Friday 29 June 2012


Finally managed to get on to blogger in Dubai. There's some wierd blocking/slowness of internet sites here, I'm yet to figure out exactly what is/isn't blocked. 

Anyway, back to Mumbai... 

We'd contacted a shipping agent via email before getting to Mumbai because we had limited time as Drew's visa was expiring on the 28th. We went to the shipping agents office up some dark creaky stairs next to a bakery. We explained the rush and asked if that would be a problem and everything seemed to be ok. After discussing various sea/airfreight options we decided on sea freight because of the slightly lower cost for a similar time frame. They called someone while we were in the office and confirmed that there was a vessel leaving at midnight on the 27th which would arrive in Dubai on the 1st of July. We were also told that because they were familar with the customs agents at the sea port they would have an easier time of handing over bribes to get things moving quickly should they need it.
They needed our passports to get the shipping underway, so this meant we were unable to move from the $30/night hotel. Expensive but probably the cheapest comfortable place in Mumbai that would let us stay... One other place we tried which was cheaper wouldn't let foreigners stay. We just stuck it out and wore the cost.

Because we chose sea freight we were then told that we had to get the bikes out near the ports to be crated up. Now this is where a lot of the confusion started. The port we were going to was JNPT, and they said it was 100km out of the city but then after checking on google maps it was only around 60km. We were to meet someone at the Mcdonalds in Pavnel which was about half way to the port. We got out there and had some breakfast and the guy came round to meet us. Then we found out were were only going about 2km to a place to get it crated. Hmm, suspicious. The crating place turned out to be a little shack with a couple of guys who can cut wood it seems. Lots and lots of discussion over the size of bikes and how big the crate would be, and even after measuring they still couldn't tell us dimensions. There were a few phone calls back and forth to find out exactly what was going on and what we had to do. I think they said my bike would end up being 5 cubic meters after crating. Sounded like far to much but they said it would only add another $50 or so to shipping so I opted not to take the front wheel off and make everything more compact. We left the bikes in the questionably capable hands of the three Indians in this shack. They wanted to keep the keys, there was no way I was leaving the keys there.

After that little misadventure it was back to Mumbai to wait it out. A lot of time was spent at Cafe Universial (next to the Hotel) or at McDonalds, or down at the shipping agent. Occasionally we'd break from these three places to have a look around. One morning I got up quite early, went down to McDonalds for breakfast and then off to try and find a Vodafone shop to get more data on my phone. Unfortunately most things are closed on a Sunday in Mumbai.

I stumbled round some more looking at lots of closed shops, then ended up near Churchgate station and figured this was near the ocean so I went to have a look.

Along the way an Indian guy just happened to say hello and wanted to practice English by talking to me. I said OK, and then he followed me around and chatted about random things. He was starting a new job in a call center the next day and needed English to talk to people from other parts of India (Hindu is the national language, but most of the south speaks Tamil as a second language, and they get taught English anyway).

The appealing coast line of Mumbai.
I was just randomly wandering through the streets with this guy following me around and talking. He pointed out a few places like the Commissioner of Mumbai building which had a big fire the day before, and then he directed me to India Gate. I didn't realise it was just near by.

Lots and lots of taxis on the road to India Gate, which of course lead to lots of horn noise and stupidity of traffic.

India Gate

Next to India Gate: The Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the two big hotels the terrorists attcked in 2008.
There was a long line of people there waiting to get a ferry across to the caves on Elephanta Island. The water was quite rough though and the ferries had trouble docking. Everyone stayed in line waiting as the couple of ferries I watched gave up and left.
Bit rough out there.

