My latest, utterly shameless, piece of blogospherical Search Engine Optimising post titling, is an update on the hotels we’re looking at for our splash and dash stops along the way. As has been stated repeatedly, this is not a sponsored fast, and it’s not a sponsored stink either. My top two posts so far are the one about the bridges, and the one about Shantanu’s route planner. So I’ve high hopes that this one will get sucked up into Google, and hence everywhere else, and I’ll manage to entice another few hundred hits a week out of it and a few more randomly interested individuals to join the Facebook group.
Anyway, here’s my boring update on the details. If you’ve just found this blog and aren’t actually considering joining us or looking for travel tips, I’d find another post to read.
Our hotel of choice is the YMCA for those of us unlucky enough not to have Mumbai rellies that we can kip at. Making advance bookings here is reputed to be of limited use though, but I’ll try it all the same.
Of course us unlucky ones wont have our Mumbai rellies telling us that we are quite mad to do this, and berating us for not spending these precious two weeks traipsing around the in-laws and meeting all the new rellies they’ve acquired since they last saw you.
We haven’t worked out the catering arrangements for the inaugural charging of the tiffins , though we have located where these things are bought, which is Kalbadevi, just by Chira Bazaar, not far form Marine Lines station.
This has now risen to the top of the concern list. It’s likely that we’ll have 1 hour flat to wash, get the tiffins refueled, and pay our respects at one of India’s most important temples. I’ll probably amend this post when I get something more concrete. Right now all I can offer from any personal recommendations we’ve had is that there’s a cheappie near the temple called Lohana Samaj.
One of the group is actually based in the Gujarati capital, and is a regular at Ashray’s. We’re hoping to organise for them to refuel the tiffins ready for blast-off on the ADI-JAT express at 11am. It wil be a Sunday so we hope to be able to have a cup of chai with a few other acquaintances we’ve made during the research phase who are also Amdavadis. There’s a Brahmin place opposite which is cheap and cheery, there is also a Mohti Mahal near the station for anyone already keen to upgrade their comfort levels.
This is the one day of genuine sightseeing anyone on this trip is going to get done. The Ahmedabad – Jammu Tawi Express gets into Jammu at about 7PM, which is after the last train up to Udhampur at the northern tip of the connected network. So rather than just kip the night in Jammu, we will trade that for an afternoon/evening in Amritsar, and then get the overnight Bhatinda-Jammu Tawi Express to get us into Jammu in the morning. This will allow us to do the extreme west of the Grand Trunk Road within India (hands up if you’re glad you’ve already chalked off the genuine extreme west end of the GT in Peshawar, NWFP) And of course we also get to visit one of the holiest shrines in all India, not to mention one of the most photogenic, especially at night. So along with Dwarka and Rameswaram , the divine authorities have no excuses for not bending over backwards to make sure we get all the way round in one piece.
At one point yesterday I had high hopes of us all managing to catch some well needed cleansing at the SGPC hostels just outside the Golden Temple itself. These look like the ultimate place to experience one of the holiest shrines in Sikhdom, or anywheredom for that matter. It turns out you dont have to be a paid up gurdwara attending Sikh to stay there, such are the extents of Sikh hospitality and generosity. And it’s only Rs 100 a room. Alas the bad news is that you simply can’t book them in advance, you have to roll up there unannounced and hope. Doing that in a group of 2 or 3 is one thing, 20 to 30 is another dimension altogether. After a night on the ADI-JAT we’ll all be needing a rinse, so alas this just isn’t an option.
I’ve surfed up this place Kesar Da Dabha, which is right between the bus station and the railway, and appears to be exactly the kind of “hidden gem” establishment I’m looking for on my food quest. There have to be plenty of cheapie hotels in this region who are going to play at “we’ll pay the asking price but we want to use the rooms 6 or 7 times over for a few hours”.
We’ve organised to stay the afternoon at the Pine Villa Guest House. (edit, no we havent, they’ve got a wedding on, were now at Samrat Hotel & Restaurant
Court Road) To be honest it was actually the only place I could get a response from, but it has a nice garden and they were happy for us to book just a few rooms for us to use for showering.
Samrat Hotel will also be serving up 30 odd thalis for lunch, and the same again to stick into the tiffins for our journey on Uttar Samprak Kranti that night down to Delhi.
Rail Yatri Niwas is the often recommended option here. If you are actually staying the night and your budget stretches to £15 per day for a bed, then it’s a none too shabby option. These IRCTC run places are now called Ginger Hotels, and while their website claims they are totally booked-up for eternity, this isn’t really the case.
