|I've become rather addicted to trains since I've been in India. They're a nice way to travel, you can get the overnight sleeper trains (and save on a nights accomodation!) which are pretty comfortable if you go 2AC class and wake up at your destination. With four people in a compartment you can snuggle down in the Indian Railway blankets and get rocked to sleep as the train thunders on through the night. This is just as well because I've been spending a lot of time on trains these last few days. My journey from Jaisalmer to Amritsar took twenty seven hours. But the goings on that happen on the train are more than enough to stave off boredom, who needs and in-flight film when you have India for entertainment!
Lets start with the food. There is no chance of starving to death on a train as there's a constant stream of people selling peanuts, crisps, samosas, veg cutlets, idlies, fruit, you name it plus the ubiquitous teas sellers passing every two minutes calling "chai, chai, garam garam, chai" (or something like that!). If you're not satisfied with the food on the move as soon as you pull up at a station little wagons selling all sorts of tasty morsels parade up and down in front of the windows. Lots of the stations are apparently famous for one dish or another. Once you've fed your face you can do some shopping for books, socks, hankies, strange fluorescent fluffy gonks on elastic, all manner of eclectically bizarre items.
Then the entertainment starts I've seen clowns, contortionists, tambourine bangers, singers, acrobats, girls on rocking horses, mice and packs of transvestites that come to touch your head (for money obviously!) which I'm sure has some cultural reference that I'm lacking (explanation Ricky?). You never know what's coming next. When that gets dull you can turn to your fellow passengers for amusement. I've met so many interesting people on the trains but the biscuit was taken on this particular journey by a critically ill heart patient. As we drew into Jodhpur station a woman was brought onto the train on a stretcher and deposited on the berth below mine. She was accompanied by her cardiologist and six tearful members of her family. Apparently she was in urgent need of heart surgery and was being taken to Delhi for treatment. She couldn't go by air or road as the journey would have killed her. There seemed to be some significant doubt as to whether we would wake up to a corpse in the morning but thankfully she survived.
As dawn breaks you can look out of the window as the mists swirl round the country side and the first rays of sun reveal... people taking a shit mostly. The areas next to train tracks seem to be the local municipal toilet. The funniest out of window scene I've had was the novelty item seller who was having an early morning dump while holding a huge bunch of multi-coloured helium filled balloons! Other than that the country side is littered with interesting villages and lots and lots of plastic bags. Honestly, if an alien landed in India it would think that cows were some sort of ruling class and that the main component of the bovine diet was the plastic bag. As you near big cities you get a glimpse of the slum communities that seem to teem along major train routes like little grubby villages with their own characteristic, buzzing lifestyle.
Anyway enough of trains, next thing you know I'll be wearing an anorak with fur around the hood and sipping weak lemon squash from a Thermos. I arrived in Amritsar late at night which I have to say is a shite-hole, not that that is unusual in India of course. The main reason for coming here was to see the famous Sikh Golden temple. The temple it'self is indeed almost worth coming to Amritsar to see. It's a peaceful haven from the chaos surrounding it and the Sikhs seem to have a genuine spiritual attitude going on. Nobody wants money off you, all are welcome in the temple and they offer a free meal to anyone who wants it twenty four hours a day. The golden building houses the sacred book and there is the sound of chanting broadcast from the inner sanctum all around the temple which is actually quite nice. All very peaceful which is just as well as I was having a "bad India day" of it and needed someplace to time-out in. I'm starting to feel suffocated by being here and I need to get out ASAP. I'm imagining this is what Dan and Hazel felt like on this journey last year. So one more stop to go...