This is a grubby little town, similar to Aurangabad. It is dusty hot, essentially “Arid” all over. That is fine though as we only have one night here before continuing our journey up to Agra.
Despite the general grime of the town, due to its position on the railway line it has become a hub market town and is on the silk route north. There are tailors abound and actually on organised ‘shopping street’ that is in marked contrast to the rest of the place. Suits, shirts and Salwar Kameez’s (ladies trouser and long dress and scarf combo) were the order of the day, but we only perused the Salwar’s for Laura, as I am only trying to reduce what I am carrying and not gain more stuff, that tends to accumulate over time by default. My 4 items of clothing are also holding firm and my washing routine including Rs1 washing powder sachet can wash 3 items with no problem and is just enough to keep me fresh!
After walking along and spying some material that would suit Laura over the street, through my broken Hindi, sign language and persistence pointed us towards a market where we could turn the it into a Salwaar. Using the vague directions we found a man with a sewing machine, who quoted us double to what we were told, but as we had 5 hours left in the place figured that was fine as long as he produced it in time.
As a small town the people here stare at you a lot more, especially Laura and don’t feel at all bad at stopping in the street to just gawk at you. So it was not a surprise that there was a gathering of heads facing us and watching us and the situation unfold. We thought nothing of it. That was until we came to do the measurements and failed to consider the social complexities we were dealing with. A lady needs a lady tailor on the street, because of the need of touching the lady. As a result we were being pointed to a ladies tailor further down into the market, but due to the Indian people’s permanent “yes of course as long as you are giving me money attitude” mentioned nothing of it. People all around found this very amusing indeed.
The Hotel Plaza was the only real saving grace of the place for us, as the staff were interesting to talk to and very helpful indeed, which we are finding to be very rare traits of Indian people without an anterior motive. This was a Lonely Planet recommendation due to its cleanliness, but we are finding more and more that we don’t agree with most of the opinions given and so are using it less and less as a decision making tool of any kind- a good thing. The drawback we felt of the place was that it only let Westerners stay there and so as a “Our Pick” have concluded that the Lonely Planet is keen to keep everyone well within the ‘path well trodden’ and that we try to avoid.
The protectionist nature of Hotel Plaza was somewhat justified however, as reading on the steps of the hotel you would attract a group of people who would just stand and stare at you. Apparently this is because most of the people walking by have just come from the train station and are country people who rarely see Westerners. Either way it is a pain having your reading and Chai efforts continually interrupted by people asking the same boring, generic questions;
“Hello, where you from?”
“What your name?”
“My name x……”
Then queue a silence and the guy (always, as women will never approach and talk they just look at you like you are wearing pants on your head with war paint on or something else massively inappropriate) will then just stand and look at us or ask some random question like;
“What Hotel Management like in UK?” (sic to this and everything above in speech brackets!)
As a commuter town it is a strange situation to be looking out and seeing a constant stream of people walking by in uniform spacing. I counted 27 people per 20 seconds, which usefully I thought meant that to see the whole 1.09 billion people in India at this rate would take 25.58574 years. Hmmmn, anyway, you do have time to think about this kind of core issue when traveling and give yourself space!
After a while you start to get used to the gormless comments and ignoring people is now a lot easier, although I’d rather say after the introductory comments “I’m sorry gumby you faded out there… what was that you fancy my girlfriend do ya- well gutted. Bye!”
So next day I asked the Hotel Manager.
“I have a question for you… why do the Indian people stare at us so much?”, I inquire.
“Well… let me tell you something and what I think and I’ll be frank. They look at Madam. Now, I know you people. I have been here 20 years and know white skin and how you are. But these people have not, they only know this area. In your culture you have lots of freedoms; sex before marriage, but here sex only after marriage and young people are very frustrated. Some people are only married at 28 or more, so from 16 – 28 they are frustrated.
If a lady is standing outside the front here smoking then I advise her to come inside, otherwise people will stop and stare. These people, especially the uneducated think the girl is a hippy and easy if she smokes. There was a problem in the 70’s when all the hippies came to India. They smoked drugs, sunbathed and walked around naked. So people now often think white people are all hippies- free and easy, so they might have a chance (with a lady). The trouble is the more they stare the more their mind is working and this can lead to trouble. People in India are good people, they care about their local community, most people are scared about what people think of them. If madam was to start to shout, people would go away quickly, as they care about what their community think.”
“Ok, so how can I tell people in Hindi to have respect?”
“Tamiez Rakier” (Phonetic spelling only!)
