March 18th Jaisalmer to Bikaner by bus: 6 hours, 6am-12pm
March 18th Bikaner to Amritsar by bus: 10.5 hours, 6pm-4:30am
March 19th visited the Golden temple until sunrise, 4:45am-7am
March 19th Amritsar to Chandigarh by train: 6 hours, 9:30am-3:30pm
We did that all in one go, and it was brutal. BUT, that’s what travelling is about sometimes. Not all parties, beaches, and “enlightening” experiences, that’s for sure. The journeys you make can take a toll on you; I’ve probably lost a year or two of my life just from the stress I’ve put on my body from crazy bus rides and lack of sleep. I will say though, I have never regretted a single adventure. Except for that time I got my camera stolen and didn’t have insurance. That I regretted big time.
We are now in Delhi again (yaaaay, everyone’s favourite city <3 [ehem- major sarcasm]) filling our lungs with pollution, dust, plastic ash from when they burn garbage, and god knows what else. The cows seem to live on a solid died of plastic and they survive though so maybe it’s not that bad after all 😐
So looking back a bit- Bikaner there wasn’t much to do so we hung out in an air conditioned Dominoes for a few hours, lost track of time, and ended up almost being late for our bus. Out of desperation we hitch hiked on the back of a motorbike to make it to the station on time. That was the ONLY bus going, and it was expensive, so we didn’t have any other option than to make it. No tuk-tuks were picking us up and one really nice guy stopped to see if we needed help, and since we didn’t have our big bags, he was able to help us get to the station. We are forever grateful to him.
After a long night bus where we didn’t even get sleeper class, we arrived in Amritsar to see the Golden temple in all of its glory. This was my second time seeing it, but my first time actually going inside. Last time I was alone and there is this really long line you have to wait in to get inside. When you’re alone, it’s boring. This time I at least had Harry with me to keep me company, so it was alright. No photos are allowed inside so I’m sorry to say I have nothing to show for that. I do have a million photos of other Gurudwaras (Sikh temples like this one) if anyone is REALLY interested. But this is THE Gurudwara of all Gurudwaras, so it holds a very special status.
After we were done checking out sunrise, we moved to a cafe to see what we should do next. We considered staying in Amritsar for a night, but we figured it was better if we just kept going for now because we wanted to go to a much farther place next (Shimla). We looked up trains and caught the next one to Chandigarh, with general class. We did not have assigned seats, but still managed to grab some in the crowded space. The train is a lot nicer than the bus because it’s quieter, no honking, only a distant train horn once in a while. Also the bus is jerky with its harsh stops and go’s, and the train is much smoother. ALSO. It’s so cheap if you go general class; we often only pay 50 rupees (1 CAD) for tickets to places that are several hours away.
A quick explanation on the more common train classes of India. (Note: currently 50 rupees = 1 CAD dollar, easy math)
General/2nd seating– It’s the same car, but for general you don’t reserve a seat and 2nd seating you do. There is a minor difference in cost, less than 50 rupees for shorter (4-6 hour) journeys. General is around 100 for a 4-6 hour ride, 2nd seating about 120-140. One time we just jumped on a train because it was leaving that moment and ended up going the whole way without anyone asking us to pay. Free ride! There are downsides of course, it can be dirty, either from people throwing trash or dust/ash from outside, but I never saw any rats like some people had told me. It can get REALLY crowded, or it can be really empty, it just depends on the time and the destination. You will have people coming through the trains trying to sell chai, snacks, water, etc throughout the ride.
Sleeper– This class has actual “beds” you can sleep on that people use as seats during the day. Same as general, it can be dirty, but it won’t be as crowded. During he day most people sit, but at night, you can unfold the “beds” and lay on your reserved rack. There are three tiers stacked on top of each other, which works out just fine because you still have enough room to breath. You aren’t given any blankets or anything, but you might not need them depending on the time of year and where you’re going. If you do, bring a light sleeping bag, or at least a sleeping bag liner is nice to have, and a travel pillow. You will also get people constantly running through the trains selling things, but it’s not so bad if you’re wanting something to snack on. The price is something like 200-250 rupees for 4-8 hours I believe, still pretty cheap. You might end up doing some berth swapping here, it happened to me a few times in the past, either because a whole family wants to sit in one section or you have a lower berth and an older person has an upper. Makes sense, no harm in switching. If you’re tall-ish though, you want the section that has six seats facing each other, because if you’re on the wall side then you won’t fit. On the 3×3 seats, your feet can hang off the edge at least.
3AC– This is where it’s at if you want comfort and not TOO expensive. It’s still pretty pricy for India, but likely still cheap for you. Usually we’re too cheap to pay it though haha. They go for around 550+ for a 4-6 hour ride, but they are much cleaner. The AC is nice if it’s hot, but even if it’s not all of the windows are closed off to the outside smells and dust. The people here are much more educated and often speak at least a bit of English, and they won’t be hoarking up throat goop or chewing tobacco like in the other classes. The people here have paid for peace and quiet, so that’s what they want, although they still won’t hesitate to strike up a conversation with you. There are less people running through here offering you snacks, but still enough if you want something. Otherwise, the layout is exactly like sleeper, maybe with a bit more room. Because it can be a bit chill here, they offer free sheets to keep you cozy.
2AC– We’re starting to get real fancy here. This is where the slightly more elite Indians travel. Ticket prices are, of course, getting quite pricy here. About 900 for a 4-6 hour journey. You do get a free bedding set here as well, and there are only four people per berth instead of six. People often keep to themselves a bit more here; many people are business men/women doing some work on their journey. It’s about the same price as some cheap buses in Europe, but I would say more comfortable than them.
