Monday, 17 May 2010

Mumbai - New Delhi - Mumbai by train

As we were stationary and due to move into the docks for the rainseason I planned to go and visit Saini on his vacation in Hariyana during the weekend. I bought the train ticket easily as a foreigner but had to pay hard foreign currency, one way it became abt 1500 INR, not bad for a 16h train journey on 3rd tier A/C.

Mumbai train station

Then a few days later I was escorted by Sunil to tthe Mumbai Central train station, a big building as anything to do with trains in India are. There were only 5-6 platforms but they were impressively long. People were lying or sitting about in the waiting area on various strips of carton or mats eating snacks. I spent half an hour sitting in local McDonalds waiting for my train to appear on the platform and started walking to my coach. It was a long walk. FInally at the coach I found my seat being taken by another guy with same seat reservations as I had, after comparing tickets we found out that he was on the train one day too early, so he had to get off and spend one more night in Mumbai.

Hariyana roads 

As the coach was a 3 tier A/C it meant there was 3 persons sleepin on top of each other in a 6 person open compartment. My traveling companions were Indian too and after listening to their chatter I realized they were speaking French with an unknown accent. I could not resist so I asked where they came from and the reply came from Mauritius. It was a young couple with two elderly chaperones that had come to India to buy the materials needed for the young couples wedding. As per them it was cheaper to come to India to get all the dresses and paraphernalia. I also learned they were 5th generation Mauritians and still they had retained the Hindi language of ther origin.

Punjab Pan Bandar

Shortly after departure the train attendants divided out water bottles for eberyone, then came a tray with a light snack consisting of a cheese sandwich and a accompanied with a small juice carton. After that tea or coffee kits were given and hot water thermoses. After that a coupleof hours later the train attendants came with a tray of soup and breadsticks and finally at abt 2200hrs a dinner was served. It was a dhal, paneer dish, rice and some rotis. The Mauritians were so friendly they gave me another set of rotis having watched me eating my paneer with roti first. As the "piece the resistance" we got vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Bathing buffaloes

After this stuffing I was absolutely full and it was time to sleep. I made my bed, or actually the Mauritians did and plopped between the sheets to be awaken a few hours later to a child screaming like a stuck pig intermittently punctuated by slaps from the parent. Obviously the disciplining did not have any effect, the decibels only increased. It lasted for an hour or so and then the kid was taken elsewhere to scream. I then woke up later when the sun was up at abt 6am when the train attendants started banging cupboard doors in preparation of breakfast. I got up and washed my teeth and did a quick "Liverpoolian". The arid coutryside was bone dry and brown from lack of water, dry paddy fields stretched out into the hazy distance and was only broken by the odd tree growing in between the farmed fields.

Yarn transport 

Breakfast was first started with tea or coffee and then later we got a tray with two slices of bread and and a two odd looking vegetable patties accompanied with jam, butter and a pack of juice. Then all I could do was to wait for the train to arrive New Delhi, I was watching the zhopadpatti that lined the rail tracks and the suburbs that became denser and denser. The train attendants were collecting thermos cans and towels and bed linen and once all was clear an attendant appeared with a tray with some masala and a hundred rupee note on it. Saini had warned me of this saying that the usual ti is 20 Rs only, the 100Rs note is put there by the attendant in hope of somebody giving better tips. Finally we arrived and the train came to a full stop. I bid the Mauritians best of luck in their marriage and said goodbye.

Elephant on the road

Once on the platform I saw Saini and we headed out of the train station. The outside looked worse than Mumbai, piles of garbage and bricks reminded me of Beirut after a party between Hezbollah and the Israeli army. Hmm, maybe a bit exaggerated but still I'd thought that the Indian Capital would look neater and more orderly. Outside the station was the usual throng of touts and peddlers one offering services or goods. We singled out a taxi driver and negotiated a price for driving around us in Delhi for the day in an A/C car, it came to 1400 Rs. The A/C was necessary as the sun was driving up the mercury at rapid speed. The heat was palpable but the same as in Mumbai, here it was dry and hot. The dust that seemed pervasive all over the city did not make it any better.

View over Sonepat

So, once the program was set with the driver we set off to Jantar Mantar, from there to Qutb Minar. Then the Lotus temple and the Humayuns tomb. After that it was time for lunch and we had some delicious veg buffet at a local restaurant. Once tanked up on fluids again we headed for India Gate, after that it was Red Fort and finally the Akshardam temple. By this time both mine and Saini's heads were exploding of cultural overload and the day was full anyway. The driver dropped us off at the bus station where we were lucky to catch the bus immediately and we set off towards Rohtak.

Holy cow

 The bus was not airconditioned. It was packed full. The benches were 2 + 3persons with a row in between. The warm air coming in from the windows did not help much and te dust was everywhere. After awhile my face felt like I had a layer of powder on it, which I probably had. The journey to Rohtak took us 2 hours and we arrived in darkness. Saini's brother-in-law picked us up and soon enough we arrived to Saini's in-laws house. The father came and welcomed me and soon retired for the night. We showered and changed clothes. Me and Saini enjoyed a few pegs of local hooch that tasted more like rum to me. Then it was time for a lat dinner and sleep. There was no A/C but a cooler contraption that is a modern adaptation of the Greek/ Roman invention of using water as cooling media as they used thousand of years ago in their buildings (Wealthy ancient Romans circulated aqueduct water through walls to cool their luxurious houses). Saini explained to me that the dryness of air do not work well with A/C so these coolers are much more widely used in this part of the country.

