Snapshot Sunday: The Old Victoria Terminus, Mumbai

Mumbai CST

[ptcPhoto filename=”MumbaiCST-640.jpg” title=”The Old Victoria Terminus” caption=”Victoria Terminus in Mumbai, Maharashtra – India” position=”center”]

Renamed the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in 1998, Mumbai’s most iconic railway station was completed in 1887. It is the busiest train station in Asia, with some 100,000 passengers passing through the Victorian Gothic structure each day.

Click here to view larger image.

One Month In: How’s it Goin’?

One month in and we’ve already had a lot of great experiences, from meeting dolphins to riding bicycles around the ancient city of Hampi. Sam finally convinced Eric to grow a beard, so in his own way he’s now competing with the dreadlocked men who roam the backpacker trail.

[ptcPhoto filename=”ericbeard.jpg” title=”Eric sporting a new beard” caption=”Eric sporting a new beard” position=”right”]

Health Matters

Knock on wood, so far we’ve had no major health issues. We haven’t been extremely careful about what we eat, so maybe our adventurous diet at home prepared our stomachs for the onslaught of foreign foods. We have been pretty careful about water though, drinking either bottled water or tap water that we’ve sterilized with our SteriPen.

Our feet are another matter altogether. Sitting in a cubical for 8 hours a day didn’t prepare us for the amount of walking we’d be doing on the trip, so blisters, cuts, and sore muscles greet us with every step. But our feet are getting tougher and calluses are slowly forming in the key spots.

We’ve had the occasional bout of homesickness, which often crops up at breakfast time when we’re thinking about bacon. We’re going through bacon withdrawal! Moving quickly from place to place can take its toll, so we’ve been trying to take breaks when we can. This past week was spent lying on a beach in Goa, which has been perfect.

We’ve only had one minor breakdown so far when Sam accidentally submerged her foot in a hole of unidentifiable, warm, foul-smelling liquid behind a public bathroom at a bus station in Bangalore. Luckily we’re up to date on our Hepatitis shots so it looks like she’ll be able to keep the foot.

What Have We Been Up To?

We definitely don’t miss work, but we’ve had to devise a schedule so we don’t go too long without updating the site. We’ve declared Mondays our website “work days”, assuming the internet gods grant us connectivity. Eric’s MacBook stopped working so our productivity has slowed in recent weeks. Thankfully there are service centers in Delhi where it can be fixed.

[ptcPhoto filename=”mysoreGanesha.jpg” title=”Ganesh the Internet God” caption=”Ganesh the Internet God” position=”left”]

Day-to-day tasks like research and hand-washing clothes take up the time we don’t spend exploring new places. In her role as trip accountant, Sam tracks every rupee spent and has become more insistent about staying on budget. Eric mastered the extraordinarily confusing Indian rail system, so we’ve been taking advantage of trains even though they lumber along at a snail’s pace.

A noticeable development is that even after a short amount of time traveling, we’re finding that things become more and more relative. In particular, the concepts of “clean” and “expensive” have taken on new meaning. We find ourselves thinking things like, “It’s just a couple of cockroaches – no big deal!” and, “The bananas two kilometers back were eight cents cheaper. We should wait and go back there.”

What Have We Been Eating?

[ptcPhoto filename=”SriLankaCurry.jpg” title=”Sri Lankan Curry” caption=”Sri Lankan Curry” position=”right”]

In the past month we’ve enjoyed some amazing world cuisine as well as some bland imitations of it. In general we find that the closer you are to the main tourist areas, the more disappointing the meal. We’re always on the hunt for unapologetic, authentic, local food.

Food in Sri Lanka was tasty but a bit too consistent. Curry and biryani with mounds of rice were often the only choices on the menu, so after a week or so we’d had our fill. Sweet Sri Lankan tea was always around to wash it down.

[ptcPhoto filename=”IndianChiliGobi.jpg” title=”Indian Chili Gobi” caption=”Indian Chili Gobi” position=”left”]

Already we are finding that India has more variety and we’re looking forward to sampling street food once we get to the larger cities. At the moment we’re stuck on Gobi Manchurian (AKA Chili Gobi), a spicy fried cauliflower dish.

