Partway there

Current Jet Airways livery-the "flying su...

Jet Airways - recommended

Greetings from Mumbai Airport – I’m not even going to try to spell it’s “proper” name. Free wifi aplenty, thankfully. I’ve got an hour before my connecting flight to Bangkok and have to say the first leg on Jet Airways was pretty enjoyable. As per reviews, their in-flight entertainment is a little dated but I still found plenty to watch.

By “dated”, it’s the content that’s slightly past it but the technology and facilities are top-notch and probably the best I’ve used on a plane. There were maybe 2 new films, and the rest were “classics” which were by no means a poor selection. It’s just that I’m such a film nut I’d seen most of them before. Plus, I wasn’t up for watching Goodfellas or Raging Bull in an “edited for in-flight” version with all the bad language dubbed!

As far as I can tell right now, my Bangkok flight is on time so I’ll be landing in Bangkok around 7am. I’ve “booked” a bus via Bell as, for some reason, you can’t just walk up to the counter at Bangkok Airport. You pay when you get there, but have to reserve a place in advance. This seems to be a recent things so could be to do with the current troubles. They charge 200 Baht to get to Pattaya, including a minibus drop-off at your hotel.

However, there’s also the government bus from the next stand which is 140 Baht or thereabouts and they do a drop-off about 250m away from where I’m staying, so I might just catch that one instead depending on when I arrive.

OK, email catchup. Next updates likely from wither Bangkok if I have the time or Pattaya when I get there.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Actually, many roadblocks. But I’ll get to that.

Today we managed to be in three different countries. We set off from Bhutan at 7am with the help of our two guides, and entered India by bus. After three hours or so, we arrived in Siliguri where a very nice taxi driver helped us locate an ATM so we would have enough Indian Rupees for the drive to the Nepalese border.

Around an hour later we entered a queue. While we were sat in it, waiting to reach the Indian immigration, a random man walked up to our cab and punched our driver through the open window! He then stormed off, turned round, shouted and adjusted the belt on his trousers. While he was doing this, our driver and co-driver armed themselves with a wrench and screwdriver from the glove box.

Thankfully the madman wandered off and the weapons weren’t used. We never did find out what was going on.

Finally, we reached the immigration point and checked out of India for the last time. Then a quick jump back into the car for the half-mile or so drive to Nepalese immigration to check into our third country of the day. We paid our driver a total of 400 Rupees. He’d started at 350 Rupees for a car that should take seven passengers, but there was nobody else going to Nepal. We’d agreed to 350 between the two of us, but he dropped the price to 300 without us even asking. Given how long he sat in the queue and the fact that he got a faceful of fist, we thought a 100INR tip was fair.

At Nepalese immigration, we checked the visa options of which there are four:

  • Up to three days – free
  • First visit in calendar year for 60 days – $US30
  • Extension or second visit within a year for 30 days – $US30
  • Multi-entry – $US80

We were heading for the 60-day one when the guard asked us where we were going. “Kathmandu”, we replied. “Not by bus you’re not”, he told us.


It seems that there have been some “strikes” and a fair amount of civil unrest around the south east of the country. As a result, there are umpteen roads blocked between the border where we were and Kathmandu. Buses simply weren’t going that way, and a private car/taxi was just as impossible. The only option – by air.

Of course, this means that the price of the tickets had artificually risen with Nepalese even paying more than the usual tourist rate to travel within their own country.

I opted for the free 3-day visa on the understanding I could extend it to 30 days once in Kathmandu if I decided to stay long enough. Hans got the 60-day one.

An American woman popped in on her way out of Nepal into India, and recommended a travel agency she used a lot. Thanks to her, we walked to Sharman Travel around the corner and they sorted us out with two flights for the next day at $US128 apiece. This is around double the usual price, but that’s capitalism for you. Given that the only other option would be to exit back into India and get another bus all the way along the southern border, past Kathmandu and then NE into the capital (around 24 hours solid drive) there wasn’t a whole lot of choice.

He also agreed to accept cash for one ticket and to allow me to pay by Visa at the airport for the second. This wasn’t something I should have been able to do but we simply had no other option. There are no ATMs in Kakarbhitta and the local bank won’t advance cash against a Visa card. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get on any of today’s flights. Tomorrow was the soonest.

