Monthly Archives: February 2011

GlobeTrooper: GCIRC – Day 5


GlobeTrooper
PSSSHHHHHHH!!!! Air screams from the train’s undercarriage as ‘someone’ (names redacted to protect the not-so-innocent) pulls the emergency brake lever. People all over the platform run to the source of the sound; they shout foreign words like gunfire while the conductor chases after them with an authoritative growl.

The GCIRC team is now split: half on the platform, half in the train. Chaos reigns as an argumentative battle ensues. Big military men with big military guns have now joined the melee, and it looks like it’s getting really serious now.
read Todd’s full post here

Lauren
Photo by Todd Sulivan

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Der Führer: Day 8 – Assam


Arrived at 5am in Dibrugarh. It felt like the end of the line already but we had one more train to do to get to Ledo, easternmost point of railways in India. Well, almost. About 10 km further on from Ledo is the colliery at Tipong with it’s own narrow gauge railway.

As we waited the 3 hours for the local train to take us there, a very sorry looking chap with cuts all over him came and lay down in a space nearby. It was one of those incidents when most of us become very uncomfortable  and look the other way and try to blank out some of the sadder aspects of this beautiful country. Andrew however, one of my other friends from late childhood, and who just happens to be a health care professional dealing with learning disabilities, immediately switched into pro-mode and whipped out the first aid kit and began to tend him. Some of the girls offered their assistance too. It was near to train time so, partly through my shepherding instinct to get everyone on the train, partly to reduce the crowd who were amassing to witness Andrew perform this novel activity of tending for the less fortunate, and largely cos I was developing a lump in my throat through the pride of claiming such a great guy as perhaps my closest mate for 30 years and very long suffering travel buddy, I shifted off. Andy got the station master to ring up for a doctor, and they all had to run to catch the train.

Following the usual indecision from half the gang, we ended up with 14 people, including all luggage, in 3 rickshaws. We then set off on a sort of rickshaw grand-prix to the colliery. It was a close run race but Team Stretch reached the chequered flag first. To my relief and delight, the uniform on the gate just took the drivers name and waved us into the colliery complex.

It’s a fascinating place with ever so friendly staff. They have temples mounted above the entrances to all the shafts into the mine. They even pulled out David the steam engine, which alas is only fired up these days for tour groups who arrange it in advance and would naturally want to spend a day or two there. The staff didn’t even ask for any money, but I stuck a generous contribution with the supervisor. If you are in Ledo, which can surely be only on a form of this trip, I strongly recommend you stump up the Rs 500 for a rickshaw and visit the happy miners of Tipong.

Next stop, and following yet further dithering, and a further 15km of backside battering aboard the rickshaws, we arrived at Singpho Eco Lodge, for a 3 hour rest and recuperation session, and an appointment with beer.

Then back to New Tinsukia Junction for the friendly experience of 3 tier AC, More news as we get it.

David
David at Tipong – By Andrew Galvin

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Der Führer: Day 7 On-board the Dibrugarh Rajhdani


And we’re back from pre-paid mobile internet free Assam. So here cometh a blog blitz.

Currently parked at a place called Betgara. Internet coverage has been patchy, then it went off completely. Kothander and another nice Indian bloke had to call up Vodafone for me to get things working again. Everyone seems to now be acclimatised to perpetual railway motion, and are cock-a-hoop with the airline waiter service being provided.
Not a massive amount to say, we’re on a 40 hour train trip, One of the numerous advantages of hanging out on Rajdhanis is that while the windows are hardly spotless, not if you are on the opposite side of the platform and out of reach of the window-cleaning wallahs, they at least dont have that blinkin’ tinted window film stuff that they stick on the ordinary AC2 carriages. So we’ve a lovely view of the paddy fields of northern West-Bengal floating by..
I’m going to attempt my first train-loo shower a little later.
We are now entering Assam so I’m not expecting to be able to post this till Saturday, we’ll see.

