An “Entry from the Jotter” is a post that’s been directly lifted, and then possibly edited after, from my handwritten scribblings. It allows me to document the “then and there” of certain experiences and re-tell them to you with as little hindsight as possible.
We have left our little room above a busy street in the centre of Udaipur, and have traded-in for something a bit more…mobile.
We have boarded the Chetak Express from Udaipur to Delhi with about 30 minutes to spare. Not knowing how long an auto rikshaw to the station would take (without accounting for a potential visit to A&E) we decided to leave our p(a)lace of residence in plenty of time. So at approximately 4.20pm, having paid our keep of 2100 rupees for a four night stay- a modest sum- we tried to flag down a rikshaw, which really isn’t difficult. In fact, it’s completely the opposite of difficult in India because rikshaws flag you down. Sometimes they hunt you down, in packs. The driver must have been psychic, as he successfully predicted the sought after destination of two very white foreigners each with a rucksack the size of themselves trying to pull them to the ground:
“Train station. Train station?”
However did you guess my friend!? Maybe it was our keenness to leave your country that gave us away. The driver offered 60 rupees initially, but quickly tried his luck with 80. Whether he was trying to out-smart us with his obvious psychic abilities or reverse psychology, or whether he was very simple, I’m not so sure. But having heard him offer 60 rupees there was no way I was paying a royal rupee more than that.
With 60 rupees agreed we somehow squished ourselves, two full rucksacks and two backpacks into the equivalent of the back seat of a Ford Ka. You do wonder, as you cling to your other half, speeding over potholes and swerving past and sometimes between live cattle, whether this driver has ever actually driven anything in his entire lifer. It’s funny what goes through your head when you think this might be The Final Trip you ever take, and I realised that my final thought at that moment would have been: I wonder how legal the process is for Indian’s attaining a certified driving licence?
This seemingly carefree attitude which is easier to pass off as harmless fun, is not limited to the crazy breed of rikshaw drivers. The countless scooter, moped and motorbike riders are similarly ‘carefree’. As are their passengers! Women aboard two-wheeled corpse-makers sit nonchalantly, side-on, hands in their laps as if they are in a moment of worship in a temple (my moment of worship during rikshaw rides are slightly more blasphemous), while the road speeds below at 40 mph. I have no shame in admitting that if it was me on the back of that bike, I would have both hands tightly pincer-ed around my sweetheart’s waist. In leathers. With a helmet. No,two helmets on. Telling him to stop, before disembarking outside my parents suburban house, hitting him with my helmet and storming off to cry into my pillow while yelling “Shove it Brett you ***hole. You nearly got us killed. I’m so not going to the prom with you. This high school romance is OVER!”
If you would like to crawl uneasily away from that particular fantasy, dodging flying safety helmets as you go, we arrived at the station in plenty of time and following a brief moment of worry when we could not find the name of our train on the departure board. By complete chance we stopped near one particular coach which, had Jo not more closely inspected to discover a piece of paper with our names and berth numbers printed on, we might never have found.
The berths are intimate, and as we’ve only just pulled away from the station, it’s hard to tell just how comfortable they are: comfort being our main worry for this 12 hour overnight journey. Jo and I have berth 21 & 22, one on top of the other. There is an identical bunk opposite ours, and on the other side of the aisle there is another bunk turned sideways. It has, from first touch, very comfy pillows. The ones that are firm yet give a little. Unlike the ones that are far too soft, and feel as though you’re sleeping on a half-filled balloon. There is also a curtain to block out light from the aisle.
As the evening wore on, so did my writing hand and we decided to shut out our lights. You may want to tune into the next post to find out just how highly (or lowly) we rate 2nd class sleeper trains on the Chetak Express from Udaipur to Delhi.
We made it to the airport. Well, at least to the airports visitors lounge, as apparently we’re not passengers yet. A glass screen is all that separates us from those that have the privilege of on earlier flight. They’ve sectioned us off from where we long to be and have torturously placed our ‘haven’, our ‘promised land’ in plain sight: “Tiw yoor floights on the board, yoo aint getting’ in.” They said something like that, except not in a cockney Phil Mitchel voice working an east end night club.
