Unfortunately in my mad rush to Delhi, I left my only t-shirt and last remaining pair of pants on the washing line at the hostel. Commando may not work with the amount of holes I have in all my trousers and finding a pair of non-granny pants in India, is like finding a needle in a hay stack. Not possible. On our mad dash from Pushkar to Ajmer train station a motorbike nearly went into Hugo, who quite rightly, lost his shit again. Hugo’s road rage and rare but humorous confrontations with Indian men has been one of my many highlights of this trip. His choice of words are hilarious. I have to say that Hugo has impressed me in his general interest in keeping me safe. Yes, there have been a few times when he’s gone off in a huff and left me on my own but on the whole he’s been a great travel buddy.
Hoping to get on the same train as Hugo, I barged my way to the ticket booth at the train station and shouted “Delhi Delhi” waving the $155 rupee (£1.50) fare at the ticket man. Everyone was a little taken aback at this crazy woman in Lycra pushing her way to the front like the locals do. Success. I was on the same train as Hugo, although I was in general class aka cattle class, the lowest. Eight and a half hours on a train to Delhi in 46+ heat with no aircon and no guaranteed seat. It’s all part of the experience I told myself.
General class isn’t as bad as I had imagined. I volunteered to take the top metal rail, mainly used for bags, but I see no reason why I can’t sleep on it like the locals. Whaoh. It’s hot up there but my camping matt and travel pillow saved the day, once again. I wasn’t overly surprised to receive a lot of stares and concerns from old women that I was on my own, but I tried to reassure them that Hugo was just down the train in his AC reserved seat, at least I hoped.
During my journey I was joined by various passengers for chai which was passed up to me along a line of people leading to the open window. Ten rupee (10p) tea on trains is the best I’ve tasted in all of India. Those who know me well won’t be surprised to hear that I nearly always pack emergency snacks, especially as I’ve maintained the appetite of a hungry touring cyclist. Luckily for me general class on Indian railways is like Harrods food court with numerous street food vendors squeezing down the isle and through the window. I practically ate and drank my way through the entire journey out of boredom.
My Lycra shorts were receiving more attention than the weird smell coming from my cycle vest but I gained my acceptance in the carriage by giving the young child below me some paper and crayons. I was hoping he’d draw me a picture but his mum just put the crayons in this backpack, he was more interested in Angry Bird on his fathers phone. Kids today. Despite the stares and the insane ratio of male:female, my first solo Indian train journey in peasant class was really rather enjoyable. We were all in he same boat, suffering from the heat and crammed together in conditions resembling a poultry farm. Maybe it was this which made me smile at the madness around me, in particular the physical closeness of complete strangers. It remind myself of some of the more positive things I have to say about this crazy CRAZY country.
As my carriage became busier the food vendors stopped their trade and now four hours without food I was getting HANGRY. After a slight delay into New Delhi Station (it was now 23:00) I was desperate for something to eat so crammed down a McDonalds which delayed us even further – sorry Hugo! There was no way I could cycle the 10km to our hostel on empty. Cycling across Delhi in the early hours of the morning really isn’t the wisest idea but we had been pretty useless with our research and only knew of one hostel in town. For obvious reasons I have no photos of our one and a half hour detour around the city but what I saw will stay with me forever. I’m pretty used to seeing poverty by now but the streets of Delhi at night were truly something else. I have never witnessed such extreme poverty and so many people sleeping rough in all of my travels. How can people let others live this way? It’s absolutely shocking and a shame on authorities who evidently have little control of this sad situation.
Little did I know the main “traveller” area of Delhi was exactly where we had departed our train and the hostel we had chosen was not only in a quiet residential area but over double in price. Madpackers Hostel certainly wasn’t worth the steep prices but it did have tons of cool people and it’s the people that make a hostel, right? To be honest, I didn’t really do anything during my five nights in Delhi. It’s come to that stage where I’m pretty much over India and at the moment, travelling in general. Gallivanting around the world is a tough life and I’m tired.
I became lost walking around the city in 45+ heat, feeling too uncomfortable to take photos for this blog. There were a few little market places and shopping malls which I ventured out to, many identical to those back home. Hugo and I had great fun in one mall, where we munched on Cinnabon warm cinnamon buns (my favourites!), McDonalds (Hugo’s favourite) and played on the toys in Hamley’s. I became Hugo’s personal shopper, not getting anything myself, apart from some much needed underwear in Forever 21. I tested this whole “Delhi belly” theory by having eggs on the street which had been sat out in the sun all day and still, absolutely nothing!
I can spend hours in foreign supermarkets looking at all the weird and wonderful delights on offer like these Oreo biscuits which, to my amusement, come free with the purchase of toothpaste. I absolutely HATE public transport but I have no choice now it’s reached the height of the Indian summer. As well as the metro, auto rickshaws and cabs, I thought I’d give a fellow cyclist some business. My ride on a cycle rickshaw involved me helping him lift the bike over a bollard, up and down the pavement and out of a pot hole. The poor kid couldn’t even touch the pedals. When he took a turn into a slum I though that was the end with the voice in my head screaming “what were you thinking woman!” but it was merely just a short cut.
I thought I’d kill some time by getting some new Converse shoes, something I’ve been putting off for the past year. As I went to get cash out the ATM I received the usual message “thank you for your transaction” followed by absolute nothingness. Gah. Apparently this happens all the time in India, with cash failing to come out. I spent the whole afternoon with the security guard and the manager of McDonald’s (the only viable translator) pleading with them to sort it out. Of course, this is India, no one gives a shit, so off I went with my new shoes and £150 less in my bank. Luckily for me the money didn’t end up coming out of my bank. Win. I also sold my bike without a seat for 2000 rupees (£20). Double win.
Madpackers Hostel became my new home and I was lucky enough to be surrounded by so many people to share my frustrations with India with. It seems that the travellers “waiting” for their flights out shared a mutual feeling, while those that were new or a few weeks into their Indian “journey” were still bursting with energy, taking it all in. In search of some “positive energy” I joined some lads on a night out to Haus Kass Village. Practically in my PJ’s, I spontaneously jumped into a TukTuk with them on my way back from the shop. We danced the night away with locals at various bars hosting “ladies night” (free drinks for me!). I had so much fun it was just what I needed to boost my mood, regain my love of India and my enthusiasm to travel.
Happy to be around people, I joined a group of seven English backpackers and one from the US to Agra. I convinced some of them to join me in general class on the train while the more sensible others opted for the AC carriage or the AC bus. In a mad rush – as always – we were late to the station. I was responsible for getting tickets and all the newbies onto the train as I know how stuff works after spending a fair while here. Due to our lateness we didn’t get a seat so ended up having to share floor space with the lowest caste citizens. I was astonish to witness them being brutally treated like shit by higher caste passengers who happened to find themselves in general class, out of choice I don’t know. Despite having a baby’s sleeping head on my lap and people treading all over me I was rather enjoying the experience until the train came to a stand still for two hours and I got HANGRY. Unable to wait any longer, we got off before our stop and caught a TukTuk to the hostel. It was now dark and we were at a station outside of town and the TukTuk drivers without a clue where they were going. It was super sketchy but we finally made it to the hostel, just three hours late. A story to tell and one we will all look back on with great memories – “it’s not always about where you travel but the people you travel with”.