Fine bit of date planning for the first day. Arrive in Delhi Thursday morning via a very cold Munich to blat down to Hazrat Nizamuddin station to catch the Goa express south. Original plan was to stop a night in Agra to see the Taj Mahal again but…. Tomorrow is Friday and the Taj is closed for prayers. Hey ho, I’ll do it on the way back. I have seen it before and it is all they say it is.
Knackered from the flight and hung over from all the Baileys the stewardesses forced me to drink. The train leaves at 3 giving me over 4 hours to kill. I could of course drag my bag around Delhi which as one of my clients imagines only contains a loin cloth but sod it. I went to sleep in the waiting room instead. Unless you have travelled by train in India it is difficult to describ the experience. It’s goes a little like this:
You are dropped at the station by taxi or rickshaw and are immediately set upon by rickshaw drivers (despite just having stepped out of one of the things) or baggage porters who can at times be very insistant. It’s best to travel ultra light in India and strengthen your grip.
No matter what time of day you want to travel the station is always packed. Take a look at the clocks at the end of Slumdog Millionaire. It’s the only time an Indian station is ever quiet.
You need a ticket so you go to the ticket hall where there are numerous empty booths and 3 with enormous queues in front of them. You guessed it, you queue up! The Indians are generally good at forming lines but there are always a few that try to push in at the front or try to blag someone there to get their ticket for them. Very loud arguments ensue.
Buying a long distance train ticket is not like at home. You are put on a “wait” list with your seat or berth being confirmed nearer to the train departure hence the long queues I guess.
An Indian railway station is not a place to be if you are claustrophobic or can’t abide close human contact. The defense employed against queue jumpers is to tighten up the line by pushing your body firmly into the body in front of you while all the while yabbering at full volume either to your neighbours or into the ubiquitous mobile phone.
The cramp becomes unbearable towards the front as the line focusses on creating an impregnible barrier to the booth. The Indians are very stoic however. Lots of shouting, a little shoving and plenty of wagged fingers but no fights. If this was the system back home there would be riots.
To the platform. Yep it’s packed. People are everywhere milling around the carts of prduce and huge bails of cloth waiting to be loaded on the train.
My train the Goa express is on time. A Kashmiri strikes up a conversation. He is going all the way down to Vasco in Goa and will be on the train for 2 nights. Flying is not an option for him as that would cost 90 quid. The train is only 9. Anyone who has spent time in India can guess what a Kashmiri so far from home does for a living.
I am travelling a relative hop and skip by comparison. 360km to Gwalior im Madyha Pradesh wher allegedly sits a fine hill fort. My newest Kashmiri best friend agrees but he would not want to stay ther. Says it’s “too dirty”.
OK I cheated on the ticket. I reserved in the UK as long distance trains are often booked solid well in advance and I did not want to be stuck in Delhi overnight. Still had to play sardines to confirm the reservation though.
I am booked in sleeper class. Again difficult to describe to someone who has never been. Imagine a new railway carriage. Leave it in a field for 60 years. Divide into 10 compartments each with 6 flat blue benches 3 on 1 wall and 3 opposite. By day the middle bench hinges down to form the backrest to the lower bech where the 6 passengers sit. By night the middle bench is raised and voila! 6 beds.
I have travelled sleeper class at night and “sleeper” can only be used in the loosest of fashions as with all the farting, belching, hawking (the noise of India) and snoring Nessum Dorma!
Another observation. It’s winter here also but the temperature is in the mid twenties. That’s pigging freezing to the locals who are togged in a motley assortment of blankets, thick overcoats, wooly hats and earmuffs.
Hawkers continually wander up and down the ailse selling drinks, food and trinkets. Chants of “Chai, Chai, Cawfee, Cawfee” are one of the quintessential sounds of India. Oddly and a first from me is a He-She hawker in Rhajastani women’s clothes simply clapping his/her hands and then demading 10 Rupees. Go swivel is the unanimous response.
The train’s first stop is Mathura Junction and it seems thast the town’s entire maternity ward was waiting. The carriage is now full of screaming sprogs along with the normal cacophony of chat.
Getting weary. Over four hours on an Indian train tacked onto the best part of 24 hours of travelling is weighing heavy.
Gwalior finally arrives. Normally when I arrive at a destination I immediately sort out my exit strategy by buying onward travel but maybe it’s the time of year but the station ticket hall is rammed and all I really want is a beer.
And that’s where I end this rather long post written over a rather long journey in a darkened room that the Indians call a bar drinking my first bottle of hayward’s 5000 in 2 years. I will return to Indian bars and beer later.