Anyway, I last left you on the Chetak Express as we boarded our overnight train to Delhi. As it turned out, the ride in general was comfortable enough. We sat reading in our berth for an hour or so before receiving our daily dose of House M.D. We were no more, or less, comfortable than if we had been travelling from Liverpool Slime St to Wigan North Western by Northern Rail, so we were fairly content with what our 1200 rupees had bought us so far. It appeared to get even better when I went to use the facilities, as one of the toilets was labelled Western. Once I had figured out how to open the door, it soon dawned on me that whilst a Western toilet was indeed delivered as promised, it did not take a Professor Brian Cox to work out where one’s contents went after use; the black abyss most likely reaching as far as the train tracks below. Saying that, the last Northern Rail train I boarded didn’t even have a toilet. Indian Railways 1, Northen Rail 0.
As night drew in and our neighbours began to draw curtains, we decided to put sleep-ability to the test. The back of our seat folded down to make the flat bed of the bottom berth, while Jo took up residence on the top bunk. With our bunk-buddies opposite also settling down for the night, I put my netbook to hibernate and hoped to follow suit, knowing if I drifted off now I might re-energise my bear batteries by six hours. Yet as soon as I hit out the light, plunging us into partial darkness, I knew it wasn’t going to be that straight forward.
For a start, the couple opposite were ‘k-noodling’ on the bottom bunk, just centimetres away. There was nothing, “yer know” going on, but their low Hindi whisperings gave me a decent (maybe indecent) idea. When they tired, he made for the top bunk, however I would much rather they had stayed up whispering sweet murmurs to each other if I’d had known the alternative. The low guttural snores began in earnest and made no sign of ceasing, or at the very least subsiding. There was a sleepy walrus on the train and I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who could hear it (as it turned out, Jo was just as, if not more annoyed by the sleepy walrus).
Inevitably, having suffered about 45 minutes of relentless snores, I reached for my ear phones and I prescribed myself some Pink Floyd in the hope that I may become Comfortably Numb. Add the rude people who walked the carriages in the middle of the night, disturbing the berths curtains and letting in streams of light, and multiply those by the occasional wailing child and you might understand that whilst I was as physically comfortable in my bed as I had hoped, I was completely and unmistakably wide awake. In situations like this, comfort without the sleep is no good at all, whereas sleep without the comfort is fine. Because you’re at least asleep.
I somehow found a few hours of sleep (they must have escaped the alcohol stained clutches of a downtown hobo and hitched a ride to Delhi in search of the big time) and was eternally grateful for them. We got up about half an hour before we were due to arrive and the train stopped for the last time at approximately 5.25am. We gingerly disembarked, hoping we were getting off at the correct station, even having asked at least two Indian passengers whether we were at “last-stop-Delhi?”
We arranged a taxi to take us straight to the airport and agreed to pay 500 rupees for the privilege ( I think we may have been taken for a ride- literally and metaphorically- but in the pitch black in a foreign Asian city, you don’t argue it too much). Relieved to have finally arrived at the airport, we were kindly told that because we were so early (18 hours early) we could not enter the ‘actual’ airport.
And so here we are (or were), still at 17.14. We’ve just about spent all our last rupees on junk food because it is the only food visitors are allowed access to. In her hunger, Jo has devoured A Game of Thrones, taking her little over a week to read. Finishing the book however had only made her even more bored.
And I have no wi-fi! Despite numerous, failed attempts to gain access. Meaning that the little bit of information in the whole world that I’ve been thinking about since about 4am this morning (morning of the 14th March), the two numbers that would tell me which half of Merseyside, Blue or Red would be waking up actually excited to go to work today; this one teeny-tiny bit of knowledge I am unable to access and am doomed to be without until we get to Bangkok. My torment continues reader. Till next time.
In case you were wondering, I did find out the score, a full 15 hours later and only a whole 26 hours after the final whistle had gone. Once I found out…well as I’m sure you can image it all felt worth waiting for…*cue sobbing*