Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Grand Tour: Trains Planes and Automobiles

Although I was relaxing in a plush bed in a suite with a view of the Taj Mahal, I couldn't stop stressing about the fact that we were waitlisted on our train back to Delhi.  Although we had seats assigned and the people at the hotel assured us we "would be OK", I had my doubts.  So, on the theory that we could get to the train station and find someone to sort it out for us there, I made Paul leave the air conditioned comfort of our room two hours before our train was scheduled to leave.

We got to the train station,

and found the booking office...which, between the smell and the residents, neither of us could bear to step foot in.  So instead we found our platform and waited.  And waited.  Standing up, because Paul wouldn't let me sit on the ground, as we "didn't know what had gone on there".  But then he won't let me sit on subway benches in New York either for fear of bedbugs, so it's really nothing against Agra per se.

It was terribly hot, but the scene was, as usual, colorful

and full of activity.

Presently our train arrived.  After running up and down the platform at least twice in an effort to find where on earth second class A/C was, we clamored onto our coach.  Now our train from Delhi to Jaipur had been lightly populated with passengers that appeared to be traveling short distances, so we were certainly not expecting this.

This was a train on its way up from the south, and had been traveling for two days.  People were settled in, to say the least.

We got to our (possibly) appointed seats, and found our berths full.  One man moved off of the top berth to hang out with his kids on the other side of the aisle, and I hopped up.

The folks downstairs happily shoved up to allow Paul room to sit down.  At this point we had no idea whether they were simply being nice or whether they were actually in our seats.

But we settled in for the supposedly three hour journey, which would get us to Delhi in plenty of time for our flight to Kerala.  Plenty.  We chatted a bit with our kind and friendly berth-mates and then spaced out, lulled by the train's rocking.

Soon the train slowed to a crawl.  After twenty minutes of crawling, Paul popped up and said to me "this is going to be a problem.  Don't you think?"  I did, but never one to panic before it is time, I assured him it was all part of the scheduled trip time.

As the crawl dragged on we got into those conversations you always have with your fellow passengers on a delayed trip...what's going on?  How long is it going to be?  The most popular answer?  Oh we're only thirty minutes late.  Even the conductor said, oh, we're only thirty minutes late.  No problem.  We had allowed ourselves two hours to make the one hour trip from the train station to the airport.  There was only one old rotund man with a massive grey bear and a turban looked at us and said, "Two hours".  We all laughed him off as malcontent.

As the trip dragged on we began to panic slightly.  Still, we were "only thirty minutes" behind schedule according to our new friends, the soldier with a big gun and the conductor.  The man with the turban maintained his original opinion ("India time, heh, heh, heh.").  But eventually, with time short, we realized we hadn't even hit Faridabad, the last station outside of Delhi which, had the train be moving normally, would have been thirty minutes away.  I was kicking myself for making the rookie mistake of traveling a long distance by one mode to the airport and flying in the same day.

By this time everyone around us was invested in whether we were going to make our flight or not.  Should we get off in Faridabad and hope to find a cab?  The soldier offered to have his friend pick us up there, for a fee of course.  Dhruv, who we called in a panic for some advice, told us getting off was our only chance.  The woman across the way, who acknowledged that making our flight by this point was a long shot, counseled us that finding a cab there could be challenging.

We finally arrived at the famed Faridabad and found it uninspiring.  It was raining, dark was falling, the place seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and there were oil cans with fires in them scattered about the platform.  Better to get stranded in Delhi than Faridabad, we reasoned.  It seemed as though we could meet an untimely end in this place.

So we took our chances and stayed on our not so trusty steed.  And as spent and stressed as we were, I couldn't help but be touched by the kindness of our fellow passengers.  They called friends and cab companies and the like in an effort to help us out.  None of their efforts really panned out, but it was lovely that they tried, and it did significantly lessen our despondency.  And at about this time we also took a look at the passenger manifest, posted outside of the train.  We were in fact not on it, so it seems our fellow passengers were kind after all in sharing their seats with us, rather than obliged.

An hour before our flight was scheduled to leave, we arrived in Delhi.  Paul and I raced off the train, grabbed the first guy who said "taxi" and ran.  He asked for an outrageous sum which Paul tried to negotiate for about ten seconds until we realized we had no option.  The final deal was, get us there in thirty minutes and we'll pay you what you ask.  This is an hour long trip mind you.

We raced off and soon entered a video game, one where you go sixty on city streets, swerve around the law abiding drivers, clip the bumpers of those in front of you at stop lights (it really was only dislodged a little in all fairness), all in the rain.  And make it to the airport in thirty minutes.  The man was literally the most skilled driver I have ever come across.

Paul and I rain into the airport, past the soldier at the front who was stopping people to check tickets (strangely he didn't come after us, I supposed we looked crazed but not crazy), and Air India, to their credit checked us in immediately.  The clerk implored us to race to our gate, which we did, thanks to the fact that the security folks overlooked the eight liters of gels and liquids I was carrying in my case.  Racing past Marks and Spencer and W.H. Smith, we arrived, sweating and breathless, at our gate, where the plane was boarding.

Neither of us could believe we had made it.  After such an intense trip the only thing we could do was embrace one another.

Once on the plane, we lucked out and got bulkhead seats, and also lucked out and sat next to the loveliest, most interesting man who was running an NGO in Kabul.

We took off pretty much on time.  And flew straight into a massive lighting storm.  The pilot assured us it was miles away (it did not look like it).  We had what was really a very good dinner (curry, of course) before the odd noises started.  First one of the engines sounded strained.  Then, the plastic cover that goes over the exit door release handle fell off.  Paul was not pleased that the flight attendants tried to cram it back on (him: do we think it's a good idea to be pushing out on that door at 30,000 feet?).  Then there was the big noise, and the big vibration.  The man from Afghanistan said "That does not sound right."  Coming from him, who had probably been flying in 50 year old Aeroflot plane for the last ten years, I was worried.

Turned out there was "engine trouble" and we turned around to go back to Delhi to change planes.

The next plane didn't sound all that much better, but it got us down south to Kochi in one piece.  At 3 am.  All I can say is, thank god for the Tea Bungalow.  We had never been so happy to see a bed.

We awoke the next morning,

to this.


We loved the bed, the air conditioning, the amazing, amazing shower, the insanely good breakfast by the pool and the cool decor.

And the staff was beyond great.  We had never been so reluctant to leave a place in our life.

Farewell, sweet bungalow, we'll be back one day!

Luckily, the relaxing part of our trip was about to begin.


Jaime Caldwell said...

Laura, I LOVE reading about your honeymoon travels! You and Paul are such troupers! I am super impressed!

Sneaky Magpie said...

What an adventure! And well done for getting on Air India plane, I am so paranoid about flying I probably would never got on it.

You were in paradise at last, it looks stunning.

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