Our Safe Place
Paying extra for train tickets afforded us the protection of a closed room, A/C and no chairs.
After I hit the guy the men around him took a step back and didn't give me a second glance. The train info officer behind the window smiled at me and politely inquired, "How may I help you sir?" New Delhi is definitely a 'Walk softly but carry a big stick, kind of town.
We flew out of Kathmandu on a cloudy morning. I awoke that day with a particularly pointed case of Gastro that I had consumed along with a very good pancake the previous day in Bakhtapur. So today's routine went along the lines of; Go to airport, go to bathroom, check-in, go to bathroom, clear security, go to bathroom.... You get the drift. I took a fist full of pills and told the girls that they were going to have to take the lead on this one. I needed a sick day.
The flight to Delhi was kinda cool. The long, snowy Himalaya range sat off our right wing-tip as we flew due west into Delhi. We got into the airport and hit an immediate snag as the Lonely Planet's much reported India Train Travel Information booth was not in the airport as the travel guide
The ITB At Last!
2nd floor hideaway for the international tourist bureau at the New Delhi train station. It IS HERE. Just keep looking and don't listen to anybody telling you differently. Note sleeper. Common sight.
had assured. Going momentarily but monumentally insane, we decided to go to the main train station in Delhi to secure tickets for the mountain town of Shimla. There is a shuttle train that runs from the airport to the New Dehli train station. It costs 150 Rupees per person ($2.50). To board the shuttle required going through a security checkpoint manned by soldiers. Nice train. Modern, air conditioned and clean. When we walked out of the shuttle station we were greeted by searing sun, 100 degree temps, people grabbing for our bags and more humans in one place then I had ever seen before.
I've lived in New York, visited every major city in the US as well as SE Asia, spent time in Hong Kong and I've schlepped around Australia's big Roo burgs but I have NEVER seen such a concentration of homo sapiens as I did on that first encounter with Delhi. Second largest city in the world with a population of 22-Million. Incessant and loud noise. Impenetrable traffic. Hot, acrid 2-cycle engine exhaust fumes. Unintelligibly spoken English and every Indian in and around the train station wants to speak with you and only you because you
are white and being white in India is synonymous with being rich and there are so few white people in Delhi today the natives have no choice but to talk to you and only you. "Where are you from? Where are you going?" These are the standard openers and God help those silly enough to respond to these queries.
By the time we had pushed our way into the jammed, gritty, sweat-scented terminal I was played out. The girls went upstairs to locate the International Tourist Bureau while I sat on my much abused rear-end and guarded the bags. The Bureau is the place you want to go to to secure train tickets for travel in India. Only available to foreigners and only located in the New Delhi station, the ITB offers a professional english-speaking staff that will kindly explain the ins and outs of India's extensive train network and sell you tickets. Easy schmeezy. About 15-minutes later the girls came back down and told me that they had been informed by a sincere sounding security guard that the ITB had moved out of the train station two months ago. This was a surprise as I had read a
KJ and Karlie Going Away Dinner
We had speeches and everything.
blog written just a week before that discussed the wonders of the New Delhi train station ITB.
We fought our way back outside where the girls politely answered the gentle queries of a kindly, bearded fellow in a blue turban. "Yes, I understand your problem. Let me assist you." He said in a soothing voice. I dripped alone in the background. Within minutes we, and our luggage, were tightly packed into a 2-passenger Tuk and headed for.....? Nobody seemed to know. There was a van full of men driving next to us. One of the passengers had a double-barreled shotgun pointed in our general direction but they peeled off at a traffic circle. After 2 klicks I smelled a rat and told the girls to get ready to bolt when I gave the word. Just then we pulled up in front of an office with an official looking blue sign that read: 'Foreign Travel Bureau'. All official signs in India are printed in white on blue backgrounds but a blue sign does not an official make. Inside the cool chamber sat 2 smiling, sympathetic fellows who offered us a cold glass of water and tickets to Kashmirian houseboats priced
Old Delhi Train Station
Oh what joy for every girl and boy.
300% above current rates. Train travel was impossible they told us because all of the train tickets had been sold out. I laughed at this outrageous statement and they got their backs up. "Do you think I am lying to you?" One of them exclaimed to me. "Yeah, I think you're lying," I responded. "Ok girls it's time to go." The men bird dogged us outside when we walked out and the further we got from their office the lower the quoted prices fell until we heard them mention a 'Senior Discount' and then we heard them no more.
But three sweaty white folks with luggage in hand are too juicy to ignore in the target anemic environment that is Delhi and so we were approached again and again in a city that I was totally unfamiliar with and I was unable to secure transport to anywhere other than another blue-signed travel agency. "This man is my friend. Very honest. I know he help you." I came to the rapid conclusion that the only rational response one could make to Delhians was no response at all. Zip the lips. Shut your pie hole. Walk away.