The Gang
Photo By Troy Floyd

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Der Führer: Day 6 – Delhi


Well we got to Delhi on the Uttar Sampark Kranti, despite the silly sod of a conductor who tried to ruin it all. I was going to name and shame him, with a photo to boot, but as he’s got a heck of a sight more to lose than I have on this so I’ve forgiven him, and after all it’s given John full deity status and everyone else anecdotal blog fodder. The other expletive deleted aint got no website though.

Captain Shakti
Our Hero: John “Captain Shakti” Hasted

Next issue was my need to communicate the fact that I’ve had enough of providing such a disparate range of budgets with washing facilities. what it takes to organise and run something like this, and the fact that I’m not making a solitary bean out of the whole thing, quite the reverse in fact. Anyway, I put on my ruthless dictator hat when we hit the platform. We’ll have to see how far the message went in as I doubt many of them understand a word I say, colonial types rarely can decipher Oldhamese.
After a quick shower I then had to dash out to get a new sim card. Not sure what the heck has gone wrong with the Mumbai one, I’ll discuss that on Indiamike when I get back if you really need to know about that.
A minor spin off from this excursion to the Vodafone shop was getting to see some massive trade union demo round Connaught Place (well I said minor), and also scoffing down two sausage and egg McMuffins, which is cheating I know but I deserve it.
After a second more thorough visit to the shower, it was then time again to climb on-board. New Delhi station is humongous, and of course our platform was right at the opposite end of the station, so we all bustled our way over the bridge to platform 16, and the glorious luxury of the Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express. All the food is free on here, and they come round with chai and water and even biscuits. A couple of gin and tonics would be nice, but you cant have everything.
Been on this for 10 hours now, only another 30 to go!. All the photographers have crashed out so I’ll tart up this post with some flicks later.

A bit later …..
Actually, you’ll probably have to wait a few days for photos. We are about to hit Assam and despite the promises that our pre-paid sim cards will work, I am informed by someone I trust a lot more than a Vodafone sales rep that there’s no way it will. So the next you’ll hear will be from Darjeeling on Saturday.

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Der Führer: Day 5 – Udhampur


“Everything is going to plan”, your glorious leader said in his last post. Famous last words if ever there were.
Got into Udhampur ahead of schedule. As predicted, there were several trains running late that we would have been daft to book beforehand but were all but certain to arrive late enough into Jammu Tawi for us to catch up the hill.
And so we arrived at the northernmost trip of the connected network. We then piled into two large Qualis taxis up the hill to the prearranged wash stop. All fine and dandy thus far.
There was no mains electricity in Udhampur “they are doing some work on the electricity today”, and so there was no hot water. Some of us are happy to go through the thrill of chucking a few jugs of cold water over themselves. Others had to stay dirty for a bit longer.
Udhampur is a small place off the normally beaten tourist track, and I guess it was a lot smaller before the railway came up here 10 years ago, so we had a nice walk round town.
I told the proprietor of the not-to-be-named place that I had arranged that we wouldn’t need the tiffin meals, and that people would ask for lunch as they wished. It was supposed to have a restaurant after all.
Well he was expecting to screw a lot more money out of us. There was an engagement party for his sister-in-law going on, and several of us were invited to the meal by some of the children.
This just turned out to be a sting. When I got to settling up, the bloke that I had just spent an hour showing how to use wordpress so he could manage the website that I had spent over an hour previously back at base creating for his crummy hotel, now asked for a whopping Rs 125 per person for the entire group for the mouthful of food we’d eaten only to be polite. He Claimed this was because of the tiffins but it was a sting, they basically had way too much party food and he wanted to flog it to us.
At this stage, after 18 months of organising, and 5 days of keeping a group of people ranging from £5 a day backpackers to seriously comfortably well off Internet execs, I started to crack finally.
The half bottle of White Mischief vodka we’d purchased for the communal nightcap went pretty quickly once we got back on the train a few minutes later. I have just ceremonially deleted the website I made for the bloke, and I’ll go through the blog and purge any mention of his hotel’s name.
But the real drama was yet to unfold.
An hour later we arrived back down the hill at Jammu Tawi, and the main block of people booked on the train climbed aboard. And guess what, according to the train conductor we didn’t have reservations and were promptly told to get off the train. Well it was going to take a lot more than some bloke armed with a computer print out to get me off that train. Unfortunately some of the group were a tad too easily persuaded that their trip had come to an abrupt conclusion and took the insane decision to get off the train without being told to do so by a bloke with an AK47 (of which there were actually plenty on the train). It is now that John “Captain Shakti” Hasted, my dear friend of over 30 years and regular India visitor during that period, came into his own and basically saved the entire project from collapse, “GET BACK ONTO THIS TRAIN RIGHT NOW!!!” he bellowed to the crowd of obedient newbies, stood on the platform. They did and, after an extended stand off with the conductor chappie, everything was ultimately resolved. There had been a split booking and as the guy couldn’t read English very well he’d just told everyone to get off.
John is now being justly worshipped by the rest of the group as the man who saved the project from disaster, and I’ve agreed to stop taking the piss out of him, while he continues to take the usual out of me, for at least one more train.
We are now enjoying the luxurious Rajdhani train out to the eastern most extremes of the network. More news as we get it ….

