Sunday, 2 October 2011

30 September, 1 October 2011: Delhi Delays and Haridwar

Friday night was nice. I changed into my ali baba pants and a t-shirt and wrapped a scarf around my head, indulging my inner gypsy. I spent a few hours on the balcony, watching the city, before heading to yet another rooftop restaurant for dinner. I ate vegetable hadai. Hadai apparently refers to the vessel it's cooked in rather than the dish itself. It was very tasty, and not at all greasy. A perfectly cooked medley of veggies in a thick, spiced tomato sauce.

I'm trying to eat something new every time I go out. I ate it with garlic naan and a chai. $1.60.
It was close to 2200 when I got back to my room. The dhobi-wallah had washed my clothes and they were waiting for me, fresh and pressed. $3. I crashed immediately.

Unfortunately, I woke up around 0200 Saturday morning and couldn't go back to sleep, so I began my day with very little sleep. I skyped and chatted for an hour or two, which was nice. It was the most interaction I've had in days.

My sole agenda for the day was getting to Rishikesh, where, as Sara affectionately/derisively calls it, yoga camp is located. I'd purchased a train seat online last week. The train was booked, so my ticket was wait-listed. From everything I'd read, that's usually an arbitrary distinction and I'd likely have no problem getting a seat, especially if I talked to the International Tourist Office, located within the station.

I packed my belongings and checked out of Rak International. I went back to the cheap South Indian restaurant where I'd had breakfast the morning before and ate a tomato omelet with a sickeningly sweet coffee. Eating vegetarian is so easy compared to a vegan diet. At this point it was about 0930, so I headed over to the train station, very near Paharganj, so as to arrive early and guarantee my seat.

The station's parking lot and entrance hall are full of men trying to convince you that you're going the wrong way. “Come here. Tickets this way.” “Tourist office relocated.” “Where you going? I take you cheaper.” While I didn't do a lot of research into places to visit, I read widely about the culture here and possible obstacles I'd face as a foreigner. I'm glad I did, because it'd otherwise be so easy to be led astray, and while it's not necessarily physically dangerous (generally), it's easy to get ripped off or even outright robbed. I finally made it to the tourist office only to learn that I wouldn't be getting a seat on my train. The Tourist Office has a great in-person reservation system in place, so I filled out some paperwork and queued up. I ended up getting a seat on an afternoon train that'd get me to Haridwar, the closest stop to Rishikesh, in 4 ½ hours. The seat, in an A/C train car, cost $7.

I had 5 hours until my train came but no interest in wandering around a hot, crowded city with all of my belongings on my back, so I opted to hang out in the station all day.

The train station obviously attracts a much broader swathe of Indian humanity than do the more tourist/city-centric areas I'd visited. The people watching was fantastic. Let me mention how pleased I am with the technology I brought. I would feel so isolated without this netbook. And my ipod provides a reprieve from the constant auditory barrage and also discourages interaction. I just pretend not to hear. People watching is great, but people watching while listening to your favorite songs is sometimes transcendent.

In general, despite the crowds, heat, filth, and noise, people seem composed, even when rushing about. I rarely see expressions on faces or in body language that indicate a person is on edge, overextended, anxious. Even the honking, which is constant, is more just social habit than driving aggression. It doesn't say “screw you, man, get out of my way.” It's more like, “here I am. Here I am. Here I am.” The dichotomy of stressful and laid back is interesting to me. Especially since I watched myself getting stressed throughout the day.

The train station consists of 16 platforms. I couldn't find a master schedule that tells which train arrives at which platform, and my ticket was partially in Hindi, so I asked where I would find my train. Platform 15. I found a bench and waited for hours. A train pulled up right on time and I started looking for my car. I then realized that this train was going to Rajasthan, not Haridwar! I ran off the platform and into the main thoroughfare, frantically looking for my train number. Luckily it was only a few platforms over. I didn't have time to make it to car, and had to board at the front of the train, just as it was starting to move. I would've missed it had I been even one minute later. My car was at the opposite end of the train, so I spent the next 20 minutes pushing myself through the crush of people. By the time I found my seat, I was soaked and stinky and exhausted. Also, this was my fourth form of transportation in India in 3 days.

The train moves slowly. I saw a lot of countryside before it got dark. It was incredibly green. While most places along the way weren't crowded, there were no entirely uninhabited stretches. So many people!

Since it would be dark when I arrived, I decided to stay the night in Haridwar instead of pressing on to Rishikesh. I'd studied a map of Haridwar on the train and chosen a cheap hotel close to the station. I didn't want to wander around at night. I was feeling kind of edgy, arriving after dark without a definite sense of where I was going. I ignored the touts and drivers and quickly walked through Haridwar, finding the hotel within 15 minutes. The Himalyan Lonely Planet is apparently very outdated, as they were charging over 4 times what I expected to pay. As tired and frazzled as I was, I still wasn't willing to pay over $20 (!) for a room. I know I'll be exhausted and overheated and exhausted plenty of times on this trip. I can't afford to get into the habit of overpaying for convenience.

It was over an hour until I finally found a place. It was close to $10. So far, India is not as cheap as I expected it to be. Lodging will be cheaper shared as will in-town transportation. The room was comfortable and the proprietor was nice. Soon after checking in, someone started trying to open my door. I got scared and called the office. The owner came up immediately. I guess it'd just been one of the employees checking to see if I needed water. But trying to open the door? Creepy. I was glad there was a deadbolt.

There was a restaurant downstairs and I ate Navratan Korma, which was like a regular vegetable korma, but this one also had pineapple, raisins, and cherries. It was perfect, especially since it was the first thing I'd eaten in over 12 hours. I'm going to head down there now for breakfast, then I'll find a cab to Rishikesh. I'll edit and add images later because my internet connection is sloooow.

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