We'd pre-booked our flight from Delhi to Ahmedabad which added a nice respite from working out what to do. Delhi's domestic terminal was an experience in itself, at the doorway and right up until you pass through security there are heavily armed guards wherever you look. Since everyone stared at us wherever we went this shouldn't have been a problem in the airport but having guards with machine guns staring at me was not a pleasant experience.
They were pretty thorough with the basic search for both of us. At least Poppy got a private booth for her light petting. I feel like I got the raw deal here. India is far more relaxed about liquids on planes, we left our two litre bottle of water in one of the day bags when we went through security and they looked more bemused than anything, granted we tried to drink most of it before we chucked the bottle. The X-Ray man was pretty interested in my stash of gadgets, sending my bag and laptop through the machine a good 5 times before he'd had his fill. Past security there was a pretty big food court where I just couldn't resist a KFC and damn was it good. I even got mistaken for an American by a nice gentleman hailing from stateside who wondered if the burgers were 'as good as home?'. I put on my best British accent to reply 'bloody good grub ol' chap'. I got a chuckle from him at least.
Apart from a last minute change in the flight time, (it was postponed by 8 hours and went from being an hour to two and a half hours long) that I can't thank Ben enough for helping with, everything went quite smoothly. I'm still a complete child with planes and love the take off. Zoom zoom zoom! Apparently no electronic devices whatsoever are allowed to be used on smaller planes (I had the same experience on my internal flight in Vietnam where even my iPod Classic got me a telling off) and even my iPhone's flight mode wasn't allowed. Having been completely unprepared for this with no physical books in my bag (I was trying out eBooks at the time) I was at a complete loss for what to do, so I spent a good hour winding Poppy up. She'd had the forethought to bring real books at least...
We didn't really have any specific plans for a place to stay but rather a short list of ones that would do. We ended up at Hotel Balwas around 10pm (thank you Indian culture for not closing anything until midnightish!) and found we'd made a good random pick from the list. Nice beds, working A/C and a toilet with no flush which confused my other half until I explained that was why we had a bucket and a tap.
Our hotel wasn't listed on my newly acquired bible (A Rough Guide to India that I'd say is a good five years old - not bad for 300 rupees) but with the help of the trusty iPhone and GPS I worked out that we were near Khas Bazaar roughly and at least knew which bit of Advance Road we were on. Our first trip out we found that Indians have drinks bars which do not in fact serve food to the starving George. They also house some really clever mosquitoes. The first bugger got me SIX times before I smeared him up my ankle. We moved on and eventually found some sort of food hall where we had Jeera rice which was pretty tasty but not a great meal for breakfast (scrambled eggs, weetos, meat in a sandwich or a cooked breakfast are about all I go in for).
The Hunt for Red October
I use Travellers Cheques when abroad for a number of reasons; they're guaranteed by American Express, have a tiny commission to buy/redeem, are insured by both American Express and the British Post Office (if you choose to buy them there - I'm not so sure about banks) and like any cheque can be cancelled. I've used them in the states like regular cheques in shops and all over South-East Asia they were excepted everywhere from massive Thai banks to a money exchange stall on the side of the road in Cambodia. I am a fan. I thought nothing of it when coming to India and promptly got my nice packet of cheques with the serial numbers, stashed copies of the serials in various mail boxes around the web and gave physical copies to the usual suspects. The old routine, or so I thought. Ahmedabad has a multitude of banks, most of which do not, in fact, change travellers cheques. Problem. We spent about 3 hours going on wild goose chases around the posher part of the city going from bank to bank on foot and in auto-rickshaws. There was a Western Union back over by the hotel but they wanted a minimum of £500 to be changed and that was our budget for the trip (each). Eventually we ended up at Thomas Cook which the book informed us was very reliable for changing Travellers Cheques and my feeling by this point was: They better bloody well had, i.e. fed up. We were in luck, not only would they change our cheques but they also had the A/C cranked down to Antarctic setting. At this point we thought it prudent to change pretty much all the money we would need until Mumbai, roughly 45,000 rupees or 1 inch of 500 rupee notes. One nervous auto-rickshaw back to the hotel and the cash (our spoils?) were split up and secreted away in various ingenious hiding places.
Ironically it turned out to be a lot easier to change money all across Diu. Lesson learnt: never doubt the cheques.
Having been to what has to have been at least 30 banks in one day there is one thing I can say with certainty about the banks of Ahmedabad: If you go on the rob to one, you will be shot. Every single one we visited had a security guard with a 4 to 5ft shotgun (with optional second barrel). They were all very polite to customers and opened the door for you, some even directed you to the correct counter, etc but they are still holding a ruddy great gun. Add +1 to stress for the day.
A couple of times we were approached by a nice enough guy offering us guided tours around the city including a free lunch. His english was very good and he showed us a book of testimonials from a variety of other travellers. I was pretty skeptical of him having seen the like in South-East Asia that didn't always turn out so nicely, but after taking us to an apparently good bus company to book our journey down to Diu he never asked for any money and genuinely seemed happy to help. It was quite a shock to realise this, it's not something I expect from people who act like touts, but it's a shame that he was just so annoying and he spent a lot of time touching us. Dim Cool.
Exit Strategy and a Revelation
As usual we grabbed an auto-rickshaw for the journey to the bus station. We were leaving from the office we booked at and not the main one in Ahmedabad so we left a little early to hedge our bets. We jumped out early on my prompt to find I'd not seen our bus place, but a shed like waiting room with a red sign....hey, there were coaches everywhere. While trying to get another auto-rickshaw to take us the rest of the way our driver started asking random people where to go and showing the address we had written up. It dawned on me, via some prompting from my more astute girlfriend, that he couldn't read. I thought back to all the other drivers who had done the same thing (the vast majority of them) and was shocked at how many probably couldn't read at all. India is a definitely a country of contrasts.
The bus pulled up and we jumped on. My first impression was: cool, they have a house door to separate the driver(s) from the back and we're getting an actual double sleeper, win! But more on that later. Tune in next week/month/day for Diu!