After this little sight seeing trip I headed back towards the hotel, this guy still in tow. Eventually the conversation got to living costs and similar. When I first met the guy he was just happy that he could tell his friends that he met a native English speaker (barely) to practice with before going to his new job. But then he started saying how he'd like to have a new shirt for his job and how he couldn't afford one right now. He showed me how he only had 150Rs in his wallet and how a new shirt would be 300Rs. So eventually, he asked if I could help him out. Now it seems like a very long time to go through this spiel to get enough money for a new shirt. Not much money for that much time so I suppose he was genuine. But I gave him 150Rs so he'd have enough to get a new shirt because he helped me out at the phone shop and showed me around a few places. I didn't want to give him the full 300Rs, he should use some of his own money and if he really wants that new shirt (which he said he really needed) then he'll have to do without something else to get it.
The next day we decided to go back to the shipping agents to get our Carnet and Passports back. And of course, neither of them were there. They told us to come back the next day. Right.

Off to do more looking around Mumbai to waste time.

I just wanted a photo of the car and the wall, turned out better than expected though.

Mmm beach.

More suprisingly clean beach.
Another day, we waited until late afternoon to go to the agents to get our documents back. This time we got our passports back, but not the Carnets. Apparently he didn't mention the day before that one of the customs agents was not in so they had to go back again. There was the whole previous day where you knew this information but didn't tell us. We stressed very loudly that the Carnets needed to be back there the day after as we were on a flight the next evening and needed them to get the bikes out of customs in Dubai. He told us no problem it will be there at 11am. These agents are dodgy...

They gave us invoices for the shipping, turned out to be the same as what they quoted, but a few hundred more to make it look random. One of the lines had some random name, but on mine it was 500Rs more. They explained this as the bribe money for the customs agents, apparently it cost 500Rs more to bribe the officers for my bike (yeah right).

The next day we packed, organized a taxi and had some lunch before turning up to the office. And you guessed it. They didn't have the Carnet this time either, it was still somewhere else, but they assured us that it would be there within half an hour. We said we'd wait. We counted out all the money and paid and after half an hour, still no carnets. We couldn't wait any more as we had to get to the airport. They said they would be shipped overnight to the agent in Dubai where we can collect them. That would have to do, we have no other options any more. We also confirmed that the bikes were at the docks and ready to be loaded on that night to get to Dubai by the 1st, and all was good, no problems there.

Then it was off to the airport.


Another bike


This is right across the road from a slum, luxury.

Who get's right of way here?

The Airport...  We get there at 3:30pm for our 8:30pm flight. To get in your need your ticket and passport but we only had an email copy of the ticket. It was good enough to show them that on the phone. We had to get the luggage X-rayed before entering the airport, and our names crossed off a passenger list they had at the door (yet everyone else walked by without being checked). Once at the check in counter in between printing off my ticket and Drews ticket (all of 1 minute) the boarding time had changed. We asked them why and they said they plane had just been delayed by one hour.

Then it was the long boring process of Immigration, then another hands on security check. Also make sure the carry on luggage has tags and is stamped because that stamp is checked after it has been X-rayed. Yep, the stuff you have to put through the x-ray machine has to be verified that it's been through the x-ray machine directly after it's been through the x-ray machine... Gotta keep the people employed there I guess.

While enjoying some fine airport food I received two messages on my phone. The first one that the plane had now been delayed to 10:30pm, and then after much vocalisation of annoyance of this there was another message saying the flight had been only dealyed until 9:30pm. That's better, but still not Ideal. We wasted more time and the person who checked us in had found us in the airport and told us that the flight would in fact be leaving on time after all, so can we get to the gate in 10 minutes.... WHAT IS GOING ON IN THIS COUNTRY.

Dubai is an amazing city though. Such a welcome change from India. But more on that when I can upload photos.

Today I emailed the shipping agent again reminding them to give me the vessel and container numbers that I asked for two days before. Armed with this new information I checked a few websites and find out that the vessel didn't dock in Mumbai until Today (two days after they said it would) and that it wouldn't arrive in Dubai until the 7th... Of course the shippers knew this on Wednesday, why can't they just be honest and tell us?

The 7th is a Thursday, and Friday and Saturday is the weekend here, so it's not likely that the bikes will be accessible before the 10th, and who knows how long it will take to get them out of the port. We're stuck here for a while and I'd have no problem with that but it's expensive to stay. But THANK GOODNESS IT ISN'T INDIA...

