Friday, March 14, 2014

Of train trips, senior singalong and mobile ringtones

Today was our first (I suspect of many) train trips the Shatbadi Express to Amritsar.   6 hours. So about the same length of time it took in the now infamous sardine tin.  Only roomier.  We were told by the bloke at hotel reception in Hotel Sunstar Grand that the Shatbadi Express is one of the best trains in India.  It was, shall we say characterful.  A slightly scruffy grande dame who has seen better days but fairly comfortable.  The window alas was so grimy that it was like looking at the world through a thick fly screen. Never mind.

Our adventure into the wider world commenced at  5.30 am when Bernadette's mobile alarm went off, and off and off. She had it on snooze and couldn't be bothered turning off.   Mick asked if she could please stuff it under her pillow. He was heard to make snarling noises.

Downstairs to be met by taxi driver who drove us through the quiet early morning traffic.  Street people setting up for the day, doing their ablutions, dogs stirring themselves. An Ox  at the intersection pulling a very large cart of...what?  Perhaps calling the early morning traffic quiet is a misnomer because it is anything but.  The car horn isn't merely a manifestation of anger in India, it is a form of self expression. Everything from get out of my way, to hello, I am here can you see me.
Delhi railway station us a bit of a traffic bun fight vehicles from all directions converging into a
bottleneck all trying to get as close to the station as possible.

Upon getting out the driver asked us when we were returning and vowed to be at the ATM in front of the station to pick us up.  We waited for him to put his hand out for the fee but he didn't.  This nonplussed us somewhat.  Did he get paid on the return journey or was this a complimentary service provided by the hotel.? This will be the first of many puzzlements I suspect and if you thought that
was confusing you ain't heard nuffin yet

We strolled into the entrance and began perusing the arrival and departure boards looking for our train when a tall youngish man brisked up to us.  "Where are you going? " Amritsar we chorused. He asked to see our ticket and then with ticket in Hand began briskly walking away with the words
"follow me"  we scuttled after him struggling to keep up as this was a man with a purpose and frivolities such as looking back to see if we were still behind didn't figure in his thinking.  He took us to the right spot on the right platform then announced we had a Long wait. Listen buster we spent an hour and a half on the Tarmac in the sardine tin. 20 Minutes is nothing to us. We sneer at 20 minutes. For some reason Mr Brisk decided Bernadette was our pack leader, either that it or he fancied her because he asked if she liked tea. " yes," replied our fearless non appointed leader  then he was off again leaving us with no choice but to dash after him because he still had our
 tickets! So at the other end of the platform is the canteen.   He pushed his way in and re emerged
with 3 paper cups of foamy chai.  And what chai it was. It was superb.  We had no idea how much they were and what payment he might have been expecting. He handed over the teas ushered us to seats said goodbye and he was gone leaving us wondering who the hell he was.  About 10 minutes later he re- materialised and said "come to the train". And once More we were off and racing. He came on board with us, saw us to our seats, shook us each by the hand and raced off on his next urgent mission. Who was that unmasked man ? We spent quite some time speculating but we never did find out. Best guess Is perhaps he is employed to assist bemused looking western tourists.

So the train trip began.
 the men from Doon's (presumably the catering company with the contract to feed travellers on the "air conditioned chair carriage") distributed large bottles of water. Then Came morning tea:hot water, tea bags and two Mini Marie biscuits in a sealed bag followed about an hour later by breakfast.  Two
spiced veggie patties of some kind, two slices of bread in a sealed bag., butter and jam.

This duly consumed we settled down the read our complimentary copies of the Times Of India.  This has to rate as one of our favourite newspapers ever.  A peculiar mix of formal English and slang. I ask you, how many of papers can you think of that would use the eord "tizzy" in a headline. It read "unclaimed bag throws cops into a tizzy".  How can you not love a publication like that?  In a story
about school bullying it breathlessly informed us that the boys "were hurling.  the choicest of abuses" never has a newspaper kept us so entertained for so long.

We  also had the singalong seniors. This merry little band, while we were waiting outside a station for goodness know why decided it was time to sing. Led by a jolly man in a flat cap they sang and clapped numerous songs in Hindi.  After we started moving again flat cap gave way to pleasant looking man in a hideous green plaid blazer who earnestly began telling a story of some kind. We

heard the names Queen Victoria and Elizabeth mentioned.  Was he a professor giving a history talk to a school for seniors? He was so serious, but no it was a joke. Hilarious at that because most of the carriage was laughing except us, the only westerners in the joint. We smiled uncomprehendingly  and wished we could speak Hindi because judging by the reaction, the joke must have been a doozy.

We got to Amritsar on time and were met by "my man in Amritsar" we've begun referring to him as Myman because he didn't introduce himself. So at the hotel a swarm of staff descended upon us divested us of our meagre baggage, ushered us to  a seat, plied us with mango juice and spectacularly tasty cookies while they took our passport details.  We were then ushered up to our room whereupon much consternation came upon the land. We booked a triple room only there was one King sized bed. There was a small settee which we figured had to be a sofa bed but no. An exploration of every nook and cranny failed to reveal the 2nd bed. We asked the porter when he showed up and with his limited
English pointed to the small, glass topped coffee table. wot? Was Bernadette expected to curl up like a cat and sleep on that? Eventually light dawned as the porter explained to these apparently senileuncomprehending  fossils that, no try roulette move the coffee table and install the bed later. ( note: it is 7.20 pm with no sign of the promised bed.  Just as well we are off out soon to see great Goldn Tempke at night and he "ceremony" whatever that is. We've not been told. That's half the fun of here that glorious confusing uncertainty and the entertainment factor of letting our imaginations run wild with speculation.

Food remains amazing. We had wonderful late lunch in thr upmarket restaurant,  starters, rice, two mains, ranit as, bans bread wnd the ubiquitous Kingfisher beer all for about $60. Not each. Total cost of the lot.

One thing we've noticed about India apart from the horn. That's the ever present mobile ring tones. Where ever you go, whatever you do it is to the soundtrack of ringtones. There's no escaping them.

Ipad typing finger tired now. Shall rest and report back on our journey into thenight later

Toodle pip.

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