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GlobeTrooper: GCIRC – Day 4


GlobeTrooperBzzzzzz! Up I was at 4am. Okay, there was no alarm, but my internal body clock buzzed after I fell asleep at 7pm the night before. These trains really don’t help with jetlag, but the plus side is that I woke up nice and early to chat with the early-rising locals and train conductors.

As they puffed on cigarettes, the locomotive puffed on fuel, and I puffed on a chilled mixture of diesel and nicotine. Doesn’t sound too pleasant, but this is India, and while my fellow train-mates snoozed away, I was getting my own unique taste of this wild, wild country.
read Todd’s full post here

A train
Photo by Todd Sulivan

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GlobeTrooper: GCIRC – Day 3


GlobeTrooperAhhhh… Sitting back, taking in the scenery, chatting with my fellow trainophiles, getting some much needed sleep, eating some great Indian food, and hanging out the train door at 50 miles per hour… life is good.
It’s the little things that tend to provide the most value, and hanging out a moving Indian train with the sun beaming down and the landscape zipping past, well, let’s just say it’s a refreshing contrast to my previous corporate life.
read Todd’s full post here

A train
Photo by Todd Sulivan

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Der Führer: Day 4 – Amritsar


The day’s off train entertainment began with our Balkan representative almost failing to alight the train at Makhu. Stoycho’s massive bag came crashing onto the platform, followed by our normally suave Bulgarian as the train began to pick up speed.
My next concern was that there wasn’t a friendly face on the platform holding up my name, so as I marched out of the station with my gaggle in tow I was praying that there would indeed be a bus waiting for us.
And Indeed there was, complete with an orange turbaned 6 foot tall Punjabi bus driver.
We only got into the centre of Amritsar as 2:30 pm, so it was a case of walking into the first half decent hotel and taking the first mildly contested deal we were offered. Then splash and dash, or rapid nosh stop, depending on whether your arm pits or stomach were more worthy of attention, then straight back on our bus to take us to Wagah.I've got an ice-ream wafer stuck in my head
As football fans, Andrew and I found the tribal nature of the Pakistan/Hindustan Zindabad chanting contest most amusing, and were half tempted to start a football inspired chant for our hosts.
Back to the hotel, then of to Kesar da Dabar, a highy recommended eatery deep in the back streets of Amrtsar. Arrived there with 5 Xl size blokes in a rickshaw, with their glorius Führer hanging off the side. Alas the Kesar was a bit too rich, the black dahl was swimming in butter. If you do go ask for a something a bit less rich than their most expensive thali, which seems to include about half a pouhnd of lurpack in it. It was a very interesting place all the same, and not a tourist in sight.