Thursday 21 June 2012

Pune and the road to Mumbai

After Aurangabad I headed down to Pune. Not much eventful on the way, usual traffic nonsense but on a slightly larger road then the days before.

Pune itself has over three million people, but seemed a lot less congested than other towns. There were big wide roads on the way in which were very easy to get around on. Of course, when you have two lanes painted, and space for ten lanes everyone just spreads out.

The accommodation started to get expensive again in Pune, I checked out a couple of places mentioned in the Lonely planet and all were charging way more than what was listed before. One was in the book for 1200Rs and was now 2500Rs. It did look quite nice. But with the off season discount of 30% that came down to 1800Rs, but then you add tax and it's back up to 2100Rs. Far too much for me. They directed me to another hotel they owned which was a lot more basic, they said it would be 1000Rs per room but when I got there they rooms were crap and the price was actually 1200Rs. I kept looking around and eventually found Hotel Suyra Villa which was listed in the Lonely Planet with nice rooms but had actually kept their prices close to what was listed in the book. I opted for the air-conditioned room for 1337Rs/night.

I didn't do much else in Pune except for eat at the restaurant below the hotel. I went looking for the German Bakery which was in the guidebook and looked very close on the map, unfortunately I didn't realise the guide book was a bit out of date.

The only other thing near by was the big meditation center, but I wasn't too interested in that. There were a lot of strange types wandering the streets near it. Seemed like a lovely place to meditate with all the horn noise too.

I attempted to go to a McDonalds one morning but was searched by security and told I couldn't go in with a camera. It was part of a cinema and they didn't let me know it was all closed  before searching me. I also attempted to go to some shops, but again I was stopped outside by security because I had my camera bag. I gave up trying to go anywhere else in Pune. Not worth it.

Then it was time to leave Pune and head down to Mumbai. There was an expressway that went the entire way but two and three wheelers are banned from it, unfortunately my GPS kept trying to direct me onto it because it was the shortest way there. I stuck on National Highway 4 where it's apparently safer for motorbikes dodging all the buses, pedestrians, cars, and animals.

A waterfall along the way.
Just after the waterfall in the above picture the highway starts winding down the hills. Along this bit was a diversion off Highway 4 onto the expressway, so I get on it and see other motorbikes and then expect to see a diversion back off the expressway onto highway 4 again. But it never turns up. It's about 20km until another exit and because I'm making good time I just keep going past it. after about another 10km there's a toll booth but no bike lane bypass like others, but someone there just waves me through the other lanes, so I keep going. 

Eventually, some police are on the road and they start waving there arms at me and get me to stop. I pull over and the first thing they say is "Motorbikes not allowed! 600Rs fine!". I try to explain about the diversion, and conveniently leave off the part about where I could have taken an exit. I showed them the part on the GPS where the diversion was and they knew about it. After about five minutes or so they seem to understand that I didn't know where I was going and that I wouldn't have to pay a fine. So I ask which way to go from there, back down the wrong way along the expressway to get off it, or keep going until I can get on an exit to national highway 4. They did the usual Indian head wobble (WHAT DOES IT MEANNNNN) and then they packed up and left, driving the wrong way up the expressway. I was confused for a bit and then decided oh well I'll keep going, how many police can there be!

And then not 300meters later I get pulled over by a policeman on a motorbike who was booking someone else.

