Author Archives: siewfan

3 Traveling East

The New Delhi station, at 4 in the afternoon, as expected was chaotic. Full of sights, sounds, smells, and touch to engage every sense. But my eyes failed to detect any indication that said that the Poorva Express is on this platform. I asked a reasonably dressed gentleman on the teeming stairs. I don’t know how he knew, but he got it right. Point to note: never be fool enough to go against the flow of the teeming masses on the stairs of a major train station, and if you do, follow in the shadow of the only other fool.

So here I am sitting somewhat comfortably with all body parts intact. We are moving in a south-easterly direction towards Gaya. This train terminates in Calcutta. It is not quite the Orient Express but it’s civilized enough. The 2nd class Air-Con coach is apparently the preferred mode of travel for many middle-class Indians and business people. I like taking long journeys by train. It’s a respite, a state of animated suspension. I’ve got a lower side berth with a reading light and picture window. Unfortunately the bulb is missing, but the window, although quite streaky offers a rural green India under a soft golden sunset. And just for punctuation, a few smoke stacks and some random garbage that had been chucked out of moving trains.

The flask of hot chai, fragrant and sweet is very good – 5 rupees. The train attendant just brought the bedding. Someone else will bring a thali dinner. I again am able to wax lyrical about the romance and adventure of India. “Happy Holi” people are wishing each other. So far, so good.

1 Day in Delhi


Sadhu and his holy cow

Sadhu and his holy cow


I have just come to India with no exact plan in mind, and now the fun starts.
March 4th
I’ve arrived in New Delhi and got picked up from the airport (as arranged) by the guesthouse people with whom I was staying. I didn’t really want to arrive in the death of night in the chaos of Delhi and have to fight my way pass the outrageous taxi-wallahs to get to the guesthouse, or not.  
My previous impression of this vast and chaotic place holds firm. It is noisy, dusty, smelly, dirty but full of interesting moments, many are picture perfect but one has got to be fast with the camera. I’m just spending the day getting acquainted with my immediate environment in Connaught Place, the middle of Delhi. A number of touts come up and try to strike up a conversation or offer help. The trick is to stride purposefully even though one has no idea of where one is going, I’m quite a natural at that. The rambling, crumbling buildings and lively street markets are really great. The immense train station with its multitudes (all with suitcases on their heads) is national geographic material. It’s just too much of a hassle to whip out the camera and dodge bikes, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and wave touts away at the same time. For respite, I duck into bookshops and restaurants. 
Tomorrow I take a half day tour with the official tourism authority of Delhi and then head out to bodhgaya on the overnight train, 2nd class air-con, booked over the internet, fairly painless. Equally painless was the picking up of the ticket from room 17 of the railways reservation complex (it was quite a complex), but I noticed the conspicuous absence of computers from desks. I had to fill up a form and watch the guy transcribe the information into 2 different notebooks, by hand, and then pull out an envelope from the stash in his desk. It was postmarked, so perhaps the ticket was issued at yet another railway complex.   

There seems to be an abundance of structures called “public convenience” around the place, but only for men, where do the women pee? Granted, there aren’t that many women walking the streets of Delhi.

Oh, and my room at the C.H. Chaudhary Guesthouse for Paying Guests is one of those projects made by the guy who graduated last in architect school. There are 2 sets of electrical switches by the shower, and in general there are 4 or 5 times more switches in the room than there are gadgets. The building is leaning dangerously and there are no windows. It was recommended by the Lonely Planet guide for India and was cheap. 

Had a nice chapatti lunch and some lassi, and I’m now waiting to see if I get the famous Delhi-belly. My doctor in Singapore has armed me with lomotil and rehydrating salts just in case.

In many ways Delhi reminds me of Beijing. It is a city doing what over-populated, under managed cities do. Everyday she cranks away, belching smoke and oozing sludge, striving to accommodate all and sundry, from the teeming populous to the gawking foreigners to the orange roped sadhu and his holy cow. But where the Beijing aura is a grey brown, Delhi’s is a golden brown.









2 The Day After


The Lotus Temple

The Lotus Temple


This day had begun at 6.16 this morning when I rolled over and snoozed for 8 more minutes. After the usual fumbling with luggage, I woke Mr. Das from his slumber on the mat he shared with Dinesh. It is not quite clear what Dinesh’s role in the guesthouse is, but Mr. Das, the manager cries out his name regularly.

Having ditched my armoured backpack in the miniscule lobby of the H.K. Choudhary Guesthouse for Paying Guests, I set out to the L-block of Connaught Place to “report no later than 7.45” for my 200 rupees 1/2 day city tour by A/C coach. “This coach is an Air-con coach. When you want air con you will please let me know”. Ramesh, the elderly tour guide is temperamental like Mr. Das. They switch between confident and friendly, and surly & curt. Is this part of the Indian psyche? At once proud of India’s long lineage and embarrassed by her stagnation, Ramesh pointed out proudly the squat Air India HQ, the ugly new hotels along with the elements of the British Raj – the president’s house etc. He was in no uncertain terms annoyed with the French Canadian’s constant inattention to his laboured narrative. Ramesh, you see, is asthmatic and he deserved some consideration for that.

We visited several overpriced World Heritage monuments that incidentally looked like they were in need of the fees. What were rather impressive were the Jantar Mantar, several geometrically attractive buildings which was used as calendar and clock, and Hamayun’s (spell?)tomb, built by his grieving empress. This you see, was conceived by a woman, and later apparently used as a model by a grieving Shah Jahan. This was the precursor to the Taj Mahal. The Bahai Lotus temple was spectacular and clean, serene. Even the loos looked like they belonged in a nice hotel. The last stop was the inevitable handicraft shop; very nice, very expensive. They served us free Kashmiri tea. With a half hour to spare before the train, I ducked into an internet shop. The floor was of patterned marble, beautifully laid. There seems to be a profusion of marble in Delhi, even in the loos of these matchbox sized offices and small businesses.