Then off to the temple, and oh! boy. I’ve seen a few monumental bulidings in my time, but the Golden Temple really is something, It is also a deeply spiritual place and quite moving in my opinion. To be allowed to walk about as a tourist, hovering respectfully around such a sacred shrine, was a privilage. Thankyou Amritsar.
Then off to the posh hotel over the road and it’s bar, which we occupied as sole residents for a couple of hours discussing which of our virign Indian companions would be the next to bail out. I came to the conculison that one of my quartet of mates is probably more likely than anyone else, as long as the newbies stick to the plan and get on and off trains at the right times as per the itinerary.
We are now aboard the Bhatinda-Jammu express, which gets into Jammu at about 7am. The team seem to be in high spirits, and my plans so far have gone near as damn it to plan at every corner, so far ….

You too can take this photograph

We’ve got endless photos of the temple, and wagah. We’ll have a whole page full of them up later. The main point about the temple is that anyone can take a photgraph of it that you will treasure.

Posted on day 5 in Udhanmpur, details of that to come.

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DrewGilbert: Dwarka – zero to party in 30 minutes


DrewGilbertI expected this day was meant to be a train day, defined by the group getting it’s bearings during a 19 hour train ride. It was this, but it turned into much more once we left the confines of our AC2 sleeper.
The day felt a bit like summer camp, some people in the group knew each other well, most of us were very newly acquainted, there was light talk amongst us, but I got the sense we were all holding back, giving ourselves time to get acclimated to this new environment.
read Drew’s full post here

Chalo!!
Photo by Drew Gilbert

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GlobeTrooper: Safety, Smells and Stares of India


GlobeTrooperEveryone warns to be cautious. To always have an eye on your things. To be aware of your surroundings. And to be especially wary of men (if your a woman).

But really, after a few days in Mumbai, I feel like it’s not so different to South America, Africa, or even North America or Australia. Perhaps it’s because we’ve only been here a few days, or maybe it’s because everyone’s drawn to negative news stories and base their opinions of a place on them alone. I felt more ‘on edge’ in New York last week than I have here in India yet.

But there is one big culture-shocking difference here; the staring.
read Lauren’s full post here


Photo by Todd Sulivan

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AlmostFearless: Day 2 Photos


Photos from Drew and Troy, click here for more
Kothander and the Globhetroopers
Photo by Troy Floyd

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Andrew Galvin : Day 3 – Sat On The Adi-Jat


From the outset we knew our journey could suffer under the law of diminishing return. The most obvious set in early with the fading of our initial adrenaline inspired levels of nervous energy. While we all bounced off the first train with the glee of children at a fun fair keen to get in line for the next ride, Mick observed that the sight of us disembarking from our second leg was a little more bleary than cheery. We’re blaming the five o’clock wake up and the ageing rattly rolling stock but a few of us know that the process of wear and tear will transfer from trains to passengers in due course. Sadly this was true of our valued compadre, Tim, who reached the starting line hampered by Delhi belly only to be hammered by a draughty bone shaker of a train. Tim has returned to the pits for a little TLC and hopes to rejoin the race in a few laps. This evening we find ourselves on a plusher and smoother running train but it’s had its own minor drop off. As I stood in the open doorway camera in hand, eyeing up a promising shot of sunset over Rajasthan’s red desert I was suddenly shocked by a shower of gravel around my shins and a rhythmic whacking sound. Having recoiled and put a protective hand over the camera’s lens I sneaked forward to check what was going on and saw a good seven feet of steel trim protruding at my foot level and flailing about at right angles, kicking up showers of gravel and sparks. I beckoned to the junior railway guards who simply shrugged, waggled their heads amusedly and asked me to take their photo. They had the right attitude of course…they were pleased with the picture and the length of metal simply tore itself loose and cartwheeled away into the sunset.
Train Guys
Photo by Andrew Galvin

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GlobeTrooper: GCIRC Day 1


GlobeTrooperTrain travel seems downright boring. You get an allocated seat on a speeding bullet with little time to really appreciate a new destination. That’s on the face of it anyway. And that’s what I expected too.

I knew the Great Circular Indian Railway Challenge would be adventurous from the aspect of covering such a vast distance in such a short period of time, but I also expected us to waste away on a multitude of 10- and 20-hour train trips.

