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beached whales on the platform

From the Grand Bazar I heave my bag and my tired self to the New Delhi train station, walking through the bustle and mass of people and the deafening noise that is India. The traffic is extremely crazy and often comes to a complete standstill. Electric wires throw out blazing sparks onto a waiting crowd. I walk through the station towards the Metro Station, where I squeeze into a hopelessly crowded carriage in which you don´t even have to hold on to anywhere as the crush of people helps you to stay upright anyways. Luckily, it´s only two stops to Chandni Chowk, from where I walk to Old Delhi Station and find out that my train to Jaipur will be an hour late. I´m sitting down next to the platform and gaze at the people. A cross-eyed man who´s traveling around India with the sole purpose of collecting foreigner´s names and nationality on pieces of paper starts talking to me and I give him an autograph as well.

the passing landscape
Watching people through the open but barred windows of the sleeper´s class reminds me of a livestock transport, the people cooped up behind bars like cattle on their way to the slaughterhouse. Now this is a graphic and radical thought but I can´t help it. Passengers lying like beached whales on the platform, luggage carriers with a heavy load on their heads, children crossing the rail tracks, rubbish collectors, idle policemen with machine guns, women elegantly floating through the crowd in their colourful saris and skiny stray dogs looking for anything eatable.

 

As my train trundles into the station at 2pm I find my seat in an AC 3 compartment. After a while a young guy takes his seat opposite of me and starts eating his chicken biryani.

Amit and Rija

“kya khana accha hai?” (Is the food good?) I ask him and he smiles in surprise.

“Yes, it´s very good. Would you like some?”

“No, thank you.”

“Do you speak Hindi?”

“thora thora.

happy people
” (a little bit)

So we start our small talk in a mixture of English and Hindi. His name is Amit. He´s originally from Bihar, studies political sciences in Delhi and right now is on his way to visit family in Gujarat. He´s 25 years old and not married. So much about the typical Indian small talk business.

“Do you like India?” he asks me.

“Well, actually I just arrived yesterday so it´s too early to answer that question.”

“I see, well, if you want to see the real, incredible India you have to visit some small villages, because only in the small villages will you witness the true colours of India.

me and Amit
You know, many tourists just focus on well known urban centres like the cities of the Golden Triangle but you have to escape the hoards and visit some rural parts in order to experience the true nature and the day to day beauty of India. That´s where you´ll find the heart of India.”

 

Despite this beautiful recommendation, what I also like about Amit immediately is that he takes his time to talk, carefully weighing his thoughts and then expressing them in a smart and eloquent manner. He asks me how my first day in India went and I tell him about the Delhi scam. He´s shocked and apologizes for it as if it was his own fault.

 

A bit later, while we are still deeply engrossed in conversation, a beautiful girl suddenly sits down next to us, asking whether she could recharge her mobile phone.

Rija and her friend
Amit noticeably switches from his confident self to a shy guy in the presence of this gorgeous angel. We interrupt our conversation and exchange glances meaning “Wow, what a hot stunner!” The girl probably notices our dallyings of coyness. The thing about guys is this: when there are no women around we talk confidently and boast about our “experiences” but as soon as a fit girl stands in front of us our mind goes numb. Fortunately she breaks the silence and asks us where we are going to and just as easily as that she becomes part of our conversation. Her name is Rija, she´s 21 years old and has the most mesmerizing smile as well as a cute face that is hard to avert your eyes from. Judging from Amit´s look he´s probably thinking the same. Rija tells us she´s from Nepal  and traveling with a group of about 200 people to Bundi (south of Jaipur) for Holi celebrations on 1st of March.

 

After taking out my Hindi dictionary the three of us soon teach Hindi and German expressions to each other. A bit later, Rija invites Amit and me to her compartment in sleeper´s class, so we pick up our bags and follow her. As we reach her carriage, the aforementioned group of 200 greet us with overwhelming friendliness and happy chanting. Rija introduces us to some of her friends and as we take a seat, various kinds of food is passed in our direction: slices of orange, different kinds of sweets and spicy milk. People with big smiles pat me on the back or shake my hand and generally make me immediately feel part of their group. They are holding hands and singing cheerful songs, clapping their hands to the rhythm, shaking tambourines or drumming on a table. There´s laughing, spinning and swinging.

“Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship, my senses have been stripped, my hands can't feel to grip,my toes too numb to step, wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin'. I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it.” (Bob Dylan)

This moment is a magic one for me. As the singing continues it puts a magic spell on me, with a cool breeze blowing in through the open windows, the Indian landscape moving past like in a paradisiac dream, both the foreground and background of my visual gaze swimming with colours, the whole scene and the happiness touches my heart. And I´m thinking ‘this is what I imagined India to be like, this is what I dreamed of, this is what I longed for, what I imagined to be the irresistible lure of India´s soul, the epitome of charm’. And in this moment, Amit as if sensing my felicity looks at me and says: “Welcome to India.” And these simple words are touching my heart and caressing my soul. I shake his hand with both my hands, thank him in a grateful way and tell him how much his words mean to me but he just adds: “This is your first day in India.” And he´s right. Of course it´s my second day in this country but it feels like this is the first day, the beginning of my Indian adventure and the start of my love for India. It´s the perfect vision of India.

