Delhi, Derhadun & a Divine dook
Thursday 18th Nov (cont’d)
The flight went without a hitch and at 2245 as I finished my last diary entry the captain announced the decent, stating we would be on the ground at 2300, getting to the stand at 2315.
This was a blow. Factoring in the bus transfer to the terminal we were cutting it close to the wire.
We duly landed and taxi’d round what seemed like the largest airport in the world, coming to a halt at 2315. Another five minutes to get the bus to the terminal and Stu shook his head in resignation.
“No chance” he said.
As I’ve told my Dad many a time when I have been going for a train, I told Stu to ”Keep the faith”.
You never know.
Luckily we had no luggage in the hold so came straight out onto the taxi stand.
Real-time check 2330.
Only one problem….we need a taxi, have not pre booked one and have been told that whatever we do, do NOT take an unlicensed cab.
Looking right, we see the pre paid booth and join the queue but as the man in front asks more and more questions we realise the clock is ticking. It’s almost 2335, we have no transport and our journey time is estimated at 30 minutes minimum.
Looking left there is a queue of very old looking taxis and some older drivers. I’m still positive and think, maybe.. Just maybe!
A young chap, probably in is late twenties looks over and catches my eye. “Taxi”, he says.
“It’s bang or bust time” I think.
He looked no more a registered taxi driver than Stu or I.
“Can you make New Delhi train station in less than 30 minutes” I asked.
A pause followed by “OK come on”
We were led to a car that looked pretty dilapidated and the chap hands us over to the driver.
All decidedly dodgy.
Repeating my request to the driver he proceeds to put his hand straight on the horn and barge into the oncoming traffic.
Big mistake? I wonder.
In and out the traffic we are weaving and for an old car it begins to pick up some speed.
As we approach the first couple of roundabouts I think the same as Stu, which is that we are going to go straight through it.
No, round we go, tyres screeching like a chase scene from Starsky and Hutch.
Sign of us having to slow down registers as we approach the first red light of the journey. This is short lived as the driver continues to drive straight through it. His hand is on the horn as much as his foot is on the accelerator and we continue to dart past cars at unmentionable speeds.
Actually I say unmentionable but in truth I do not know as the speedometer seemed to have been disabled. “Hmmm”
Trying to get my first peek at Delhi, I look out the window but in all honesty it is a bit of a blur.
The first thing I see clearly is a road sign that reads New Delhi rail station.
At this point all my instincts tell me we had been reckless and thoughtless in our actions.
That didn’t stop Stu and me looking at each other and bursting out with laughter though.
Two minutes later and we arrive at the station entrance.
Both Stu and I shake this guys hand..
“What’s your name” I ask
“You’re a star” says Stu.
I couldn’t help myself.
“You rock” say I.
We pay him and jump out the taxi. Time check 2350. Journey time, 15 minutes.
We dash into the station, find the platform and low and behold the train is in the station and boarding.
Quickly we find our carriage and make our way to our bunks in the 3AC carriage.
We said we wanted an adventure but I don’t think either of us expected it to start like this.
A little tired, but we’re Derhadun bound now.
Friday 19th Nov
The experiences keep coming.
The train was pretty much as I had expected and served its purpose.
3tier AC means just that. Two rows of 3 tier bunk beds. You are assigned top middle or bottom and a medium thick mattress adorns each bunk. During the day the bunks fold down into seats. Basic but clean and certainly fit for purpose for a 6 hour journey through the night. It had been straight into my middle bunk for sleep but being paranoid about my SLR, (camera not rifle) my bag stayed close, which left little room for manoeuvre. That was fine. Soon the carriage was quiet and to be fair I probably managed a few hours sleep.
On arrival in Dehradun, Vikas picked us up at the station and took us to hotel Amrit Regency, no less.
It may have raised a frown but for one night we wondered how bad it could be.
Soon we found out. Suffice to say Stu reckoned the room types should have been renamed from Standard, deluxe and suite to ‘absolutely mankey’, ‘filthy’ and ‘barely acceptable’. I would agree.
I have stayed in some pretty dodgy places but this topped the lot. No offence Vikas.
Actually, I doubt anyone I know would have even considered a night in this place.
Well, apart from Tommy, who spent a week.
We were tired though, so for one night, we decide to live with it.
This happens to be the only thing we left to someone else to book for this weekend.
A lesson there somewhere.
To be fair it was made a little easier being moved to a suite. Vikas had a word about the state of the first room and they duly obliged a move.
