Tag Archives: Train

Delhi for one day

Monday 28th March 2011

Continuing my journey from Manali to Rajasthan I have already mentioned arriving at some unearthly hour of the morning in the concrete jungle of Chandigarh on the bus from Manali. My neighbour from the bus had advised me that the railway station was 5km from the bus stand and that the local rate for a rickshaw would be 100 rupees – obviously with no other options I had to pay this, but it seems a bit steep when the last 10 hours on the bus had cost only 540.

Sure enough the rickshaw drivers stampeded into the crowd of disembarking passengers and of course I ignored them as usual.  A few followed but soon gave up, so I was free to try my haggling again.  I picked on one quieter driver and beat the price down from 200 to 100 quite easily, just walking away dropped 50 rupees from the price, so off we went.  First though we had to wake a family of three – mother, father and baby who were asleep in the rickshaw – so sorry I am for disturbing your night!

If its only 5km then it felt more as we sped down wide and desserted concrete avenues, each one joined to the next by a roundabout exactly 800 metres or 1200 metres apart, according to whether going north or west, such is the geometric layout of le Corbusier’s wildy un-Indian idea of the ideal living space.

The first real sign of life was closer to the station where a few lonely people were walking to work.  The station was also concrete and quite well organised, with the familiar smell of the groups who had slept in the open all night.  I had an hour to kill before the arrival of the Kangra Shatabdi so there was nothing to do but check my name on the charts – all present and correct – and sit to wait, with the ever growing crowd.

Shatabdi’s are the premium trains – when I was last here there was only one route served – Delhi to Agra – but now they are much more common. The premium price includes a meal, but I was actually quite impressed to receive a litre bottle of mineral water, choice of newspapers, morning tea and biscuits, mango juice and then a hot breakfast with another tea.

The seating is 2 + 3 with about 100 seats per carriage, or 80 in First Class, and up to 20 carriages that’s almost 2,000 breakfasts to serve – but each carriage had a staff of three, plus a catering manager onboard, in addition to the other few dozen members of the train crew.  My fellow passengers were on their weekly commute to Delhi – out on Monday morning and back on Friday night.

The three hours to Delhi flew by and I was soon in the queue to leave my bag for the day in the quaintly called Cloakroom on Platform 1.  I was still there an hour later, such is the performance to leave a bag.  For each person a form has to be completed with name, address, mobile phone, ticket number and number of bags.  I got number of bags wrong – I should have put “1 bag” and not just “1”.  Once the initial form inspection is out of the way, the bag is inspected to make sure it can be locked.  Tick.  Then you have to sign the form before it is passed to the computer operator, who painstaikinly copies a version of what you put into the computer, which then prints out a ticket on a  jumble sale dot maitrix printer, which chewed up the card as it came out.  The number of the ticket is then written in yellow wax crayon onto the bag before the passenger has to take it into the shelving area and choose a place to put it.  I put it right up on the top – about 8 feet from the ground, thinking most indians are a good deal small than me and would be less likely to touch it at this height.

Free from baggage, I ventured back to the streets of Delhi and couldn’t think what to do to pass the day – it was now 10:30 am, and my next train left at 21:55.  The heat was incredible after the cooler mountain air – stifling in fact, when combined with the relentless traffic fumes.

I headed for an old favourite for a cuppa – Nirulas in CP – Connaught Place.  I can remember the cool relief from the streets about 12 years ago and was somewhat taken aback to discover it is now a fast food place – burgers and ice creams along with some indian foods.  I must say that my strawberry milk shake with ice cream went down a treat, but it wasnt what I’d expected. I wandered on around the enormous circle of Connaught Place and decided to check out another old favourite – Ringos Guest House – delighted to report it is still there and identical externally – no sign of even a coat of paint for the last 20 years.

Altogether this part of New Delhi is awful and I needed to get off the streets, so headed for the old travellers favourite – Paharganj – which is also unchanged in years.  The decaying concrete frontage of cheap shops leads into a labyrinth of side streets full of internet cafes, cheap hotels and guest houses.

