Khajuraho to Amrister 24-26.02.11
(Pictures at https://picasaweb.google.com/109837841352688899289)
I made it to the gleaming train station at Khajuraho in a comfortable time, though I had to ride the rickshaw driver with spurs as he kept stopping all along the way trying to pick up another fare. I got the window seat as there was hardly anybody on board, but that didn’t last long and within a few stations the train was packed. I’d decided to do some work as this was going to be a long journey and I thought I’d just write till the battery ran out. I hardly looked up to tell the truth that is until I sensed something wasn’t right.
There was a man stood in the middle of the packed aisle he had a brown suit on his hair cropped and shiny and had henna on the palms of his hands, somehow he just seemed kind of dumb stood there. The carriages get 4 people to a bench and there were 5 people squashed on each already. He stood there and kept asking a young lad who had been there since I got on to get up for him, which he wouldn’t. Opposite him sat a woman dressed in black who looked on dispassionately, next to her an old farming couple who were gaunt and wiry, they looked like they had had a genuinely rough time of it this time around. The woman had been on the train for a few stops and I don’t know how but I knew it was his mother, I was thinking
“You big soft mummy’s boy” It seemed he was irritating a few other people too going on their expressions. Then he just sat down almost on the young lad and squeezed everybody up. It was really annoying and it was all I could do to stay quiet but I resigned myself.
“It’s just India it’s just the way it is” though at one point I pushed his elbow hard out of the young lads face and said to him
“You’re a fool and a bully” he didn’t know what I was saying but the intention was clear, I got the odd nod from other people, I asked the lad if he was ok.
“No, not ok” he said. It was hot and now there were 6 crammed up on the bench. India or not he was a dummy, from then on he just stared sullenly at the floor in front of him.
More and more people got on at every station the train stopped at. There were people up in the luggage racks, people sat on the floor, hanging from the doors and though I’ve experienced worse claustrophobia at Bank station in London at 8am on the Northern line this seemed more chaotic and was going to be a much longer journey, the saving grace for me was I had a window seat and cool breeze poured through them when the train was moving. But they hit had a habit of stopping for about 15 or 20 minutes at each station and people began to over heat and get restless.
3 stations along about an hour later a group of women got on dressed in black saris, they’d come and sat in the carriage, I looked up to find a stunning picture in front of me. I’d noticed too that the farmer and a few other people stood up so they could sit next to the old mother. The black saris were embroidered with white and silver flowers , they all had big red bangles right up to their elbows, hands decorated with henna flowers, coal black eye liner and thick red painted lips, hair combed tightly back and a perfect red dot between the pained eyebrows and the sari pulled over the faces so as to keep custody of the eyes. One of them was chattering to the old mother, one silent and the one opposite me looking sullen. Then I got it. It was a marriage and he was the groom, well why didn’t they just say. I would have honestly given him my seat. Instead on his big day he incurred bad looks from a carriage full of people and some pale foreigner had been saying something obviously unpleasant to him. I had to laugh, culture clash, I had been English ‘fair play and all that old boy.’ The carriage lightened up after that. I’m sure it hadn’t been just me that had not understood, I did cringed a little as I had been the only one who had grumbled but I’d been sticking up for the young lad.
Regardless of that as I observed them both the bride and the groom and they looked genuinely unhappy, they both looked at the floor the whole way, never swapped a glance, they seemed more like prisoners, she played with her nails the whole way and he looked at his shoes his mobile phone and at one point changed his socks. It didn’t feel like a joyous occasion to me, the only person who seemed happy was the old mother and the bridesmaid if that’s what she was. I have no idea how it works of course, we were way out in the countryside, she was maybe leaving her family to live with his or something like that and he may not have even liked her though she did look stunning or he simply may not have wanted to get married who knows. It all seemed a very colorful but a unhappy thing.
They got of a little later and everyone breathed out, the train took 6.5 hours to get to Jahnsi through beautiful rural farmland of lush green wheat fields dotted with yellow domed hay stacks. At times mountain ranges stuck up like sharp plates that had torn up through the sandy earth running away from the train line in almost perfect straight lines across dry dusty plains yellowed by the relentless sun. We crossed huge slow moving majestic rivers, little towns with big conical dung chapattis chips in rows or ingeniously stacked into great cones drying in the sun. But when ever we got into a town there was the stench of open sewers and piles of rotting rubbish with the ever resourceful pigs nosing around in it..
We were delayed at Orchha for an hour waiting for a platform at Jahnsi 18klm away to become vacant. Every one got off the train and just about every man on there stood at some point having a pee along the tracks, me included. In India there is no room for being shy. As the token pale face on the train I didn’t dare look around, I was watched just walking across a street here so standing there with my tackle out was defiantly going to draw some attention. Having a pee in front of maybe 600 people sure gets you over any shyness you might have developed back in the UK. Finally we pulled in at Jahnsi. We were greeted with what must have been thousands of birds roosting in the trees above the station, it was deafening and actually drowned the noise of the traffic. I had a 2 hour wait so I got a rickshaw to take me to a good place to eat, he wanted to wait and so brought me back an hour later.i’d been really hungry. I recall a feeling of deep contentment as I sat there, at one with myself watching the world cup cricket on the TV.