So as it turns out, it’s a good thing that Hans had a load of US Dollars on him and that I hadn’t used thirty of them to get myself a visa on entry! As it was, between them and the handful of Indian Rupees and Bhutanese Ngultrums we had left, we had just enough for: one plane ticket, one hotel room, two veg talis in the restaurant and the taxi to the airport in the morning.

Small blessing – the hotel room had a TV with cable so we could at least watch crap films and the footie to while away the time. Only as we settled in, the power failed. So we went for a walk instead.

As it happens, this was worthwhile. Kakarbhitta is tiny. Which is why it wasn’t too hard to find every other non-Nepalese/Indian in the place. Within fifteen minutes, we’d determined that the tourist population of the town was seven, including the two of us.

We stood like a UN meeting in the street: two Americans, a Canadian, a Brit, a Manx, a Pole and a guy from Switzerland. Everyone else had been in town for two to four days waiting for the buses to start again. Apparently a Dutch girl had flown out the day before after an amazing two weeks in this place. How she didn’t go stir crazy, I’ll never know.

The American girl – Hannah, I think – managed to find a shop which makes the Nepalese equivalent of a hacky-sack. Basically, it’s a bunch of elastic bands tied together by another elastic band. A small game of keepie-uppie was formed – Hans and I watched as the Americans tried to convince passing schoolkids to join in. They managed to get two of them interested at one point.

This, believe it or not, killed an hour. Yes, we were that bored. At 5:00, Hans and I realised we’d not eaten since 6am and went off to get that veg thali we could barely afford. Thankfully it was nice.

So, still an evening to kill before watching the live footie at around 9:30. In the meantime, NEO+ Sports are showing ManUre v Norwich from around twelve years ago!

Bangladesh brightens our day

An exchange of text messages told us that Prashant had called Biman Bangladesh and that we’d have to go to their city office to change our tickets to the afternoon flight and cough up 200Rp each for the privilege. A small amount, in fairness, for a very last-minute flight change.

On arrival at Calcutta, I got right on the phone to them and confirmed this as well as the address. Dodging two non-prepay taxis (150Rp and 100Rp respectively), we booked a pre-pay to the city centre for 80Rp. It always pays to check out the options here!

A manic ride towards Park Street where we dived out and ran to the address we had. Only to find that it was now occupied by the Deutsche Bank. Fortunately, the guard knew the location of their newer office and gave us directions. Packs strapped to backs, off we marched.

Ten minutes later, we got there and the staff could not have been more understanding and helpful. Given that we’d effectively given them virtually no warning of our flight cancellation, the change was swift. The cherry on top was that they obviously saw how stressed we were (OK, how stressed I was – Hans really wasn’t bothered at all) and waived the administration fee. This saved us a trip to the ATM and was hugely appreciated.

Another manic taxi ride got us to the airport for 12:45 where we were greeted by a huge bamboo fence around which was a massive throng of Muslims in traditional white garb. Gazillions of them. It took us ten minutes to figure out how to get through the crowd and into the airport. Security was high as they were returning from the Hajj and a large gathering of any religious group is going to make for a target by some other one.

The security staff were really friendly, all things considered, and rushed us through. The guy who checked us after the metal detector even nattered to me for five minutes about our trip around India. Then we realised there was nothing to eat in the departure lounge and they let us back out to get some grub.

Our new flight was slightly delayed, but to nowhere near the extent of our train journey thankfully. We’d also texted Rafiq in Bangladesh to let him know about our change of arrival time, so thankfully he hadn’t wasted all day waiting for us. And Hans wonders why I carry my mobile!

The plane was a dinky 100-seater, so I was a little trepeditious. The last time I was on something that small it landed three times (bounce bounce bounce), but the weather and pilot were more in our favour on this trip and all was nice and smooth. The in-flight meal was two slices of lovely bread/cake, a can of Virgin Cola and the world’s blandest cheese sandwich. Still, we weren’t expecting anything on a 40-minute flight so we weren’t about to complain.

