Welcome to YasoInIndia

I am beginning my journey in Kolkata and traveling along the river Ganges by train. I will document what I see and hear along the way. The trip takes 14 days and this first leg of the journey will end in Rishikesh at the foothills of the Himalayas. I will then go down to South India for two weeks on my own, back to North India (Delhi & Rajastan) for a ten day tour of a number of Social Enterprises. My last stop in India will be the Bollywood capital, Mumbai. I am happy to share my travel stories with you...

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Coolies, Taxis, Drivers oh, My!

Sarnath.  The place where Budha is said to have made his first sermon.  In contrast to the craziness of Varanasi, this place was peaceful, CLEAN, and orderly.  The Budha Vihara was built by a Sri Lankan. The grounds had nicely maintained lawn and gardens.  There was a Jain temple right next to the Stupa. We did not have time to see inside.  Dalai Lama was in town this day.  We saw crowds of people and monks walking or packed into three wheel scooters and bicycle rickshaws coming into the temple grounds to listen to the Lama as we rushed in the opposite direction to catch the train. I am secretly thinking perhaps I will get to see and hear him in Dharmasala, not knowing then that later we would change plans and not go there. 
Finally my cell phone is working after an hour at the Idea service center.  It was so nice to hear Sam’s voice- I woke him up at a god awful hour to test that the phone was working and to say hello- I am already missing my family.     

We are on the train to Mathura, leaving Varanasi behind. Finding our train, the platform and compartment was a wild ride- it always is.  One must ALWAYS hire a coolie (porter) to help carry the bags.  Not only do they carry the bags for you, but they will wait with you until the train arrives and take you to the right car and find your seats.   The Collie is a reliable source of information for changes in train’s arrival time, platform numbers etc. The signs and published information are not always updated promptly. This happened to us in Kolkata. When we arrived at the station only the coolie was able to tell us that our scheduled train was cancelled.  My travel partner somehow managed to get tickets to another train that left a few hours later, managing to save the rest of our itinerary from changing.  One always bargains and agrees on a price before hiring a collie. They probably have a coolie network connection to detail of train departures –I saw a passenger stop and ask our coolie for platform number.  The system sort of challenges your independence.  The traveller and the coolie can’t make it without the other.

The taxis are another story.  Never just flag one from the street unless you know where you are going AND you know the language.  They will try to take you to their networked hotels or shops that give him a commission for bring you in there.  Get a prepaid taxi by the hour and do this with the help of the hotel personnel who can bargain for you and tell the driver where all you want to go.

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