We walked into
Platform 5 And We're Still Waiting
These are 3rd class cars where the only air conditioning is what you can glean through the barred windows.
a Starbucks which shows how desperate I had become. I drank some water and logged onto Starbuck's WIFI. When we entered I asked the kid at the door; "Do you have WIFI?" "Oh yes sir! Please come in and sit down." There was no WIFI. (Point of fact: We were never able to get on-line the entire time we were in Delhi.) And so, I trudged up and down the street looking for an internet cafe which I could use to figure out where we were and what to do. By the time I got back to Starbucks, Karlie had struck up a conversation with a friendly Indian fellow sitting next to her. I'm almost certain that he started by asking her where she was from. Karlie is nothing if not polite. He then trailed us outside proclaiming his honest desire to help us out. "Do you think I am lying to you?" I told him to take a hike but I did it in the nicest way possible.
I hit the lottery when I found a Tuk driver who would actually take us back to the train station and not his 'Uncle's' office. There, I got in line
Free Drinking Water Spigots
Always a good crowd here filling bottles and buckets for the ride.
for the information window. The concept of 'lines' is a vague colonial memory in India today. Leave 6-inches of space in front of you and somebody will slip in. That failing, they will elbow you aside. The guys behind the windows don't care. To them it's first come first serve. This was when my 'friend' decided that he, his needs being greater than ours, was justified in climbing over me by using my backpack as a ladder. But then he fell down when a rung broke and hurt himself.
I asked where I could find the ITB. The grinning man seated behind the glass pointed his index finger at the ceiling. Upstairs we discovered, the ITB! Go figure. We had gotten played like first time Bangkok Tuk riders.
In the ITB the first thing you do is get a numbered ticket to establish your place in line. You also need to fill out a form with your name, age and destination as well as the train you would like to take. As we waited our turn I watched the ticket agents sitting behind a long counter at the front of the room. All transactions are cash and the
There's Got To Be A Morning After
Much better after a night's rest. I was glad that the train was late as we would have had to get up at 4:30 AM to swap trains if we had left on schedule. This way we got in at 8:30 in time for tea!
money is carelessly deposited in a wooden drawer. Occasionally one of the agents (all men) would dip into the cash and slip some bills into his pocket. Eureka! I had just discovered the secret to travel in India. When our number came up Karen and I went to the counter. Karlie had decided that she wanted nothing to do with India and was getting out of Dodge ASAP. More on that later.
I told the smiling ticket agent that we needed to leave Dehli for Shimla as soon as possible and that we were so eager to secure the tickets that we would even be willing to pay a little more than usual. "I like Americans," he said with a bigger smile. And so we were provided with very good berths on the overnight train to Shimla for an extra $2 US. Total cost for the two of us; $25 US. 'Tipping' is very effective in India but the tip must be paid up front. Later I tipped our train attendant to make sure our luggage wasn't stolen while we slept. That one cost us fifty-cents. But back to Karlie.
We fought our way back to the shuttle station. Went through TSA-brand security again. Got into the airport where Karlie purchased a ticket to Istanbul for that night. She seemed shaken by her experience in the city. To me it had felt like my days in Ethiopia. Rude, threatening but manageable. I told Karlie that she might want to consider taking a few days to step back, get out of Delhi and see if it got better but her mind was made up. And so, after four months of traveling with us we had a farewell dinner of Pepsi and walnut bread followed by hugs and waves. Sometimes this world is a hard place for gentle souls.
Karen and I shuttled back to Dehli. Caught a Tuk to Old Delhi train station passing through the meanest precincts I have ever seen. Traffic jams consisting of cars, scooters, buses, Tuks and huge carts hauled by human beasts of burden. A very tense ride which was not relieved when we arrived at the old train depot. There we had to pass through security again. X-rayed bags and body frisks. The terminal was pure chaos as people of every description packed the corridors and platforms. Poor families spread threadbare sheets on the dirt-gray floors and reposed there under flickering fluorescent lights to wait for their rides. Fruit vendors sold bananas and mangoes from huge push carts. There wasn't enough room to swing a dead cat anywhere in the place.
Our train was scheduled to depart at 9:25 PM. Instead it left at 1:25 AM. We spent the 4 hours sitting on the concrete floor in the 'Upper Class' waiting room. As the only whites in the station we garnered more attention than we would have preferred. Indian men stared at Karen with more than what would have been usual interest given the circumstances. An aggressive glare from myself would suffice in ending the issue. In the end I came to the conclusion that a western woman traveling solo would be well advised to leave Delhi off of her itinerary. Outside the waiting room, roving groups of miscreant men fished for victims amongst the crowds of poor people laying on the platforms. It looked like 'Escape From New York'. Our train pulled in and we hurriedly boarded. We were the only people in the 4-berth cabin. We tucked our bags away, made our beds, paid off the attendant for theft prevention and for the first time since we had arrived we felt secure enough to sleep.
Welcome to India.
We are in Shimla now. This morning we had a long hail storm when the north wind blew out of the mountains. Trying to get out of country. Happy Birthday Tom Denson. Did you get another Tommy Carvel mint ice cream cake? Boy, that one on your 50th was soooo good. Ice cream cake and Cash Cab; Is there anything better? Hey Noah; We're still alive! If nothing else the food here is fantastic. Monkey tried to get into our hotel room the other day. He didn't make it but the look on KJ's face was priceless. More later.
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