CraSh Williams' Blog

Posts Tagged ‘delhi’

Goodbye Delhi, hello Athens

Posted by Cool Your Jets IV on September 7, 2011

It was time to leave India, not only was there a terrorist attack earlier today, it also just being reported on CNN that there’s been 4.2 magnitude earth tremor in New Delhi! As for us moving on, I’m not sure whether the epic train journey from Varanasi back to Delhi played its part, but I was ready – for the first time ever, Delhi was starting to overwhelm me; too much noise, the constant beeping of horns, people barging past or pushing in front of you and general grime synonymous of India – it was beginning to wear me down.

Don’t get me wrong, this time around was probably my most favourite time in India – we certainly got to see a few more different places with Ladakh and Kashmir being truly memorable and riding the 1st and 3rd highest motorable roads in the World will live long in the memory. Seeing Amritsar and visiting the Golden Temple, to witnessing the Border Crossing at Wagah – a couple of days following both Pakistan and India’s independence. Varanasi was amazing – having heard so much about the place I really was expecting to be whisked back to the 15th century, true, the place was absolutely filthy (but so is every other old part of any Indian city) but the spiritual side was amazing and getting to swim in the Ganges was a great experience.

But there comes a time when you actually stop seeing what’s around you, losing the motivation to drag yourself out to experience something new – after ten months on the road there’s always an excuse to pass something by and over the last few weeks our thoughts are starting to return to friends we’re missing (and a particular cat,) food we wish to cook and eat plus getting back to the ‘real-world’ and the rat race!

Having no plans since being away, we made the decision to fly to Europe; choosing Greece as our stepping stone back to London, flying from Delhi via Bahrain before arriving in Athens – the difference between India and Greece is marked, whereas India has growth of 7%, Greece is having a nightmare with huge austerity cuts, protests almost every day – there’s tough times ahead for everyone.

We’re here for a good few weeks (no doubt adding lots of euros to the economy through quaffing lots of great wine) and planning to visit several of the Cyclades Islands. Tomorrow we take a ferry from Piraeus to Sifnos, a tiny little island with just over 2000 inhabitants. The holiday season is pretty much over and we’re hoping for a relaxed couple of weeks and seeing one or two more places before returning to London…

 

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An Englishman, an Indian and a Chicken, board a train…

Posted by Cool Your Jets IV on September 6, 2011

…almost the start to a great joke!

Train breaks down for an hour or so

I had to get back to Delhi – I had my ticket to leave Varanasi, sometime around 1pm Sunday. India has a huge train network, probably the biggest rail network in the World – it’s certainly India’s largest employer. When it works, it’s fantastic and certainly a great way to see the country though when it goes tits-up, it really does!

Booking tickets is fairly straight forward if you’ve an Indian credit card or family member who can book you a ticket online. Otherwise it means joining the queue at the station and waiting in line. Not speaking the language there’s an almost 100% chance you’ll get something wrong which will see you starting the whole process over again.

No ticket

They also have something called the ‘waiting list’ where you buy a ticket though you’re not assigned any seat – the idea being that on the day of departure you arrive at the station an hour or so before your scheduled time to check whether you’ve made it aboard, a case of finding your platform, then the notice board, scan for your name and all being well, jump aboard. It’s so back to front – I mean you book the ticket, turn up at the station (cause you maybe have a flight to catch, work to get back to, maybe a wedding) – anything only to find you might not get on, how bananas is that?

Having travelled extensively through India by train I’m an old hand at this which saw me saunter to the station with about twenty minutes to go, grab some chai and then nonched over to the platform. I scanned the list only to find my name wasn’t there, re-scanned – walked along each carriage as names are also found there though not mine! I was up at a certain Mata Ganga without a paddle and needed to get back to Delhi as we’re due to fly out 36 hours later and if the crowds for this train were anything to go by, I was well and truly stuck.

The small print on my print-out clearly stated ‘…no allocation, no getting on the train…’

So on I got, the train pulling out moments later.

Sitting myself down in 2 Class A/C I explained my predicament to the family sat there and they assured me all would be well –  though to be honest I was a tad worried – years back whilst at school, me and a friend (P Nally) jumped a train from Milton Keynes to Birmingham to watch one of our favourite bands at the time – as much as I’d like to name a cool band, I’m really unable to – we went to see Erasure, Vince Clark and Andy Bell camping it up at the Powerhouse, Paul and I with our dyed blonde hair surrounded by lots of men screaming Vince’s name. It was a great night and at 14, quite an adventure though Varanasi to Delhi is a good 17 hours train ride and with no chance of hiding in the toilet, this was going to be an altogether different prospect.

Not the Guard

The guard duly arrived, (a sour faced, in love with his uniform type) – I just knew this wasn’t going to work. Scanning my ticket he quickly saw that I wasn’t supposed to be on the train and told me in no uncertain terms my ticket was not valid (having paid 1000rupees, though I see his point having not had my seat confirmed) and took great delight in telling me that I’d be getting off at the next stop! No amount of my saying Sir this, Sir that nor the family interceding on my behalf was going to make him change his mind – I even pulled a 1000 rupees from my wallet, asking whether I could ‘purchase’ a new ticket.

Still no.