Drying cowpats in Sonepat

The cooler is a square metal box with grills on all vertical sides. The side facing the room is plain and has a fan in it, the other 3 sides have dried grass (or it looked like that) in a metal mesh and once the fan was started water was being pumped over these meshes (the bottom was a water tray). So, in effect the fan was sucking air through these water soaked meshes and like this the room cooled approximately 4deg C from the temperature outside as the water is evaporating. 

Drying straw "huts"

Next morning I woke up to the sunshine and went for breakfast and we planned to visit Chandigarh, the capital of Hariyana. A driver was summoned and the car was Saini's brother-in-laws. Soon enough we were on our way and I was admiring the country side. It either farmed land or small hamlets or villages we passed through. The farmed land was same as seen from the train, dry and dusty. The heat was immense and the cars A/C was not coping with it. At time I saw brown piles that at forst I thought were termite nests but soon realized they were man made. It was dried out cowpats. Every household used them as fuel for their hearths to cook food on. The other feature often seen was straw being dried up in hut like constructs, I was told the straw is chaffed into small smal pieces and then covered up with longer straw to protect it from the rains. I also saw many brick factories as well, seems the soil of Hariyana makes excellent bricks. At some time as usually happens I nodded off and woke up just when we were entering Chandigarh.

The wide & straight avenues of Chandigarh

Chandigarh is actually the first planned city in India, it has wide straight roads, big lots for houses and an artificial lake, Sukhna. The designer was at first 2 Americans but one of them died and then the ther resigned, after that a Swiss man came into the picture and Chandigarh is the fruit of his planning. The lake itself was pretty dry, people could rent pedal boats and scurry around but understandably I was not looking doing that. Then we went for lunch at a local Dhaba and had a delicious veg meal. After this we went to the Nek Chand rock garden. It was actually first built illegally for years and then declared as an amusement park. Once we had wandered through the maze we realized time is drawing nigh and headed for Kurukshetra.

Brick factory

Kurukshetra is a very significant town in Hinduism as there is a water tank supposedly made by Ram and a tree where Krishna delivered his Bagavad Ghita. It took us some hours to get to there and by the time we arrived the sun was setting fast. We saw what we could and then again headed off towards Sonepat, Saini's hometown. I had also noticed that many businesses were named Saini and I was told that Sani is a very common surname in Haryana. I bet if I would shout Saini in the bazaar 80% of the heads would turn. I guess that is the reason why they maintain the gotra's in these parts of the country so as to prevent mixing up same bloodlines.

Rohtak market, old cast steel building

Night driving in India is an insane undertaking for those who are used to orderly traffic manners and driving styles. Most vehicles on the road were all using high beams, all the time. Our driver bent the mirros on the side so he would not continuously be blinded by cars behind us. About 3/4 of the journey back done we stopped at a restaurant called Haveli for a kulfi falooda, a sweet dessert that was made of ice cream and noodles. The restaurant had a Punjab theme and outside there was a troupe dancing to bhangra and inside was not only the restaurant but also many souvenir shops. We ate our snack while watching a magician performing some great tricks and then we were on the road again.

On the road

The day was almost finsihed but finally we arrived Sonepat 2300hrs where we were greeted by Saini's father and his sister. We sat down for a small chat, showered and settled down for a late dinner. Once finished we called it a day and crashed for the night with the cooler and fan running.
Next day was as hot as usual and after having had our breakfast done we bid the household godbye and headed for Rohtak to get some lunch and then Delhi to catch my train back to Mumbai. In Rohtak I went out to the market where I bought a dhoti and lungi for myself. Saini's father-in-law was the only one who could demonstrate how the dhoti was donned and we had some good laughs me trying to wear it. As time was up we got into the car and drove off towards the closest metro station some 45min away.
We got onto the metro and changed trains twice before reaching New Delhi station. The metro was apparently brand new as the carriages and stations looked very fresh and the people had not yet learned how to queue into the train like I've seen in Bangkok, Hong Kong and SIngapore. Here peope just tried to cram in or out of the train at the same time. I guess they'll learn soon enough, I have seen same hapening in Bangkok when the sky train was opened there.

At New Delhi station we emerged into the searing sunshine and ambled our way into the train station. I bid Saini goodbye and headed for my platform to wait for my train as I still had 1h to kill. While walking on the platform overpass I came upon a group of people that were frantically running and almost ran over me trying to get wherever they were going. I managed to get through that mass of people and eventually came to my platform that was behind a considerable walk. 

Suddenly I got a call from Saini asking if I was OK as he had heard there had been a people stampede in the trainstation and 2 people had been reported dead. As it turned out the station had shuffled some trains around in the last minute and people had rushed for their platform n order to secure a seat. In the scuffle a mother and her daughter had gotten trampled. I guess I came across the vanguard of that stampede earlier and was lucky not getting run over.

The train came to the platform 30min before departure and I clambered onboard and was reiieved by the weak A/C in the carriage, even weak A/C is better than no A/C. After awhile my travel companions arrived and it turned out it was a Punjabi entourage of some 15 persons, grandfaters, daughters, sons, wives husbands, kids, grandchildren, all were there. Many wanted to shake my hand and make friends and not surprisingly they all had the surname Singh. They were all very friendly and it turned out that they were on the way from Delhi to Mumbai for a short vacation.

The train trip was following the same routine as when coming, same food and all. This time I had the top bunk and it was not next to the pantry so I got a good rest. I got up at sunrise again and same mornign ritual followed our arival to Mumbai. I was met at the train station by Dubey and I got onboard just on time to start work. So, how was your weekend?

1 comment:

Silvio said...

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