It was bigger, cleaner, and although the 2 bucket method had to be used in the shower, it was really only somewhere to lay our heads.
After a couple of hours sleep, Vikas was back with stuffed pancakes and Tommy. These were about 7 inch diameter and full of potato, ginger and other spices. The legendary Mrs Gurungs stuffed pancakes.
Absolutely beautiful if I do say so myself. Must see if Vikas will share the recipe.
After breakfast we set of for the town of Haridwar, which happens to be where the River Ganges first enters the Northern Plains. On entering we were met with a number of beggars before reaching the main area of worship. Shoes were handed in out of respect and then we took a ‘dook’ in the river. One of the priests introduced himself and explained that by immersing my body in the river (and also ‘drink a few drops’) the lord would purify my soul. This was my opportunity to wash away all of my sins. It goes without saying that I felt this was a very necessary part of my trip. To be able to make this pilgrimage was a great honour.
Not only do I feel like a new man but I feel like a great weight has been lifted.
Clearly I was carrying a lot of sin.
Time now, to move on.
That was, after waiting on Vikas to dry off and apply copious amounts of Vaseline to his body. I’m saying no more.
We were taken through the bustling streets of Haridwar on a bicycle rickshaw and then by cable car to give worship at the Mansa Devi temple.
A very holy place, this was full of little individual booths to worship many Gods (each with their own wonderful aromas of incense and collection plates. Heading back down the same way we came to the side of the river, I decided that I should bathe once again; just to be sure I hadn’t missed any of the sins the first time.
I was also at this point we realised that, not only had we been privileged to have our sins washed away by the lord, but we had been in the company of a God ourselves. No fewer than about a hundred (well ok, maybe two or three) young children were pushed through the crowds so that they could touch Tommy Wilson’s hair for good fortune. Ginger God, we salute you.
We stopped so Vikas could have a bite to eat. I was mightily tempted by the huge puree he had but decided against it. Not exactly a Michelin restaurant he took us in.
A can of coke was as much as Stu, Tommy and I managed. Must have been amusing for passers by watching the three of us raking through our pockets to come up with the grand sum of 75 rupees. (just over a pound)
On the drive back (the roads in the north are no quieter than in Mumbai but boast a fair number of wild monkeys) we stopped off for pictures of a statue of Lord Shiva before heading to a Buddhist temple and then back to the hotel.
A quick change and a quick call to mum to wish her a happy birthday, it was then off to Vikas’s parents house for dinner. We met Vikas’s mum, dad, brother (and wife and his two children Araf and Ananya) and Vikas’ sister.
I gave Vikas’s mum a gift specially packaged by my own mother, containing, I tell her some very special Scottish delicacies. Vikas knows all about my mums tablet so he tells me he’ll make sure the family don’t eat too much at once.
The feast they put out was certainly something. Starters of Egg pakora, a Bombay mix, spicy masala munch, Nepalese potatoes (delicious) and popadums.
The main course of dahl, rice n peas and a chicken korma unlike any I have ever experienced, with no sign of coconut or cream. Delicious! With mango chutney on the side, curd and a Bengalese dessert like sweet cheese we left very satisfied indeed.
Back to the hotel around 2330 and a quick call to Karen and the girls, it was off to bed before another early start.
Cheers to the Gurung family.
Saturday 20th Nov
We were up at 0530 and checked out of our ‘very regent’ hotel by 0600. Vikas and his other brother arrived to say goodbye before the taxi arrived at 0615. (I should really add, I keep making references to Vikas’s family according to how they’re related to him and not by name. Surely I’d remember their names you say.
I can assure you I would have tried, but this was how I was introduced. Regardless, Thanks again to Vikas, it was an honour to meet them.)
So, we set off on the 6 hour car journey to Delhi for our connecting train to Agra.
It was another eye opening journey. The roads were quieter at that time of day but it made them no less exciting.
Probably all the equivalent of a very poorly maintained B road, there were lots of monkeys, potholes and beeping horns. As we made our way down through the hills, some of the views were simply stunning. Through the trees, the dried up riverbed, the quaint little villages and one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever witnessed were all on show.
A little further down the road and we turned on to something resembling a motorway which was very smooth, very clean and obviously very new.
‘Ahh’ I thought, this must be the main road down to Delhi.
Nope, it was just a new stretch of road, which we very soon turned off again.
A distance down the road we stopped at the Indian equivalent of a motorway service station called ‘Cheetal Grand’ for food.