Plans

It looks like we’ll be in India for another month or two. In a few days we’re heading north to Jaipur in anticipation of the upcoming elephant festival and Holi, the spring festival of colors. We’re really looking forward to seeing Caroline in Delhi at the end of the month!

Sri Lanka Costs: $51 a Day

Having just reopened its borders to tourists in 2009, Sri Lanka is a relatively new travel spot. Essentially untouched by large developers and many of the hassles that accompany well-worn backpacker trails, it’s still possible to travel there on a shoestring. We did exceed our budget of $40 a day, since Sri Lanka isn’t quite as affordable as its large neighbor to the north. And we definitely got the sense that prices are rapidly rising as proprietors test the waters on what visitors will pay to enjoy the country’s beautiful beaches and cultural attractions.

Here is a breakdown of our costs. This table does not include costs to enter the country, which included $52.00 in airfare (this is when we used airline miles to fly first class) and visa fees of $60 ($30 each).

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 18 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $278.25 $15.46 Our lodging choices ranged in price from $7.92 in Anuradhapura to $27.71 in Unawatuna.
Food $262.41 $14.58 Food prices on the beach tended to be much higher than local food shops, with the exception of roti stands. Local places had better food and music.
Transportation (within country) $33.62 $1.87 Transportation can cost as little as $1 a day!
Entertainment $251.21 $13.96 Includes SCUBA, Horton Plains National Park, whale watching, and the cave temples at Dambulla.
Alcohol $81.34 $4.52
Incidentals $19.16 $1.06 Includes the costs for items like sunblock and internet.
Grand Total* $925.99 $51.44 *Total reflects expenses for two people. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare)

Some Examples:

1 L water – Rs.70 ($0.55)
640ml beer – Rs.240 ($1.90)
Hotel near the beach – Rs.2500 ($19.80)
Meal at a local’s restaurant – Rs.300 ($2.38)
Ice cream cone – Rs.50 ($0.40)
Western-style breakfast – Rs.500 ($3.96)

Snapshot Sunday – Hampi

[ptcPhoto filename=”Narasimha.jpg” title=”Lord Vishnu” caption=”Mighty Monolith in Hampi, Karnataka – India” position=”center”]

Click here to view larger image.

This monolithic Lakshmi Narasimha, the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, was consecrated in 1528 CE. He’s been casting this intimidating glare for over four hundred years from his home in Hampi, Karnataka – India.

A Guide to Riding Buses in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Bus

Sri Lankan roadways can be heavy with congestion and noise. Rather than using mirrors and turn signals, drivers honk their horns* in order to let others know that they’re passing or turning, making for very loud, hectic journeys. Getting from point A to point B can be frustratingly slow in a country around the size of West Virginia, but along the way you may have some of your best experiences seeing the countryside and meeting locals.

[ptcPhoto filename=”bussmile.jpg” title=”A smile for your bus ride” position=”center”]

If you’re visiting Sri Lanka, traveling around the country like a local is the best way to go. Although tuk-tuks are always around (really, you can’t get away from them), they tend to be much more expensive than public transportation and we made it a point to use them only when necessary. If you need to get to where you’re going quickly there’s really no better option and they are a lot of fun to ride in, although they don’t go that fast (which is probably a good thing, because they don’t seem safe!). We found that they charged around Rs.80 ($0.65) per kilometer, but prices are negotiable. Sometimes the people at your hotel will be able to give you a ballpark of what they should charge for well-known routes. Remember to agree on a price before getting in!

[ptcPhoto filename=”tuktuks.jpg” title=”Tuk-Tuks” position=”center”]

Buses are ubiquitous and cheap, but we rarely saw other tourists taking advantage of them. The bus network goes everywhere and you never have to wait more than five minutes for one to drive by. There’s one main highway from Colombo that stretches all the way around the southern coast, so getting from town to town is as simple as walking out to the road and hopping on. Bus stops are marked by blue signs and yellow paint on the road that juts out from the curb in a large rectangle. You can hail most buses but be prepared to get on quickly as they don’t always come to a complete stop.

