Kathmandu airport – again – for The Taj Mahal and Jaipur this time – so next stop Delhi for the second time in four weeks. This was our only flight, all other journeys would be by train. We love a train and with a little help from Audley Travel, it’s a great way to adventure.
We’ve done Indian Railways before so I had some idea what to expect. As ever, the platform looked like a vast social picnic. Families and groups were hunkered down everywhere with sacks of rice, pots and pans, clothes, toys….. I thought we had a lot of luggage, but this went into a whole different stratosphere.
As a last minute person, (why spend time hanging around when you could fit in one last task?) I was amazed that all these folk were there for the same train as us. In fact the train itself was sitting at the platform, we were all waiting and there was still 30 minutes to go. Totally opposite of our experience in Mumbai where the local trains didn’t even stop fully for people to get on or off.
At least we were there to provide a bit of entertainment during the long wait: people came and asked to take selfies with us, the families around us whispered, nudged and pointed, old women singled us out as the most likely to give them money and others watched to see if we would respond. Even as the crowd thickened we stood out, my grey hair like a dash of silver in a rainbow.
Time to board
At last the doors opened and our guide pushed on with the masses to secure our seats. This train was going all the way to Goa – 45 hours non-stop – hence the bags of rice I guess. It was a sleeper, but we’d been assured the beds wouldn’t come down until after Agra, so we were a bit thrown by being allocated two bunks.
Never mind, we could manage. We put our cases up on the top bunk and stretched out top and tail on the lower one. It was a wise move, since sitting sideways with feet in the corridor was not a sensible move. Imagine endless people with supplies to last 45 hours descending on a small space and you get the flavour of the chaos that ensued.
By train to Agra
Even before we left the station, vendors were taking the first of endless journeys up and down the corridors selling a wide array of food, drink, toys, balloons, bubbles and most surprising – locks. I guess if you were concerned someone would go into your case as you slept?
We had come prepared too, so soon had G+T on the go, accompanied by salted banana chips and macadamias. Bliss on a major scale – for me anyway. John had to try the food as it passed by – part of the adventure for him. I’ve no idea how he manages it. Even when all the advice says RESIST, he has no upset tummies or sickness. Me, I’m not prepared to risk it – can’t see the point of missing what we’ve come so far to see for the sake of trying India Railways biryani.
The view was lovely but not at all what we expected – pretty much like UK countryside to be honest. So I settled into my Kindle and munched my way to Agra. 30 minutes to go and john spotted that the bed would collapse into two seats! What slow learners are we!
By train to Jaipur
The Taj Mahal and Red Fort duly visited and we’re back at the train station for Jaipur.
Totally different this time – comfortable reclining seats, efficient air con, a constant supply of food brought round by a young steward and not an Indian face in sight. By the time the light went, we could have been anywhere. The only reminder of India was the very hot curry and cups with Indian Railways on the side. I felt as if we were channelling Michael Portillo
Jaipur made Mumbai look tame. I’d assumed that there would be no culture shock given we’d spent two weeks in Kathmandu, but I was wrong. By the time we reached our hotel, I was exhausted.
Is it a road or the farmyard?
Quick tip – don’t grip the pole of a tuk tuk unless you were prepared to have your knuckles scrapped. And if you’ve got earplugs to hand, put them in. the constant blaring of horns, even when the mass of life in front has absolutely nowhere to go, was overwhelming.
The Pink City is truly remarkable. Superb sandstone architecture in amongst makeshift
homes; intense heat bouncing off the earth; densely packed artisan shops in specialised alleys that only sold saris or pickle or jewellery – the whole world was there to see. Now we were really into the hard sell, being followed down the street in case we changed our minds and told how much our lives would be changed by: elephants carved inside elephants, puppets, sari’s, chapattis, bells, bubbles, bangles, precious stones and, of course, locks.
Heat, torrential rain, potholes, rats – it was pretty wild, but always exciting.
There only one moment of aggression – a young man who thought he had the right to throw a shoe at me. His aim was good and his laughter offensive. Other men saw what happened and apologised profusely – very nice of them, but I’d have preferred if they held him to task.
Overall, we had an enormous adventure, with every bit unforgettable. I’d recommend seeing Jaipur – just maybe don’t stay too long.
We had booked our one bit of luxury – Samode Palace, a palace of the Maharaja of Jaipur, turned upmarket hotel – and moving that forward by a day was the best decision we made. Quiet, calm, comfort – I could breathe again and relax. I’d bought a book in Jaipur – A Princess Remembers written by a Maharani of Jaipur. I love reading about real time experiences when you’re actually in the place and can see what they’re talking about. John was fascinated too, so we sat on the balcony each evening with the inevitable G+T and I read out loud about the antics of the Maharaja.
It was a really special time. We left Samode rested and peaceful. It was the perfect end to a week of chaos before our final piece of work in Kathmandu.