I sat in the cool haven of the Ajay Guest House which has a large courtyard deep inside with a German Bakery, internet cafe and some shops – and it made a very pleasant place to sit and pass the time of day, out of the heat, and with internet for laptops at 25 rupees for the first hour and 10 per hour thereafter it was a real bargain.  The food and drink was not so great though.  The worst cup of tea so far, and a cinnamon roll baked several days ago I think.

I was determined not to carry my bag around Rajasthan but in its current location at New Delhi Station I would have to return here, which could be a problem if my arrival at Old Delhi station on Friday was delayed, so wearily I checked it out from the cloakroom – thankfully a much less administrative process, and headed for the other side of the station for a rickshaw to Old Delhi.  Looking at the map you could be forgiven for thinking it is walkable, but unusually, the rickshaw meter was running, and we clocked up 7.6 km for 60 rupees.  Not bad! 

It wasn’t his day, my rickshaw driver.  He thought he had bagged his catch of the day when I turned up but his first problem was me insisting on paying the fixed rate at the taxi and rickshaw office.  55 for me, and 5 for my bag.  We set off into the traffic and I smiled as we went through a red light as if it was perfectly acceptable.  No it isn’t, according to the policeman who stopped us.  Lots of paperwork was generated for the 100 rupees fine, which the driver showed me later, looking for sympathy.  I told him it was very cheap compared to the same offence in England and this confused him.  I loved the description of the offence written by the policeman.  “Red Light Jump” – one of those lovely uses of English in the Indian way.

We sped on, not quite so fast this time and soon got embedded in the Old Delhi traffic – it was amazing that despite solid traffic everwhere, we continued to make progress.  We passed a hospital – “My mother is in hospital” announced the driver.  Not sure what to say in return, he explained she was having an eye operation.  “My father dead”.  Oh I see.  Errr…. the vote for sympathy was building.

I handed him the pre-paid taxi slip, grabbed my bag and left him at Old Delhi station.  I think he realised quite soon that he wasn’t getting any sympathy or extra money – there are a lot of more needy people here than a rickshaw driver even on a bad day.

I had a couple of hours which soon passed – nothing in an Indian station happens quickly, and the train was on the platform well over an hour before departure.  I had another good Thali at the station restaurant, bought some provisions in an almost total repeat of my first train trip from here, and made my way to Platform 16 where my 1st Class compartment awaited.

1AC is the best class of travel on ordinary trains, in which you actually get a compartment with a door, and either two or four beds.  I was very pleasantly surprised by how comfortable it was – especially as I was in the two bed coupe and according to the documentation plastered on the train side, I was to be alone!

There were only 10 1AC placed on this train, and there were 3 vacant – which is very strange as this train was compeltely overbooked to the extent that there were no more tickets being sold, even waiting list.  I bought a Taktal ticket – the second wave of ticket sales – which is released at 8am on the day before travel.  I’m now wondering if I might manage to get an upgrade on the way back, which is also completely full in 1AC!  I am so glad I chose 1AC as I got a superb night’s sleep – the lower bunk is by the window and is huge – better than the upper one for space and view.  I could of course choose either.

Through the night we were an hour late – but after the last station before Jodhpur we miraculously caught up and arrived only 15 minutes behind.  So here I was in Rajasthan.



Delhi to Dharamsala

Thursday 17th and Friday 18th March 2011

Welcome to Dharamsala. Or to McLeod Gang to be precise – the upper town which is home to the Dalia Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile.  It is therefore a major attraction for both Tibetan monks and buddhists from all over the world, as well as being a travellers centre too and so our western desires are well catered for in most respects anyway.

