Covered in something red
Day 5 - 18th September 2015
We woke early again on day 5 for breakfast and to prepare for our next journey from Pune to Goa by night train. The train wasn't until 16:30 local time so we didn't know what to do with the luggage, especially given the wet weather that day. Luckily the hotel agreed to look after it for us until we needed to go to the station. We went to a Big Bazaar - a shopping supermarket type place that I would liken to Sainsbury's as a UK equivalent. It had three floors with food on the ground, clothes on the second and electrics and home appliances on the third. It was interesting seeing the prices of some things which were considerably cheaper than in the UK - shame about the inability to bring it back in our luggage!
The electrical safety in the Bazaar was astounding...
After browsing for a while we went for lunch at a nearby vegetarian cafe before killing time by walking to the nearby McDonald's for a coffee (and to get out of the rain). After coffee, we went back to the hotel to collect our bags and head to the train station for the train to Goa. It was a night train and we had beds reserved in the sleeper class. The train was late, arriving about 18:00 but our beds were empty so we could get settled (we'd been warned and James had experienced in 2010 people sit in the beds during the day until night-time when people want to sleep). The train was uneventful, and as I wrote in my log, "not much to do but sleep." We did have some mysteriously flavoured ice cream though which tasted nice, it was green and we think the flavour was pistachio but we're not sure...
Day 6 - 19th September 2015
We arrived in Goa in the early hours of the morning and took a taxi to the hostel we were staying in. Luckily we could check in early and put our bags away so we didn't have to worry about having them for the day. We walked to the nearest beach, which was warm and sandy and had a quick dip in the sea before being called out by a coast guard. It was a red flag area, but given no one had obeyed a single law/rule since we'd arrived we thought this would be no different. But alas, the one rule they do enforce is the no swimming in a red flag zone. Who knew? So we returned to the hostel and organised some motorbikes to go to a beach further north that James knew of.
Breakfast on the beach watching a moped get stuck...
We arrived at the beach and had breakfast before a dip in the sea (couldn't go too far out lest we irk the whistle blowing life guards...) but we got a good dipping in anyway. In the afternoon we decided to go for a ride out on the bikes, going to the north of the state and dangerously close to the state line and seeing an old fort before returning to the hostel for the night.
Day 7 - 20th September 2015
The log begins to get a little small in Goa, we did mostly similar stuff, went out on the bikes and looked at some beaches. On this day we sat on the beach all day reading our books and having occasional dips in the sea to cool off but, mostly, just stayed in one cafe, drinking and reading. It was a peaceful day...
Day 8 - 21st September 2015
We went to the same beach and cafe as Day 7 and continued reading and drinking. We played pool in the evening at the hostel before retiring to bed before our final accommodation change.
Day 9 - 22nd September 2015
Day 8 brought about our final change in accommodation. We travelled by taxi to the 4th place, however, on arrival we found James had accidentally booked the wrong one (it was a chain - it was also 4am on Day 1 when he'd booked it so he isn't totally to blame). This time however, (given this was the third time we'd gone to a hotel that didn't have us) they had room and we were able to check in and transfer our booking. The hotel had a pool which we sat in for the afternoon, drinking and reading again before heading out for dinner in the evening.
Raj - a guy we met at the hostel and very good pool hustler!
Day 10 - 23rd September 2015
Had breakfast by the pool and a quick dip to start the day. Then we got more motorbikes and went to Aguada Fort, which was fun but it was very very hot out in the sun so we didn't stay for too long. Then we went to Old Goa which took a long time to get to and saw some old cathedrals which, while historically interesting aren't my cup of tea and we didn't stay for too long there either. They were our token Goa tourist trips. We returned to the hotel and had dinner by the pool and did some swimming, before going out in the evening. I went to do a bit of shopping to find a t-shirt and a souvenir. I couldn't find a t-shirt that fit, same problem as in Mumbai with the sizing...
Fort Aguada model within the Fort itself
Day 11 - 24th September 2015
Had a dip in the pool in the morning to start the day chilled before going out on the bikes to Anjuna beach for lunch. We walked the length of the beach and saw the preparations for peak season occurring before riding back to the hotel (the beach was about half hour away). Back at the hotel, we decided to go for ride outs alone. I went to a book shop not far from the hotel and got some books on the cheap - a couple of Doctor Who (Ninth Doctor) books I hadn't read for 100 rupees each (approx. £1 each) and a couple of other books. James went in the opposite direction and ended up being stopped by police at a check-point but the police were corrupt, targeting him as a tourist as they fined him but gave him no paperwork for it. I found out about it when I got back to the hotel from the book store.
A building site on the beach - where else would you put one?
To make the best of a bad day, we decided to go for a drink outside of the hotel bar, walking down towards Baga beach. We found a club which was empty and had a drink and a game of pool. We went to have a dance but the club was completely empty so we returned to the hotel fairly quickly.
The club was empty so we played DJ for a bit...
Day 12 - 25th September 2015
Woke up to a bit of an issue - the hotel wanted to check us out as they'd accidentally double booked (so they said) on our arrival and James had lost his bike key. A hurried shower thinking I had to pack and prepare to depart when the hotel rang the room phone to explain it had been a mix-up and it was the next day (our actual check out day) they had been thinking about. James also found his bike key so crisis averted. After this bad start, I went out to the local supermarket to get some souvenirs and some sweets - I found some very nice sour cherry type sweets, much nicer than those in the UK. We then spent the afternoon relaxing in the pool and reading one of the new books I got the day before.
The Kingfish supper (modelled by the waiter) was very nice
For dinner we went out to the beach and had a fresh fish supper which was very nice. It came with chips and despite being on the bone, was a very enjoyable meal. After dinner we took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel ready for our last night in a proper bed - for we began our journey home via Istanbul the next day...
Day 13 - 26th September 2015
We had to wake up early to return the bike keys and check out of the hotel, which went without a hitch. They were kind though, and let us stay by the pool for the day until evening when we would catch a plane from Goa to Mumbai. I went for a stroll in the morning, then spent the day reading in the pool again. It made for a relaxing end. We took a taxi in the evening to Goa airport for our flight to Mumbai, arriving in Mumbai just before midnight local time. We were to wait in the airport until morning when we would catch the plane to Istanbul.
Day 14 - 27th September 2015
We arrived in Istanbul around 10am local time and took the metro to the touristy areas. We had a kebab, the first time for having meat in a long time before wandering around the park near the Blue Mosque. In the afternoon we took a boat cruise around Istanbul and saw a lot of the old and interesting buildings by the river. Afterwards we went to a Starbucks and stayed in the air-con cool for the rest of the day, as it was very very warm in Istanbul, before returning to the airport for another night without a bed before flying back to Gatwick the following morning...
The boat cruise around Istanbul
Thus concludes the log of my first international trip to India (with a day in Turkey). I'm not too sure if I'll return, while the places were nice (except Mumbai) I don't feel any great need to return. Beach holiday's are not entirely for me I've decided, while reading is nice I don't enjoy not being busy so beaches aren't for me. Similarly, I feel happy I visited the bits to see in Pune, Mumbai and Goa, so the need to return isn't there just yet. Of course, there is always the North of India but for now, it's time to get back to work with plenty of research to catch up and Grasshopper hacks to figure out...