I think I got the World’s Grumpiest Immigration Official who wanted to see business cards and details of the hotel we were staying at and of the person meeting us at the airport. Of course, I didn’t have these. The guy Hans was dealing with simply stamped everything, wished him an enjoyable stay and gave him his passport back. I know how to pick ’em.

Thankfully, up to the time of writing, he’s the only miserable Bangladeshi we’ve encountered. The crowd in the luggage hall had quite a giggle as the belt started up and an aged Muslim sat cross-legged on it started to disappear towards the dangling strips of rubber in the wall with a surprised look on his face. Fortunately, one of his younger companions rescued him in the nick of time. Well, they do have signs telling you not to sit on the thing!

Hans gave Rafiq a call to make sure he was outside and then had a bit of fun with the man at the telephone counter who tried to convince him that the 20Tk note he was trying to spend was a 10Tk. The Bangla “squiggle” for a “2” does look like a wiggly “1”, but the western-style “20” in the corner foiled his dastardly plan to rip Hans off to the tune of 7 pence.

Rafiq met us by the exit and we managed to spot him simply as he wasn’t wearing traditional white Muslim garb or a military outfit. Hans “met” Rafiq via the Lonely Planet bulletin board and he very kindly offered to meet us and get us into the city. He stuck to this promise, refused to let us pay for the taxi, and gave us tea on the rooftop verandah of his house overlooking the city.

It turns out that as well as working in the textile industry, Rafiq’s also part of a group called Dhaka Basecamp. They organise treks, trips, dives, races and so forth. And in his spare time, he picks up random foreigners from the airport and makes them feel welcome! Thank you, Rafiq – hopefully we’ll catch you again before our week is out.

As night fell, we hopped in a taxi to our hotel where we were to meet Mahmud. Another person Hans had met online, Mahmud is another proud Bangladeshi who wants to show his country off to visitors. To this end, not only had he given us some advice on where to go, he’d booked tickets, rooms, trips and guides. And paid for them. Then invited us over to dinner to meet his family.

The details and itinerary Mahmud provided were superb. I’ve dealt with actual tour companies in the past who haven’t been so exacting. We gladly refunded the outlay he’d made and accompanied him and his family out to a restaurant to celebrate his brother-in-law’s wedding anniversary. Again, our offers of payment were refused. Mahmud and family – thank you. If this is a typical Bangladeshi welcome, more people should come here.

The only downside was – again – my tummy being a little dicky, so I couldn’t enjoy the dinner as much as I’d have liked. My apologies to anyone if I seemed a little pre-occupied and not my usual bouncy self!

We’re currently safely ensconced in the Hotel Ramna where I’ve downed my anti-malarials and some anti-poop pills. Touch wood I’m better by morning.

Come back British Rail – all is forgiven!

Oh, what a day… After the last update, we dashed back to the hotel where I dashed to the nearest lavatory. My stomach’s still not completely happy with the world.

We were in good time to grab our bags and get our pre-paid lift back to the train station for the 16:25 train to Calcutta, from where we had a 11:20 flight to Dhaka. We couldn’t spot the train on the departures board, so we asked one of the guards which platform it was from. “None yet – delayed. One hour.”


I needed the loo again and for some reason the train station had decided to target a narrow group. Only male westerners had to pay to go wee-wee. There was no custodian at the female toilet, and Indians walked quite happily in and out of the gents while white men had to fork out some number of rupees.

Well, I only had a 25 Pais coin on me (quarter of a rupee), and I certainly wasn’t going to hand over paper money. Especially as I knew there wouldn’t be any paper awaiting me inside for me to use. Besides, part of my lavatorial trips recently had been purely risk-based. To make an old rhyme more relevant:

Here I sit all broken hearted,
Paid ten Rupees and only farted.

So I strode back to our waiting area, slightly uncomfortable but not prepared to gamble 10Rp on my dodgy tummy. Mind, if I gambled the other way the dry cleaning bill would have been significantly higher. It was only an hour to wait for the train, so not to worry.

17:10 arrived and we walked to platform 6 where we’d been told the train would be arriving. Only it didn’t. We met two German tourists there who informed us there had been another hour-long delay.

Off we trudged back to the entrance hall as it was more spacious, where we watched the tourist chap literally kick a small child up the backside to stop him begging off the tourists.