After leaving New Delhi Station on Thursday night I treated myself to a taxi to Old Delhi station as the bags were just too much to carry.  How Ive ended up with such a burden I really don’t know, but I promise to donate most of it to a good cause when I get the opportunity.  Meanwhile laden like a Sherpa I was soon speeding – yes speeding – through the Delhi traffic. On the right Paharganj – unchanged since concrete was invented – a sprawling mass of ramshackle buildings mostly unfinsished despite their age – all with a lethal mass of bare wires and randomly lethal metal bars sticking out amongst the neon signs.  Buried down deep alleyways are the backpackers hotels but tonight I was not stopping.

Quickly glimpsed the famous Nirulas restaurant in Connaught Place where I remember the relief from the dirt and poverty on my first visit here, splashing out on bacteria free treats in the air conditioned comfort.  Not tonight though.   I had my train to catch, but more importantly still, my station to find.

Dinner thali before the train trip

The prepaid taxi booking office outside the station had already been a test – you are surrounded by taxi touts before finding it, even when you get there you are told it is closed or shown to a taxi at the front of the rank, yet has nothing to do with the booked taxi system.  Inside there were piles of paper slips and I watched while mine was completed in triplicate.  One for the seller, one for me and one for my driver.  From the mass of drivers around me, one was selected and I paid my 105 rupees for the trip – I never know how the drivers are chosen, as when being taken to my car, it turned out to be absolutely buried ten deep and bumper to bumper.  However two or three surrounding cars were pushed backwards and forwards to open up a gap only just big enough for a car to get through.  Not quite big enough though, but we pushed through with only a minor bang and scrape

I’m sure the driver had done this trip 1000 times.  He accelerated towards every gap –  and I mean any gap more than 1mm wider than the car and jammed on the brakes just in time, every time.  He cut the engine as we approached major junctions to save petrol, even though it is less than half the price here than we have at home, and then joined the revving engines in anticipation of red lights changing to green, thus burning up any savings he made earlier.  He turned to face me whenever the road ahead was clear enough to hurtle unguided and told me that England were winning the cricket quarter finals.  I tried to sound impressed enough without encouraging too much more conversation as I would much rather he faced the way the car was going, at least most of the time.

Red Fort on the right – my goodness it is so much bigger than I can remember – thousands and thousands of people to the left – massive avenues and tiny lanes – neon and candle powered lighting – and finally we arrived at an unlit fence, lined with chai stalls and tyre changers operating on truck wheels with their hammers and chisels on a pavement illuminated only by passing cars and the occasional tilley lamp.  “Old Delhi Station” declared the driver – he wasn’t wrong but had dropped me at the back gate, by platform 1 (yes inronic) where a train was ready to depart on the unlit platform. 

Which is your train please, he asked.  Jammu Mail at 20:20.  I had inadvertently dropped another cricket link – “Twenty twenty” he beamed and repeated it a dozen times.  “Very good twenty twenty cricket sir.  Very good!”  Well at least we were stopped this time.

In the darkness the train on platform 1 was departing.  Another few hundred people joined it by adding themselves to those hanging out of the doors and the police blew whistles and waved sticks.  “Train on platform one is now ready to depart” announced the very well spoken station announcer.  It sure was and I sure hope mine isn’t as busy as this!

Jammu Mail gets ready to depart from Old Delhi

Train 12445 Jammu Mail Platform 12.  It was painted onto the departures board in the platform 1 unreserved booking office.  A good sign.  Up and over the footbridge to the main station and an hour in hand, I searched for food and some sort of confirmation of the platform.

And there it was in huge eye watering neon letters – 12445 Jammu Mail Platform 12.  Great – I can relax now, I thought, and found a superb Punjabi Style Thali meal for a pound in a clean enough fast food outlet in the station.

Still with 45 minutes to spare I went to platform 12 where an earlier train was just departing. Quite civilised, this one, with lots of room inside.  It let out a blast of noise and started moving, followed by a few people getting back off while it gathered speed.  A girl fell out onto the platform and rolled along with the momentum of the fall.  Nobody turned to look – not even others who had jumped out with her – but she got up, dusted down and went on her way – just another every day unexplained occurrence in this crazy country.

