Full stop in Gandhidham
Maybe I just didn’t listen closely enough to my own advice. When we were ready to leave Mount Abu, we had about a week and a half left in India. We didn’t want to spend all that time in Mumbai, so we needed an intermediate destination to burn a few days. I figured Ahmedabad, just cause it’s “on the way”, but the folks we stayed with in Mount Abu convinced us that we should go check out Mandvi, a nice beach town on the far west coast of Gujarat (about as far west in India as one can get).
This plan would have been splendid if we could have gotten seats on the sleeper train from Mount Abu to Bhuj (an hour from Mandvi), but unfortunately it’s obscure enough that there’s no tourist quota (which is how we’ve been able to book all our train tickets on such limited notice so far). So rather than dropping the idea altogether, we turned to plan B, in 4 parts, which only begins to sound miserable in retrospect.
Part I: Ride a bus for two hours down the winding, mountainous road to Palampur while whole families are puking out the windows in front of and behind us—the entire time.
Part II: Buy general seating, non-AC tickets for the 6 hour train from Palampur to Gandhidham (because those are the only seats that exist). On the plus side they only cost 150 Rs or about $3.50—for the both of us! Eat lunch at a nearby restaurant that only had menus in Hindi (that’s ok, food words are the only Hindi we know: namaste, aloo mutter and paneer masala, please). Get on the train at 2:45, traveling west. It’s 45°C outside. The windows are open. It’s bone dry. The water in our water bottles feels hot to the touch. Our sweat instantly evaporates leaving white streaks of salt on our clothes.
Part III: We arrive in Gandhidham. It’s just before 10pm. It’s dark. We walk from the train station to the bus station in order to catch the hour and a half bus to Bhuj. I feel pretty out of it. The 10:15pm bus doesn’t show up till 10:45. People crowd on. It’s standing room only. Stephanie is not getting on that bus, and I don’t blame her. We walk back to the train station, through the dark, thinking maybe we could pay a taxi to take us to Bhuj. My pack is feeling incredibly heavy. There are no taxis. We walk up to one in the parking lot, but the driver doesn’t seem to want to do it. It’s too late. (Suffice it to say, we never made it to Part IV, the one where we actually get to Mandvi.)
So we walk out of the train station, again, in search of a hotel for the night. As we’re preparing to cross the main road, a man in an SUV pulls up. He asks what we’re looking for. We say “We’re looking for a hotel.” He says “I’ll take you.” We say “How much?” He says “Nothing, really.” In the back of my feverish mind I’m thinking no one in India does anything for “nothing.” He takes us to one hotel. Too expensive. He takes us to another. Cheap but no AC. We go to a third. AC and decent price. The bathroom is grungy, but it’s just for one night. The guy from the SUV is still with us, helping to translate. I try to offer him 100 rupees for assisting us. He waves it off.
At this point I’m starting to feel delirious. I take my pack off, sit on the couch, and stare vacantly at the magazines on the coffee table. It turns out the hotel doesn’t have the forms they need to book foreign tourists. We can’t stay here. We have to go to yet another hotel down the street. You have got to be kidding me.
I put my pack back on. We head to the fourth hotel. I can barely function. It looks a lot nicer, for the same price. Stephanie fills out the copious forms, I sign my name six times over, thank the man in the SUV profusely, and finally head to our room to sit under the shower. The cold water gives me chills. I can only tolerate it warm. The AC is on, but I’m shivering and bury myself under the covers. I can’t move my body but somehow my mind is still clear. I know what I need: Anti-inflammatories (Advil), check. Cold water with rehydration salts (Enerlyte), check. Cold compress (bandana, not the quick-dry towel), check. Stephanie is a selfless nurse. I don’t know how she’s still functioning. I am so lucky she’s here.
At night I get up several times. My bowels have liquefied. I feel a little nauseous, but I never throw up. My body is sore. My head aches. I spend all day in bed. We begin a course of antibiotics (Ciprofloxacin) just in case. I can barely sip the rehydration fluids. My fever breaks sometime in the mid-morning. My body starts to feel normal, temperature-wise. But I have a splitting headache. We wisely decide to spend a second night in Gandhidham.
The next day I feel a lot better. A mouse decides to keep us company in our room. Oh, India. We spend a third night there, and make plans to take a bus to Ahmedabad the next morning.
aww justin, I know this was a week ago or so. I hope you are on the up swing. I know the feeling of being sick traveling and wanting someone to be there. I am glad stephanie was a there to be your nurse.
Yikes. Sounds awful and tough… but what an experience! You guys are amazing troupers. After an experience like this I probably would’ve been ready to call it quits and stay for a week at least! (maybe…) ;)
Yeah, it kind of cast a pall over the end of our time in India, but sometimes moments like these force us to slow down, which is what we really needed after all. We could also see “the end” in sight (both for India, and the trip at large), so that helped too.
I think it was the hardest when we reached 6 months (in Vietnam) and were wondering why in hell we thought we could do this for a year. But we got a sort of second wind in SE Asia, and that helped us along. It’s hard to believe we’re nearly at 9 months now.
Sad to hear you had a bad experience in Gandidham. It’s my hometown but I am not surprised if backpackers face a problem here. A bit of history – this city was originally developed as a refuge town for the people from the Sindh region of Pakistan who came to India during the partition. It’s still a pretty small city and mainly an economic and commercial one since its close to India’s two largest sea ports, Kandla and Mundra. It’s not famous for many things either so the people are not accustomed to foreign travellers, let alone backpackers. There are a few tourist hotels but they are expensive. Don’t even ask if they’ve heard of AirBnB ;) Hope you enjoyed the Rann (salt marsh) of Kutch though, since it is pretty magnificent to watch and does attract a lot of travellers, though mostly in winter (around December) during which there is a special festival called Rann Utsav ( translated as “the festival of the Rann”) showcasing the cultural beauty of the people living in the desert.
Pankaj, thanks for your comment. My experience in Gandidham has very little to do with the place itself, and more to do with my poor health at the time. The help we received in finding a hotel from an anonymous stranger actually stands out as one of our more fortunate experiences from over a year of travel. I just wish I had been well enough to appreciate the city more fully. India is a challenging place for a foreigner, but at the same time, deeply enriching. I do hope we have the opportunity to return some day.