Having seemingly already given up on catching our connecting flight to Udaipur, we brainstorm our next options.
Do we completely write off the Udaipur flight and head straight to the train station in the hope of getting an overnight train to Udaipur, Jaipur, or just anywhere other then Delhi? The only thing we knew for sure was that we weren’t staying in Delhi, whatever happens.
After checking our itineraries we realize that we arrive in Terminal 3 in Delhi but depart from Terminal 1, which we now find out is a half hour journey. How a journey between two terminals can be half an hour I’m not sure, but it wasn’t looking good.
We are due to land in India 30 minutes before our next flight departs, so even if we are able to slip through customs without issue and activate our tourist visa, we still have to get to the other terminal, check-in, clear security and board the flight all within about 15 minutes. The chances looked slim to none, but inspired by Mairead’s optimism we decided to give it a go anyway.
The flight landed and we raced off the aircraft and down to customs. Waking up one of the customs officers who didn’t look too happy with our urgency, we were granted our tourist visas in less than 5 minutes, a surprisingly fast time considering our preconceptions.
Racing out of the airport we speak to a couple of people who point us in the direction of the taxi rank that we need to get to the other terminal. Our first quote seemed wildly overpriced but we managed to find a prepaid booth with a far more reasonable price to drop us off. Almost as if he had sensed our urgency, the driver races away his tiny car, laughing madly, as we speed our way towards Terminal 1.
We check our watch and calculate that we will be arriving at the airport as the flight is due to take off, which was in 5 minutes. By this stage, despite our speedy progress, we had resigned ourselves to missing the flight and start to take in our surroundings. Although we passed nothing spectacular, we were in good spirits with a positive feeling about India, perhaps it won’t quite be the stressful gauntlet we had anticipated and braced ourselves for.
Pulling up to the terminal we jump out of the taxi, dodging the half-joking half-serious requests for extra money from the driver and run full speed into the departure area, to the bemusement of all Indians present. We spot the SpiceJet check-in and race towards it, but noone is in sight. A man suddenly appears from the other side and beckons us over, we quickly explain our predicament and the man takes us over to an extremely bored-looking woman, who checks us in with barely a word.
We barely believe that we have the boarding passes in our hand! That must be a good sign I thought, as we race our way to security.
There wasn’t much of a line up, but every search seemed to be taking an eternity, as our patience waned thinner and thinner. Mairead darted into women’s queue and we agreed to meet again at the gate, as hopefully she could delay the flight until I was through.
A nervous 5 or 10 minutes passed before I was through, as I raced away to look for the gate. After being pointed in the right direction I sped down some escalators and caught the sight of Mairead standing near a desk. Catching up to her, we weren’t sure quite what happened.
Exasperated we clambered to the front of the queue and asked if it was our flight, barely believing we could have made it, but we had! High-fiving and dancing around like we had won second prize in meat raffle, we were met with even more bemused looks. Mairead ran off for a celebratory urination, as an Indian chap turned around and laughed ‘In India, you never need to rush’. He certainly turned out to be right, as the plane had been delayed. Hooray for Indian punctuality!
Aboard the propeller plane we couldn’t stop shaking our heads, glad not to be dealing with Delhi’s carnage on Republic Day (a large celebration), we were on track for our rough plan.
On arriving in to Udaipur we completely lucked out on a lake-front view in a converted castle, just below a restaurant that Mairead had found. Luckily there was a free room, and the price was unbelievably-cheap for such a stunning view. Things seemed almost too good to be true, as we collapsed onto the bed with relief and delight, before dining upstairs overlooking the lake and city.
Udaipur is a simply magical place, full of rooftop restaurant restaurants, cafes and bars, with the perfect mix of authenticity and sightseeing. A great place to relax, unwind and recharge the batteries for a few days, it provided the perfect gentle introduction to India.