But all we need are shower facilities for a few hours in the morning. If we are just one or two we could attempt to do this at the waiting rooms on New Delhi station itself. But we ain’t. It’s also likely that one or two of us will by then be feeling the strain and would prefer to lie down, most probably with an en-suite bathroom within lurching distance In which case they might opt for Yatri Niwas.
We’ll almost certainly be nourishing ourselves in the Connaught Place vicinity, which also gives us an excuse to use the metro for one stop. Opinion is divided on which is the best eatery and it will probably be a period of free play anyway.
24 hours into our voyage on the Delhi to Dibrugarh Town Rajdhani, yours truly is going to be making a real fuss about the state of the breakfast he’s just had to endure. There’s a dandy new food plaza at NJP, pictured in the previous post, so I’m hoping they can dish up half a tonne of thali to us during the 20 minutes we’ve got there.
Ledo, Tipong and Digboi.
So we’ve got some prime contacts down here, although things are still cooking on this most easterly of fronts. We hope to be eating at one of eastern Assam’s fledgling eco-resorts at Singphow eco lodge in Katetong, and we’ll be spending the night at one of the various hostelries at Digboi. Possibly at the appropriately named Oil Lodge , and some of us may even be lucky enough to spend the night on the refinery premises themselves. This is one of our only two nights not trying to get some shut eye huddled into a train berth.
The “prime contacts” we have in this region are actually both from Dhemaji itself. We’ve been offered some genuine Assamese hospitality to tide us over for the Arunachal Express overnight to Rangiya. I did warn them about the potential group size, but as everyone knows everyone else in a town like this, we could end up with more snacks than we can handle.
Haven’t a clue yet, but this will probably be free play and worked out on impact. It’s our second of our 2 nights in a motionless bed. I’ll be making sure I have something in my tiffin for the delightful journey down the DHR the following day. And I’ll certainly be paying my respects at the NJP food plaza before boarding the Darjeeling Mail.
We’ll be enjoying our special guest star, the “Kolkata Tram” (see t-shirt) nice and early after our scheduled arrival at Sealdah at 6AM, getting the number 14 tram and then I think the 22 to Park Street. Cheapsville for the cleansing phase is Sudder street, we’ll probably hit there and try and work something out on the spot.
I made an extensive summary of the excellent IndiaMike “Kolkata Nostalgia and Gastronomy” thread, listing all the recommended eateries in town. Sudder Street is just a block away from Park Street, which has a wealth of recommended establishments we can try out for breakfast. South of Park Street on Elliot is the universally adored Suruchi’s, so we’ll perhaps try that for lunch. By which time Kolkata will be in full swing, and trying to tram it to Babu Ghat for the ferry will probably end up in tears,. So we’ll most likely cab it there. Once at Howrah the food plaza there has been repeatedly recommended, so that’s where the tiffins will be re-charged ready for the Coromandel Express down to Chennai.
My chief agent in the field, Sri Murli-ji, has got us a caterer there who will bring to Egmore a royal feast for our next train, the “Boat Mail”, or Rameswaram Express. We may also have time for a preposterously large dosa somewhere aswell. The wise men of the IR timetabling department have moved the departure of the Boat Mail back a critical 90 minutes, so I’m feeling quietly confident that we’re not going to miss that, and with it Rama’s bridge and the most coastal of Indian stations.
The Tamil Nadu hotel has varied reports, and they haven’t yet responded to my attempts to broker a deal for 30 odd people. But the thali is supposed to be good, and the beer is reputed to be cold, so that’s most likely where we’ll be spending the afternoon before climbing back on board to catch the night train to the Cape.
Oh! Baba. Reports of Kanyakumari range from bad to awful. It’s probably the most tout infested tourist trap that we’ll hit on the entire trip. We’ll also be landing at the excruciatingly early time of 4AM, though I’ll actually be hoping that we’re a few hours late for once. Sod’s Law of course states that we will be bang on time, and trainenquiry.com doesn’t hold out much hope for a delayed arrival. But it’s the penultimate stop. If things get silly we just sit on the quayside and maybe sort something out at Trivandrum.
The Coffee House right outside the station is a must. Principally because its great, but also for its crircular architectural qualities. Getting 30 of in there could prove as problematic as anywhere on the trip though. I wonder if they do Costa style take outs ?.We also need somewhere to stuff the tiffins full for one last stretch. Our research teams haven’t explored this yet, though I have fond recollections of a banana leaf, all you can eat thali in Trivandrum sometime in the middle of the last century.
We’ve had a kind offer from an Indo-Anglian in Mumbai for a party to be laid on upon our return. More details about this nearer the time, but you’ll need to be holding a series of correctly stamped train tickets to gain admission.