 

Most of the remaining journey we stay at sleeper´s class, enjoying the company of the people with neverending smiles. The train arrives in Jaipur at 9pm with a delay of two hours but I wouldn´t have minded if it was even later, for that train journey was such a special experience. I say goodbye to the people who meant the world to me, especially Amit and Rija who were like the guides for my discovery of India.

 

Exiting the dark Jaipur train station a guy tugs at my shirt and offers to take me to a hotel for 20 Rs and I´m simply feeling too calm and serene and therefore don´t resist. I climb into the backseat of his taxi and tell him to take me to Pearl Palace Hotel. It goes without saying that my driver, whose name is Ali, is trying to foist a different hotel on me. At the Pearl Palace the receptionist tells me the hotel is full, so I tell Ali to take me to wherever he wants so that he can earn his commission. So he takes me to Vaishnavi Guest House. On the way to the hotel, Ali wants to convince me that he´s the best tourguide in the world and in order to prove his showing-off he hands me a book in which people wrote in different languages what they thought of Ali´s services, praising his skills as a tour guide. Surely he is a good guide indeed but he´s also constantly talking, talking, talking (which some girls might find attracting but not me) and after only five minutes I´m already tired listening to his braggy efforts of trying to persuade me. Besides, I don´t want a tour guide, I want to see and experience India with my own eyes and explore the places myself, without him or anyone else pointing out interesting landmarks to me.

 

“Travel is at its best a solitary enterprise: to see, to examine, to assess, you have to be alone and unencumbered. Other people can mislead you; they crowd your meandering impressions with their own; if they are companionable they obstruct your view, and if they are boring they corrupt the silence with non-sequiturs, shattering your concentration with Oh look, it´s raining and You see a lot of trees here. […] It is hard to see clearly or to think straight in the company of other people. […] I am diverted, but it is discovery not diversion that I seek. What is required is the lucidity of loneliness to capture that vision which, however banal, seems in my private mood to be special and worthy of mind and makes it intensely receptive to fugitive impressions.” (Paul Theroux)

 

For those reasons I simply take Ali´s business card and merely tell him I´d call him if I needed him, which I never will. After having rested in my room for half an hour, I take the elevator up to the rooftop restaurant where I sit down at a table and meet Kent from Los Angeles and a Russian body-building-and-proteine-devouring type of guy who gives me a handshake that almost crushes my bones, it´s the opposite of a wet-fish handshake, it´s a brutal shark´s embrace. I order butter masala and since my two new acquaintances seem to have had some booze already I order a Kingfisher Strong as well. A sign on the wall says ‘Alcohol is not allowed in the hotel’. A band of four people is playing some music on their tablas and sitars. As my delicious food and beer arrives at our table, the Russian stammers semi-intelligent wisdoms and occasionally displays blatant ignorance, for example despite having lived in India for almost two years, the only word he seems to know in Hindi is “madarchod” (motherfucker, asshole). Understandably Kent and I are happy he decides to leave us alone after a while, but not before he has given us another one of his exaggerated and needless hugs, which feel like hugging a sturdy, wooden wardrobe. After he has left, Kent and I are finally able to have a normal conversation in a peaceful atmosphere. At 11pm we´ve emptied our beers and run out of cigarettes and our nicotine addiction forces us to leave the hotel and stroll around the dark and empty streets in search of a shop. People on motorbikes are speeding past us, shouting “Hello Bob” or “Hello George” at us. And then in the middle of all the darkness that surrounds us is a brightly lit room with a dozen people sitting on the floor and praying as if in a state of trance, chanting religious verses and swaying their arms in the air. As Kent and I are passing by, the faithful notice us and move their focus in our direction, thereby continuing to sing and smile and dance. For a moment it looks like they were performing just for us. We continue walking until we meet a guy whom I ask “kaha cigret milenge?” (where can I get cigarettes?) and with a sympathetic smile shows us the way to a shop, where we can restock our cigarette inventory. Then we´re walking back to the hotel, enjoying our cancer sticks.

I fall asleep just before midnight, as my “first” day in India is coming to an end. I´ve officially arrived, not only physically but also emotionally.

abhi_Dreamer says:
finally sm positive experience...and you r truly good with words..i am actually living all those moments you have mentioned...yeah Indian trains can be one amazin experience....for sure..
Posted on: Jun 21, 2010
Morle says:
You´re right, Vish. Taking the train in India is always an exciting experience and you never know what´s going to happen. Also, it´s a great way to meet people and, as for me, it´s very good for practising Hindi.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! I will upload some more soon.
Posted on: Apr 13, 2010
koolvish says:
This is the best part I love when I travel in India, travelling in the train ( in second class ). Each and every journey in the trian is a new experience and I miss it so much.
Posted on: Apr 13, 2010
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beached whales on the platform
beached whales on the platform
the passing landscape
the passing landscape
Amit and Rija
Amit and Rija
happy people
happy people
me and Amit
me and Amit
Rija and her friend
Rija and her friend
New Delhi
photo by: peeyushmalhotra