Thursday, 2 February 2017

Getting out of Delhi

After a good 12 hours sleep -- and when I say good I mean as good as ear plugs will allow when there is hammering and scooters revving and people chattering in the street below our window all night -- we wake to our first full day in India and the reality that we haven't yet got a plan of how we are going to spend the next four weeks. This leads to a slow start to the day while we study the 8-years-old Lonely Planet that we found downstairs in the lobby of our hotel. We have a dilemma; because there are many possibilities, but we only have a month, I don't want to spend too much time seeing anything either of us has seen before, and with five months travel in India already covered between us that excludes quite a bit.

Decisions are finally made and after a quick breakfast we prepare ourselves to go back out into the crazy and across to the International Tourist Ticket Office in the station. A fairly well-organised system in a large, hot, dated room, old sofas full of backpackers and travellers all waiting for their number to be called. Half of the numbers result in a no show, so the wait is much shorter than we imagine. The form we have pre-filled explains to the clerk that we want to travel to Udaipur, and then an on the spot decision from us to get a ticket for that evening. I am keen to get out of the Delhi smog and away from this hectic city.

We have a little free time in the afternoon and so we go to the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. It's a short-ish walk and the streets are slightly less intense than in the Pahar Gang. Once we arrive we follow the signs  to the foreign tourist information office, which consists of a series of rooms where we can leave our shoes and borrow head scarfs to cover our hair. Hands and feet duly washed and we make our way into the complex. As we walk around the pool we can't help comparing it to the Golden Temple, it's not as big and grand or quite as tranquil, but it's a much needed break from the madness of Delhi. It is such a friendly place, all are welcome here and we try to join the queue for the langar. Instead we are ushered thorough the exit to join the current sitting. We take our places in line on the mat and are soon handed a chapatti, spoon and a tray which is then filled with rice, dum aloo, and dhal makhani. A delicious free meal which ends up costing more than a restaurant thanks to the donation we decide to leave. As we reclaimed our shoes we were asked if we had any question about the temple, Michael enquired about a room inside the temple and it was interesting to learn more. We were told, amongst other things, that Sikhs are not taught to idolise an object or a person, but it's the knowledge in the book itself is what is special. I think Michael could have talked to him all day, but we had a train to catch.

We walk back via Connaught Place, a complex of three concentric traffic circles with a park in the middle. I am reminded that three years ago I was surprised to find a Marks and Spencer's here, and sure enough when we round the correct corner it is still there. Small crowds have gathered  just outside, however, fascinated by a building opposite whose second floor seems to have collapsed overnight.

The drive in a rickshaw to Delhi's Nizamuddin station can only be described as a white-knuckle ride. Michael took it in his stride, but I was squealing and hanging on for dear life. I don't know if the driver just wanted revenge on us for negotiating him down from his original price, or if that is the way he always drives, but I really didn't feel safe at all. He was weaving in and out of cars, bikes and pedal rickshaws, he was cutting people up and honking and swearing and braking at the last possible second, he would pull in front of someone only to brake and decide to go in the opposite direction, and I would just hold my breath and hope we weren't going to get squashed.

Of course we had arrived at the station an hour early, but catching this train was a breeze. We passed the time waiting in the overhead bridge watching dogs play on the platform below, as well as the porters who would jump down to ferry boxes between platforms, and a mother holding her young child over the tracks to poo. Our train pulled onto the correct platform a full half hour before its departure time, and so we had lots of time to locate the correct carriage and seats. We had opted for third class with a/c, so there were 8 bunks in our little compartment. A woman opposite had just had both hands and wrist painted with elaborate henna, so her husband had to carry and arrange their luggage while she elegantly held her arm out to dry. Our train departed only 13 minutes late, and there was a constant procession of venders tempting us with vegetarian delights. Surprised to discover that instead of heading west to Udaipur, we are first heading south towards Agra. Wondering when the woman taking the bunk above ours will make her way up to bed so that we can fold out my bunk and try to sleep.