I take off my helmet and walk back to him having a conversation with the other people. I explained to him that I just left 3 other policeman and they told me that I could keep going up the expressway to get off on to highway 4. He replies with "Two wheelers banned on expressway! 1000Rs fine!". Right, so now I know he's just going to try get money out of me. I kept the fact that the other policemen said 600Rs to myself for a while. He keeps ignoring me and talking to these other guys. I'm standing there awkwardly for a while and then he asks for my licence, so I get the Australian drivers licence out and hand it to him (I have a spare) and then the conversation with the others just keeps going on. Eventually two others turn up out of the bushes and join in and I still have no idea what's going on. He finally gets sick of discussing with these people and tells me to follow him up to my bike. He tells me that it's a 1000Rs fine again, so I go off an explain exactly what happened before with the other police, again. But he keeps saying that two wheelers are banned. The other people come over and interrupt him again so I'm again standing there doing nothing. They talk for a while and then hand him a 100Rs note and a few more words and then that's it, they're gone. This was to make the fine go away. 

He gets back to telling me that two wheelers are banned, again, and again, I explain that I was just pulled over before I got to him and I know this and I'm going up the expressway to get off onto highway four. Again, "two wheelers are banned! there is a sign!". And I explain that there was no sign at the diversion onto the expressway, or at the toll booths, and I have seen them, just not when I entered the freeway this time. He tells me to only speak English. Then, he says it will be a 1200Rs fine, so OK, that's when I got annoyed. I went on a big rant about him telling me 1000Rs when I first got there, and now it's 1200Rs, and then finally told him that the police before said 600Rs. I think this is where he realised that was the proper amount for the fine (and me too, due to his reaction). He held onto my licence and then told me to follow him to the sign that says two wheelers are banned. Yes yes yes, I KNOW they are banned. I walk up to my bike and start putting all my gear on and he rides up to it, still holding my licence. I asked him what if he rides off with my licence, what do I do then? There was some confusion then he gives me the licence back and then rides off the wrong way down the expressway. 

I get on the bike, check the mirrors and he's still going and not waiting for me. I think I got out of paying fines+bribe twice today. I get off the freeway at the nearest exit to avoid this nonsense again.

How long until I leave India?

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai.

The very anti British monument across the road from the terminus...

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Ellora and Ajanta Caves

After Nasik I headed to Aurangabad, the town closest to Ellora and Ajanta Caves. There's no direct road that I could find on maps or anywhere else. I did find news of protests at some new tollway that goes to Aurangabad however, no idea if I went over that. Once I got on my bike the GPS was routing me through a 100km detour into a town to the north, but on the map I could see the roads going there. So it was time to try and navigate by guessing! 

I had some fun leaving the main roads and riding past lots of confused looking people. There was some rain the night before so I was wary about ending up in mud that day, luckily everything was sealed though. Once I got into Manmad I found a surprisingly large city for the middle of nowhere. Even the small cities here have millions of people in them. I found the reason for this place to exist was the massive natural gas plants just nearby which I had to ride past.

Before getting to Aurangubad I stopped at...

Ellora Caves

Now after a long break from touts this is where they started again. And just the people in general. At the ticket window everyone was barging in to get their ticket and pushing me out of the way, I pushed through eventually and got my ticket. Then outside the ticket office are heaps of touts trying to sell guidebooks to the caves. 

I told one of them no immediately but he kept going on about this book so I said no again, and told him I was not going to buy anything from him. Then he looks down and says ok. So then he pulls out a different book and starts asking me if I want to buy that. I told him no, and asked him if he understood, and then got him to repeat the word no with me... That was just outside the gate. 

Inside another person seemed to be walking with a group of people, I thought he was then, he asked me a bunch of usual Indian questions ('what's your name', 'where are you from', 'why did you come here', 'where are you going'). Then finally after a minute of this inane conversation he says he has a restaurant nearby that I can eat at... THANKS FOR LETTING ME KNOW.

Yet another one saw me and he had something to sell, as soon as he started talking I said no, then he paused, started again and I said no over him again. This went on a few times, he laughed and then said OK no talking today.

Anyway, on to the caves instead of the touts...

These caves were dug out around 1000AD, there are over 30 of them and they're divided in to Hindi and Budhist and Jain caves. I rode up to the Jain caves first

Carved out of a cliff!

Inside one of the caves here.

Inside the big one. All this carved from the rock that was here.

