On the New Year’s eve, I travelled from Rishikesh back to Delhi.
My day started at 4 am. I booked a taxi for 4.30 to take me to Hardwar, the nearest town, to catch my 6 am train back to Delhi. It was pitch dark, freezing and the wind was wailing like mad. The travel agent who booked me the taxi told me to walk across the bridge and a car would be waiting for me there.
Crossing the iron suspension bridge over the holy river Ganga was the challenging part. The bridge, about 500 feet long, was unlit and it wobbled slightly as one walks on it. I had a backpack on my back, held a yoga mat under my arm and I hauled a suitcase which has been gaining weight daily since my arrival in Rishikesh – I was simply unable to resist the beautiful Indian shawls and outfits. The wind blew so strong on the bridge that I had to bend double to inch ahead. Half way through, my hat was blown off. As I bent down to pick it up, I noticed a Sadhu or perhaps a beggar, wrapped under a blanket, holding a trident, came up from behind. I froze with fear. He stared at me intensely and then said Namaste as he walked on. I travel around the world on my own and enjoy doing so. This was one of the rare moments that I wished that I had a travel companion.
When I finally reached the other side,there was no taxi in sight – just as I had half expected. A group of homeless men were squatting around a fire. They told me to walk five minutes ahead to a taxi stand but I decided to call the driver. “Two minutes, madam,” came a sleepy voice. Twenty minutes later, a taxi turned up. When I complained to the driver that he was late, he replied: “So early, Madam. I sleeping,” as if that was a legitimate reason for being late. He added that we had plenty of time.
Sure enough, we arrived at the train station at 5.10. I hated the travel agent for booking the taxi so early. There wasn’t even at waiting room here. What was I going to do for the next 50 minutes? At the dirty platform, I was lucky to take the bother to ask if my train was on time. Well, it would be 3 hours late. Oh, all that getting up early, braving the cold and darkness was for nothing.
I decided to check into a hotel right opposite the station, to snatch a few hours’ sleep. But I couldn’t sleep. People rose and used a communal washing area around the corner from my room. They talked on top of their lungs and they made a lot of rather disagreeable noises with their throats and noses, as if it was part of their morning ritual.
Back to the station, the waiting game continued. The train would be further delayed, it was announced. The problem was that no one could give me a definite answer. If I had known for sure, I could have gone back to my hotel room and rest in my own bed. I met two young Canadian girls who had got up at 3 am to take the public bus to Hardwar. And before coming to station, they sat for hours at a dirty cold tea shop. I didn’t feel I had a right to complain in front of them.
Dying from starvation, I asked the girls to look after my luggage and I dashed out to get some breakfast. Back on the platform, as I ate my dal and chapatti messily and hurriedly – it was believed that the train was to arrive momentarily, a coal black hand thrust in front of me: “Madam, hungry.”The hand belonged to a middle-aged man. One of his legs was stick-thin and diseased. I gave him my food.
One of the upsetting things about travelling in India is that you are hassled by so many beggars all the time. Some are truly unable to fend for themselves; others take begging as a profession. I normally give some change when I see someone in need of help.
The train finally arrived at 11.30. A battle followed as travelers struggled to get on or off. We, the Canadians and myself, were not even sure that this was the right train. The electric sign indicated this was a train leaving at 14.10 and no announcement contradicted it. There wasn’t obvious sign on the train itself. Almost in panic – we had no idea how long the train would stop – we desperately asked for information but no officials was around to answer our questions. Some passengers who spoke English assured us it was the train and our sleeper section ought to be on the front of the train. We scurried along. To make sure that I would not miss the train, I jumped onto the first sleeper carriage. But that was the third class carriage. I had to walk four more carriages before reaching my 2nd class air-coned carriage. All that rush proved to be pointless as the train stopped at the station for another half an hour before it slowly made its way down south.
The four hour long ride took 6. By the time I returned to my friend’s house in an up-market residential area, it was past 6 pm. It took me more than 14 hours to cover 230 km distance between Rishikesh and Delhi.
The day ended in high note. An India-French couple, friends of a friend, took me to dinner a restaurant in Hauz Khas,which is almost as stylish as the couple themselves. Kauz Khas is an affluent neighbourhood full of trendy restaurants, designer stores and galleries. Jean-Marc is one of the first groups of entrepreneurs who invested here, which helped to turn the place into such a trendy spot today. Jahnvi, a writer and entrepreneur, also has her perfume store here. After two weeks vegetarian diet, the sea-food at the restaurant tasted heavenly.
After dinner, we walked around in the village. The streets were very lively, breathing a restless energy: neon lights of all hues and colours flashed; restaurants were crowded. And a lot of people, mostly up-mobile young ones, hung around in the narrow streets. I would describe Hauz Khas as Delhi’s Sanlitun.
We ended up at a New Year Eve’s party at club run by a friend of theirs. Again it was packed with up-class Indian and expats. I met quite a few interesting characters. One of them is a dentist, who described his service as ‘transi-dental’ – he does cosmetic dental service such as crowning teeth or Botox.
It was way past midnight when I returned home. What a day!