1AC– This can be about the cost of cheap Ryanair flight in Europe, or maybe the cost of a cheap bus in Vancouver, going for 1500 for a 4-6 hour journey. I’ve never used this class personally, I can’t justify it when I’m travelling in a country that SHOULD be cheaper than home. From what I’ve heard, there are berths with 2-4 people, depending on which side you’re on, and the cushions are softer for sitting and lying down. You have actual doors and can slide them shut, even lock them! This might be a good class for someone travelling with a lot of expensive photography gear, or for famous people. For me, though, it’s just not necessary.
Back to the story. About 6 hours later, we arrived in Ambala, a city not too far from Chandigarh. We hopped on a cheap bus to Chandigarh, about an hour, and then caught a local bus to the Punjab University. There, we met up with our Couchsurfing host, who introduced us to some of his friend circle. We grabbed a quick bite, then all sat on the grass lawn within the university grounds. We chatted over chai, then finally our host took us to his place where we crashed as soon as we could. After being in transit for two full days, I can really say we were tired.
We meant to stay for one night, but we needed a full chill day so ended up staying another. We got to do some work and I played a bit with our hosts German Shepard puppy, who was just the most adorable thing ever. While walking to a lunch spot, we also discovered that weed grows everywhere in this area, completely freely. It was really bizarre to see, but interesting to hear that no one really picks it/uses it. It’s a cultural thing. That night we spent some time getting to know our host and he helped us do a bit of trip planning, then it was time for bed.
The next day we made our way to Shimla. We started by taking a bus to Kalka, then hopped on the “Toy Train”, one of the attractions, to reach Shimla. It’s a cute train, but very slow. The journey is fairly scenic and I recommend taking it so you can see sunset along the way. There are several different trains you can take; we took the cheapest one of course, for about 50 rupees each. If I went again though, I might take the more expensive one for about 200, only because the whole time the fumes were SUPER strong in the cars, and it gave me a big headache and sick feeling. The AC cars are closed so I’m guessing you can’t smell it at all. The downside is that you can’t take cool pictures or see the scenery quite as well as in the cheap cars.
Six hours later, we were in Shimla. We walked two km to meet up with our host there, who was our Chandigarh host’s brother. He was a really cool guy who lived with his co-worker in a government house, given to them rent-free because of the job they have. The brother let Harry try on one of his turbans (see below) and we generally had a lot of fun with them and will always appreciate their awesome hospitality.
Shimla is a small city in the mountains. It’s got some really beautiful viewpoints and lots of hikes/treks around. We didn’t do any because we will be doing two in the Himalayas of Nepal, so we’re saving our money for that. We did do a small “hike” (not really) to this monkey temple that had a giant monkey/man statue. There were a lot of monkeys around so it fit quite well. It was a lot cooler there than the rest of India; we actually wore long pants and sweaters, it was amazing. I really loved the colder weather, I still miss it, can’t wait for more mountains!
After Shimla, we took a bus to get to Rishikesh. Because the bus ride was so long, we had to make an overnight stop in Dehradun, which is maybe an hour from Rishikesh. We had a really cool host there, so it wasn’t so bad. I say cool because he was a night photographer, like me, and even had the same gear as I do. Being a shooter in India though, that’s tough when you’re doing night skies. The pollution really takes away most of the stars. Of course having a decent camera helps, but it’s really not the same as shooting in Australia, for example.
Anyway, we made it to Rishikesh the next day easily. It is another holy city like Pushkar, and like Varanasi (our next destination). It’s also a major yoga hub for all of the western yogis out there, offering lots of classes in both the physical and mental (meditation) aspects of the practice. It’s also a hub for many extreme sports, such as paragliding, rafting (Harry did this, I skipped), mountain biking, and trekking. It has a beautiful section of the Ganges running through it, one that is actually blue/green instead of mucky-dirt. The water looks clear and non-toxic, unlike what you would see of the Ganges in Varanasi. The water is quite chilly, but refreshing during the hot days.
We only stayed for two nights again because of the heat, and we’re now ready to move on from India at this point. It’s a hard country to travel, too much stimulation all the time. Some people do it for 2-3 months, I don’t know how they do it, we’ve done it for about a month and a half. So we made a quick two night trip in Delhi with an AMAZING host that I could not speak highly enough about. We wanted to stay one night, but his hospitality and kindness lured us into spending another night. Naveen (our host) lives with his wife, Pooja, and their two brilliant twin sons. He doesn’t speak much English, but through Couchsurfing has learned so much in just a few months and understands everything we say. He can mostly get his point across as well, which is good enough for us. Pooja’s English is great and the twins speak Hindi, English, and French very well, so that also helped. The twins are also talented in piano, guitar, rubix cubes, crazy fast math, and who knows what else. They are smart boys, way too intelligent for their age (around 13). Naveen and Pooja drove us around, had food prepared for us for breakfast and dinner, helped us figure out trains, and even paid for our ticket (we tried to decline but they had already booked!). We spent some cool nights together eating great food and chatting about anything and everything, and being amazed by the boys. We had a comfortable private room to relax in to top it all off- what more could we ask for?
But, we had to leave eventually, so we had the ticket booked and are now at the train station. They had made us a lunch but forgot to bring it, we said no worries and we didn’t expect a lunch at all. Of course they came back five minutes later with some drinks and a bag of snacks. They were too good to us! Anyway- off to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, something I missed last time, can’t wait to finally see it! We are nearing the end to our India journey, so close to Nepal I can almost feel it! I will leave with that for now, until next time.