For a little change I took a chicken cheese sandwich, with chocolate shake and lassi.
As usual looking forward to my Indian take on these treats I soon got a surprise.
The sandwich was a toasty and the chocolate milk was Nesquick.
Nonetheless, it all hit the spot.
The long, long, long road along the river that we drove on for the next two hours, in places resembled parts of the canal path my dad and I walked along as part of the Great Glen Way. It was some experience.
We passed everything from 5 kids on a moped and 17 people in an auto rickshaw, to ox driven sugar cane carts taking up most of the road. Many folk walked along it, some worked or just sat at the side whilst others slept.
We even saw a few cars.
As we hit the outskirts of Delhi (22k to go), the traffic ground to a halt and it became apparent we were going to be pushing it fine for our train again.
About this time, Stu’s decision to buy a 1.5l of water (for the road) at the mornings breakfast stop was beginning to seem like a bad idea.
Not for Tommy and I, who hadn’t drunk a drop. Stu had drunk the entire bottle and was now becoming extremely uncomfortable.
I make no apology for Tommy and my reaction. More rolling about the car laughing ensued. Not for Stu though. He had to remain very still, which given the amount of aggravation the car was taking at the hands of Delhi’s roads, was becoming increasingly difficult.
For those who don’t find this piece amusing, I can only assume you are not a man who has ever been in either Stu’s or Tommy and my position.
We drove past signs for the Commonwealth games, drove in the CWG 10 lane (??) and then passed the Commonwealth village.
Good job we didn’t go past the pool. It may have been the end of Stu.
Eventually it was me who relented and tried explaining to our non English speaking driver, through visual impersonation, as to Stu’s plight. I think I even saw him giggle, before he found us somewhere to stop. Whilst Stu joined some of Delhi’s locals at what could only be described as an ‘official outdoor latrine’ (yes an outdoor public loo) the driver asked about for directions to the station.
Relieved, Stu jumped back in the car and we took off again. Five minutes later we were at the station.
Plenty time for our connections. 30 minutes for Stu and I, 11 hours for Tommy to make his way to the airport. We told him of a good taxi driver we knew but with 11 hours to kill, we all agreed he might not be required. A more leisurely journey was what Tommy had in mind.
We said our, quite surreal good-byes outside New Delhi train station and Stu and I headed for our train in good time.
Not seeing it on any of the departure boards had us worried so we thought it better we ask someone.
“Ah yes” said the man from Indian Railways.
“Platform 2 it will be on. But it is delayed 2 hours”
Typical, we thought.
Off we went to the platform to wait.
Spying a book stall I told Stu, I liked my books to find me rather than the other way round.
So, after perusing a variety of books for about 5 minutes, when the Indian bookseller chucked a book down in front of me (I didn’t even see him pick it up, and for the 5 minutes I was looking at the books, he had merely stood and stared at me), I figured the book had found me. We’ll see:)
Ten or fifteen minutes later the train boarded. Out came some reading and listening materials for the trip to Agra.
After a bit of light reading the train eventually left the station at 1550, not quite the expected two hours late.
Much chilling out took place on board as I decided Mp3 player over book and watched the Indian countryside roll by.
Two hours into the journey the sun had started to turn a pale red colour and I realised I was watching a perfect Indian sunset in all it’s glory. I attempted to take some snaps and made sure Stu got a peek too. (his top bunk had no window) Wonderful!
The rest of the journey seemed to take a while as the train slowed and stopped randomly, eventually reaching Agra at 2015. A taxi caught us and for 100rs that was fine.
We reached the “Royale Residency” hotel and the cabbie handed me his card and quoted a special offer for us to see the sites.
This firm’s name was Ali Baba taxi but unfortunately there was no magic carpet ride on offer.
Once into hotel we somehow required two porters and an electrician to make all good.
The twin room was a double so the porters split the beds, whilst the electrician ‘fixed’ the wokka wokka air con. That all said, this place was a palace compared to where we had stayed the night before.
Then we managed some food.
Salt and Pepper was the name of the hotel restaurant.
North Indian lamb curry, chicken tikka massala, paneer, jeera rice, keema and garlic naan.
Oh, and a couple of bottles of kingfisher. Just what was required.
Managed to arrange the one remaining travel link with the hotel staff so its then back to the room for a spot of English footie on Star TV. Stu gave Vicki a quick call and then it was off to sleep.
Just two more parts, I promise.