Monday, 13 February 2017

Another Travel Day

Today we leave Gujarat, and catch a sleeper train back to Delhi, but first we have to get back to Ahmedabad. Photos in the hotel with the driver before we start the long drive back. We make good time -- despite the many herds of cows and water buffalo in the road -- nearing the outskirts of the city at around 1pm. Our train isn't till 5.40pm, so we have a little time to do a bit more touristing before we need to be at the station. We ask to go to the Adlaj Step well and on the way we have an unexpected stop at the strangest temple I have ever been to. It is an artificial mountain, a couple of stories high. We deposit our shoes and follow the arrows;?there is a quick security stop where I am told I am not allowed a pen, while Michael is allowed in with his pen but has to turn his phone off. Very bizarre. We follow the white tiled switchbacks through the fake rock, and then we catch up with a couple of Indian guys who point us through a low archway. We end up crawling on our hands and knees up hill through a tiny man made tunnel, emerging into the daylight a little further on. Another tunnel and this time the floor is wet so I don't really want to crawl, instead we have to kind of crouch and walk at the same time. Then a blessing and a bright red dot on our foreheads; Michael's lasts for the rest of the day, but mine seems to come off in minutes. We are also given a coin for good luck, which Michael seems to need, as he bashed his head coming out of the second tunnel.

The step well, when we arrive, is full of tourists and a European woman is busy having her picture taken with lots of people. We use the distraction to slip past the crowd and into the depths of the well. It is much like the Kadi Ni Vav well we visited 6 days ago in Ahmedabad, only much bigger and with more safety in mind, as you are not simply able to climb all over this one. The walls are beautifully carved, but we don't get to admire them for long as we are soon surrounded by girls asking for photos. Michael gets to watch this time as various children are pushed to stand next to me for pictures, our driver turns up and I think he is here to save us, only he starts arranging the children too. Eventually away and on to our last stop, Gandhi's Ashram, the place where he lived in the 1920s. It is a tranquil, spacious place in the centre of the hustle and bustle of Ahmedabad. We find the rules of the ashram interesting; some quite extreme, but others we should all live by. There is also a wall of quotes about Gandhi from all sorts of people, from Martin Luther King to Albert Einstein. Much like Gandhi's place of birth, it is a really thought provoking place to visit.  

Finally it is time to say goodbye to the driver as he drops us off at the station. We are a little early, so pop into a little Sikh restaurant for a thali. A quick look from afar at some shaking minarets, then as we are walking up the stairs to find our platform a German guy falls into step with us, quite nervous about catching the train. Michael explains to him how things work and he wanders off down the platform in search of the right place to stand for his first class carriage, while Michael wanders off to find the toilet. On the platform I am suddenly surrounded by a huge group of people and so shuffle along the platform to find a bit more space. There is the usual chaos on the platform, beggars moving from person to person, hand open and hopeful, hawkers making sales, and travellers waiting to board their trains. Just as the train before ours pulls away a man comes running down the stairs followed by a laden porter and frantically shouting to his wife who is further back up the stairs trying to pass some people. The train is crawling at this stage but slowly gaining speed. More shouting and the wife finally reaches the platform, at this stage I am starting to get stressed for them, the wife is slightly older and doesn't appear to be in the best shape and I have visions of her falling under the wheels as she attempts to board the moving train. By this time an official looking guy has turned up too. The wife makes a grab for the hand rails as one of the open doors goes by, but sure enough she isn't quick enough and the train whips out of her reach. At this point the official looking guy takes control and stops them from trying again, the train is simply going too fast, we watch carriage after carriage go past and my proximity stress is still high. Finally the end of the train is in sight, and everyone is shouting to the guards at the back of the train, frantically gesturing for the train to slow down, but the train is gone. Everyone on the platform is deflated for the man and his wife missing their train, but then it slows and suddenly stops 100 meters further down the platform. There is a quick cheer and then the man, his wife, the porter, and the guard go running down the platform to board the train. I am both relieved and amazed.

We catch our train with much less excitement, and settle in for the next 14 hours! As soon as the train starts to move the refreshments start to arrive; first a litre of water each, then a sandwich with a blandly unidentifiable filling, some lentil snacks, and an extremely dry chocolate muffin. Later we are given breadsticks with butter and then tomato soup. That is followed by a dhal, channa masala, rice and chapati. Then, after I have braved the bathroom and cleaned my teeth, the ice cream arrives. There are some really nice guys in our compartment, they are very friendly and one remarks that we are the first foreigners he has ever met. We chat to them for a while, and then everyone starts to put the beds down for the night. Michael has made my bed up with sheets and blankets, even turning down the corner, and I clamber up to the bunk -- much more elegantly than on the last train -- and prepare myself for a fitful night's sleep.