Saturday, January 15, 2011

Train journeys 1 - India

I have just watched The Darjeeling Limited with Elf. We both loved it - I will write a little review later. It is set on a train in India, and for now it has got me thinking about Great Train Journeys Of My Life. Starting with;

Jodhpur to Delhi to Shimla, India, 1998. I invited myself along on a trip to India my friend Bree had planned. She was meeting up in Delhi with an old friend named PJ who was flying from London. It was a strange idea of mine, really, and I don't think it worked all that well, but I did love India. This is from my journal, 29-30 Sept, 1998
[Written in Delhi, 29 Sept] At the Jaisalmer bus station Bree did a song and dance act, which attracted dozens of onlookers. One Indian asked our names. PJ said she was Doris, he introduced himself as Maurice, so I was Horace. Very dry wit, he said he murders tourists. We asked how - "On camel, I stab them, they fall on the sand".

Clownish bus company flunkies stood around sucking popsicles, as useless as each other. Nasty overcrowded 5 hour bus trip to Jodhpur, then into a restaurant, then onto our first train.

Our names were pinned up by the door of the carriage. Everyone quiet, reserved, middle class Indians, no shouting. 8 berths; PJ, quiet young woman, QYW's mum, Bree, me, QYM's little dad, mum and dad of baby with huge head. Baby had bulging eyes, didn't cry at night though. Sad little scene. Mum smiled at us faintly. We offered them seats. The top berths were permanently out - seat backs swung up into middle berths. Three fans to negotiate up top. Middle (me) cramped and hard to manoeuvre. Slept with legs flopped on top of pack. Slept reeeeeeasonably well. The "outside" berths are shorter and narrower. A rude young sporty-dressed man ordered little dad out of his way. Bad snotty macho wanker Magnum PI-moustached type of Indian. Need slapping.

Got in very early, feeling so sticky after 21 hours of travelling. Sunrise as we struggled along the platform. Took forever to find the tourist ticket office. A fat sikh kindly pointed us to a government tourist office, saying "see, green sign, like this one". Across road, up some stairs and not in the station. Icy air con. A man there told us there was no train to Shimla for 3 days, and as there is nothing to see in Delhi, why don't we take a bus instead? He would sell us bus tickets for US$30 each. It was a scam. As we left in disgust we passed the fat sikh sitting downstairs taking a break between swindles. Writing this in Ajay Hotel, Delhi. Shitty room. Basically clean, but walls totally pocked and scrawled, small. Dark. Feeling better though.
Enough fans for ya?
[Written in Shimla, 1 Oct.] Left Delhi at 5.30am yesterday, walked to station OK, onto train OK, seats OK. Opposite us were a nice family from Delhi going to Chandigarh. Chatted pleasantly, Bree played join-dots game with kids. He's an engineer, "integrated resource planning" he said. Blind peddlers came through, girl clacking stones to guide them - gave her 2 rupees.

After one stop train filled with commuters, who soon filed out again. From Chandi - Kalka quite empty. Hurried across Kalka station - toy train 2nd class totally full. Bree tried to get 1st class upgrade but no good (numbered seats). Very late leaving, squeezed on in 2nd, more people squeezing on in turn. Occasionally someone's 1st class ticket would come through, and they'd hurry off. Winding up through first hills, factories and factories, everyone looks at the train, kids wave. Circus-tent type things in quite a few places. Noticeably cooler. Couldn't see much standing up. Some people riding on the water tender; emptied out a bit, even when two soldiers piled huge bedrolls on and clambered in after them.
The soldiers, the open door, the foothills of the Himalayas
Settled into comfortable rhythym, girls chatting to a family near them. Beautiful views now, doors open, windows open, all hanging out. Went to ride on the tender for a stop. Very crowded out there now, everyone roaring when in a tunnel. Several long waits for train in opposite direction to come through.

Rumour that we wouldn't get in till 8pm. Bought crunchy fried bread, quite good. Finally stopped at a station and word filtered through that there was a landslide on the track. We got off and everyone piled onto the road to flag down buses/trucks. We were lucky, after maybe an hour we scrambled onto a bus, and all three of us even got seats eventually. Mountain buses (not ours) were taking corners heeling at a nasty angle.
Shimla, former summer capital of India
Shimla sprawls over the mountainside. We walked miles up from where we were let off the bus, to the main drag. YWCA wouldn't have us, Loveen's full, we ended up here [Gulmarg Hotel, 935 r per night, fancy and expensive.] Going to try for another hotel tonight. Tea last night at a Nice Restaurant, with international music that was just abysmal, Bree went into hysterics. Glossy plastic tablecloth that stuck to my knees. Drinks freezing cold but OJ was reconstituted.

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