Another cave nearby. This one was a bit more impressive.

Carving inside.

The columns left behind when they dug out the rest.

In the center of this cave.

Looking over to some of the others.
Then I rode back down to the main parking lot and visited the biggest of this group.

Yep, this one. They dug it out from the top leaving behind this temple in the middle.

Inside the big gate, this really does look like a Halo level... 

More of that temple in the center.

You can see how much rock they removed, and then created this space underneath.

More rock vs. temple.
After this cave it was too hot to walk around in my motorbike gear so I got back on the bike and headed through the wineries to Aurangabad. I found a decent place to stay at Shree Maya Hotel for 750Rs/night, this will be the cheapest place with air-conditioning that I found in India. After I checked in there was some brief heavy rain. Lucky I wasn't caught riding in that.

The next morning I checked out and headed up to...

Ajanta Caves

I packed up all my gear with the intention of staying near to the caves. However, once I got there I found this a little different to what I expected. As usual there is the Indian tradition of trying to extract as much money out of you as possible. You're directed to a parking area 4km away from the actual caves, to get into this area there is a 5Rs fee for the bike, and a 10Rs "Amenities Fee" (don't know what that one is for). Once I parked I had a few people come over and start watching me pack up everything on my bike, as is usual, but today I was annoyed with it so I told them they don't have to watch everything I do. One of the Indian guys spoke and then the rest left... Rare. This guy would keep asking random usual Indian questions and as I was leaving he would walk by me through all the shops you're forced to walk though when going to the bus to the caves. Of course, this guy turned out to own a shop that sold crystals... Urgh.

I found a quiet spot out the back of the shops where there wasn't much foot traffic and had a drink. All the while this guy was watching me, I think he was calling out to other touts to come over an harass me.

Then the next part of the Ajanta Caves money extraction. Once you get to the area where the bus leaves from they check you have the amenity fee ticket. Then you go line up for the bus. After a half hour wait in the sun it was my turn to get on the bus, and wouldn't you know it, a 12Rs one way fee... And at the other end near the caves you pay for the actual world heritage ticket to get in, another 250Rs for a foreigner. I got another drink at the restaurant here (overpriced by 10Rs compared to the other side of the bus journey) before heading over to the caves.

And here are some. In this bend in the gorge they've carved these caves into the cliffs in 1 BC.  Some of them were made slightly after this, but the one in the middle is apparently the oldest.

Inside cave number 1, the painted ceiling.

The painted walls and the colums inside. Also the pigment safe lighting, no flash is allowed in here, yet people still do it.

The back of cave 1.

Another wider view.

More painting.

This is cave number 2 I think. Each of the caves with a sign out the front you have to remove your shoes for. I was wearing my motorbike boots which are not the best for taking on an off. I elected to skip some of the caves that required it.

Painting on the outside of cave number 2.

Carvings on the inside.

The back area of this cave. Which probably has a proper name but I'm sticking with back area for now.

Another of the caves along the way.

Inside a smaller cave, shoes allowed.

One of the walls in the smaller cave.

This one has a window!

Inside, it was big. All this was cut into the cliff 2012+ years ago...

Suspiciously old elephant, and a suspiciously new elephant... 

Another view looking back out from half way.

The walkway along the caves. There are signs up everywhere to say walk on the cave side of the path in the monsoons...

I wasn't allowed in this one with shoes, got this from the door.

Smaller cave insides.

Another no shoe cave.

This one was unfinished. That's how they do it all then.

And the last one in this set of caves, the biggest!


Just on the sides of those columns.

A 360degree panorama of the area.
And that was it for the caves, buy this time the motorbike gear I was wearing was completely soaked and it wasn't raining... I headed back towards the bus so I can get back to my bike (another 12Rs trip).

When I was back at the carpark I noticed some grey clouds approaching. I figured now that I've seen the caves there's no point staying here, costs too much to get into it anyway. I headed back to Aurangubad back to the same cheap hotel and beat the rain by about twenty minutes.