Lots of people on Platform 12 but time to buy a chai and some snacks before leaving.  As I did so a young American asked if I was waiting for the Jammu Mail but he had been told it would be platform 12.  We looked together at the huge neon signs above – Platform 12 it was.  I took hold of the biggest boiling hot chai, burning its way though the paper cup and brim full, with a straw sticking out of the foamy milky froth.  Also in this hand a carrier bag with my “Cheeky Monkeys” and my “Veg Puff”.  It takes almost as much courage to order these things without feeling a complete twat that they might as well be completely foreign words.  Nevertheless my order is read back – on chai, one veg puff one cheeky monkeys.  51 rupees sir. 

My provisions for the trip were complete.

In the other hand my bag which now weighed so much I could hardly lift it and over my shoulder my computer and cameras, Rough Guide and water.  I realised I wasn’t exactly in the best of states to be searching for my space on the train, especially when in the distance, on Platform 10, the Jammu Mail was getting ready to depart.

Bloody hell – boiling chai in hand I climbed the footbridge with another 1000 people and read the electronic display at the top of the stairs down to platform 10.  Indian trains are usually 20 coaches long, each with its own number, but not necessarily in a logical order.  My coach was A3. The display read SV,SB, S9,S8,S7,S6,S5,S4,S3,S2,S1,A1,S10,S11,S12 etc.  A3 was consipicous by not being there.

Not to worry – I started scanning though the names list, printed up on page after page of dot matrix printout on the Chart beside the train.  They were not in any particular order, except by coach, and some people had conveniently torn off the bit with their name on it which may have helped them but left many others unsure of their PNR status.  Coach A3 was an Airconditioned sleeper with two levels – therefore is known as AC2.  The only AC2 list was for coach A1 and I wasn’t on it.

Michael BEVERIDG confirmed place

Well if it wasn’t A1 then I must be further down the train.  I walked down 10 more coaches – all sleeper class – the lowest possible on this train and all were totally packed.  I was trying not to spill my tea, at least it wasn’t quite so hot now, as I made my way back to the other end of the train.   I took another look at the booking charts and there I was Michael BEVERIDG (you have to assume a train name of up to 15 characters, but it must be close enough to survive comparison to your passport name).  Place 12 SU. Coach A3.

One final look for coach A3 was successful.  It was simply added on beyond the coaches which were on the overhead display – the display was just not long enough to show them all.  And as I boarded, Jamal my new American friend, his mother and his sister were also just discovering that the train had moved from platform 12 and were in just as much a fluster as me.

We climbed in and it hooted, although in a much more muffled way, as the engine was about ¼ of a mile away.  The Jammu Mail had departed on time.  Nobody jumped off, as far as I could tell.

Bed 12 was vacant. Big enough to hold a pile of blankets, pillows, my bag, my other bag, my water bottle, veg puff and cheeky monkeys. Where I was supposed to fit was not my most immediate worry – I sat and finished my tea with the Americans and we introduced ourselves.

The train!

Jamal had been teaching English, voluntarily in a Delhi slum where he had lived for the last 4 months without any income.  During that time he hadn’t left the slum at all and had eaten fruit and vegetables, but no meat or bread.  His biggest treat of the day was a box of chocolate filled croissants and banana bread all tied up with a ribbon – a present from his mum.

Mum and sister had flown in to join him on a trip to Dharamsala.  Not your average American tourists I hasten to add.  Mum lived in a Buddhist monastery in the south of france.  I should have taken the hint with a son named Jamal!  They wondered if I would like to share a taxi and so I immediately changed my plans and accepted.

This was now my second night without any real sleep and so I climbed (yes climbed) into the bed amongst my bags and things and somehow slept for 8 hours.  Mike its 6:30 came an American voice outside my curtain. Almost on time we pulled in to dusty Pathankot station, anticipating a mass of hungry taxi drivers fighrting over our business.  There were a few taxis, many of which could possibly make it to the outskirts of town without  falling apart, and only a token interest in touting for business.  The town was just waking up as we decided to head for the bus station to check out the alternatives.  It only just dawned on me that the journey ahead was to be 150 kilometers and therefore upwards of three or four more hours of travelling.

