Travel Journal Overview: I’d already learned not to have high expectations. I was pushing these feelings as far down as possible about India every minute. True the Golden Temple was amazing, but the country continued to rub me the wrong way. Getting a simple train ticket was just another example.
I was at the train ticket office at the Golden Temple by 8am, and already there was a long queue. This was going to be my first taste of Indian Bureaucracy, and the answer to why it happens. I queued. At least 20 minutes. I noticed the queue jumpers too, but refrained a little from loosing the plot. I was hoping the moustachio ticket man behind the glass screen only three people away had noticed and was about to deliver a stellar service to someone dealing with all the crap of an Indian queue.
I know he had noticed me, he was often times looking around as he waited for tickets to be printed out. When I got to the window I greeted him with a curious smile an hello. HE nodded back. It was a 5.5 hour journey, not so long, and I figured there must have been plenty. I asked him if he had a timetable.
“What time?” He replied gruffly.
Hmm, going to shit already. “No, I would like a t i m e t a b l e please. Here to Delhi.” Could not get much simpler.
Nope. “What time?”
OK new tactic. “What time you have?”
He looked down at his screen. I felt tension building. There must have been tons of trains going to the bloody capital. “5pm” he retorted.
I shook my head, “No, I want to arrive during daylight hours. When is the next train today?”.
“No Train today!” He waggled.
I frowned, “Now Train? There must be a train today? You just said at 5pm there was one.”
“No, 11pm it arrive”, he replied with a deep look of dislike.
Even if the prick hated the sight of me he was making it worse for himself by answer like this. I didn’t need it and pulled back. Two men behind me grabbed at my arm as I started to leave.
“You need to go to Delhi?” Asked the shorter of the two with a toothy smile.
I nodded suspiciously.
The taller sweaty of the two waggled his head, “No good today, take the bus.”
“Yes,” said the shorter one, “Safer too, much better.”
I frowned as I left the ticket office, the two newcomers hanging on to me. What were they up to? They continued on about the bus service, and how much better it was. Even taking the time to tell me where it was. The mistake they made was leaving their queue at the train ticket office. I might have believed them if they had been on the street, but leaving the office and offering me names of bus companies was too suspicious for me. I thanked them, and headed back to the tourist office centre from yesterday.
The two large men were still sitting there. I removed my shoes and headed in. I asked if they had a timetable for the Delhi train. They both shrugged and said to the train reservation office had all the information. I told them there was no timetable there. With this one of the fat men beckoned over a lowly man by the door and told him to take me back to the ticket office.
I headed back with the little man in his blue jumper suite. I pointed to the queue I had been standing in. The little man pushed by everyone and spoke to the same head wobbling ticket man who nodded in response.
So there I was in the bloody queue again. Maybe it had been a miscommunication and he did not understand that I wanted a “t i m e t a b l e”. A short ten minutes later and two queue jumpers later and I greeted the ticket man with a second smile.
“Can I have a timetable to Delhi please?”
He fired back immediately, “What time?”
Bollox!!! He was having me on, I could nearly see his little fat face grinning. “To Delhi, today, What time?” I retorted.
He looked at his screen. Impossible idiot. “Today…”. He looked up at me, “No ticket for you!”
What hell, bloody little prick! “What do mean no ticket for me?”
“You need to go train station for ticket.” He waggled.
Right, I turned and stormed off. Too much. I grabbed a cycle rickshaw and headed to the station. I was fuming. He was having me on the little prick. I wanted out of Amritsar today, and it was already 10am. I arrived and began after asking a security guard where the tickets to Delhi were began a new queue. A tall Sikh in a long beard barged by me and as a reward got pulled by the hair on the back of his neck back behind me. He started down at me with a glare.
“Queuing for all!” I snarled back.
He merely wobbled his head.
I got to the counter and asked the lady for a ticked to Delhi. No English, next counter. Another queue. Then finally I got a 11.55am ticket placed into my hand, all for 120rps. I walked out of the station slightly stunned. It had been that easy. Something was wrong. I looked at the ticket. 120rps, it was so cheap. Why? I cringed, cattle class. It must have been the worst of the worst. At least I had a ticket, but the fight was not over yet. I headed back to the tourist information office.
The two fat men frowned when they saw me come in. I had a different tactic now. I put the ticket down and smiled, saying I had finally got one. But not from the man at ‘Their’ ticket counter, he had after all refused me a ticket and I had to go to the station myself. But at the same time I think I got the wrong class ticket? Would I be safe on this carriage. I needed to write all this down for my guide book, so could they explain.
The two men mumbled to each other then looked at me with nods. The first took out a pen and paper and wrote something down before handing it to me. It was the office location and name of the station master at the train station, he should help me in getting a ticket, for a 100 rupee tip. I thanked them both. Just before leaving they summoned the little blue jumper suit an over and asked I take him back to their ticket office and point out the man again. I agreed.
