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Well, I must confess that i had never *really* thought about travelling in India - there seemed like too much good bushwalking and cycle touring to do before going to a people-place like India. Sharing a country with 1 billion people isn't my idea of getting away from it all! I had always thought that it was a very interesting place though, even though i knew very little about the geography and history (I hadn't even seen Ben Kingsley in Gandhi!). A conference that I have been to a few times (ICMRBS) was being held in Hyderabad (I didn't know where it was either) in Jan. 2005, so i thought it would be a good chance to have a look at a bit of the place.

Map of IndiaTwo of the PhD students from my lab - Fionna and Ann - decided to go to the meeting as well, so we thought that we would travel around together for 9 days after the conference. After reading the Lonely Planet guide, looking on the web and talking to people, we decided we would like to see Rajasthan - a district in northwestern India that offers a lot of history and is fairly well travelled by tourists. Turns out that January (the time of the conference) is a great time to travel in India - temps are good and it tends to be pretty dry.

It seems that buying train tickets is traditionally one of the biggest hassles in India - queues apparently can take hours and there are people trying to scam you. We were able to book all of our train tickets on the web from Australia, and they were couriered next day to the hotel we were planning to stay at in Hyderabad - incredibly efficient! As long as you leave plenty of time (~1-2 months in high season), you will be fine. We also got a lot of helpful information from "The man in Seat 61"...

So, our chosen route was Delhi-Jodhpur-Jaisalmer-Jaipur-Delhi. People were amazed we were covering that much ground in 9 days, but it turned out to be fine. One good way of being time-efficient was that if you book overnight train trips between your destinations, you can just sleep on the train - also save on hotel bills! I found sleeping on the trains to be great - if you splash out on class 2A or 3A tickets (still v. cheap), you get clean sheets/pillow/blanket provided, and a good sized berth - a great way to travel. Of course, i talked to a Scottish chap who was travelling the same trip as I for 1/10th the price, but in somewhat less comfort i suspect...

A commentary on each of our locations is in the corresponding section (along with the photos for that place), but a few general comments on my India experience:

*It was much less drama and hassle than i was expecting. Although there were beggars and touts, they weren't very persistent and the overall amount of hassling from people wasn't too bad at all.

*The Indian people are very friendly in general. Of course, a lot of blokes did seem to spit on the pavement just as i was going past, but that could have been a coincidence - there was a lot of spitting in general... People that you had anything to do with were pretty cheery.

* The book "Holy Cow" by ex-Triple-J announcer Sarah something was a pretty interesting and casually written introduction to the place - nice reading it while i was there actually.

*Of the three of us, only I was crook - and it was very minor (one evening of the runs with a bit of a crook stomach, but that was it). We were fairly careful with water (had our own water filter and occasionally bought bottles). No salad, no fruit other than what you could peel etc.

*Food was great! Eating from the street hawkers is, we thought, very safe - their food has always just been boiled and the turnover is quick, so little risk of illness.