We ticked off some boxes doing some evening yoga (far too advanced for us, lets never do it again) and a cooking cause at an Indian families house, but sadly, like everything, it descended into one big sales pitch for their shop. That and the constant imploring of us to write a TripAdvisor review began to become tiring fast, particularly when a couple of places started to dictate the exact words we should write – and we don’t even use TripAdvisor!
A comical addition to Udaipur was that seemingly every place had live showings of the James Bond film Octopussy, literally every night, as it was filmed in the city. Somehow we managed to avoid all viewings during our time there, and as the third day drew to a close it was time to move on. As blissful as the city and experience had been, it was time to see some action.
Leaving it late to book a sleeper compartment on the train, the only seats that were available were economy sleepers, with very little emphasis on the word sleep. As soon as we got to the train station, dropped off by a jovial tuk-tuk rider, more of the ‘real’ India began to emerge.
People and families were asleep all over the station, many of them looking like they were living there permanently, as we caught a glimpse of the aging, intimidating train that would be ours. The smell of piss and shit greeted us as we boarded the train and found what would be our beds for the night. A piece of canvas stretched across two metal forks would be our home for the night, with these ‘beds’ crammed three high in places, fitting 7 or 8 people per cubicle. It certainly wasn’t going to be the most private or relaxing experience, that was for sure.
We climbed up to our bunks adjacent to each other, where I managed to just about fit myself lying down, legs slightly at an angle and with my bag curled up next to me. Not so bad I thought, surely I could get some sleep on this. I was still a little excited for the train journey, though looking across at Mairead who had gone whiter then a sheep, I realized this was not reciprocal.
The next 8 hours were a blur of pockets of sleep, dispersed with loud kids screaming and locals talking at the tops of their voices as they rumble around the train, getting on and off at various stops. The smell of shit and piss drifts out from the toilet area, as streaks of questionable liquid start to seep further and further from the toilet and through the train. It certainly wasn’t the most pleasurable experience, but an experience it was. I didn’t have to even ask Mairead if another night train was out of the question, as she’d long stopped having the ability to talk.
Things didn’t get much better as we arrived into Jaipur at around 5 or 6am in the morning, mentally unprepared through a lack of sleep for the barrage of touts outside the train station. It felt like we had turned into an incarnation of Princess Diana returning from the dead and walking through a busy London underground.
Battling ourselves through the crowd in what I hope is the right direction, we manage to lose the last of the touts after a solid 5 minutes of fast walking, finding ourselves in one of the less glamorous areas of Jaipur, to put it mildly.
Then begun the hotel-hop, as it turns out there are dozens of ‘OYO Rooms’ in the Jaipur area. An hour or so is spent walking into various hotels, usually waking up the unfortunate workers to check if we are at the right place. Continually we are wrong and are redirected back in a different way, each time the wrong directions, before eventually finding our hotel before the sun had peaked its head.
The door is locked as we begin to lightly tap on the door of the hotel, as we see two figures sleeping in the reception area. We start to knock firmly, until we are reduced to a louder thud before they wake up and let us in. To say they aren’t in a good mood is an understatement, as they start the usual meticulous and ridiculous process of logging pointless information into a comically-sized hotel log book. This was proceed by the usual 10 minutes to find our India stamps within our passport, despite numerous offers for me to find it for them.
Eventually and somewhat surprisingly we are given the keys to a room, despite the extremely early check-in. The room doesn’t look too bad at first glance as Mairead showers, then forces me to shower, removing any trace of the night train that we knowingly both avoid talking about. The loud noise of a TV comes on and echoes up through the staircase at a sleep-interruptingly loud noise. I check the window, thinking it may be open, to discover that a couple of panes are missing entirely.
A neighbours toilet echoes through the half-empty window and for a moment it feels like someone is actually using our own toilet. We laugh at the futility of getting some much needed sleep, switch the TV on to find BBC News and try to drift ourselves off to some sort of sleep.
It doesn’t really work, and to make matters worse Mairead begins to feel ill, before turning white and proceeding to throw up anything that she tries to hold down. The next 2 days we barely leave the room, thankful that we aren’t on the road but just surviving each hour as it comes.
