I am laughing so hard a tear forms in my eye. I just returned from the train loo where it is next to impossible to pee straight as the archaic train rocks back and forth on it’s rails. The stench of urine and feces has penetrated the walls and as I walk back to our six person open berth, the thought of what the hell am I doing on a 19 hour sleeper train in India crosses my mind. A fellow passenger in our cabin says to me upon my return, “my friends think I’m crazy for coming here and sometimes I wonder myself. A couple of nights ago, I was sleeping in my comfy bed. I had four pillows, four pillows! Now look at me.” The timing was impeccable. The laughter roared and we couldn’t stop laughing. Stress relief? Perhaps. Meanwhile, Christine was navigating a pee in a squat position on the rocking train! So don’t feel sorry for Mark!
Before this train ride, we flew into New Delhi. Population 25 million! A day of walking around, navigating the LRT, avoiding touts and begging mother’s with naked babies latched onto their nipples and we knew we had arrived somewhere like we have never been.
To put Delhi into perspective, Delhi has 25 million people in 1,484 square kilometres (km) or 20,000 people per square km. In comparison, Edmonton, AB, Canada has 1 million people in 684 square km or 123 people per square km.
We have come with the intention of spending 6-8 weeks and we came “light”. A visit to our highschool friend Fred and his beautiful family in Kuala Lumpur before this leg of our journey allowed us to leave helmets (no driving in India), laptop (blogging using smartphone), some clothing and miscellaneous supplies safely behind and more importantly away from inquisitive eyes. We are glad too, our next 37 days of travel in Northern and Southern India will have six sleeper train trips, a few homestays, bus and day train trips, thousands of stairs, 27 different accommodations and all during monsoon season.
When we arrived in other Asian countries, we walked into a cell phone shop, dropped a few dollars and walked out with an operational SIM card loaded with talk and internet. In India, high levels of crime and fradulant use of cell phones for corrupt activity has created a more cumbersome process. There are application forms, copy of passport and one passport-sized photo that needs to be provided. We are told, it takes a minimum of 24 hours for security clearance before the SIM card activates. Christine’s smart phone works within 24 hours, Mark’s takes 36 hours! Apparently one of the three required signatures did not match the others!
Delhi provided unforgettable experiences. The busiest metro we have ever experienced (last one in London, England, 2004).
We entered our first Sikh temple (Sheeshganj Gurudwara).
We visited Jama Masjid, Delhi’s oldest and India’s largest mosque (holds 25,000 people).
We did kilometers of walking in 42C heat along sites such as the Red Fort.
We visited Chandi Chowk marketplace and Connaught Place (local and tourist gathering area for shopping, eating, begging, touts, peeing, spitting and thankfully… Starbucks). Our walking brought us past parks in disrepair, crumbling sidewalks, cows, bulls, dogs, rickshaws, locals laying around, traffic jams, buildings hundreds and hundreds of years old and the educational and inspiring Gandhi museum. An incredible man, we learned about Gandhi, visited the site where he was shot dead and imagined what his life must have been like as he fought for Indian rights and freedom. “I love Canada” went through my head at least… oh… a hundred times!
With Delhi behind us, we took a one hour fifteen minute taxi ride to the train station through one of the most eye opening commutes we have experienced. Six vehicles wide in three lanes, cows, bikes, rickshaws, gravel and paved surfaces, new suspended freeway going up, or was it just crumbling down? Upon arrival, we knew we would not be boarding the high speed commuter train we came to love while in Norway and Sweden.
Yes…. a 19 hour (delayed to 20 hours) Indian sleeper train ride bites! Nothing more is needed to be said.
However… we just arrived at Jaisalmer; 40 km away from the Pakistan border, and we are about to check into the recently UNESCO-listed Jaisalmer Fort.
Thinking of you all!
…Mark and Christine
($1 Canadian (CDN) equals approximately 50 Indian Rupees (INR))
- SIM card – 500 INR, $7.80 CDN (comes with 60 INR of talk time and 1GB of data)
- 19 hour sleeper train with air conditioning – 1500 INR, $29 CDN
- Kingfisher lager beer (650ml) – 200 INR, $3.89 CDN
- Water 1L – 20 INR, $0.39 CDN
- Samosa street-side, delicious – 15 INR, $0.29 CDN
- Starbucks Venti (yap Venti)Green Tea Frappaccino with whip cream on top (soooo good) – 300 INR, $5.86 CDN