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Sunday 28th November - Agra to Jaipur
By Claire
Monday, 29th November 2004 11:15

We took an auto to the station for 7am, but the train was almost five hours late. It was very cold on the platform and I'd packed the blankets in one of the big bags (and I couldn't be bothered to unpack everything) so we sat on the cleanest bench in the station, trying to keep the cockroaches off our shoes and the flies off the food, while men whisked dust and made the piles of rubbish all over the platform much bigger. There was a constant stream of shrill anouncements requesting that passengers take their respective seats, and train after train came along belching fumes, children and old women kept prodding us to make us give them money, and men selling fruit and chai screamed to everyone what they were doing. I sat and read, and unfortunately I'd finished my book by the time the train arrived at midday.

We were in the 3-tier sleeper car, so that six people shared the lower benches during the day. A lady with a little girl who screamed a lot and a fat beligerent boy who made no attempt to make room for us were on the seats next to ours, and then another family came along and sat with us too. A little boy swept the carriage and wouldn't leave until we'd given him money and there was a never-ending offer of tea and coffee from men lugging small packets of nescafe and huge urns of hot water.

The journey took seven hours and we went through some pretty countryside. There were rice fields and newly-harvested wheat with its stubble burning. There were tiny walled hamlets of five houses, children playing in pools of grey slime, water buffalo, camels and dogs. To cheer Mikey up, cos he's not been feeling great recently (we're just soooo tired!) I pointed out all the pigs I saw: they haven't failed to make him smile yet! The train stopped for no reason a lot and for longer than seemed necessary at stations. The sun set over beautiful arid countryside with pale rocks and dry grass.

At Jaipur we ignored all the rickshaw drivers wanting to take us anywhere for ten rupees and booked a prepaid one just to make it look like we had a choice. The driver piled our bags on top of us and then, after driving for five yards, asked us to get into a different one. This had white wallpaper inside it, with red roses and bright green vines. There were vases of dried flowers, heart-shaped port and starboard lights and paisley curtains. It was also about half the size of a regular auto-rickshaw and the driver was very proud of it. As we took the five-minute ride to the hotel we'd booked, we saw a procession of green fluorescent tubes bobbing through the darkness. It was a wedding parade, the groom on a white horse and surrounded by green neon lights being carried by his family - there was a generator being dragged behind them. Our driver was excited to be able to point out this bit of Indian culture too us and almost drove us under a bus. The bus screeched to a halt just in time and the driver, still looking at us, didn't seem to notice.

At the hotel the rickshaw-wallah didn't want us to go in. He told us that they probably had no room for us and that he knew a better hotel. He wanted to wait for us, with our bags, to check our booking and even when we took everything with us and went up to our room, he still hung around, telling us he'd come back at 10am to take us round the city.

The hotel was actually the second-nicest one we've stayed in. It was cool and bright and, most imprtantly, clean, and it even had hot running water. We went out for our first meal of the day and ended up with a pizza on the hotel next door's roof. There were fireworks all along the horizon and the familiar sound of the call to prayer which has become quite reassuring. Leaving the hotel I stopped to stroke a tiny labrador puppy that was sitting nervously in the alleyway. Once it realised I wasn't going to hit it or kick it, it seemed very happy to roll on my feet and have its tummy tickled. From nowhere, another five puppies appeared and demanded the same attention. After ten minutes we tried to leave but they pulled on our shoes and ran in front of us so that we were trapped. A man finally came along to lead them away.

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