Sunday, October 28, 2007

A 24-Hour Train, and a Surprising Arrival

Greetings from Delhi!

I boarded the AP Express at 6 a.m., in the palatial luxury of an AC 2-tier compartment. The majority of my carriage -- in fact, the majority of the train -- was filled by an extended family of Hyderabadis traveling to Agra to see the Taj. They all had an orange handkerchief pinned to their sleeve so that they could recognize each other, and the entire train was filled with chat and rice and dal and chapatis and lots of shuffling around and greeting one another.

The unexpected bonus of traveling AC-2 is that it has attached electrical ports for laptops. Thus my compartment became the hot favorite as I plugged in and kept the crowd entertained with Bollywood films I had stored on my computer. (Yes, I know. I'm ready for someone to tell me that the worst thing I can do on a train is advertise that I have a laptop. The reason I did it was because everyone else on the train already knew each other, and they all already trusted each other, so I thought I would trust them by association. And no one stole my laptop. ^__^)

My train was scheduled to arrive in Delhi at 9 a.m. Perfect, I thought. I'll get plenty of sleep in my comfortable bunk and arrive refreshed and ready.

Except that everyone else on the train was getting off at Agra.

And they all woke up at 4 a.m.

The worst was hearing the chubby bespectacled kid in the bunk below me grumble at his father "But it's four in the morning! The train doesn't get to Agra until SIX!"

So for two hours, until the train hit Agra... oh, I'll spare you.

I arrived in Delhi still exhausted and wanting a nice hot bath. But when I reached my hotel, it was clear that "nice" was not going to be the case. The Hotel Star Palace is tucked into Main Bazaar along with about twenty-five other hotels of similar nature. It's... oh, I'll borrow from the Brits and use "grotty." Probably worse than that. The bathroom is tiny and insect-ridden (I bought spray and hosed it down), the bedroom is equally tiny and has no bedding (luckily I had packed blanket, etc. for the train).

When I saw it, my first thought was New. Hotel room. Now. But then I noticed the other guests in the corridor and in the reception area lounge. All young European backpackers. And I thought "okay, I am not going to be the spoiled American over this. If all these twenty-something European kids can handle it, then so can I."

(I had been meaning to write a post on the subject of "endurance," in which I explained how I felt guilty about upgrading from Sleeper II -- which smelled like a toilet -- to AC 2-tier, because it meant that I was another one of these American children of privilege who didn't want to endure anything that wasn't perfectly comfortable. Now... well, I think that enduring this hotel will assuage my conscience, and I'm not going to worry a bit more about the trains.)

The surprise that I refer to in the post title is how... um... white this section of Delhi is. The bazaar outside the hotel caters entirely to the young, poor tourist, and all of the stalls are full of cheap Indian exotica (look! elephants and that aum thingy!"). Right now I am in an internet cafe surrounded by white people, and I ate both lunch and dinner in cheap restaurants surrounded by white people. It's a cheap, young, tourist rathole. (It will be interesting to see if Red Fort and the other tourist hotspots feel the same way.)

Anyway. I'll post more when I have more news to tell. Say a "don't let the bedbugs bite" for me, 'kay?


Avinash said...

From your description it sounds like you're in the Paharganj area of New Delhi. As several of my friends had warned me when I was booking a hotel room to stay in Delhi last year, Paharganj is a place for "hippies." So I decided to stay close to Connaught Place, at a place called Janpath Guesthouse. I have to say that JG was probably the worst hotel I've stayed at. Delhi is surprisingly expensive to stay, in addition to being one of the dirtiest capital cities.

Take the Delhi metro to visit the Red Fort/Jama Masjid/Chandni Chowk areas. Even though the network is quite small, the subway trains are excellent and very convenient.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, you poor thing, stuck in ratty Paharganj. Well, I guess you can get stoned for relatively cheap there, but charas is about the only thing cheap you will find there. Delhi is a hard place to find decent, reasonably priced accomodation. You might try the YWCA, it's very close to central Delhi (Connaught Place, etc) and eons ago, they used to rent out reasonably clean rooms at reasonable rates.