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Sunday 14th November - Delhi
By Claire
Monday, 22nd November 2004 05:33

Mikey used man-magic (physics) this morning and with a combination of vacuums, gravity and goodness knows what else, we had hot showers!

We managed to work our way through the bazaar to the train station at the end of it. We squeezed through a seething mass of people and climbed the stairs to the Foreign Travelers' Ticket Office. It was packed. We looked a bit lost and someone kindly told us that we needed to take a reservation form, fill it out, check it at the information counter and then join the queue. We didn't need to make a reservation, we just wanted to buy a rail pass, and so we sat on the comfy chairs and waited. And waited. An Australian couple explained the timetable book, an essential piece of equipment. Then, finally, it was our turn at the desk. We told the gentleman that we wanted to buy a rail pass and he hesitated to sell us one. He explained that sometimes it's cheaper to buy the tickets individually, and didn't want us to pay any more than we needed to. We were aware of this but thought that the convenience of it would make it worth while especially as we had so many trains to take. He wanted to see the list of places we were visiting and then proceeded to take forty-five minutes, checking every train, to work out which was cheaper. The rail pass worked out at two dollars less than the individual tickets. He said it was up to us. After all his work, he was still not convinced, although we still were. I asked him what he would do.

'That's a very difficult question, madam,' he replied, thoughfully. 'I do not have to buy train tickets. I have a benefit. I have the benefit of free travel on all trains.' And then he paused again and said, 'You should buy it, it will be easier for you.' He then excused himself 'to find relief' and came back to sell us the rail passes. We only had rupees, from a cash machine.They only accepted foreign curency for the passes because they were only available to foreigners and non-resident Indians. He gave us the name of a travel agent that would be able to sell us one. We thanked him and left, empty-handed except for a large number of reservation forms.

We popped back into Connaught Place, a huge circular circle (?) of white collonaded buildings, sort of New Delhi's centre. After the crush of yesterday, the entire place looked deserted and all the shops were closed. Even the building site at the centre (most of Delhi is being dug up to build metro lines at the moment) was quiet. We found a travel agent with the same name as the one we were looking for, but a man appeared out of thin air and told us it was closed for Diwali. He pointed us to another travel agent that was open. We went for some lunch, instead.

We managed to buy a train timetable book from a man on a street and then wandered semi-aimlessly back through Connaught Place towards the hostel. Everywhere we went, men popped out from behind pillars to tell us that everything was closed except the Emporium where we could buy all sorts of crafts. (They would get commission, paid by us, for everyone they brought there.) Most of the time our story about leaving Delhi tonight worked and once they realised that we weren't going to buy anything, they left us alone. When we tried to take a different road back, avoiding Main Bazaar, several helpful people told us we were going the wrong way. Some of them got quite cross with us for not trusting them. The road we did take was much nicer, and although the main part of the pavement was under a couple of feet of rubbish and excement, once we got into one of the little residential side streets and away from the tourist area, it was lovely and quiet. There were a lot of men weeing in the street - the urinals behind waist-high walls just seem to indicate the general direction to aim - lots of cows wearing necklaces and skinny dogs, and plenty of people sleeping on foam rubber matresses on the streets, but no rickshaws or autos or bikes, which made a change.

We spent a short time on the internet, looking at places to visit, and then I went back to the hostel and spent four hours reading the train timetable and choosing trains to take us on a 5000-mile tour of India. The timetable was a nightmare, most of the stations have different names, most cities had several stations, half of the places weren't mentioned and most of the trains only travelled at certain times. It was another work of logistical genius, with trains only on specific days intersecting seamlessly with connecting locomotives, all rolled into a bundle of post-it notes, four pages of scribbles, a bit of shouting and a final flourish: our last train would be exactly thirty days after our first, meaning the rail pass we wanted would be ideal!

It was late and dark and my head hurt from train numbers and logic, so we went out for supper and bought some books. They were expensive by Indian standards (Mikey can't haggle. If he agrees to the price immediately, it's hard for me to bring it down!) but cheaper than we would have paid at home. Supper was slightly odd and some black things that I'm telling myself were lizards kept scuttling across the floor. Fireworks and dogs and shouting happened all night long.

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