While we are holed up in the hotel with 3 walls, I take the chance to try a number of different Indian dishes, all of which were different levels of deliciousness. Guilty that Mairead is unable to hold down to even a few mouthfuls of a packet tomato soup, I didn’t help matters with comments like ‘ah.. this so good! Oof.. I didn’t need all of that, I’m being a pig!’.
The Dum Aloo was a particular favourite, as was the strange process of ordering the food via phoning reception, and then eating on the rooftop (not as glamorous as it sounds), while playing the ‘spot how many people are riding the Metro’ game. As it turns out, nobody seems to ride the Metro.
We (or rather I) were fortunate enough to have sports on the hotel’s TV, to which we amused ourselves watching Pro Kabaddi, pretending to know what was going on. On the next day Mairead was feeling and looking much better, and we set out from the shady area of the railway station into the City itself. Renting a tuk-tuk for the day, our driver showed us around most of the sights that Jaipur had to offer. While being impressive in their own right, it’s not somewhere I’d recommend on anyone’s bucket list. The one sight that was truly spectacular, for bizarre reasons, was the monkey temple. Nestled out of the main centre of Jaipur, this strange place is home to a large number of random animals, seemingly just wondering around with no worries in the world.
There is a temple a the top of the small hill that you walk up, but the majority of action is in the first half of the walk, as monkeys walk next to you within touching distance, next to cows, pigs, goats and dogs all wandering around having a grand old time. A quick visit here and you’ll never need to visit a zoo ever again. Despite questioning our driver on why the animals were here, particularly the pigs, we couldn’t seem to get a decent answer, so who knows?
Loud, crowded, dirty and full of people trying to take your money, it wasn’t with any regret when we departed Jaipur on a day train to Agra the following day. Not before an epic battle of ‘train ticket reservation’, highlighting India’s bizarre and frustrating bureaucratic processes.
A truly epic battle in its own right, give yourself plenty of patience and time in order to obtain a train ticket reservation in advance is some solid advice. Queuing at multiple windows to then be told to queue at other windows, then having to manually fill in a form with all of the train details, and all of this before you even know if there are any seats on that particular train.
All of the staff appear to be in competition with each other to win the daily worst customer service award. It almost appeared that the longer and more anguish they can cause the customer in the process, then the better job they have done.
We think we have finally cracked it, as we reach the front of the window for the second time until the man demands a ‘xerox copy’ of our passports. We take this to mean a photocopy, and try in vain to show our original copies for whatever reason he needs it, but he won’t budge, and of course they don’t have a photocopier that you can use. No hints or tips are given at where we can get a photocopy, and worse still is that he is demanding the payment for both our train tickets right now.
He says that once we produce a photocopy he will pass us our tickets, and while we are almost definite we are at the official reservation office, handing over that size of money in one go without having the tickets left us very sceptical. With a large and restless queue building up behind us, it was a tricky situation and a number of times we asked to see the tickets so we could at least check what we were paying for. He was holding all of the aces, exercising his full control in a ‘I don’t give a shit if you drop down dead in front of me’ attitude.
Unless we wanted to go through this soul destroying purchasing process again we had little choice and gave him the money before sprinting out of the train station in search of somewhere to get a photocopy. Half hour later we were back at the reservation office, trying to catch his attention while he delivered further misery on would-be customers.
We must have caught his eye, as suddenly changing into something resembling a normal human he gave us a wide laugh and passed us the tickets, like we had completed the last stage of a puzzle. We had done it, secured our tickets and celebrated with another high five and hug, the Indian version of crystal maze had been conquered. We later read up in a travel guide that this particular reservation office was considered efficient.
The next day we were on the train to Agra, though truthfully neither of us were particularly looking forward to the ordeal that we know awaited us, at a place that even for India’s standards, was considered a hole.
‘I thought you wanted to go to Agra?’
‘No, I thought it was you who wanted to go?’