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Monday 15th November - Delhi
By Claire
Monday, 22nd November 2004 05:40

We got up very early this morning to find the travel agent and get our rail passes, but it's Eid and all the shops are closed. Either that, or no-one's open until 10am. We had no luck finding the travel agent, and several people tried to help us. That's the weird thing here - everyone either wants to help or they want to sell us something, and sometimes both together. It's impossible to tell which is which, though, and we're constantly fighting off good natured assistance. This man seemed genuinely to want us to find the place we were looking for and insisted it was in a place we knew it wasn't (it wasn't) until we managed to lose him. The city was as deserted this morning as it was yeterday and once again kindly people told us the shops were closed. I did, however, manage to find a chemist willing to sell us enough malaria tablets for the rest of our time here, which was a relief as proguanil (paludrine) is supposed to be hard to find in India. It was very expensive, but that's probably better than getting malaria.

We couldn't buy the rail passes with rupees so we changed enough of them into US dollars and went back to the station. By this time the office was twice as crowded as yesterday, so we just joined the queue and waited on the comfy seats. It wasn't too hot, there was nothing else we needed to do. We had all our forms filled out: sixteen in all, and we just watched the world go by for two hours. The ticket office caters exclusively to foreigners, and it was a haven for the ethnics, which was very funny. There were a lot of 'normal' backpackers, most of whom looked lost and who sought guidance from us, more experienced train-travellers! There were also many middle-aged Europeans who looked a bit out of place, but the best of them all, and possibly even the majority, were the ethnics, who all wore their version of local dress: saris or salwar khameeze for the girls; white robes for the men, with sandals, whispy beards and long hair, and the obligatory wooden beads. I think they felt they blended in with the locals. I'm not sure what it is about India that brings people here to Seek Enlightenment and to discover themselves, but it's very funny to watch.

When we got to the front of the queue, the man who dealt with IndRail passes wasn't there so we sat at his desk for about twenty minutes. He finally came back and was very cheerful, and methodical and slow, about the whole process, and then he proceeded to book all sixteen of our trains. At one point he left his desk and a man from the queue came over to ask us what was taking so long. 'You've been sitting there for forty minutes,' he said, and I thought he was concerned about us. I reassured him that we were fine and that we had nothing urgent to do, but he was actually angry that we were taking such a long time. There was nothing either of us could do about it, though, so he went back to his seat. When the ticket man came back, we apologised for taking so much of his time, but he said that it didn't matter to him if he did one, or one hundred train reservations at a time. This was an attitude we noticed yesterday: all the clerks seemed very cheerful and content, and it felt like they were concentrating solely on the job in hand. It didn't matter to them if they didn't sell tickets or if they had to spend an hour with a customer; this was the job they were doing and they were proud to do it properly. In fact, our man was very impressed with himself when he got us onto a good train. He told us that one of the trains had no available seats, and when we looked worried, he said, 'But do not worry, I am here,' and then cheered under his breath and shook Mikey's hand when his alternative route proved quicker, left later and had free food on board. He even suggested different trains to the tortuous journeys I'd concocted last night. He refused to let us sleep in a second-class carriage, too, saying that it wasn't nice. I protested and said that we could manage it and anyway, we had to try it once, but he wouldn't let us and he found something else. After more than an hour with this guy he stood up and held the string of tickets above his head to show his colleagues that it reached the celiling, and then told us to sit in a corner, check his work and come back to him if there was a problem. We shook hands with him, which made him smile!

The tickets all seemed fine, although one or two of the stations weren't familair, but we found them on a map and they were alright. Then we went out for lunch.

In the afternoon we tried to make arrangements for all the accommodation we'd need. When we asked the Major the best way to make phone calls, he told us to go over the road for an STD. Which made us laugh. But not one place answered their phone, and some of the numbers in the Rough Guide seemed to be wrong, which surprised me. So we spent a long time on the internet, trying to find other places. We decided to take out one stop, to give us more time in Darjeeling, and it seemed to make everything much easier. It means we have to go back to the station tomorrow, though!

Then we had supper (and custard! With bananas!). That's it. Haven't done a lot in Delhi, and we leave for Varanasai (which seems be be pronounced barra-NASSEE) tomorrow, but at least some of the groundwork is laid for a very busy five weeks!

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