10.05.2015 - 18.05.2015 38 °C
This was my fourth visit to India, a definite Marmite country as discussed with fellow travellers, and much like the spreadable black gold I love this place. There is never a dull moment here, whether its the amazing scenery, great food (it just isn't the same back home) or the millions of people going about their day to day routine, this place packs a real punch (no boxing puns this time, this is the land of Gods own sport, Cricket)
My first port of call following a late arrival from Kuala Lumpur, was my friend Carolines place in the city of Visakhapatnum, or Vizag for short to help make it a bit more pronounceable. I didn't have long here though as I'd arranged a whistle stop tour of the middle of the country to catch up with old friends and see some new places before heading further north.
You can't beat a good train trip as a way to see a country, and this is especially true of India. So with that in mind I'd booked myself on a train the next morning to Hyderabad with the hope of seeing an IPL game (Indias take on t20 cricket...basically 3 hours of music, cheer leaders and raucous crowds, where the cricket is a side act). I had forgotten two key things though about Indian trains...this lot have never heard of windolene, let alone that classic tune 'when I'm cleaning windows'....so its pot luck if your views are a bit on the smeary side but more importantly never bank on them being on time.... and true to form having been sat at a German sounding station, Guntur junction (not a bratwurst to be seen) we rolled into Hyderabad not with 2 hours to spare before the cricket as scheduled, but just as the players would have been enjoying some post match Kingfisher beers in the bar.
The next day also reminded me that you should never be surprised by anything in this place. If it's going to happen it will happen here. Within less than 12 hours of arriving in Hyderabad I was driven around on a scooter at 2am to chose from a selection of hotels/hovels, hired a tour driver who I then had to argue with to take me to any sights rather than just straight to the airport (he was checking his watch nervously from 6 hours before I had to be there, up until dropping me off 1 hour too early - I didn't have the fight in me any more), was in more pictures with locals than I can remember ( including one family in particular who had about 10 group shots including one where they wheeled grandma out, then insisted I eat lunch with them while filming it) and finally I had to pay the driver an extra 100 Rupees to cover a bribe to a policeman for parking in the wrong place. Pause to catch breath and proceed to Bangalore to meet up with some old work friends.
First up I need to thank my hosts in Bangalore...Krishna, Shiva and Ram. I had two days of catching up, watching cricket on the tv, being whisked around town on the back of bikes and enjoying a proper Indian take away....not a korma or tikka masala in sight! The whistlestop tour though continued and after the two days I headed back to the coast and back to Vizag, to see more friends and have a few days by the sea before heading in land.
Back to Carolines place, who has been working out here for the last 14 months...always good to see a familiar face, although with my ever increasing facial hair and travel hardened look I'm not sure how familiar I look any more! I also visited another friend Kalyan, who gave me a tour of the local sites...the place felt like the Matlock Bath of India with its cable cars (Heights of Abraham) promenade (River side walk), Hindu ruins (Riber castle) and ice cream parlours (Smiths ice cream van, where once upon a time worked a fresh faced youth, me, dreaming of eating ice cream in India and the day those local chavs will stop rocking the van). I was also treated to a home cooked meal, cheers Kalyans mum, and a tour later that day of his dads office.....the work experience feel was to continue the next day as I spent the afternoon at the clothing factory where Caroline worked....I never knew how much effort went into making a pair of pants! It was then Carolines turn for work experience at the local hospital, where she witnessed me getting my back prodded and then x-rayed by the local quack...the conclusion, a pinched muscle, the resolution, take these three hypochondriac-acetamol tablets a day for three days. An entertaining evening at least and a unique picture of Mr. Stvart Hutchings (my Swedish alter ego) spine to add to my travel log. On my last day in Vizag we went to the local zoo, which despite showing the signs of a huge cyclone that hit the year before, was one of the better zoos I had been too...and all for the bargain price of 20pence! I wasn't at all concerned about the 'missing' snakes and alligators following the huge storm... The day was rounded off by going to a hindu wedding party, an excuse for more curry, lots more photos and a chance to wear a new shirt I got as part of my work experience at the factory...I'm sure they wondred who the hillbilly getting a free chapati dinner was. More thanks again to Kalyan and Caroline, I'll leave the thankyous there before this starts sounding like some kind of award acceptance speech....and the winner of the award for complaining about how hot it is all the time goes too....hopefully I'll have aclimitised in time for my return to vizag in a month.
Time for the next destination, the capital of Bollywood, Mumbai (fingers crossed they are looking for extras in the beardy white guy category)...all that stood in my way, 30 hours of train time...and a family of four asleep on my single bunk, with its all important open window...vital as its pretty toasty here, even in the small hours. Being the reasonable chap I am, I admitted defeat and set up camp in the sauna esq top bunk...no health club membership needed for this luxury spa...and I managed to get some sleep, thanks in large to the kingfisher strong/rocket fuel that was snuck to us at the wedding.
The next morning I finally bagged myself the window seat (the one I had generously given up the night before). All I had to do...let the bloke from the family borrow my bed, he even sweetened the deal by letting me sit next to his increasingly sprawled out wife. The grandstand views of the vast central Indian plains were worth it though, before I headed up the train to one of the AC carriages for the second half of the journey.
29 hours later the train rolled into Mumbai, my home for the next few days, before heading up North. I'll leave it there for now and if I could play music to the credits of this blog it would be a certain Johnny Cash classic....it burns burns burns....got to love this place!