Sunday, 5 February 2012

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

A typical train in India
When R2 mentioned we were taking not one, but two trains in India, and in first class, I had visions of the Orient Express fleeing through the cool night air. I could visualize myself dining with fine bone china, sipping chai from a dainty tea cup and having white jacketed waiters fall all over my feet trying to serve my every whim. It was a nifty fantasy, however my bubble burst rapidly as our taxi navigated the foul, crowded grounds of the station.

We made the station by minutes and, in typical Velez fashion, we sprinted through the station, trying desperately to find our car. What we saw were people jammed into coach, sitting on broken benches with newspaper or tattered blanket covering them, and not an inch to spare between them. Had we not been in hot haste to get to Agra from Delhi to witness the miraculous Taj, I think we would have cut and run. 

R2 trying to not touch anything in our berth
I grew up around trains; my dad was an Engineer on CP most of my life so I had a vague idea purely through osmosis; I told R2 to run for the front and by sheer luck we saw our names scratched on a piece of paper taped to the car. Of course, no sharply uniformed Conductor, but some disheveled employee wearing old clothes with a scarf wrapped around his head grabbed my bag and told us to squeeze into to a sleeper ahead. I will venture he was the Conductor.

What a shock. Where was the first class? Where was my champagne on ice, or my down comforter? What we found was a shabby, cramped car that hadn't seen up upgrade since 1950. There was a threadbare blanket on the bed we didn't dare use, never mind the pillow. We barely perched on the bunk for fear or who or what was on the blanket before we boarded.

When we alighted, luckily R2 had the foresight to have a car meet us. At the Agra station there were people huddled for warmth near lit fires, rats, roaches and overwhelming poverty. It is hard to fathom this life when millions make their way to one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal; a tribute from the Emperor to his favourite wife when she died giving birth to their 14th child.

All too soon our Taj Mahal fun ended. We didn't relish the thought of boarding another train heading to Jaipur to take an elephant ride, tour Amber Fort and enjoy a tranquil spa called the Tree of Life.

It was virtually the same drill on this train ride except we made the grave mistake of being early; alarming is a massive understatement. Once again, people blatantly eyeballed us, like animals in a cage.  When we were paying the taxi driver, filthy street urchins tried to grab the money and run until he ran them off.  I believe being at this station at 5:00 p.m. is the most vulnerable I have felt in our travels in the world.  I tried to ignore the 3 year olds defecating and scampering on the train tracks with no recourse from anyone. The only amusement was watching the monkeys that zipped along the telephone wires trying to steal food.  

As predicted, our second train ride was equally as decrepit, especially when thirty minutes into the ride a toothless man flung open our door, threw his luggage in our room and told us he was bunking with us.  I told him, "I don't think so," but he left his luggage, came back 15 minutes later and jumped up on the top bunk. He proceeded to talk on his phone with no regard for us whatsoever, so I got out my iPhone and did a rousing rendition of American Pie at the top of my lungs.  Don McLean would be proud. My boisterous singing must have lulled him to sleep because his snores could have woke the dead.

The taxis we took in India were antiquated, therefore I have no reference to what or where they originated.  They were so slow that I swear I saw a camel passing us...and speaking of camels, the Army in Delhi ride camels through the streets in herds, or group, or gaggles.  We were always late, traffic was insane and we would jump into these taxis that maxed out at 40 km per hour, watching as anything and everything passed us by.

Sadly, Jet Airways was our airline of choice. The airport in Delhi and Jaipur were respectable but NEVER fly to Chennai unless you enjoy cockroaches, foul, leaky toilets and no where decent to eat or sit while you wait for your flight. As our first point of reference in India, we soon learned that men and women are separated to be searched at security due to modesty but an inconvenient hassle, never-the less.  The planes used by Jet Airways are so small that when the person ahead of you puts his seat back, he is almost in your lap, with no embellishment from this blogger.  If you need to use the toilets, get there first or hold it until you land in Singapore. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Amber Fort in Jaipur - a breathtaking wonder
This is not my photo but not far from the truth

While the sites in India such as Amber Fort and the Taj are breathtaking, it is not a country I will be revisiting anytime soon.  The poverty is too overwhelming; as it the stench, the putrescence and diseases in this country of 1.3 B people. Our hotels were first-rate, and you couldn't find better hosts than R2's colleagues, but I had a hard time adjusting to the constant honking, the livestock wandering the streets, people using the broken sidewalks as their personal toilets and taking my life in my hands every time I tried to cross the road. I was ripped off at every turn when it came to taxis, the trains were something from my worst nightmare and jetting through the sky, wedged into a metal tube like a human sardine is not what I was to re-enact in the future.