I stood at the rear of the queue, hoping to make eye contact with the idiot ticket man. We did. It didn’t take him long to see me there pointing at him. His little eyes darted around to see you I was with, I looked into the crowd and nodded theatrically and then smiled broadly. I looked at him, raised my eyebrows twice and then waved to him before walking away. It was a small psychological victory, but I relished it.
I went to pack my bags, and grabbing some biscuits and chocolate bars on the way for breakfast. My bag was still secure and my things were fine in my locker. I packed all hurriedly and headed out, there was still work to do at the station in regards to getting my ticket upgraded.
A short Sikh stopped my on the way out “And you’re donation?”
I looked at him and frowned, so much for free hospitable accommodation eh? I handed him 100 rp which he took with edestan. It was the right amount for the type of accommodation and services provided. In fact it was too much by 50rps.
Another cycle rickshaw and I was back at the train station in search of office number 5. It took a while as they were ordered in some bizarre unsensible way. But finally I found the station masters office. No one home of course. A young girl seemed to be waiting by his desk. No wait, she worked there.
I told her what happened, and she looked distressed. She asked me to wait as she headed off. It was 11.15 now and the train was due to leave at 11.55am. 30 minutes later a well dressed man in a suit appeared with the girl and then promptly vanished into another office. 5 minutes later he appeared with a smile and a handshake to invite me in. He asked and then listened to my problem. I made mention that I had no problem paying for an upgrade, just to be sure he knew I was willing to pay a little extra.
“No problems, sir! Any ticket you like.” He beamed.
I smiled, “There’s lots of tickets available?”
The man went through the types of ticket, and what you got for you ticket. I went for a 2nd class a/c sleeper. It was however arriving at 8pm. But at least it was a train ticket to Delhi today and it was leaving in 5 minutes.
The journey was uneventful. I had a seat, my bags were safe and the on board food was quite good. I looked at my fake India LP guide book. Even though I was arriving at 8pm it seemed the New Delhi Railway station was across the road from the main road with lots of cheap hotels, Main Bazaar in Paharganj. I sat back and finished a book just as we came into Delhi. I asked a few locals for confirmation. Yes we were in Delhi, but not New Delhi Railway. We were stopping in Old Delhi Railway station. Bollox! It was halfway across the city to Paharganj.
I pushed and shoved my way out of the jam packed train and out onto the heaving throng of people on the platform. Head down I pushed past people and made like I knew exactly where I was going, but really had no clue. Thankfully I must have pushed people out of the way in the right direction as I soon found myself outside in the warm humid air of Delhi. Again people were everywhere, and I forged ahead out onto the street.
Approaching a cycle rickshaw I blurted out “Paharganj, Main Bazaar.”
The man looked at me with glossy eyes, he was drunk “Yes sir, I.. we go..”
I hesitated for a moment, and just as I did another drunk rickshaw owner approached. “No he bad man, no go with him”.
The two men began shouting at one another and before long the newcomer had grabbed hold of my arm while taking a swing at the other man. I instantly pushed him back and shouted profanity at him. I stepped back as the two went at it and nearly got hit by a passing truck and so swung in the opposite direction towards another oncoming truck. I grabbed at the shoulders of the massing crowd around the two fighting rickshaw drivers and pulled myself off the road before pushing open the crowd and crossing over to another section of road.
I waited a minute for the heat to calm down before going back over to another section of the Rickshaw parking area. IT all started again, what do they have an anger allergy to me? I stepped aside this time and spotted a lone young rickshaw driver and beckoned him over while the others fought for my custom. We headed off.
This was an area of Delhi I had not looked at on the map, so for all I knew the young man peddling away like crazy could have been taking me anywhere. After about 20 minutes I was glad to see the lights of New Delhi Railway station. I was even more glad to see the young man ignore the ‘NO CYCLE’ sign of Main Bazaar and continue down the brightly lit road. I had some places marked out. But I wanted to rest well, so we stopped off at the Shelton Hotel. The young driver only wanted 20 rupee. How could I? A 100 Rupee note and a thank you is what he got. The first piece of working transport I had today.
I splurged and for 450 Rupees I got a room with a TV and En suite. There was a restaurant upstairs and I headed up for my first good meal of the day. I noticed they had Beef Steak on the Menu… I was too tired to make sense of it in the land of the sacred cow and instead ordered chicken and mashed potato. At least I was in the land of good food again.
I had a hot shower and climbed into the comfortable bed. I had left my good flip flops in the Golden Temple in my rush to leave earlier. That was two things I had left behind in as many days. Never once so far had I left anything behind. I hoped India was not setting a trend …
Some related links on this website that you might like: (including a lot more photographs from India)
Video: On the Ganges Ceremony
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