My bag had by now worn its way through part of my shoulder blade and was therefore more or less part of me. The bus station wasn’t that far, nor was it very busy when we arrived.  This of course is the land where some signs are in English but most are in Hindi so it took a bit of double checking to prove to our complete satisfaction that there would be a bus to Dharamsala at 08:35.  The prior one was at 07:15.  It was now 07:20.  Oops.

We ate breakfast of chocolate croissants, banana bread and cheeky monkeys.  Quite an international spread.

Tea stop on the way to DharamsalaThe bus wasn’t nearly as bad as we had feared – busy but not packed and padded seats with legroom.  We ducked and dived in and out of the towns traffic, through mile after mile of Army Encampments, or rather Cantonments, with lovely slogans like “Country First” painted at the gateposts.  

We were initially heading down a main road towards Delhi, but when we branched off to head northwards, the scenery made a dramatic change with a backdrop of snow covered peaks and bus changed into permanent second gear hill climbing mode.

Hairpins going up are best tackled at full revs otherwise the bus stalls, so we certainly felt some G forces as the front of the bus started heading left while the back was still finishing going right.  Corners are also a really good place to overtake, since the road is a bit wider there and so we often headed two abreast towards anything coming down.  But in the true Indian way, the whole experience wasn’t in the slightest bit scary, apart from to the American mum who seemed to have communicated secretly with Jamal.  “We can ask the hotel to book us a taxi for the way back”.

During the final stages of any journey I usually refer to the Rough Guide to see what lies ahead.  I find that I don’t take anything in until I get close to the destination, or even after leaving, when Rough Guide sometimes forms the guide to what I just missed.  Therefore a little advance planning sometimes helps.

The Americans had actually already booked their hotel and were concerned that I hadn’t. In fact they had conveniently booked two hotels – one was recommended to them after the other was booked, yet they had been unable to get through by phone to cancel the first.  It sounded like a great idea that I then took one of their rooms, particularly since they had convinced me that it was going to be really hard to get one on arrival.

The Rough Guide map showed it too, so finding it should have been easy.  But it then dawned on us that Dharamsala was in fact the generic name to the area, as well as being the town of Dharamsala while  the Dalai Lama, followers and hangers on actually resided in McLeod Ganj – the upper town.  On the map (not to scale) it appeared walkable.  Our Indian travelling companions though it was 30km, and we settled for expecting it to be 10km.  Actually its 9km along and 1km up, in  vertical sense.

McLeod Ganj

So we stayed on the same bus for another 40 minutes while it carried up the constant hairpins which led us to the final bus station of the trip.  Another 10 rupees too.  It was difficult to get our bearings when we arrived as we expected to being going through somewhere and then getting off, not just getting off.  It turned out that we were exactly where we expected on the map, but had bypasswed the town by means of taking the Cantonment Road rather than the steep road, thus explaining why all the public taxis here, which use the steep road, are actually four by fours.

McLeod Ganj is just great.  The Buddist temple at the lower end of town pumps out amplified chanting and groaning several times a day while the upper town is wall to wall restaurants and coffee shops and of  course hotels.  My room turned out not to be what we expected.  I reported t the next door coffee shop as instructed by Rough Guide.  Most of these establishments, escpecially when listed in Rough Guide are not run by elderly gentlemen  in a tweed jacket and walking cane.  I said I thought he was expecting me or at least an American family and he said he was not.  He asked why I though this, and I showed him the Rough Guide.  He showed me the rooms next door amonst the shell of a building site.  Indeed this was my place but I have disposed of it.  These people must stop using my name.  I can not have them using my name…..

I thanked him and left, taking a quick look into the building site next door where there probably was a room booked for Mr Mike but it was deserted and somehow I felt I could do better so went back up the steep hill into town.

