Sunday, February 18, 2001

India - 59 Days, still no rain.

In my last update from PUNA I told you about our plans to go to GUJARAT...In the meantime a tragic earthquake hit the KUTCH area, and due to a miracle we were not in GUJARAT at this time.
A common sight in Goa

The bad signs have started in BANGALORE, where we lost almost 3 hours standing in line to buy a train ticket from GOA to RAJKOT (60miles from the  epicenter) and finally only ended up with a waitlist 134+135 ticket. We had planned to go from BANGALORE to PUNA and as soon as possible to GOA. After a few days at the beach continue to BHUJ (exactly where the epicenter as) where we planned to arrive the end of January.

Just after our arrival in PUNA on Jan. 23rd we wanted to book our onward journey to GOA. But everything until the 28th was fully booked. Since I don’t like PUNA that much and did not want to be stuck for so long, we changed plans. We decided to skip GOA and take a 24 hour bus ride direct to RAJKOT leaving on the 25th and arriving in RAJKOT in the afternoon of the 26th. But the Sleeper Bus had only one more spot available and a normal Sitting Bus was for sure much worse than one more day in PUNA, so we booked for the next day, 26th of January.
With our new plans made we had to wait another 90 Minutes in line to get a refund on waitlist ticket, the one that we got after 3 hours waiting in BANGALORE! But by now we are used to the efficiency of Indian Railways eh!
So RAJKOT via AHMEDABAD was our new plan, and then onward to DIU, a small island in the far south of GUJARAT that was like GOA once a Portuguese Colony. And finally we planned to have 10 days at the colorful town of BHUJ, a highlight of GUJARAT state.

The big Earthquake on Jan 26, 2001
On Jan. 26th around 9am a fair shaking woke us suddenly up, but we didn't pay much attention, since this had happened so many times while we were in Japan. A few hours later we heard from somebody that there was an earthquake in MUMBAI.  Around noon we were at the family that we had spent X-Mas day with, to say goodbye, just as we wanted to leave their place a relative from MUMBAI called and said that GUJARAT was in debris. Turning on CNN and BBC we saw the shocking news confirmed on the screen.  We saw terrible pictures from AHMEDABAD, the city we would have been at the very moment of the earthquake.... if... yes if the sleeper bus would have had just one more spot available!!!

What to do? Cancel the whole trip, or go to GUJARAT with the bus that was scheduled to leave in 2 hours?  The bus operator had not heard of an earthquake at the destination of the bus: "We will go there no matter what!"   This is so typical Indian, information about other parts of the country travels very slow if at all. And anyway why should they cancel a fully booked bus just because of this "tiny" earthquake in MUMBAI (they still believed that it was a minor quake in MUMBAI as we had heard earlier that day too!)

Luckily, we were not here during the Quake
They Said: "Even it there was an earthquake up there, our bus will find a way through!!!"
We didn't see that bus leaving... our mind was made up to change plans again and travel to GOA after all - that’s the fun of being a backpacker, plans can and will change constantly :)
A big thanks to all Indian Gods and Guardian Angels that put so many obstacles in our way to GUJARAT, we understand now! That was a close call!

On the 27th we finally managed to get out of PUNA, and again, like on  X-Mas this city managed to keep us longer than planned. But this time we didn’t mind! The 12 hours in the sleeper bus to GOA were just "flying by". Not by means of time though. More in the sense that we spent most of the way flying, each bump and hole in the road let us "float" over our bunk.  ....Yogis meditate in search for levitation, and we found levitation in the "Laxmi Queen" sleeper bus to GOA...What a great feeling! But the landing.... ouch!!!

Too bad we don't know how to surf
After all, we finally ended up in GOA. Sunshine, beach, sea and lots of tourists. Apart from that it was perfect.  We settled in BENAULIM but were almost every day on excursion trips.  GOA would be the place for motorbike tours, if it wasn't for the local Police. They see their main duty in stopping tourists on two-wheelers and charge them ridiculously high fines for some silly reasons, such as two people on one bike, or no helmet, or a helmet without a closed strap… The only way to get them not to fine you, is if you slip them some "Baksheesh" over (Baksheesh =  tip, or bribe, they don't make a big difference between the two here in India) While the Police boost their income with tourists Baksheesh, the locals drive by left and right on their motorbikes and Vespas with up to 3 or sometimes even 4 people on them, no helmets of course, but that does not seem to impress the policemen at al… anyway they are too busy “serving” the tourist!
Fishermen in Benaulim
Having spent almost a week in GOA we wanted to head to PUSHKAR in RAJASTAN, but last moment we heard that a friend from Vienna was also in GOA. That's why we did a detour to CHAPORA in the north of GOA.  Finally! Here’s where all the Hippies hang out, we were wondering in BENAULIM if they abandoned GOA.
CHAPORA is packed full of old-, ex-, new-, wannabe-, and still-Hippies. Most people spend the day thinking about what drug they should get for the night time Techno Party. The only drug that one can't buy in CHAPORA is probably still to be invented! Well it's actually not that bad, there are some folks that "just" smoke Hashish and stay away from the other stuff.  But apart from all that CHAPORA has a very special energy, we fell great just being there even without the Sex, Drug & Rock'n'Roll. A perfect spot to just "be" like HAMPI.

A typical day in Chapora
After four days of just "being" (without Joints or Techno Parties) we had to get moving again, but that was not that easy trust me!  An overnight bus brought us into mighty MUMBAI. (old name: BOMBAY)  Julane has been in MUMBAI quite a number of times and told me so many horror stories that we tried to get a night train to DELHI on the same day.  Getting on a train in India is another story, most of the time they are fully booked 3 to 4 weeks in advance. (Also 1st class). But here's the good news: a few cities have a "tourist-quota" and MUMBAI is one of them. We got our ticket for a train to DELHI leaving MUMBAI at 9.30pm on the same day.  We found that Indians that cannot use this quota, have to wait 26 days for the next available seat on a train to DELHI Thanks to the tourist quota we could be a little Japanese and do "MUMBAI in one day" in 8 hours we covered and Photographed! MUMBAI's prime sights such as Gate to India, Taj Mahal Hotel, Victoria Station......

We just arrived in DELHI after 2 days nonstop on the road. We had to cancel our plans to go to PUSHKAR because GOA was heaven, and land transport in India is hell!! We are planning our excursion to the HIMALAYAS and in 18 days our India adventure is already coming to an end.

..... more later.....