Saturday, 3 April 2010


Tuesday 30 March: The wonderfully named Himalaya Queen snakes her way back down from Shimla to Kalka. Not as plush as the Shivalk Deluxe but I'm in (soft) chair class and have a forward-facing window seat in the rear carriage - great (see previous Kalka to Shimla entry for photos). But as soon as we escape the bylaws of Shimla the Indian passengers resume their favourite pastime - littering - and with a vengeance. Every imaginable food and drink container and more are tossed out the carriage windows with abandon. After a short lunch stop I even have to keep my head inside to avoid being hit or splashed by garbage - plastic glasses and bottles of every shape and size, paper cups and tea dregs, tin-foil and paper cartons of every description, greasy plastic and paper bags, even pressed polystyrene meal trays spin out of the windows, slopping with food as they go. Glass bottles fly the furthest tumbling down the otherwise pretty hillside - this is India.
At Kalka I board India's premier rail service, the Shatabdi Express, to Delhi. It's all 1st class with afternoon tea, a three-course dinner, mineral water and a newspaper included in the price, 535 Rupees (about £8), luxury. A chilled red Merlot would make it perfect.
Wednesday 31: Bhopal is a large city split in two by a pair of attractive lakes, the chaotic old Muslim hub with mosques in the north and the quieter, more spacious modern centre to the south. A causeway lined by pretty little gardens links the two.
The state capital of Nadhya Pradesh, Bhopal is a great place for a stroll. So I walk up to the main mosque, then down across the causeway, along the pretty lakeside gardens with large fruit bats hanging from trees and, after lunch, end up at the State Museum. It houses fine stone temple sculptures and, ploughed up by a local farmer in 1992, a hoard of 87 small Jain bronzes - the female deities have strikingly erotic hips.
In the evening I find a Indian style hole-in-the-wall, men-only, bar selling ice cold draught Hunter Strong beer at 30 Rupees (45p) a glass. It also comes in bottles and tastes slightly better than Kingfisher. I decide to stay two nights here and treat Sanchi as a day trip.
Friday 2 April: Before I leave Bhopal I feel it would be remiss of me not to visit the Union Carbide site. When I eventually explain to a rickshaw driver where I want to go (clearly not a popular tourist destination) he is happy to take me there, at a very reasonable rate, and brings his son along to interpret. As we climb through a hole in the perimeter wall I'm shocked and surprised by the scale of the remains of the former US owned chemical plant. It's now a very sad and rusting memorial to 3,787 men, women and children who were killed outright, by leaking methyl isocyanate gas, during December 1984. These were perhaps the lucky ones. The poison still lingers in the survivors and in their children, born later. The legal battle for their compensation is ongoing.
Bhopal photos.

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