It was time to lose my bag though – I could carry it no more and so  I took a room at the first place I found -a Tibetan run hotel with a private terrace and hot shower.  1000 rupees – its quite a lot but thankful for anywhere I filled in the 20 questions for the guest register and checked in.  Things must be getting a bit more relaxed here,as you no longer are required to provide Fathers Name.

 The view was stunning down thousands of feet to the valley below.  A ball would roll all the way back to Dharamsala.   The morning had been cool.  The bus trip got hotter and hotter.  Now I had to hide from the sun, such was the change in temperature.

I walked through town exploring and eating.  Tea – local tea 20 rupees, Assam tea 40. Milk tea 15.  Darejeeling.. Herb.. Honey tea.  Popular with the monks, honey tea.  I stuck with milk tea.  Nice.

The rest of the day flew by.  I tried to Skype home with pretty bad results, watched the tea time traffic jam when all the monks leave the temple at once and head for coffee shops where its so strange to see them using their laptops with wifi.  But many of them are on a major trip too – this isn’t their home, but a pilgrimage place.

It also turns out to be the first day of Losar on Saturday – that’s the Tibetan New Year which lasts for a month and is marked by the full moon.  IN addition it is also Holi, the Hindu festival of colour, starting on Sunday, where I can look forward to being plastered with coloured dye.  Yes all over.  People are already starting to throw the coloured powder at each other, or dyed water.  At least its water and dye here and not dung like some places use.

So with the evening drawing in, my three days without sleeping in a bed were taking their toll and I went back to have the best ever nights sleep.  Quite an exceptional day.

Flat batteries at Lapworth

Friday 5th March 2010

Ah well it had to happen sooner or later.  After 10 days at Lapworth Zulu has consumed every last bit of battery power and I really can’t work out why, as the isolator was off leaving only the bilge pump to drain them.  The starter battery is also isolated from the cabin batteries when the engine is off.  There was such a resounding silence when I turned the key that I actually thought someone may have taken the batteries, but they are all there intact.

Then a little towpath magic happened.  Several people stopped to offer their advice, most useful being “see him over there… go and ask him to borrow his genny”.  And so I did.  And 10 minutes later a lovely 2Kw generator was topping up the starter battery.  Thanks very much mate – that was very generous to let me walk off with your generator in your wheelbarrow.

I phoned River and Canal Rescue a bit late in the day, but their engineer did offer to come out even though it was going to be after 8pm.  I was pleased to be able to call them back before the guy set off, in the knowledge that I was probably going to be able to start the engine myself before he got here.

One hour later I risked turning the key and Zulu fired up instantly.  So instead of leaving at 5pm and being at Hatton top lock by dark, I left at 7pm and am only at Tom O’The Wood moorings tonight, filling the water tank at the convenient tap and blogging by candlelight while the engine is still squeezing or hopefully pouring some charge back into the batteries.  The cabin battery bank was down to 4.5 volts – the technical people amongst you will realise this is not a good thing as not only does it make the lights very very dim indeed, but it also enters that grey area where they may not ever be charged properly again.  I do hope this isn’t the start of battery troubles.

The day started well through, after a very heavy frost and minus 5.5C at 7am this morning.  I took the train to Lapworth and discovered that the single fare would be £42.00 whereas splitting the ticket into two halves, from Newbury to Banbury would be £14.80 and from Banbury to Lapworth would be £9.80.  A saving of £17.40.  But then my Network Railcard saved another £1.80 despite the minimum fare on a weekday of £13.00. And the ticket lady said … save another 20p by getting a return to Lapworth from £9.60.

Therefore I paid £22.60 for exactly the same seats on exactly the same trains instead of £42.00.  There is something seriously wrong with the system when a return ticket is less than a single, and two tickets are almost half the price of one.  What can we do to get a fair fare structure!

So tonight its an early night.

Total progress today. 1 mile.
They all count, as long as they are in the right direction.