But boy was I wrong.
read Todd’s full post here

Dwarka
Photo by Todd Sulivan

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GlobeTrooper: GCIRC Day 0


GlobeTrooperThe raucous story-telling and laughter mysteriously descended into an awkward silence. We all looked away between scattered beer bottles, smirking with slight embarrassment, the way people do when they’re stuck for conversation. This time was different though; it wasn’t a lack of words or inability to converse, but a simultaneous realization of what lay ahead. The silence broke when Mark, our fearless leader (aka Der Führer), muttered the timeless words, ‘The calm before the storm hey?’
read Todd’s full post here

Mumbai
Photo by Todd Sulivan

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FoggOdyssey: GCIRC Day 01


FoggOdysseyWe arrived at the station in the north of Goa, called Thivim Train Station. Our driver showed up on time and charged us 800Rs but I think we could have gotten a better deal. Then again maybe I am just being tight already. The train station was nothing special and as we walked in we seen a long line of about 40 people. So when in Rome, do as the Romans, and we got in line. I had thought that the sales lady who sold me the train ticket only printed off a receipt of it and that we had to pick up a boarding pass once at the train station……
read Troy’s full post here

Fat boys in t-shirts
Photo by Troy Floyd

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DrewGilbert:Mumbai – Controlled Pandemonium


DrewGilbertWriting this while riding the Saurashtra Mail, our first and longest train ride of the trip. We departed mumbai at 8:25pm Friday and will arrive at Dwarka at 4:00pm Saturday…….
read Drew’s full post here

Mumbai
Photo by Drew Gilbert

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We Have Lift Off


We are on the move. Currently just left Lakhtar, not a clue where that is but it’s somewhere in Gujurat. If you can read this then you can work that out yourself.

The band came, played, for about 3 minutes, then some nice men with large sticks and green uniforms turned up and told us we hadnt asked for “permission” and that it wasnt fair. How much “permission” would have cost didnt get discussed as the band ran off. We stopped them clearing off completely and continued the party just outside the station.

Those of us wise enough to join the tiffin club were suitably smug once aboard the Saurashtra mail. Not only was our dinner quite delicious, but the train wasnt offering nourishment of any kind anyway.

I’ll have a professionally taken photograph of the band, who turned up replete in Trumpton firebrigade outfits, once the main man has woken up.

Photo by Tim Steadman
Photo by Tim Steadman (the main man regarding matters of a photographic nature)

We have loads of great video of the band, including lots of footage of some fat guy dancing. Once we can get some decent bandwidth we’ll get them youtubed for your enjoyment,
To be continued …

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All Aboard!


Things are about to change around here in the next few hours as this show hit’s the railwoad. After 18 months of endless interaction on as many social networking media that I have been able to fathom, litterally tens of thousands of emails and forum postings, and a few too many hours trying to second guess as many potential pitfalls as possible, the moment of truth is upon everyone daft enough to get sucked into this. 5 years since I first posted the idea on the indian train geeks forum (IRFCA), 7 Brits, 4 Americans, 3 Aussies, a Bulgarian a Singaporee and even an Indian!, are all convened here in Mumbai ready for blast off. No one else in the group knows more than a couple of other people at most, often nobody, and few of them have even spoken to anyone else on the trip, even on the internet, till we hit Cafe Universal last night. So far no one has fallen out with anyone else.

I’m all connected up with my USB dongle thingy I just bought for 25 quid, and for that price in theory I can tweet to my hearts content 24 hours a day round the entire trip, with the exception of Jammu where such pre-paid internet access is deemed to be a threat to national security.

We also have Christine Gilbert and her almost fearless blog giving a daily account
http://almostfearless.com/2011/02/17/the-great-circular-indian-railway-challenge-live-blog/

And the Fogg blog
http://www.foggodyssey.com/2011/02/16/great-indian-railway-challenge-train-travel/

It’s now 5:30am local time , and I’m slightly the worse for wear after our inital meet and greet drinking seassion last night, and in a room with just a few too many people in it. The tweet rate on the blog is now going to go haywire depending on what’s just happened, or more likely gone wrong.

More news and views  as we get it, iin the mean time, here’s a picture of a circular building to be going on with

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