Tuesday, February 14, 2012




I was chatting to a couple Indian guys. One said "Money isn't everything." I responded "It is if you don't have any." His buddy said "You are the master!" I wanted to respond "Only a master of evil." Unfortunately, that sort of thing would miss out on the movie reference and be taken literally. So I just went with 'smile and nod'.


You've got two choices. You can struggle like a salmon swimming upstream against a line of people who don't know what queueing is or you can have a travel agent book for you. The travel agent charges about 70 RS more and if it is anything like mine, they will fuck it up and give you the berth/bunk you definately do not want.


Whenever I have to use transport, I show up early. Hours early. Earlier, if I have to switch countries. Shit happens. I understand that and would rather be cooling my heels for three hours in a train station than be one of those whiny asshole tourists who wants to show up fifteen minutes before their train is set to leave and bitches because they got screwed somehow.

So that gives me plenty of time to look around the train station and philosophize.

Back in the 'age of the railroad' (1800's), the railway station was often kept very pretty. As I understand it, the thinking was 'this is the first place visitors to our fair city will see so we want it to have a good initial impression'. I believe this was because rich and well to do visitors used the rail. These days, the wealthy use the airlines. Hence, airports are nice looking. The railway stations by contrast are 'disgracefully filthy'. They are often stocked with the homeless, beggars and the insane who would otherwise be wandering the streets. These people are not found in airports - even beyond the security areas. It's all a question, I believe, of wealth & influence.

At the Hardiwar rail station (yes, back to where I was earlier) they employ men with sticks to drive off the urchins by hitting them hard with the sticks. This makes the urchins cry. This is not confusing to me. The confusing part is that the urchin I saw being beat with the stick did not run when he saw the man with the stick coming. I figure he was either really desperate or very stupid.

To answer your other questions, yes, beggars circulated the train. Total amount given by Logan to beggars, 0 RS. I have made a couple modest donations to temples which actually feed beggars regardless of caste, religion, etc. I do also deal with the poorer merchants if they have anything I want or need. Thereby, I put money into the hands of the people rather than the beggar king etc. Don't support beggars, regardless of their pleading eyes.


Hare Kristna Travels stuck me in the top bunk despite my insistance on a bottom bunk. The bunk was about the same size as a coffin but less comfortable. That was about fifteen painful hours. Is 'dreadful' a class?

If you are a child, monkey or some weird monkey-child who doesn't mind a drafty coffin, it is not a bad ride. For fur-less humans, I recommend bringing a couple of blankets.

Because it might be April (or never) before Matt is ready to go, I have decided to head south and check things out. I may even try to get on the back of a camel. If it is not too painful, doing part of my trip by camel migh be cool. If being on the back of a camel sucks, I will scrap that idea and come up with something else.


Officially, smoking on the train is totally illegal. In reality, it is by general consensus.

There are also no 'rubbish bins' aka waste baskets. I suspect the reason is if they had them, they would have to empty them. By not having them, the rail employees avoid a messy job. So where does all of the rubbish from the meals served by the railway go? All of the wrappers and soda bottles sold by the guys who walk up and down the train most of the trip? Why, out the window of course. I couldn't believe it either.

India - country and garbage can.

In some of the countries I've been to, locals will often crowd into one car leaving you with a car of your very own. I call this the 'avoid the strange traveler' syndrome. In India, the trains (I've been informed) are always filled to capacity.

Under the bottom seat are a couple of metal squares. These are for chaining your luggage to while you are in the train.


AC. This is really 'first class'. You will get a train that is in slightly better repair. For sleeper cars, you get a blanket (has it been cleaned? Who knows) and a pillow. The bunks are 'two up' - in other words, one lower and an upper bunk. Whether it has AC or not is not important during the winter.

Non-AC. Actually, 'second class'. The cold air will come in to haunt you through cracks and holes in the train. You bunk may be right next to a window that broke years ago and no longer closes all the way. Or at all. Bring stuff to keep warm in high arctic winds. Bunks are 'three up' (upper, middle, lower). Not really comfortable for long journeys.

Third class. I don't know what they call it in India, but I've seen it. If you've ever wanted to play out the fantasy that you were a refugee trying to get into a different country, this is a way to do it. I think of this as the 'huddled masses' class. The lucky ones have a seat. Others sit on the floor or stand.


I got in at about six forty in the morning. Twenty minutes early. Weird. Fortunately, I had asked some of my fellow passangers where we were. The stations don't seem to be labeled. I suppose that the people figure if you want to go there, you should know what the train station looks like.

When I got there, I had a few touts swarm me and try to get me into various transport. They all seemed to be pushing the town of Pushkar pretty hard. I started answering only in Arabic which turned them off from any more conversation. That worked well. I knew the bus station was only 1 KM from the train station and I really needed to stretch my legs after the coffin ride so I went for a walk with the heavy bag.

It became obvious to me why nobody stays in Ajmer. What a dump. Even by Indian standards, the parts I passed through were ruinous. This helped me to decide to move the hell on and go to Pushkar. Rather than taking the over priced shit at the train station that snares many other tourists (300+ RS) I took the 12 RS bus. It is only a half hour ride away.


I get that for many tourists, India is where they are coming. Their final destination. The big trip they've been saving up their money for. I get that. I also understand that since I am hunting for the great bargain basement prices, my view is skewed toward that.


In the Lonely Planet book, inevitably their 'pick' is some $100 per night place.

To this I respond "Well, duh!"

I am having difficulty imagining the kind of place you are slapping down $100 per night to stay that sucks over here. Really. I agree that some places at $100 per night would be better than others but I don't think finding one that is decent at $100 per night is really a challenge. Finding a great place at $4 per night? That my friends IS a challenge.


Back in the old days (pre internet) you use to get 'fortune cookies'. You don't any more. You get 'proverb cookies'. They use to tell your fortune - really. Now you don't get that. They use to have scales that would tell you your weight and give you your fortune. I'm not sure where all of the stuff that gave fortunes went. Perhaps religious zealots considered it evil. Maybe there were too many weak minded fools who would try to run their lives by what the fortune cookie or weight machine said. Who knows.

In India, they have 'weight and proverb' machines. The proverb it gave me was in English. It said "Work excels all kinds of prayer."

An excellent proverb.


Today I learned that taking photographs of the dead is considered 'unlucky' and inappropriate. I was thinking about it and I don't remember a lot of cameras in evidence at the few funerals I've been to. Strange superstitions regarding death have we.


Note, I have gotten this phrase from people who speak English very fluently - it is not a 'well, they don't know English very well' thing.

"Five minutes"

This phrase never means five minutes. It can mean any time between ten minutes and 'never'.

When will this store open? "Five minutes."

Be warned.


Used Lonely Planet India, 595 RS (better than $40 for a new one!)

Motorcycle ride from guesthouse to bus station in Rishikesh, 200 RS (down from 300 RS)
Near death experiences, free.

Railway food at station (thali), 22 RS (decent)
Railway food on the train (who knows what it was), 65 RS (not great but edible and I didn't get sick from it)

Single serving packs of chewing tobacco, 5 RS (No, I didn't try any, but they are available everywhere).

High end hotel room with unfilled swimming pool, 2000 RS/night - didn't look all that groovy to me, honestly.

1 comment:

  1. Talking about showing up early... I remember that day in Odessa, Ukraine... When you didn't check your mail with the departure time for the boat...

    There are things that sound a lot like Ukraine actually. Dunno if that is a good thing ;)



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