Published: August 24th 2010August 24th 2010
From Dharamsala I got the night bus back to Delhi. Urgghh. 12 hours twisting and turning down from the mountains, thrown from my seat every time the bus swung round a corner. Didn't sleep much. During the obligatory midnight chai break I made friends with a nice Canadian girl and an Indian hippy from Goa. This was lucky. When we got to Delhi, Indian Hippy kindly allowed me and Canadian girl use of his hostel room to shower, nap and dump our bags, since we were both only in Delhi for a 12 hour stopover before moving on in the evening. I wasn't looking forward to a sweaty, sleep deprived day lugging all my bags around Delhi.
Indian Hippy was really nice but had an annoying habit of trying to ascertain things about my personality based on my Chakrahs (or some such bollocks, have just started to tune it all out now to be honest). I spent the day in Paharganj, which seems to have improved in appearance somewhat now it's no longer in the process of being partially demolished. The roads have been resurfaced, so it has stopped alternating between swamp and dust storm. Canadian girl was shopping for
stuff to take home to flog on Ebay with a view to setting up some kind of minor export business selling India hippy tat. Half the backpackers I meet seem to have adopted this as their new career path. It was fun helping, like fantasy shopping. I was feeling rougher and rougher as the day progressed though, and after a while could no longer put it down to lack of sleep. I was hot and my head hurt and I figured I was developing a bit of a fever.
I abandoned Canadian Girl and Indian Hippy in a rush because I thought I had to leave to get my train, though it turns out I was tricked by a faulty clock and was actually over an hour hour early. By the time the train arrived I felt horrible and was having second thoughts about getting on it. I almost didn't because I couldn't find my carriage. The trains are unbelievably long, the carriages were in a totally random order and there are locked luggage cars in between, preventing you from walking along the train once you're on the inside. After shuffling sweatily up and down the platform several times
I appealed for help and was rescued by some random Indian guy who took my bags and lead me to the correct carriage. Yes I suppose he could well have been trying to rob me, but at this point I was feeling so pathetic I didn't care, so long as I didn't have to carry the bags anymore.
My ticket was Second Class Sleeper, which means no AC. This is not ideal for a trip into the desert when you're down with a fever, but it was all that was available at the time. I hadn't done a 2nd class sleeper before, and was a bit concerned that my eight berth cabin appeared to contain a total of 23 other people. Usually (in AC class, dahhhrling) the rule is strictly one person per bed, and I like it that way. It turned out all the extras cleared off before 11pm, but this meant there was no room to fold down my bunk until then and I was DYING. Dying, I tell you. (Clearly I was not dying or I would not be here to bore you with the story, but like all medics I hate getting sick and honestly,
at the time in a small space with no AC and 23 sweaty men for company, I felt a bit like it). To make things even more fantastic, the industrious tradesmen who normally jump on and off trains flogging drinks etc were inexplicably absent, so I couldn't even get any water. Woe is me.
I have been so busy complaining I completely forgot to say where I was going. My train was to Jodhpur. I wanted to go to Varanasi, but all the trains were booked and I couldn't face two consecutive nightbus nightmares, plus at this point I had only a week left to get to Mumbai so I thought it would make more sense to start heading down south. Gutted I didn't get to Varanasi though. As I'm sure you can see, I planned this trip exceptionally poorly. I have also accidentally missed visiting the Taj Mahal. A catastrophic omission, you might think, but I'm not honestly too upset. It isn't as if I don't want to see the Taj because I am a joyless person who hates love, architecture and history. Of course I want to, it's just I know I will come back to India
Preserved on the walls at the entrance to the fort are the hand-prints of the wives of one ancient king. They left these marks in the plaster when they passed through as part of their husband's funeral procession, shortly before they were obliged to throw themselves onto his funeral pyre, as was the done thing at the time.
I suppose women's right in India have come a long way, considering. Really puts into perspective my irritation about men staring at me on the bus...
one day, and perhaps it's the kind of thing I might appreciate more when I'm a rich doctor who can afford an AC hotel room and a decent guide. The Taj will always be there, but I unfortunately have a limited number of holidays remaining during which I'll have the time and patience to spend 12+ hours repeatedly being thrown onto the floor of a bus. So the Taj can wait until years of NHS servitude have rendered me incapable of going anywhere without a guide or a swimming pool. Besides, I'm not doing too badly on traveler must see wonders of the world, I've already got Angkor Watt
, Machu Picchu
and the Great Wall (sadly unblogged), I wouldn't want to exhaust the whole list by my mid 20s.
To return to what I was actually supposed to be talking about... I got into Jodhpur at stupid-oclock in the morning, still alive (just!) but not having slept much, found a hostel then essentially just lay in bed for the next 12 hours. I emerged in the evening to forage for food and ate at the hostel's rooftop restaurant, which had appalling food but an amazing view. There was a
storm of epic proportions brewing, and the dark clouds made the whole scene with the blue city and the old fort look just incredible. That's Jodhpur's thing, by the way. They paint everything blue. Jaipur is the pink city, Jaisalmer is the golden city. This is quite effective at making otherwise unattractive urban sprawl look picturesque. I like it, as a concept. I think we should try it out back in Leeds. Let's be purple.
Anyway there was this amazing sort of pre-thunderstorm energy in the air, which was exciting because we were essentially in the desert and it really doesn't rain that much there. All over the city people were up on the rooftops, watching the sky expectantly. When the clouds finally broke and the rain came down, people just stayed out on the roofs and got wet. Many of the rooftop areas were transformed into accidental swimming pools, complete with little kids splashing and screaming.
Unfortunately I was still feeling rough, so after appreciating this little vignette I sulked off back to bed. The next morning I awoke to find that a lot of the city was flooded. Desert cities are not designed to handle a
With the rain running down
lot of rain. I nibbled some toast and thought f*ck it, then went back to bed. In the afternoon when the water had sorted itself out a bit I went to explore, got horrifically lost, was too stubborn to get a rickshaw back, wandered around for hours, eventually found my way home, then went back to bed. After a nap and a sulk I finally felt better, and spent the evening of the second day chilling on the rooftop with various European backpackers, feeling guilty for forcing them to switch from their native language to English in order to include me in the conversation (I have a complex about this).
Day three I actually did something and went to the fort, which was very impressive. The fort and the palaces inside were gorgeous and really well preserved, plus the whole thing had been made into a kind of interactive museum with a really great audio guide (don't laugh) that was both interesting AND educational! That's right, I am turning into my mother! And the gardens were so pretty! (Also turning into my Grandma).
That night had a little party on the rooftop at the hostel for someone's (fake)
birthday, in honor of which I consumed a Kingfisher beer which was only my SECOND alcoholic beverage of this trip to India. That's right, rock and roll. I had to leave early, along with a French-Canadian girl I'd met, because we were heading to Jaisalmer on the night train. We departed in the middle of another absolutely epic flood, and had to search quite a while for a Rikshaw that was willing to venture out into that mess. Eventually we found some Rude Boy Rikshaw driver who pumped up the volume on his DIY sound-system to a level capable of causing physical pain and swerved out into the storm. It was a little surreal being driven through the flooded streets to a some kind of Indian gangster rap soundtrack by a rikshaw driver who clearly wished he was on a superbike, but to give him credit we did make it to within sight of the station before his engine packed in and we had to get out and wade.
That's all for now. Jaisalmer entry coming soon!