Bring on Australia!


  1. And we could've taken the train from Jaipur to Delhi but something in the back of my head was telling me no, don't do it. The flight from Jaipur to Delhi gave us a chance to see the modern side of Jaipur with a great airport and surrounding areas, hiding all the poor aspects of the city. Travel tip: If you fly Jet Airways, try to be the first one to check in online as the whole plane is fair game, I got us business class seats at no extra cost. Food is still for purchase but hey, on a 40 minute flight, who has time to eat Palak Paneer? :)

    1. What is Palak Paneer? I always forget but I am not a big fan of Indian food so it is probably a good thing. Not solid enough for me.

  2. One of the most frightening experiences of traveling by train and arriving at your destination late at night is the transportation out of the train station. There is no such thing as licensed cabs, so, if you look like a clueless tourist, you will be swarmed by a bunch of taxi hackers trying to get your business, or your wallet. A blond backpacker girl whose face denoted that she was about to have a heart attack, or pee her pants, asked Lanaynay if she would be willing to share a cab; we lost her to the crowd and our hotel driver arrived 15 minutes late, the longest 15 minutes during the trip...

    1. WE did look like clueless tourists, or deers caught in the headlights from culture shock. We weren't in Kansas anymore Toto!

  3. Hey prairie girl from The Jaw, way to go!! I loved reading your blog, India is not a country on my destination bucket list!! For the very reasons you've expressed in your blog. Thank your sister Lori for directing me to this adventure you are on. I look forward to reading more of your travel stories, the good the bad and hopefully not too much ugly. What is it that you and R2 do for a living? This is from your brother Larry's friend Mike's sister Lori

  4. Thanks for your comments Lori. R2 likes to say he is an international spy but in reality, he is a computer geekanese guy. When he talks bits and bytes, I have no clue what he is talking about. Luckily his wonderful job takes us all over the world - 20 countries and counting.

    As for me, I took a two year leave of absence from my job in the government (SK). I am not sure I will ever work in Singy - there is just too much to do, too many places to go and too many beaches to hang out at.

    Thanks for following me. My goal is 10,000 views and I am getting slowly but surely going to achieve that number.

  5. Wow, I didn't know Mar could type!

  6. Ouch!!!!! I found your blog fascinating reading, although not an experience I would like to endure.
    I wish the both of you well in your travels.
    I will join the blog as I find vicariously living the travel through your eyes great. (I don't have the hassle)

  7. Ah ... fond memories! Traveled SE Asia on a 'shoe string' when I was much, much younger. Layna, I click on your blog and read ... memories quickly were dusted off. What a ride you are having!

    Layna, at least you were brave enough to go to India. I took the route Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand ... my ears ached from lack of noise once I was out of Indonesia. The horrific initial culture shock made it appear things were getting 'better' (ie. less poverty, filth, noise levels) as we traveled. Also, I came back underweight as I don't care for spicy foods or rice three times a day. I made the decision that I did not want to see India and came back to Canada after being gone a year. I experience culture shock coming back to Canada and came to realize that I am a very humble and proud to be Canadian kind of person.

  8. That is a mouthful....Canadians don't know how lucky they have it until they experience other parts of the world.

  9. all true but a shame you didn't also pick up on the amazing side of India. The incredible humility and spirituality of the people in the face of devastating poverty and disease.

    1. I did pick up on many of the wonderful parts of India, such as the people, culture and historic sites, however, even people from India that have left can't deny the issues and problems when they return.


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