I'm moving this blog to another page on my website, now that my travels are over. I am starting a new blog to document my experience at Yestermorrow - this will be more personal and hopefully serve to encourage me (and maybe even others) while I try to pursue my vision.
After nearly 7 months out of the US and 8 months on the road, Brandon and I were ready to go home and have a place to call home. As our departure date got closer, we found ourselves eager to do the things that we could do at home: take baths, wear sweaters, cook our own food, eat avocados. I'm happy that my mind moved into this mode--it made saying goodbye a little bit easier.
We were all business in Mumbai. With Christmas coming, we had a lot of shopping to do. We put most of it off so that we didn't have to carry it in our small packs. So we spent nearly all of our time shopping in Mumbai. I even ended up buying a suitcase for all of our wares.
So I don't have too much to report. We stayed at the Carlton Hotel, right behind the Taj Mahal in Colaba. Mumbai hotel prices are about twice as expensive as the rest of the country, so we made due with our clean yet shared bath room (800R, ~$17.50) for our final days in the country. There were lots of souvenirs to be had on the Colaba Causeway and I got giddy negotiating for the gifts.
We took the Metro one day up to Bandra and went jeans shopping. There were these crowded marketplaces with jeans sellers. I walked up to one, my waist was measured, told the seller what color/style I wanted and pair upon pair was thrust upon me. I demanded to try them on, and on my third try I scored. They were slightly big so they tailored them for me. My "Diesel's" cost me 500R ($10.50). Brandon noticed the locals seemed to be paying 400R, so I think I did ok. Perhaps my bargaining skills are not as good as I thought?
I also bought a winter hat for 50 cents off a street vendor. This was probably my most intelligent purchase and it saved me once we arrived in frigid Jersey.
A note on Mumbai - it was absolutely lovely in December. The temperature was perfect, highs of 80, cooler evenings. We found the city walkable and the transportation system fairly easy to navigate. We enjoyed the Pav Bhaji and Bhel Puri, and have plans to cook Pav Bhaji at home. I like to describe it as "Indian Vegetarian Sloppy Joes." Mmmm... Indian food.
We grabbed a taxi to the airport and flew home on December 15. The flights were all on time, customs and immigration a breeze, and entered culture shock, as expected. Everything was so dark and bland. I think you only realize how colorful India is when you leave the country.
India - I will miss you. You provide so much eye candy and stimulate all my senses, all the time. Now on to process what I learned.
Aurangabad is the launch pad for the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, both World Heritage sites worth checking out if you have the time. More about them later.
We arrived in Aurangabad after midnight, after a full day of traveling by train from Goa (Canacona -> Thane, Thane -> Aurangabad). Since we loved Mysore so much, we decided to stay in Aurangabad for five nights, to give ourselves time to recover from the train journey, check out the city, and have time to see both caves. In retrospect, this was way too much time in Aurangabad.
There really wasn't much happening in Aurangabad. There's a cluster of restaurants and hotels near the train station, and a fancier shopping street with some international brands. It wasn't very walkable, but we walked around anyway.
We decided to skip the tours and check out the caves ourselves. We started with the Ellora Caves. The Ellora Caves are a short, less than an hour, bus journey from Aurangabad. We waited for the bus at the station. Nothing was in English. A bus pulled up to the berth and there was a near riot as people tried to jam onto it. We stood back and watched. Once that bus took off, we met a couple from Sweden also trying to take the bus to Ellora. We warned them about the rush for the bus. Lucky for us they were more aggressive than us, so as the next bus pulled up, they managed to elbow and shove their way into the bus and secure 1 seat for us. We rioted our way onto the bus and jammed onto this seat, thankful to our new friends and the woman who shared the seat with us.
I wish I had video of this. It would probably be a youtube hit. We noticed that people were jumping through the windows of the bus trying to get seats. One couple even threw their baby in to secure a seat.
The Ellora caves are worth the bus ride and modest 250 Rupee (~$5) entrance fee. There are 32 caves - Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain - built between 500-1000AD. They were all carved out of the stone and built into the hillside. As there were lots of Indian tourists there as well, we also found ourselves to be a bit of a tourist attraction, with lots of requests for photographs with us. We mostly said no, unless someone was particularly convincing or aggressive.
A couple days later we went to the Ajanta Caves. These are also possible to reach by bus, but the ride is longer, 3-3.5 hrs. These caves are all Buddhist and were built between 200BC - 600 AD. The cave paintings are in incredible condition despite the years.
We braved the shopping center that's part of the complex and scored a few deals. With 70+ shops, nearly all the vendors sell the same things. Bargaining is imperative here and we found dramatic differences in prices, depending on the vendor. We couldn't understand why there wasn't much diversity in the goods; if any of the vendors decided to carry a different selection of goods, they probably would do very well.
On the way back from the caves, I had a lovely 2 hour conversation with the man sitting next to me, Vinod. He is a Marathi teacher (the local language in the area), has a wife and two children. We talked about everything, from family to politics, the education system in India and America, and more. At the end of the journey, he invited Brandon and I to his home.
This was the highlight of our time in Aurangabad. Vinod's family warmly welcomed us. His wife made snacks and tea, we played with the kids, met all the neighbors, and took lots of photos. What lovely people! We are going to send them a package from America, any ideas??
In the end, we were happy to have the time in Aurangabad and meet the Sinkar family.
Maybe it's because we visited the ever so popular Palolem Beach in late November, but I found it to be really affordable and relaxing. We had fears that the prices for beach huts would be astronomical but we found a lovely little hut, with a private bathroom, on stilts, with a view of the beach, for 500 rupees (~$11). Not bad.
Food was a bit more expensive on Palolem. We had been pretty good at finding cheap food away from the tourist drag. There were a few restaurants on the street (parallel to the beach) that were a little cheaper, and if you stuck with Indian food, then it was possible to eat a meal for about $2, instead of the $3 minimum on the beach.
The beach at Palolem is the real draw though. The sand is soft and the beach is devoid of rocks or other things that can rip your feet up. The water is warm and the dropoff is very gradual. We walked about 100 meters out and could still touch the bottom.
There were a lot of women selling things on the beach. You have to be firm with them if you don't want to purchase their goods, otherwise they and all their cohort will show up and lay out their goods. Also, you need to bargain really hard with them, because you can't easily pick up and leave. I got a few good deals from them, but only after hemming and hawing and refusing to buy. "You're killing me," the lady would say. I'd say "well, I don't need to buy anything from you," and we'd go back and forth. Fun times.
As this is India, there were cows on the beach. Photogenic animals they are.
On a few evenings, after a day of sunning and playing in the water, we'd grab dinner on the beach and watch the sunset. What a beautiful world we live in.
Val's Life and Travel Blog
In April 2010 I left the security of my FT job to travel for eight months -- across the US, Europe, India, and SE Asia. I spent six weeks in Spain in Feb 2013 and experimented with working remotely for an extended period of time. (It worked!) This blog is mostly about my travels and occasional life updates.
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