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.
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.