Sunday, 11 April 2010

From the research we have done, the 'sleeper carriage' of an indian train is one of the lowest classes on board - one up from carriages of wooden benches of unreserved seating which bus loads of indians race to reach even before the train has stopped at the station.

Far from the over crowded and stifling conditions we had imagined, it was actually one of the more pleasant journeys. Each berth had 6 beds in it (2 walls of 3 bunks), which folded down into seats. We had the windows open and the fans blasting so all in all it was a pleasant night - all the bags were securely fastened to random bits of metal, padlocks and chains galore just to be on the safe side.

The train pulled into Udaipur at 6am and we got a taxi to our hotel. The hotel was owned by a dutch couple. It had all the quintessential stained glass windows, arches and carved pillars. It even had a garden with a small fountain. It was walled by the large palace which as far as we know is one of the biggest in india. After a short nap we went exploring. I walked round some temples, weaved through traffic and avoided cow mess on the pavements. This city really is the jewel of our india trip. It is incredibley hilly, and comprised of a labyrinth of narrow alleys and congested roads. During the heat of the day a lot of the shutters are down, however into the evening the lights shine brightly on the saris and metal work in the windows, galleries show their work in the street, and glass and stone sculptures are neatly displayed in windows.

The main part of my first day was exploring the large palace. I paid the usual ten times more than a local, and in i went. One of the strangest buildings I have been in - although obviously modernised in recent years for tourists, it was no different to the streets of the small city. Made of of oddly shaped rooms generously decorated with mirrors, stained glass and marble carvings. Narrow and winding corridors and staircases gave perfect views of the Pichola Lake, around which the town had grown. It was also in this palace I realised how ridiculously small the world was. I was walking round the palace on my own, and wanted a picture in front of one of the views. I asked a small group of girls to take my photo. After asking what how old they were (expecting them to say they were at, or had just left uni), they said they were all early 30's. Slightly shocked, the conversation took a turn towards jobs. It turned out that 2 of them came from north London and occasionally frequented the stanmore Wetherspoons for a spot of breakfast on a saturday morning (a much disliked shift that I so often had). So anyway, to cut the story short, in the past I had personally cooked the breakfasts of these random girls i met in a palace in a small town in India. Strange times.

Anyhoo i diverge. The next day we did a cooking course (another one) and learnt how to cook chapatis, korma, a paneer kofte and some other general niceties. Assuming I can find the mahoosive selection of spices needed, I will give everything a go.

Then came the evening activity - me. I dont know how many people have noticed, but my hair is receeding EVER so slightly. I always said that if it gets any worse it will be easier to just shave the whole thing off. We discussed that it would be best to do it on these travels, as if it looks awful it will grow back LONG before i get home. So armed with a few 20p disposable razors, a beard trimmer that had a charged life of 5 mins, some nail scissors and a jaunty mirror, we began hacking off my long browny locks. We got the bulk of it off with the shaver, covered my head with shampoo and with emilys help (alec had the job of photographically documenting the event) we hacked me bald. Within the space of about half an hour I very soon looked like a bowling ball. It didnt look entirely awful, so me thinks its a look i might keep for a while.

Next day we boarded another sleeper train bound for agra. After shlapping around for an hur or so in the heat of the day (over 43 degrees, the hottest place yet), we eventually found an air conditioned hostel right near the taj mahal west gate. In all honesty, there really isnt much in agra except the taj mahal. It has all the bad bits of jaipur yet seemed to lack the charm. We have very quickly grown used to the fact that when you leave the hostel, to your right is a street full of Indians trying to lure you into buying a cushion cover, and on your left is 2 cows mounting eachother in the middle of the road surrounded by hooting rickshaws - the little things one will miss when they go back to jolly old London/anywhere else in the world.

Up at the unhealthy time of 6am, we thought we would beat the crowds to the taj mahal. It turns out the rest of India had the same idea. We queued up in the 'foriegners queue' which the admission charge was 750 rupees - about 11 quid, whereas locals admission was only 20 rupees - 30p. We understand that obviously they can get away with charging westerners a bit more, but more than 10 quid more is slightly taking the piss. Especially as if a similar thing happened in the UK people would be up in arms. 'Entry to the tower of London: UK passport holders - 3 pounds, foreigners - 15 pounds'. Not damn likely. Again you can use the argument of 'but a rupee to them is worth so much more to them than it does to us' but then nothing really gets rid of the strange feeling of simply being seen as a walking bank - especially when children approach us, holding there hands out simply saying 'hello money'. It opens your eyes more so to the poverty around you, but on the other side of the spectrum is also hardens you to some extent - the constant pressure to part with your money (different priced menus for westerners and locals, expecting you to haggle for a simple bottle of water, grossly overcharging for admissions etc.) makes you even less willing to hand over your money, even if in as in most cases, they could do with it far more than you ever could. Anyhoo, enough of the 'lessons to be learnt from travelling' section.

The taj mahal was predictably stunning, got all the typical photos of me in front of it, then we walked round to the agra fort, then booked our train out of india. We are on a train booked to gorakhpur, from there its a bus to the border town of saunali, then a rickshaw across the border and through the nepalese customs, then a 6 - 7 hour bus ride to kathmandu. 3 weeks in nepal would bring us to the end of the second leg of our journey - ended with a hellsih day of flights, from kathmandu-delhi, delhi-madras, madras-kuala lumpur.

No comments:

Post a Comment