18:10 arrived… and our train, which was on the board by now, swiftly became the 19:10 express. And then the 19:40.

By now, assuming the train still took 14 hours, there was no way on earth we would catch our flight. Argh. And the Biman Bangladesh offices were, by now, shut.

What do you do when you’re rapidly starting to panic about your flights in India? You call Prashant and he digs out all the phone numbers you need and promises to call on your behalf in the morning while you’re still stuck on the train.


The journey itself was one of the more comfortable as we were in AC2, so somewhat less cramped. Company was good with a middle-aged Indian chap, a girl from the UK called Jen and a French guy called – stereotypically – Pierre.

We got dinner, chatted and the Indian guy curled up in bed. And we still hadn’t left the station. I think we’d moved about 50 yards by this point. Unbelievable. The whole trip was stop/start – seemingly more time stationary than in motion – but we somehow made it to Calcutta station by 11:00 precisely the next morning.

Last bit on Varanasi

People performing Hindu ceremony at one of the ghats of VaranasiImage from WikipediaWell today I get lumbered with a crappy computer with more security restrictions than the Pentagon, 10 keys permanently stuck down, more annoying popups than party time at a cemetery full of zombies, too slow to allow me to upload files and a desktop picture displaying something you’d kill yourself before imagining your parents doing.

And still I provide you all with an update. I’m just too kind.

Yesterday evening we went for our boat trip along the river. It was fairly entertaining, and cheap at 80Rp. The “captain” (the guy with the big sticks that moved us around) told us a handful of facts about some of the buildings (“big building there – mental hospital”) and we parked up near a huge dance and music show taking place on one of the ghats.

It was quite grand, all bell ringing, incense burning and so on. Seven male dancers with a small stage each doing some ritual all in step with each other. I have no idea what it was about, but by the time they’d done the same thing three times it was about time to head back.

The main thing I’ve not mentioned yet is the main reason people come to Varanasi. Cremation. Being a major tributary sat on the Ganges, Varanasi is seen as a holy place and families pay a sizeable sum – around 3000 Rupees – to have relatives cremated on pyres by the side of the river in full public view. The bodies are wrapped in white cloth, often with a more decorative shroud on top, placed on carefully stacked wood and then more timber piled on top of them. The pyres are lit from one fire which is kept burning permanently. It takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours for cremation to complete and the cost of the funeral does depend on the type of wood used. Apparently it’s a rather exact science as wood is costly, so you need to know exactly how much you need to efficiently cremate a person of a given size and weight.

Of course, it also means that the dust falling from the sky while you’re eating your banana pancake on the rooftop cafe used to be Mrs Patel from round the corner.

In other news, I forgot to mention yesterday about the girl who came into the manager’s office while we were checking in. She was asking for a doctor for her boyfriend who had a problem with his belly. No, not sickness. A cow had gored him. It didn’t sound too bad from what she was saying, but he was worried that a rib may be cracked.

We were warned by the manager to watch out for the cows and bulls in the city. It’s hardly Pamplona, but many of the streets are narrow and bulls do get territorial. Besides, would you pick an argument with a creature maybe eight times your body weight that wanted to get somewhere with you standing in its way? I know I’d give it right of way. Or just run like hell.

My stomach’s been a little ropey the last couple of days, but nowhere near as bad as I’ve heard it can get. I’ve been getting a bit of a headache as well, so I’m putting it down more to either exhaustion/lack of sleep or a minor virus rather than the infamous Delhi Belly. Feeling better today, though.

I do have some updates planned for the blog, mainly streamlining the calendar/timeline down the side. The work’s all done on my laptop but I can’t find anywhere to upload the fruits of my labour at the moment.

On a final point, I’m overjoyed to welcome a new addition to the family back home – Taffy, the Schitzu. I knew it would only be a matter of time before my folks got another dog, and I’m sure they’ve not done it purely to convince me to fly back!

Well, we’re off for lunch now, and then to the train station for the trip back to Calcutta. It’s a “2AC” rather than a “sleeper” this time, so it should be slightly more comfy. We go straight to the airport from the train station, which will be the next possible place for an update. After that… Bangladesh!