Two people operate each bus. Along with the driver there is always a second person that collects the fare from passengers and helps the driver not to run people over as they’re getting on and off. The conductor also assists the driver in navigating through obstacles on the narrow streets.

Usually the ambiance of Sri Lankan buses is festive, filled with the sound of local music that is a nice reprieve from the late 90’s soft rock rubbish they play at the beach resorts. At times there are even music videos or strange soap operas. At the front of each bus are flowers and colorful photos of deities. Most have prominent gold-plated boards featuring various gods that are encircled by blinking LED lights. The consistent use of this particular type of décor makes us think that they’re state funded. The omniscient ornamentation isn’t always enough though, and it’s not uncommon for the driver’s assistant to hop off the bus and leave a quick offering at one of the thousands of roadside shrines that dot the country.

A few tips for riding the buses:

[ptcPhoto filename=”clergy.jpg” title=”Clergy Seating” position=”right”]

  1. If you have your pack with you, you’ll need to store it as soon as you board the bus. In many cases there was a space next to the driver where you can put it, but sometimes it has to go under your seat. In certain cases you’ll be asked to store it in the boot. If so, make sure the conductor remembers to get off and open it when you get to your stop.
  2. Seats at the front of the bus are reserved, which means that you may have to get up if monks, pregnant or disabled people board. If a monk does get on, women cannot sit next to them so if you’re of the fairer sex it’s better to sit elsewhere. It is also a common practice to offer your seat to the elderly so they don’t have to stand, and we saw many men offer their seats to women as well.
  3. Once you’re on the bus and situated, the conductor will ask your destination and collect your fare. Ask him to let you know when you’ve reached your stop if you aren’t sure where it will be. You can also ask a local, they’re usually happy to help. Pay attention to the shops you pass as they often have the name of the town in English, and keep a map as it’s a good to have some idea of where you’re going anyways.
  4. If you don’t catch the bus at the station, you may need to stand for all or part of your journey. Either way, make sure to hold on as the ride can be quite bumpy and the drivers have a tendency to accelerate and brake abruptly. Try not to stand near the doors as they are strictly for show and do not close.
  5. Personal space is limited. If you get knocked in the head by a handbag or two, it’s not intentional – the buses can be quite cramped and it seems like there’s always room for one more.
  6. If there’s no bus stop at your destination, there are small switches on the ceiling to alert the driver you need to stop. He will not stop the bus immediately, however, so make sure to let him know slightly ahead of time if possible.
  7. There are no toilets on Sri Lankan buses. Longer routes will make an occasional bio-break stop, but the facilities are usually unpleasant.

[ptcPhoto filename=”sriLankaBus.jpg” title=”Sri Lanka Bus” position=”center”]

The cost to ride buses in Sri Lanka is negligible. As an example, the journey from
Matara to Nuwara Eliya (220 kilometers/130 miles as the crow flies) was Rs.310 each ($2.50USD). But it did take 8 hours! BTW, we searched everywhere for this information so I’m going to put it out there for Google: There are two daily direct buses from Matara to Nuwara Eliya, and they leave at 6:10am and 8:00am.

Private bus companies are also affordable and have A/C, however, they may want to charge you for an extra seat if you have your pack. Overall we preferred the public buses.

*Just for fun, here’s a list of reasons drivers might honk their horns. We observed all of these, although given the amount of noise on the roads there may well be more!

Horns may be used to…

…alert people you’re turning

…alert another car that you’re passing

…warn pedestrians that you’re there

…say “thank you” after passing

…tell someone to get out of the road (including livestock)

…say hello

…alert others that you are speeding around a blind corner in the wrong lane

…alert people that you’re driving down the road in the dark with no headlights

…just to honk. Sometimes we couldn’t discern a reason!