Tuesday, 14 February 2017

One Day, Two Trains

Woken for the 20th time during the night to find out it is close enough to morning that I shouldn't bother trying to go back to sleep. The thin, hard mattress hasn't offered much comfort, and we are both aching. Down off my bunk to sit with Michael for the last hour before we arrive at New Delhi Station. Out of the window we see many little makeshift houses that have been erected between the tracks and the buildings next to the railway line; there isn't much space, but lots of families are obviously living in these slums . There are children sitting right next to the tracks eating their breakfast, and everyone on this huge train has a view of these families going about their mornings. There is no sanitation, so where there are gaps between groups of homes, on areas that are too rocky to live, these people are using that earth as their bathroom, man after man squatting to do his morning business, genitalia dangling in full view of the train. I wonder what the poor women have to do. Suddenly the smelly toilets on the train don't seem so bad.

Back in Delhi once more and it's straight up to the Foreign Tourist Ticket Bureau. We take our number, fill in our form, and then one of the two ladies calls us up. 8am is clearly the best time to come here, when all the other tourists are still in bed. We get our tickets for the same day to Lucknow, but the train doesn't leave till 1.10 and doesn't arrive in Lucknow till after dark. It is not ideal, as it is always more stressful arriving somewhere in the evening. There are less rooms available, and after 36 hours non-stop travelling we will be tired and stressed, but I would rather that than stay in Delhi for any longer than we have to.

We have just under 5 hours to wait, so we head out towards the Chaudni Chowk in search of some breakfast. The streets of Old Delhi are starting to come alive and men are going about their business. Shops are being opened, chai is being brewed, deliveries are passing on carts pulled my man or cow. Everyone is in a rush to get somewhere. We arrive at the road that leads to the Red Fort and end up eating in a canteen cum sweet shop that Luis and I found on our first day in India, three and a half years ago. It's kind of a fast food place, but we get a chance to put our bags down for a bit.

Refreshed and fed, we try and visit the silver quarter, but apparently it doesn't get going till noon, so a slow walk back to New Delhi station via the Jama Masjid mosque where we sit on the steps and watch the tour groups arrive one after one. No photos inside as I refuse to pay the 300 rupees for the ticket for my camera.

More time to kill back at the station so we just end up crouched on the overhead walkway waiting for our train to be announced. So far our luck with Indian trains on this trip has been amazing and we have experienced no delays, and this train too pulls onto the platform a full half an hour before it's scheduled departure so we have lots of time to find our seats. Thankful that we are in the luxurious (it's not actually that luxurious) 2ac class as we watch the crowds on the platform rush towards the unreserved carriages.

I don't get train etiquette on Indian trains, in fact I don't think there is train etiquette, it's more a case of do what you want, sit where you want, leave your bags where you want, eat what you want and make as big a mess as possible and definitely don't respect anyone's personal space. Like the time this afternoon when I woke from a very quick nap to find a woman sitting on my feet!

A slow 8 hour ride with a little rest, but mainly lots of discomfort, and we arrive in Lucknow just a little after 9pm, the Indian couple sharing our compartment offering to share their food with us. It smells amazing but we decline as we are only 12 miles from the station and won't really have time. The usual crazy welcome at station. Lots of people wanting to help us with transport or finding a hotel. It is impossible to think with five or six people shouting prices and hotel names, Michael gets the brunt of it and is more polite than me and so ends up having conversations that he doesn't want to have. I am more blunt with my 'no's' but you have to repeat no thank you at least 10 times before they finally give up. Across a pedestrian walkway and then down the busy street that we think leads to a cluster of hotels. Offers of help that we don't want every step of the way, a lot of the hotels are more than we need and out of our price range but we stumble down a side street into a smaller establishment. Lots of discussions about rooms and prices and questions about how long we will be staying. We are both too tired to think clearly so we go round in circles for a bit. Eventually we end up in a huge room with a balcony and most importantly a clean comfortable bed. Checking in takes as long as it usually does in India with a big book to fill in and copies of our passports and visa to be made. We order some biryani as we haven't eaten properly since our breakfast in Delhi. We are in the room just after 10pm but the food doesn't arrive till nearly midnight. Eventually we get the hot water working so I had a chance to wash away the two trains. Michael then sat down at the chair by the table, only the seat of the chair was only really held in place by a whisker, so he fell straight through to the floor. It was funny from where I was sitting on the bed, but when I got up to help him off the floor I got the full view I really couldn't stop laughing till I cried and my stomach ached. Poor Michael. The biryani was delicious when it arrived and then finally to bed after 40 hours with no proper sleep.