happnin' udaipur, india - includes "super-sick" and the worst bus journey ever

Yolanda’s bit
Udaipur. Last stop in Rajastan before Mumbai. Called Venice of the east, it is a romantic city. The old part is surrounded by an ancient wall and in the middle, another lake. And in the lake, a few little islands. The biggest one is covered by a super luxury hotel where one of James Bond movies was filmed. It was the only movie they were showing in all restaurants in town as a tourist attraction. You couldn't visit the island unless you stayed at the hotel.

Udaipur would be the place to relax for 3 or 4 days. Our room had a little mezzanine with another subroom encrusted on one side with a mattress, cushions and curtains in the one thousand and one nights style. The stonewall enclosing it had Arabic geometric patterns drilled on it to peer into the outside world. Miles would make a good use of it when he got really sick a couple of days later.
Visited the city palace compound where we quite liked the paintings of the Maharaja in different social events with a hookah glued to his lips in all of them. Saw the other palaces and old stones and took a boat tour round the lake. Surprising to see half naked native women bathing in the ghats. Tourist attraction? Went to see the sunset at sunset point hill. It had been a long day and decided to treat ourselves.

We went for a drink in the restaurant of an expensive hotel (the only place you could have one in town). We were the only ones there and tabla music was played just for us. Had a magnificent dinner in a restaurant at the edge of the lake and went to sleep.
In the middle of the night Miles started doing trips to the loo alternated with puking loudly through the geometric patterns on the wall of the one thousand and one nights mezzanine sub-room and onto the street. Spectacular. Till the morning. I didn't feel great myself either and our stay in Udaipur got extended a few days into a recovery period.

We thought it was time to finally travel by train but, as everybody was going to Goa for the big Millennium party and Mumbai was on the way, there were no seats available. That also helped us decide not to spend New Years' Eve in Goa but visit it afterwards if it was still there and us too.

A 16 hours bus trip to Mumbai became 24 hours of non stop torture. It was supposed to be a tourist (equivalent of luxury) bus and we were the only tourists aboard. The bus was pretty basic and so were the passengers. After struggling with the agency boy to put our rucksacks in the oil container instead of under our feet, it took four hours to set off with a change of buses in between. The old stinky bloke behind me was the noisiest and smelliest thing I've ever come across. Talking non-stop in his centenarian chronic bronchitical voice, coughing his guts out with phlegm, farting poisonously, burping, smoking these foul cigarettes, sticking his asphyxiating feet out between our seats. That was just the guy behind me. And it was a whole bus full of them.

It was like travelling in filthy stable on wheels. Around midnight the bus stopped to pick up a bunch of Indians who looked like scared beggars and didn't have anywhere to sit except for the narrow corridor. The man in charge of the bus had made some money out of this and everybody on the bus got pretty angry and violent with him. It got a bit scary.

Roads seemed to have been made by a drunken psycho and the journey was arse-breaking as ever. And Miles was still pretty sick. At 3pm next day, hottest time of all, we were dropped in the middle of the road some 10kms out of Mumbai.
The rest of the trip to Seashore Hotel was a chain of rickshaws-train-no train (it's so packed you can't fit a fishing rod in and it doesn't stop for more than 10secs for you to throw yourself and your rucksack in) -taxi under the smashing sun, extreme exhaustion and bordering a nervous breakdown.
We reported to reception looking like hysterical soiled sweating dehydrated animals and got a box-room with no window but with a TV.

Miles’s bit
Udaipur - the most characteristically Rajastani place we visited. Our hotel had a rooftop looking out over the city and lake to the distant hills in the west. This was where I first noticed that the crescent moon was on it side, I guess from being nearer the equator? The film Octopussy was partly filmed here so consequently all the local restaurants churn out video shows of it to amuse their guests, Roger Moore speeding through bazaars in a super-fast auto-rikshaw.

Visited some more big marble palaces, was boated on the lake and had a romantic meal in a lakeside restaurant. That night I was sicker than I've ever been before. I projectile vomited out of the bedroom window in to the ally 2 floors and left and impressive pebbledash and a bewildered looking cow. I kept a tally of events but lost count. I spent a few days recovering and re-hydrating. We soon left Udaipur which was a shame as it was nice.

The next journey was bad (an 8 on the scale). Our bus was timetabled to leave at 3.30pm so we arrived at 3pm to be on the safe side (huh!). After sitting around impatiently for ages, we were rushed to our now fully loaded and waiting bus at 5pm and were told we would have to carry our luggage (rucksacks and all) on our seats as there was no room anywhere else on the bus. I had a bit of a stand off with one of the many bus persons saying that if we'd have been brought to the bus earlier….
Eventually they stuffed our packs in some other compartment under the bus with a whole load of oily tools. 10 minutes later back in our seats the engine started. 20 minutes after that we left the bus stand and traveled 50 meters down the road into a petrol stand. Some time after that we set off again (after waiting for one of the passengers to return who had hopped off to go and make a phone call), we got about 2 minutes down the road again and stopped, and some people got out again.
We watched some workmen on the other side of the road start digging a hole to lay some pipes. Lots of people were now getting out of the bus bending over and pointing under the bus. I got out of the bus with everyone else and bent over to see what all the pointing was about and saw the slowly expanding puddle of engine oil. Some time after that another bus arrived (it's all a bit of a blur now), there was a minor riot as everyone transferred their baggage (I did slightly better this time while Yolanda went for the seats, a better system). We eventually left the city at around 7pm as the workmen on the pipe were patting down the soil and preparing to go home.

Not more than half an our later we pulled into the first refreshment stop, and everyone piled out for chai. The bus people must have taken a backhander here because as we left about a dozen low-caste hill people joined the bus and took their seats in the aisles. There was a huge row between one of the passengers and one of the bus men. They waved their arms a lot and shouted in very fast hindi at each other, their faces separated by an inch. Then the lights all went out and the journey continued.

All the passengers (mostly men) took their shoes off and all made various bodily sounds as they digested their recent refreshments. It was all pretty horrendous. No sleep. The bus rolled on. Some time mid-morning the next day as we approached Mumbai we made another lengthy chai stop which I spent the whole 40 minutes of going to the toilet, coming out, exclaiming "out my god" and rushing back in. Some time after that the bus made its last stop and we were left on the road side in Mumbai, or what we thought was Mumbai. It turned out to be about 30 Miles north of Mumbai (it's very big you see).
We were advised by the bus people to get a rikshaw to the nearest station and get a suburban train to where we wanted to be. After queuing for a ticket in the 35-degree heat we struggled with our luggage to the platform. It was already crowded, we were tired and I was still sick. The train pulled in to the station. A few hundred people leapt from the train before it had stopped moments before a few thousand threw themselves into the train's open carriages.

We had tried, we had failed. Later we found out that all of Mumbai's suburban trains only stop in stations for 10 seconds so as to keep to a strict timetable. We eventually paid for an expensive taxi to take us to the doorstep of our hotel. It was now 5pm, 26 hours after leaving Udiapur. We slept a lot after that.