Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hitting the streets of Jaipur on empty

It’s 4 am on Friday morning. After a very long train ride from Agra to Jaipur, thoughts are racing through my head while Julie sleeps. I am hoping that I can tap my thoughts enough to be able to climb back into bed- we’ll see.

Yesterday morning was another early start- up at 5:30 to catch a 6:15 train at the Agra Fort station- a different departing station from where we came in just 1 day before. Out taxi was right on time and the route he chose took us past the main entrance to the Taj, down hill paralleling the river and the Agra Fort. I didn’t appreciate the massive size of the exterior walls until we drove past- an incredible massive structure. It took only 10 minutes to arrive at the station after negotiating a typical India before sunrise- people sleeping where they lied the night before- bicycle rickshaws from a by gone time carrying people to work, freight of all sorts, and whatever else needed transport. The station was smaller than Delhi, but everything else the same. There were vendors across the dirt road mostly cooking breakfast- the smell of incredible food was fighting for it’s place against other interesting smells that I didn’t care to know the source.

Entering the station required us to negotiate a labyrinth of people sleeping on the floor in every direction- luckily it was mostly east to west so the shikane of humanity was navigated without a misintended kick to the head, body part, etc. Not an easy feat with both of us with backpacks too full to begin with threatening to topple us like weebles.

Our train was delayed to 7:20- turns out delayed was the theme of the morning which almost made it to afternoon. We chose a spot on platform 1 and took in what walked by. Business people, freight porters with carts that looked way too old to work with bundles stacked 20 feet across and 12 feet high, vendors selling packaged fruits out of stainless steel carts that looked to me like world war 1 tanks less the gun barrel. Dogs roaming looking for a bite to eat, and turns out monkeys that do the same. The animals are incredibly smart- the dogs choose the tourists to stand by, give the puppy dog big eyes, hoping for a morsel.

Every kind of person walked by in the 5 hours we were at the station- the variety was incredible. Beggars, rural farmers with their families, students we met who were dressed sharp going on job interviews for the Indian Air Force, tourist natives who regard Agra as a vacation destination with the women in their glimmering saris of every bright color in the rainbow.
While waiting after a time, Roger and Karen and kids in tow walked past in a perfect line navigating between the humanity and the edge of the platform following the porter who was on a mission to walk them it seemed to Jaipur. Julie said our hello’s as they went past. India sunrises come on strong and it was not very long before they came over packing their bags from relief of the heat.

The covered area of the station acted like a wind tunnel keeping the heat at bay- it didn’t hurt to be standing under a ceiling fan suspended 50 feet from the girders holding up the galvanized metal roof. A trampolene of entertainment for the monkeys banging along the top playing with each other before descending to walk the rails. As always, we had loads to talk about, we both received great news that another step in our adoptions was surprising accomplished without us being in Kolkata.
The train ride itself was very different this time.

We booked a sleeper car which has 3/4’s of the compartment sections holding 6 bunks- 3 high probably 15 total compartments. On the other side of the aisle 2 bunks went perpendicular to the sets of 6. Turns out, we booked a top bunk on 1 side with the middle bunk on the other- all the other bunks had personal belongings strewn about with no people- we knew we were in for an experience. It wasn’t long before the first of 12 traveling men plopped himself down and said “sit”. Not sure if it was a directive or a question- of course we took it as a question, and in concert stereo we both said sit. As they arrived, each was on a mission to purchase different types of food. Julie and I were surrounded by a buffet feast with sights and smells, burps, laughs and finally groans as the men each worked out a place to lie down to snooze the ride away. The chorus of snoring after awhile made for good entertainment and the scenery that passed the window was as varied as the people in the station.

Arriving at Jaipur, we were met by a young over ambitious fellow- we had tourists targets on our forehead. He helped us get to the prepaid auto rickshaw stand, and escorted us to his machine. A pull of a lever and the 2 stroke engine came to life, making the machine shutter as we started on our way to the hotel. As we were driving, it seemed like we were part of a bloodstream of cars, trucks, motorcycles, bikes, anything that moved and carried people to their destination. The street was narrow- on the left shops, open air kitchens, on the right a concrete barrier.

There was a sudden stop and after the driver tried to start the machine, gave up, said he would be back. Of course we were partially blocking the throngs trying to get past, but we had great fun watching as they went by. Further entertainment for us was the store front to our left, which was a puri stand. So we watched as dough was formed into small rounds and cooked on a flat iron over an open fire on the sidewalk. After 5 minutes our guy comes back with a water bottle full of petrol- his brother had worked the night before and didn’t fill the tank. Off to the hotel taking back alley shortcuts, dodging pot holes, navigating a zig zag pattern of obstacles both moving and stationary. There was actually a speed bump before the main road- really an after thought after the 2 feet deep potholes in the 3 wheeler- we both got a good chuckle as the machine bounced us on the bench seat.

Pulling in to the hotel we got the hard sell from our driver- “Do you have reservations, do you need transport tomorrow- I take you to Monkey Fort, Water palace, nice places. I had to hand it to the guy, he was persistent. Handing over the voucher so he would be reimbursed and a tip we said our goodbye’s and entered an oasis in the middle of the city.

Hotel Alsisar Haveli is a family run, near fort like, hotel. Pretty gardens full of birds, archways and verandas in different directions. It’s really a beautiful place. The room is furnished completely with antiques- the four poster bed with a thin but firm mattress at least afforded me a 5 hour sleep. We had dinner at their restaurant- Indian food that didn’t disappoint. Julie was especially excited for dessert- her favorite gulab jamen, or milk solid balls deep fried and served in sugar syrup. The whole trip the food has been terrific- I think it will replace pizza as my favorite.

It’s been an hour or so- Julie woke up intermittently and asked what I was writing about- “oh things that happened yesterday” was my response. The best thing about it all is 1 more day has past and we are closer to seeing our baby girl. It’s the 14th today- Devi’s 10 month birthday is tomorrow. I can’t wait to hold her together with Julie and start us off on our new chapter.

1 comment:

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