So the next day glad to be leaving we arrived at the station, but no train on screen. Laura panics.. is this the right station, have we missed it, is this the right date etc…. Turns out the train is 16hrs late! Damn, ok back to Plaza, who still had our room in the same condition. Right…. we deserve a beer!
Recommended the Bombay Hotel halfway down the 2 minute walk between the hotel and station we enter. Men… everywhere. Hmmmn that generally means a bar in the traditional sense of a male only drinking hole, oh well it was Laura’s idea (as I still had a recovering stomach), we are up for it anyway, let’s go… We were ushered into the back room. One loud man with a table of 3 quiet goons insisted on ‘making friends’ and especially picked up on Laura’s order of a large beer, the same as mine. “You know… this is bad, no no, women should not drink” the man directs at me. Again it is clear this is going to be a difference of woman’s place in society and this also means that the women are not spoken to but the men have ‘issues’ directed at them.
After forcibly discussing some of the merits of the difference in culture, India’s beauty and the usual topics of our status in society I was told, “Hey, have some of this (whiskey) in your beer, it is really good”. Well, obviously I am not stupid enough to think this was done, but after 5 minutes of continual harassment I give in and think go on then I’ve had worse and if it feeds your small ego then great. After a half shot is added and I drink it laughter erupts and the whole place thinks this is hilarious.
“Good?” the man asks sarcastically.
“Fine” I retort “is that what your are drinking?”
“No I don’t drink that”
“You should try it, it is really good. Here have some beer in your whiskey and lemonade”.
“No” the guy insists in the same manner as I was in 10 minutes ago.
“Go on…”, I say pouring it in anyway.
Unhappy about the turn in the situation and the establishment’s eyes fixed on what is happening. So the guy tries it and winces, everyone laughs and settles down.
“Have a bottle of rum with me”, the man says next. Oh bloody hell my acceptance and diffusion didn’t really work, but in retrospect it was unlikely to, but with a love of situational experimentation it was worth a go. I am not up for a bottle of rum really due to my stomach, but can always have a few rum and coke’s and the 180ml bottles are not heavy duty. The guy is slurring from one, so let’s match him and see how things pan out…
“Ok, if you are buying”, I say
“OF COURSE!”, he replies
Using the guys directions on how I should pour a rum and coke (I usually have it two thirds coke and a third rum, if not have half, so the measures I am given are fine with me.
“Strong?”, he asks
“Sure”, I reply
He is finally happy about getting the English guy drunk, but when in reality I could drink another. Finally after we finish the bottle the guy is now looking worse for wear. He staggers to the toilet and I suspect a little too long. After coming back he tells us we have to go, which I found hilarious. He really does think he is the man. Well turns out he was the mayor of Jalgaon’s husband and the 3 other guys really were his goons. No wonder that they were not taking part in any banter aimed at us or at them. We walk back to the hotel drained from the intensity of the situation and bellowing of the guys loud mouth and return to the hotel. After mentioning the situation to the manager he tells us that the local government are massively corrupt (more than usual in India) and really arrogant, power hungry people with low moral value. So our conclusions were pretty spot on then.
The next day it was time to leave again. We arrive at the station and waited for an hour on the platform. Having another look the train had become another 6 hours late. A wait on the platform then? No, let’s go to lunch in the same place! Returning to the station again the train was another 2 hours late, but surprisingly we both were taking this in our stride and made me realise that we were now accustomed to this kind of thing and ‘Indianised’ in the lack of information, certainty of anyone in the country about anything, events that are possible and the rest. We were slowly seeing what the real India is like.
After a 24 hour delay we finally boarded our sleeper cabin, where we found a lovely Indian family going on holiday up north to see family. They moved about to accommodate us and we dug in for the night. Sleeper trains really are great. You are sweaty, it is hot and noisy. Chai walla’s (“tea men”) shouting till late, but everything has an amazing charm that I will cherish as a key part of traveling in India. The windows are open so you can see the country flow past, at night the breeze makes it warm enough to not need anything to sleep with, but not too warm. The price is half of any AC train and people bring their own food because they are poorer than those traveling in AC class. Throughout the night I dozed, woke up every few hours, got off the train and had a brief look around, bought some chai and then got back on the train before reading some more of “The Darma Bums” book by Jack Kerouac (perfect for such an occasion) and then fell asleep again.
Waking up in the morning with the world still whizzing by is another moment that makes you smile. The landscape transformed. Now there were hills of dusty rock formations, wide gorges and arid landscape. We had hit the Rajastani desert. Another 6 hours of training through an increasingly dry land we arrived in Agra, 26 hours late.