i stirred from my slumber. barely awake, my half-opened eyes strained to read the time off my watch.
five minutes to midnight.
in my groggy state of mind, my brain took a while to register the implication. then, my eyes widened.
fcuk. i had a train to catch at 12.25 a.m. and the train station was at least 15 minutes away by auto-rickshaw (the indian equivalent of tuk tuk in thailand). to make matters worse, i had not packed!
i hurriedly stuffed everything into my backpack and stormed out of my room. i must have created a ruckus as the staff sleeping at the reception looked startled.
"sorry to bother you. i am checking out. i have a train to catch!"
thankfully, i had the foresight to settle my bill in advance. i dropped the room key on his palm and headed straight for the gate.
sensing the urgency in my voice, he jumped up on his feet, grabbed a bunch of keys on the counter and ran after me. the padlock unlocked, the gate swung open, and out i went.
"thank you. bye!"
the well-lit street outside my hotel was empty.
totally void of the throngs of tourists, touts and cows that inhabited it in the day. i ran as fast as i could to the police barricade around the corner, hoping to see the usual trio of auto-rickshaws parked on the other side of it.
they were not there.
i shouted "auto! auto!" as i ran into the next street in my frantic search for that elusive auto-rickshaw. it was nowhere to be found.
i was truly fcuked, i thought.
i did not care about the money that i was about to forfeit. the train ticket did not cost much, but i had to board that train. it is the only one that runs from agra to khajuraho, and it operates on alternate days. if i missed it, the next train would only come two days later and there may not be any vacancies. an alternative route, though feasible, would require a combination of buses and trains and a great deal of patience.
just when i had resigned to fate, i spotted an auto-rickshaw hidden away at a corner in near pitch darkness. the engine was not running. the lights were not turned on. the
driver was nowhere in sight. i took my chances. i approached the vehicle and looked inside. the driver was sound asleep.
i shook him. hard.
"agra cantt railway station. i give you 100 rupees (the going rate was half of that). quickly!"
maybe, 100 rupees was not that huge an incentive for him to step harder on the accelerator. or perhaps, he wanted revenge for interrupting his beauty sleep. whatever the reason was, the driver sure took his own sweet time, despite my constant reminder that i was in a hurry. on hindsight, i should have told him to go slow. reverse psychology might work on him.
fortunately, i arrived at the railway station with ten minutes to spare. guess what. the train was late, by about an hour.
there is a chinese saying that goes, "trouble never travels alone." true to its words, i hopped on the wrong cabin. note to self: never assume cabin b2 is just next to b1. under normal circumstances, that would be a non-issue. i could just walk through the connecting doors to get to the right one. the problem was, my cabin was at the other end of
the train and it was not connected to the rest. it turned out that the u p sampark kranti express train comprised two carriages bound for different destinations. they would disconnect at mahoba, each going its separate way from there on. the ticket inspector told me that i needed to get off at the next stop, jhansi, to board the correct cabin.
the train would arrive at jhansi at three, he added. i figured since it was only one and a half hour away and i did not want to oversleep again, i fought hard to stay awake.
unfortunately for me, the ticket inspector forgot to take into account that the train was already running behind schedule. the train would arrive at jhansi at three only if it were on time, and it was not. in the end, i stayed awake for more than three hours. by the time i climbed up to my bed, i was too high to fall asleep.
the train pulled into khajuraho railway station, well after nine, almost ten. more than two hours behind its scheduled time of arrival.
contrary to popular misconception, yes, india may be dirty and smelly, but
it is not a dangerous place, at least for tourists. i did not fear for my safety, except once, and that was in khajuraho. shortly after i boarded the rickshaw at the railway station, two indian boys on motorcycle rode up beside us.
"china? japan? korea?"
i was too tired to entertain their questions. then, came the shocker.
the pillion started thrusting his hips at his driver.
"we know where you stay. hotel surya? we'll come and look for you."
gulp. they'd gotta be kidding me. how did they know where i was staying?
thankfully, i was not raped. i never saw them again.
khajuraho is a one-horse town where words travel fast and everyone is under the watchful eyes of everyone else. on more than one occasion, i had people telling me what i was doing, where, and at what time! creepy as it sounds, i have to say, touts in khajuraho were the friendliest i had encountered in india. always cheerful and courteous, they would preface with a casual conversation before politely inviting me to their shops to have a look. when i declined, they would thank me for my time
and walk away but not before wishing me a nice day. every tout in the world, especially those in the rest of india, should take a leaf from their books.
khajuraho must be a popular stopover on the tourist route between delhi/agra and varanasi because this tiny town of about twenty thousand has its own airport. tens or hundreds of thousands descend upon it every year (not this tourist season, though) for some erotica at the temples. i once briefly spoke of the temples in class and some of my students were not able to reconcile the 'conflict' between religion/place of worship and sex. until now, the purpose of the erotic carvings remains unknown. but if that is your sole reason for visiting khajuraho, i am afraid you may go away disappointed because erotic sculptures are few and far between. many of them are depictions of dancing asparas and warring soldiers, not unlike those at the temples of angkor. you might even miss them if you do not look carefully enough or know where to look. that said, the carvings are the most exquisite i have seen yet and kudos to the archaeological survey of india for its conservation
efforts. if only they would do the same for the other world heritage sites under their purview.
next stop, varanasi - a complicated love and hate affair.
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