One of the phrases our guide uses very often is this:
This is not stating the obvious. Rather this is a reminder to us all at regular intervals that we are about to experience something that is at odds with out our western experience, or is going to challenge us.
Several “This is
- The streets. Man, the streets. So jammed packed with people you can barely breathe. You don't know busy til you've been here.
- The hawkers. This term applies to beggars, peddlars and bloody annoying people, of which there are many. These people will get their own special little blog post. Oh yes.
- The filth. I have never ever seen filth like it. You are never more than a couple of feet away from a freshly laid human turd, a mountain of refuse, a rotten carcass, or a puddle of piss. In every city. In every street. That photo of the Taj Mahal I posted? Bet there’s a turd in it somewhere. Think of it as Indian “Where’s Wally/Waldo?” 100 rupees to the first person to find it. (It's not in my hair)
- The confusion. Turn round and you’ve lost your party. In seconds, if you are distracted, you will find yourself lost. You have had it. No one will find you, you will find no-one, you will not know how to get yourself found. You will be standing bewildered and anxious. And beside a freshly laid human turd. No doubt.
The first time out guide uttered the phrase, “And remember, this is
I was excited about the sleeper train because of a lie told to me in the form of a Wes Anderson’s film called “The Darjeeling Limited”. For those of you who haven’t seen it, three brothers (Luke Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) take a train across
“Remember. This is
I always think it is a great shame that train stations in any city are the first thing that travelers usually see. They often showcase the worst aspects of any city. Even polite German towns with their pristine streets and their conscientious and efficient citizens will have a a porn cinema situated next to their town train station, a manky old drunk lying in the waiting room and a dodgy bloke accosting you in the gents toilets appraising one's penis as you try to pee (I'm told). I will never turn my nose up at such mediocre amateur seediness again.
I have been through
How to replicate Delhi Train Station in 5 easy steps:
1.Take the entire population of a small country. Perhaps the population of my own would give a representative figure.
2. Take a train station the size of Edinburgh Waverley or one of the more medium sized
3. Spray liberally with urine.
4.Release ten billion flies. And several hundred mangy dogs.
5. Lie half the people of the aforementioned population down on the passageways to all platforms. Give extra flies to those lying down.
6. Crank the heat up to 45 degrees.
Our small party of 23 white-faced, stressed-out, frightened faces make it through the station onto our platform. Well, probably our platform. Even our guide is unsure. There are ten thousand other people on our platform. or what feel like ten-thousand people. ALL of them turn to stare at us. If it wasn’t so frightening it would be funny.
The train arrives and the ten thousand people rush forwards. We are pushed towards the edge of the platform and the railway tracks. I hold onto my kids for dear life as grown men push my five year old daughter aside without a thought as to anything other than getting a seat for them and the cage of chickens they are holding. I shout angrily at these people. I am ignored. Two of the school pupils help me out and together we get me and my kids on the train.
Somehow we all make it onto the train. The head count is frantic but swift as the train pulls out of Delhi. We think we are on the right train. But must find our carriage. For this cannot be ours. For one, we are supposed to be in a sleeper carriage, reserved for us. There are other random people here. There are only open benches with foam vinyl coated seating. And no doors. This cannot be ours. Scary looking blokes are here. They do not feature in the "Darjeeling Limited", so they will not feature in my Indian train ride. Begone scary men, I want polite be-turbanned gentlemen with outstanding moustaches serving me mint tea and scones. My Indian dream has no place for stinky gits eating rice out of a plastic bag.
I am wrong.This is our carriage and scary random men will feature. Heavily. In fact scary random men are going to be the leitmotif of my Indian train adventure.
After 1 hour we discover that :
Yes, we are to be sharing our compartment with other people;
Yes, the benches are our beds, yes we may have a random unknown bloke in the bunk above us;
Yes, there are no doors to each compartment;
Yes this is second class. Like it or lump it. If you wanted privacy you should have gone first class. They have a thin curtain to draw across. The lucky bastards!
I am sat across from two men. Our guide cannot believe what has happened. He booked the carriage for us, so that we can stay together, with our charges near us. As is our responsibility. But no, the train conductor assures us that these other people have every right to be here. In the way that train officials do, the world over. Cultures may differ. Train conductors do not.
So we begin our negotiations. I think this will be a simple task. If you explain to people that we are a school party who must sleep altogether, then people will surely understand and gladly swap seats with us.
How wrong was I? People DO NOT want to move. Our guide is getting nowhere fast. He pleads, he bribes, he cajoles, he negotiates. Yet, people are determined to stay put. In fact, some people start to get really bloody angry. Especially the bloke next to me who exhibits the behaviour of an complete and utter pig. After a further hour of this nonsense I start to lose my rag.
Eventually, the compartment me and my kids are in is the last one to fall. The man beside me refuses to move to our excess seats to allow my family and some of the school children to sleep together. He and his friend start to argue once more with the guide. I don’t speak Hindi, but I know everything he is saying. I have only one trump card to play and if it doesn’t work, I am buggered and will have to sleep next to the man, as well as having bad feeling between us after a failed argument. I delve deep into my most emotional blackmail reserves.
“Do you understand me when I speak?” I say.
The man barely meets my gaze. I think he is deeply uncomfortable that I am speaking to him, “Yes”
“Are you a Dad. Do you have children?”
“Yes” he says.
“These people are school children. Their parents have entrusted them to us to keep safe whilst in
The man is now not looking at me.
I have lost.
But his friend is. He listens to me as I warble on getting more melodramatic with every second.
And then I start to cry. Mainly because I’m so bloody angry.
“Please take our seats and let our children sleep beside us. Please. Please” I say in a last ditch attempt.
Tears are streaming down my face. I feel a right bloody idiot but I can't help crying.
Suddenly then they pack up and leave. Maybe because they think I'm a mental.
Shame that the same couldn’t be said for the family of cockroaches at the carriage window.
They will be with us the whole 16 hours til we reach Varanasi.
Next: "Bring out yer dead!". The funeral pyres at Varanasi
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