When I first planned the trip I had intended to travel direct from Varanasi to Mumbai, however India Rail works in a strange way and basically for certain trains there are waiting lists and no guarantee of a seat. We ended up on the waiting list for Mumbai and realising that I needed certainty. I took a map of India and started to look at indirect trains. Eventually I found I could travel from Varanasi – Jabalpur and then from Jabalpur to Mumbai a day later. That is what I booked since although it meant messing about we were guaranteed to get to Mumbai.
Jabalpur is small by Indian standards with just over one million people living there. It is rarely on the tourist map and when we got there instantly we drew stares from just about everyone.
Jabalpur felt like real India, prices were all fixed and no one really tried to rip us off.
I had already susses out what hotel we would stay and when we got there I noticed the room board where all the keys were was almost full, this is a great negotiating tool. He initially wanted 650 for the AC room. I ended up getting it for 350. The beauty of negotiating with hotels is that their overheads are pretty much fixed, if a room goes empty they still have rates to pay and so many hoteliers will bend over backwards twice for your custom. Another great way when negotiating hotel prices is if you say a price and the hotelier is not coming down, stay at the same price but say you will also have dinner/breakfast at the restaurant. At the end of the day you are going to be eating anyway, so why not do it at the hotel and pay a slight inflation of prices but get the room at your desired price, still making a good saving.
We spent pretty much the remainder of the day relaxing after the hefty 20 hour journey and sorting a few things out admin wise.
The second day and I found out there was a water park about 20km out of town. We needed to catch a bus to Baghedad and so we headed for the bus station. Unlike everywhere we had been previously Jabalpur was not set up for tourists, not a single thing was in English and few people spoke the language. The bus station was an absolute nightmare; we were surrounded by about fifty people all taking photographs and tying to help us. I know only about 20 Hindi words and none are really sufficient to ask what bus goes where. However after a while I managed to get it across where we needed to be and we were led across the bus station. There were loads of buses all with people getting on/off. But this bus was empty, I figured we were being led a private charter and as such told the kids to get off, about fifty guys all went into convince mode and we just declined and walked away, I looked back and sure enough they were all laughing away at just how close they had got to being able to afford to boogie on down that night courtesy of me.
Outside the bus station I asked a rickshaw driver the cost and he said 100 Rupees which is a little over a pound. I said that if he took us, waited and then brought us back I would pay him 300 Rupees. His face lit up and within a nanosecond we were in and off up the road. The average Rickshaw driver would not normally earn that in 2 days so the smile across of face was either down to that fact or more likely that when he told his wife he would be getting mucho leg over.
Indian roads are ridiculously dangerous and the surface does not help. The 20km took about 40 minutes and about 5 near death experiences. The water park cost 150 Rupees for me and 120 Rupees each for the kids. Built in 1651 the water park was obviously in need of a lick of paint, there were about 5 slides and 2 pools. One was for young kids and one for older kids, it was no Blizzard beach but the kids loved it and both made many friends. In the 4 hours we were there both kids had different friends and really enjoyed themselves. I just chilled out laughing to myself at all the attention they were getting and bopping along to the Indian Techno that was blasting out at about 25,000W.
There were about 100 people in the park and Charlie was racing down the slides with lads, Abi was having girls do her hair and push her about, when we left the whole water park waved us off, 7 near death experiences later and we were back in Jabalpur. We grabbed dinner, grabbed our bags and set off for our 2320 train to Mumbai.
It was delayed until 0130 and so we chilled out on the platform, we were getting so much attention that the police came along and moved us to the first class waiting room. At 0100 the train was delayed again until 0230 – that pretty much was the story until it finally arrived at 0515. The kids slept and I spent the whole night talking to Atishaya, a 17 year old who spoke better English than most English people I know. He was supposed to catch his train at 1200 but it had been delayed until 0930 the following morning, that’s a whopping 21 and half hour delay. He was travelling to Kolkata (Calcutta) for his entry exams to be an officer in the Merchant Navy. We spent the whole night chatting about everything you could imagine. It was a great insight to many things I had wondered and a great insight to India from and Indian point of view. We swapped emails and Face book details and away we went for the 20 hour journey to Mumbai, the Los Angeles of India where anyone who is anyone lives in the apparently chic, modern Indian city.