Exit Rajasthan and enter our first Indian train

26 May

Most of Rajasthan, India's largest state, is a pancake-flat expanse of harsh, empty desert. But, although the landscape may be drained of colour, the people living here make Rajasthan one of the most colourful states in India.

And it was the allure of the exotic and the colours that lured seven British retirees to venture out into the Indian desert. Taking a trip through Rajasthan is to follow in the footsteps of the cast from Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (watch the clip!). Most of the film is shot in or around Udaipur and Jaipur. Rajasthan, still one of the most conservative states in India, was also a realistic back-drop to serve up nifty culture shocks to the various characters. (Nibbling on hobnobs to please my stomach half-way in, I even felt like one of the characters for a while!)

We have now travelled the entire width and length of the Rajasthan. From Delhi we made our way to Mandawa and Bikaner before reaching Jaisalmer in the most remote western corner of the state. We then winded our way south to Jodhpur and Udaipur, headed east again to Pushkar and Jaipur, and then finally we crossed into the state of Uttar Pradesh and Agra.

If you missed any, here’s an overview of the blog posts from our roadtrip:

  • Roadtrip to Rajasthan: no hurry, no chicken curry (From Delhi to Mandawa)
  • Rajasthan roadtrip: Mandawa to Bikaner
  • India’s rat temple and my 15 minutes inside it
  • Rajasthan roadtrip: Bikaner to Jaisalmer
  • Jaisalmer: a real life sandcastle
  • Rajasthan roadtrip: Jaisalmer to Jodhpur
  • Jodhpur: the city that is a fort
  • The motorcycle temple in Rajasthan
  • Two high priests and an Indian wedding
  • One perfect day in Udaipur
  • Puh…Pushkar
  • Jaipur: splendid fort and stubborn castes
  • Fatehpur Sikri and coming into Agra
  • Agra and the Taj Mahal (in the state of UP)
  • Now, we were leaving again for a remote corner of another state. We were on our way to the small town of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, whose temples reportedly resemble naked Twister. The erotic temples, dated between the 10th and 12th century, sounded like some of the funnier ones in Asia and we were keen to have a look before we contined on to Varanasi. The train between Agra and Khajuraho, our first in India, was scheduled for an 11AM departure.

    As we walked into Agra train station, it was not the chaotic muddle I expected of an Indian railway station. Unlike my worst exaggerated fears, there were no people scattered half-dead on the platform, no stench wriggling up my nose, and no children in rags. Instead it was fairly calm. A few people rushed to our unnecessary aid as we walked in, but after ignoring their questions of tickets, rickshaws and souvenirs, we found ourselves in a quiet cafe under a massive, flapping fan.

    When the blue train eventually rolled into the station, I will admit that I whispered “ohmygod…”. Passengers were compressed into open doorways and simple bars crossed glass less windows. But the train kept rolling, and by the time the carriage for 3AC were in front of us, the windows had glass and the doorways were closed.

    Inside, a narrow aisle led between air-conditioned compartments with three berths on each side. We crept up into one in a perky mood, ready to appreciate the rocking comfort of a train.

    A large Indian woman, like a pudding in a terracotta coloured sari, was seated opposite. The windows were covered in condensation, so there was little more to do than to stare back at her and try to make time pass. Her husband, a man in his fifties with a mild expression, was seated next to me and would every now and receive a well-placed kick on his leg, courtesy of his wife. Arranged marriage, not love marriage, I thought to myself and pretended not to notice.

    I am sure that our travel companions could have had a few stories to tell, but I chose instead to pass the next few hours with someone else's conversations on trains. Opening up my bent paperback of 'Around India in 80 trains' by Monisha Rajesh, I again read the handwritten note inside.

    Dear James,

    May the looseness and location switches never end! Have fun on your travels and beyond.

    Matt

    With nine hours to kill, it would be enough time to finish the book.

     

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