The Amritsar express was of course half an hour late, and when it finally got in I found the carriage and appeared before a very startled family who were in fact squatting in the carriage as they were Indians and all wanted to sleep together. Once over the shock and the fact that I told them I didn’t really mind what bunk I was in they breathed out and within 15 minutes I was being fed Nagbur and Chivda (I think that’s what they said) and having a broken but polite conversation with them.
In the carriage was a young guy called Kunwal who had been working in Mumbai in a BT telephone call centre dealing with broadband customer problems in the UK so his English was near perfect. He’d handed in his notice and was heading home to Karnal in Haryana state and had a little friend with him Called Susan. Susan was a lime green Turtle about the size of a folded £5 note who he kept in a little see through plastic container. He got her out once the family had gone to bed and introduced her to me, she was he informed me a Red eared slider turtle. Kunwal could talk and told me all about Susan, her little habits and how when she was annoyed with him she would pee on his hand. He said
“There are times when I look into her little eyes and all I see is blackness, oh and I love her, but now and again she has blue around them but I have no idea what it means yet.”
He showed me her food and promised me he would wake me in the morning before he got off so I could feed her. I thought ‘He doesn’t know me in the morning’ but I was good and forgave him for Susan’s sake. We sat talking; well actually I listened mostly. He told me how his family had discovered their Guru, Dr Narayan Dutt Shrimali who they now pray too daily. Since they discovered the Guru or in fact since he made himself known to them their fortunes have turned around. He is in fact in the spirit world and came to visit Kunwals father in person who then, some time later along with his wife went to a thing called a “Shiver” where people go to listen to gurus and “get there problems solved” apparently there are many Gurus at these gatherings. There it was discovered who their guru actually was as Guru Dutt Shrimali’s three sons where themselves now Gurus and recognized the family as sincere. It was complex to my ears but fascinating and I think I got it right. Kunwal did have the air at times of an innocent or a born again, but he certainly seemed happy and I have to say he was kind generous and open. He gave me a book on hypnotism that the Guru had written and I will find it fascinating for sure, he even called his Mum and ordered some breakfast for me when we arrived at Karnal the next morning and sure enough after we’d fed Susan, watched her paddling around in a little bowl of water he’d brought for her, got his multitude of bags off the train, there were his family waiting for him. I shook hands with them and his mum handed me 7 or 8 still warm stuffed potato chapattis, which were honestly delicious and lasted me the whole of that day.
The train set off again, I was glowing. It is amazing what seems to be coming my way I am soaking it up and giving it back out in waves, I’m sure that is why Kunwal gave me the book, he felt it from me.
I slept for another few hours and woke to find two young guys sat in the compartment which is not really a compartment it just has a curtain drawn. They were called Pradeep and Parvesh. Pradeep was the chatty and was a wrestler in Dheli at the Chhtarsal Stadium wrestling academy, they both worked on the railways to earn extra money and were on their way to a town called Kurshektra where they would find out what line they would be working on over the next few days, they hoped Dheli. Pradeep invited me to come and see him fight when I got to Dheli.
Then later one of the train attendants came to sit for a while. He was a quiet man who seemed to want to just sit with me. He was called Ashok and told me in very broken English that he was from the Maratha cast, that his daughter although she was independent and worked for a company that imported and exported cheese to the US, had travelled widely abroad could still only marry into her own cast. He was very proud of her. He’d started the journey 3 days ago at Dadar would sleep on the train that night in Amritsar and head back towards his wife the next day, in all 6 days on the train.
By the time I got to Amiritsar I’d been on the trains including the 2 hours waiting for the connection at Jahnsi for 29.5 hours. He told me there was 64000klm of track in the country and at any one time there were 13000 trains running which is staggering.
I arrived in Amritsar at dusk and ploughed through the wall of rickshaws out into the main street outside the station. It was absolute bedlam and quite a shock after the cozy compartment and gentle company. I checked a few hotels and settled for a grubby place called the Skylark which I’d found through the rough guide. The first room he showed me had no windows in the frames I didn’t mind, it was the noise I objected too, so he found me a room at the back with no windows at all but at least it was quiet. Afterwards I looked around at a few other places in the area checking prices but they were mostly in the same condition, they simply reflected where they were, the city seemed grubby and chocked and sort of appeared to be falling to pieces and lay scattered across the roads , it was all there was except for the rich places and I have to be careful with money as I still have a long way to go. I found did find a place called the ‘Bharat’ that had windows and a very helpful young manager called Kuran who was genuine, spoke good English and gave me invaluable directions of how to get to Dharamsala. So I was sold and would move next day. I’d planned to spend a few days in town but decided within an hour or so that I would go and see the Golden Temple then move on as soon as possible.
Kuran also directed me to a pretty decent workers café that night called the Kundan Dhaba just around the corner on the corner of Albany road and queens road . It was tasty and though a little oily hit the spot and the coffee was hot. I found an internet café which was an old ladies front room up a dark side street, sent some emails whilst she watched a TV drama in which a beautiful young Indian maiden had fallen in love with a British red coated officer, it was interesting watching it as the love was obviously forbidden to the wicked English, holy hell broke loose of course and the Brit got what was coming to him on the end of a vengeful and righteous turbaned dagger.
I was deeply tired and after a stroll through the dimness and shadows of the shell shocked streets around the station area. I went back to my windowless room wrote until could hardly see then fell fast asleep. I didn’t actually move all night I don’t think.