Friday, January 13, 2006

When Hell Froze Over......

Sorry for the delay but we've been running around at an insane speed lately. Too much to show Sandra before she leaves us. Consequently she has probably only slept in a bed half the time she's been here.
We have a few new records too. From Mysore we took the train to Delhi. 54 hrs all told. Again, it wasn't as bad as it sounds though it got progressively dirtier and colder the farther north we went. Our train didn't go all the way into central Delhi but stopped at a station farther south. We arrived around 11pm with no place to stay thinking there would be retiring rooms in the station (most major ones have them, this one did not) or a cheap hotel right beside the station that we could crash in (we were very wrong on this account too). Instead, outside the station looked like a refugee camp with homeless people and commuters sitting on rubble wrapped in dirty blankets warming themselves around open fires fueled with garbage off the street. Surprisingly, we didn't feel threatened by this only annoyed as we were followed around by lots of taxi drivers trying to cart us off to expensive hotels in the city centre. We wandered in the cold for a while before realizing there was nothing around but a couple of overpriced places to stay (I won't admit how much it was, but I will admit that the girls didn't know the exact amount either, it's all relative anyway) so it was decided to abandon the quest and join the unfortunate others in crashing on the train station floor for the night.
Railway stations all have waiting rooms corresponding to the class of travel but there are also women only waiting rooms. The ones at this station were pretty small and full but at least they were inside and therefore slightly warmer than freezing (by freezing I must remind you that we have been used to 30C+ for a couple months now so anything below 20C is cold). The girls took over what was left of the ladies waiting room and left me to fend for myself outside with everyone else. Hmm..... Well, at least if I had to be a bum for the night at least I could be a fancy one. With 5 layers (good thing we saved all our warm trekking clothes), a survival space blanket, a sleeping bag and 1/2 a dozen strategically placed hand warmer packets I was ready to face the night. Somehow I not only survived but managed to sleep a couple of hours too!!! (Note: This is probably a very bad sign that we are getting a little too comfortable with our present, miserable conditions.)
The next morning upon glancing at a local paper we learned that that night had been the coldest night in Delhi in 70 years!!! The 2nd coldest ever on record! The actual temp? 0.2C Apparently they'd been having a really bad cold spell this winter and the schools we're being closed down because of the excessive cold. Too bad it's not that easy getting schools closed at home......
We were only in Delhi for a day, visiting the embassy (the girls need new passports already), and briefly seeing a little of the old town before getting on another overnight train a little further north to Haridwar.
We finally got a bed in Haridwar (our 1st in 5 nights) but it was still just as cold..... Haridwar is a holy town (which means vegetarian food only), important because it is the official site where the Ganges river leaves the mountains and enters the plains. Tons of pilgrims come to bathe in the river year-round and light candles on little flower boats and send them down the river. They also have a little ceremony at sunset with candles and fire at the bathing ghat. Very interesting to watch though it felt a little intrusive to be there in the middle of all that taking pictures. We were the only foreigners there, which is nice, but at the same time can be bad as you are the sole target for all the beggars and "voluntary donation" collectors so you can't relax and soak in the atmosphere as well as you'd like.
2 days later we met with yet another shock as we arrived at the Haridwar station early in the morning to see monkeys, cows and dogs all sharing the floor with the commuters trying to sleep. Only in India.......
We managed to get all the way south from Haridwar to Jaipur in a day and again arrived late with nowhere to stay. This time we managed to get a room at the station (we are so exhausted we don't even notice the trains rumbling by right beside us anymore). Ran around and saw what we could of the old city of Jaipur in a day before catching another overnight train back to Delhi where we are now. We arrived this morning and are very excited to have Alysha join us tonight.
Jaipur (the capital of Rajasthan) is very much on the main tourist route and now all the stories of India I've heard are starting to make sense. It is by far the dirtiest place we've been to on this trip. Yes it has lots of forts and palaces but it is also thoroughly disgusting and I can't imagine what it would be like to go from home straight there as a tourist. We have been here too long (and slept on too many floors) to be affected anymore but it does explain a lot. Northern India in general is a lot dirtier and busier than the south. (I'll have to elaborate on that more later....)
Tommorow we are off to Agra to see the Taj as our rush around the north continues.....
Ammon

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