Resigned to my fate and I set about packing my gear up, starting to get my head in gear as to what next – most stations are in real backwaters so do I overnight there, grab a ride on a motorbike to the nearest big town or try and get someone to drive me, all these thoughts going through my head, none of which I was that keen on so decided to have one more chat. Being even more nice than before, sucking it up and really kowtowing to him, I explained the situation and he relented, not by much – he offered me a seat in sleeper class, I was over the moon and though the seats there are only a couple of hundred rupees I’d at least get back to Delhi.

Only when I arrived in Sleeper I couldn’t believe how rammed the place was – there were guys asleep on the floor, sitting in the corridors next to the toilet, sitting at the train door – legs dangling outside the train. I couldn’t find the guard anywhere and eventually a young Indian guy approaches me to ask if I needed any help… This guy turned out to be my knight in shining armour – he asked me to join him and his two friends, sharing their chair and we settled in for the rest of the day though I still had no idea where I was to sleep and what with the train becoming more and more busy, I knew one thing, it was going to be uncomfortable.

Chicken Worriers

Between 2nd/3rd Class A/C is the galley, from where they prepare all the food. Needing some space I wandered there to have a look, take a couple of phots with aim of blagging soming chai. For some reason I could hear a chicken clucking though it’d didn’t really register nor the guy sharpening a knife upon a stone. It was only when the chicken was held upside down and had its throat slit  I quickly realised chicken was on the menu tonight!

Following dinner, everyone started fighting for their spot to sleep, regardless of what your ticket stated – descending pretty much into a free for all. Being English and preferring a bit of personal space I really wasn’t sure what to do – join the ruck and get stuck in or go stand by the toilet for the next 7 hours.

One of the students offered to share his bench with me which was very kind of him and I opted to sit at the end whilst he got his head down. Eventually I succumbed, laying down with my legs stretched across open space to another bed and lying on my side, got my body and head wedged between his folded legs – face and nose pointing directly at this guy’s ass – I can’t even remember the guy’s name and here I was, my penance for getting on the train without a fully confirmed ticket.

Eventually I fell asleep but it was a tough night and around 7am we arrived at Delhi station – it was raining, I was shattered and just wanted to get home.

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Monsoons, Trains and Autorickshaws

Posted by Cool Your Jets IV on August 26, 2011

We needed to get out of Chandigarh, a cool city but just too clean and unlike the rest of India – where were the cows wandering the streets and hoards of dogs who always seem to be asleep in the middle of the road? The general grime and humanity which seems to characterise every big city in India?

Grabbing the 7am train to Delhi, we settled in for the ride (3rd CAR AC) back to the big bad city.

One of the things I love about Indian trains is the total disregard of health and safety – during one of our recent journeys there was an electrical fire at the end of our carriage, smoke billowing out with no-one seeming overly bothered. The guard merely passed by carrying a tool kit from which he took a pair of wire cutters and to rectify the problem set about cutting as many wires as possible! To clear the smoke he opened the door of the moving train, leaving it open for any Tom, Dick or Ravi to fall out of!

Realising I could open the door has seen me spending several hours hanging out of trains whilst blasting though the Indian countryside, the wind in my face whilst enjoying the ride. Pulling into Delhi was memorable – slums are built right up to the edge of the railway line, some slums are a couple of KMs in length with families’, children, chickens, cows and goats all living immediately adjacent to the railway line. Being stood at the door you do get a much differing view from being behind double glazing enjoying the coolness of double glazing; children waving and smiling, old ladies going about their daily lives cooking, washing clothes, chatting and laughing with friends, young boys flying kites and the old bold man, sat staring at you whilst curling out a log whilst grinning!

Sometimes the train will stop and several people take the opportunity to jump aboard selling chai, offering pakoras or in once case carrying about thirty books for sale, all trying for a quick sale before the trains sets off. After being in the well-ordered (if somewhat boring) Chandigarh, (the Milton Keynes of India,) New Delhi Railway Station comes as a shock. On leaving the train it’s a case of following the person in front and making your way to the exit, you’re either in a team of people going one way or there’s a team of people coming at you, it’s chaos albeit in an Indian kind of way – it just works and eventually you’re disgorged from the train station.

Being monsoon it can rain at any time and as we stepped out of the station we were immediately hit by a very large spot of rain – the sky darkened, everyone became a little furtive, it was about to rain and rain hard. Most of the time we’d spend a good 10/15 minutes arguing with auto drivers as on seeing me the fare quoted is usually double the price a local would pay – we always end up paying Gora Tax (gora meaning fair-skinned or indeed honky!)

Jumping in the first auto we could find and dumping our bags in the bag the skies opened and it properly pissed it down, not just any rain this was of biblical proportions and even though we had a door on one side of the auto – both of us pressed up in the corner within ten minutes we were soaked through. Within twelve minutes the roads were flooded due to the storm drains being unable to cope with such quantities of water in such a short space of time.

Our auto, with no functioning windscreen wipers nor any grip on his tyres (auto drivers seem to prefer the slick look of Formula 1) ploughed on – though was constantly stalling due to water entering his engine. On one stretch of road we were pulled over whilst the driver was trying to restart the engine. With visibility down to 20 yards cars, buses and trucks were hurtling passed us – almost at full speed, throwing water over and into our auto and aqua-planing through huge puddles covering the road – it was actually quite scary and not being able to see behind due to our bags and no windows you’re constantly braced for someone to come sailing (sorry) straight into the back of you!

Eventually we arrived at our destination to be greeted by hot cups of sweet chai and plates of dhal and rice – home cooking at its very best. We stripped out of our wet clothes and sat down to enjoy the great food.

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