After a couple of days we had to get out of Delhi and start our Indian odyssy proper so I decided to organise the train tickets. We had to get to Agra, Jaipur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur, all of which are in Rajastan bar Agra which is in Uttar Pradesh. I knew there was a train to Agra at 4 o’clock in the afternoon so that would be the first ticket to organize.Thinking that this would take and hour max , I got a rickshaw and asked him to drop me off at foreigners ticket desk at New Delhi Station which is ten minutes away from our hotel .
My driver pulled up at some part of New Delhi station and pointed me in the direction of the foreigners desk, which I couldn’t see and which wasn’t signposted. I walked through and asked this fellah who kindly said he was going home and would walk me past the ticket desk. I suddenly realised that this friendly chap was a tout and was walking me away from the ticket desk towards an agents shop at whose doors he left me with a cheery goodbye. I walked through the door and there were two guys there waiting at the foot of the stairs. I immediately turned around and left the two guys calling after me went out the door and ran into the first friendly fellah, who hadn’t gone home, I carreered past him and headed back in the direction of the station. All three calling after me, ‘what’s wrong’ ‘why you go, we are only trying to help you sir’.
I have lost another 20 minutes with this detour, and I still don’t know where the ticket desk is, I ask another Seikh chap who starts off by telling me he is just on his way home and will walk me by the ticket desk, I show him the hand and continue walking to a familiar chant ‘whats wrong, why you go, I am only trying to help you sir’!
I eventually get directions that work by stopping at the gates of the North Indian Railway Men’s Association and explaining my plight to an assortment of railway men. Everyone I ask for directions seems to be going home and are intent on bringing me further away from the ticket desk than from where I started. They all nodded sagely and shook their heads, aware of the scam and happy to help. With the correct directions I headed to the foreigners ticket desk. At the station a very tall agressive fellah tries to stop me going up the stairs, he’s shouting at me ‘what do you want,nothing to see up there, nothing to see”, I ignore him, take the stairs two at a time, turn the corner and see the magic sign, FOREIGNERS TICKET DESK. The foreigners ticket desk is on the first floor above the entrance concourse at New Delhi Station no matter what anyone says to you.
At the foreigners ticket desk you walk in and there are two queues both doing the same thing. Just to your left is the information help desk, information is provided in an unfriendly manner, however unlike a lot of things in India it is information that you can depend on. I am informed that because the train is leaving in less than 4 hours the desk cannot issue tickets as they don’t issue tickets so close to departure, however there are tickets availalable from hatch 61 downstairs in the station. I enquire about getting from Agra to Jaipur and am told that there are no AC ( Air Condition 1st, 2nd or 3rd) class tickets available. Lisa will throw a freaker with this. I get return tickets to Delhi and tickets from Delhi on to Jaipur, 3rd class AC sleeper, she’s not going to like it, however the alternative is to travel by road or to fly everywhere. By road is a definite no go. The roads are mental, the driving is mental, and both myself and Lisa would be mental after more than a half an hour with our kids in an enclosed metal box, it probably wouldn’t be too good for the children either. Flying is way too stressful, getting too airports, ticket queues, baggage check in queues, security queues, passport queues, being herded around like livestock, no the only way to travel short to medium distances in India is by rail.
There are people from everywhere at this ticket desk, Japanese, American, British, Israeli and the paddy .
I get to see my first real hippie, a throwback to the sixties, he is sitting there dressed in just the skimpiest pair of shorts with a pair of sandals a small purse on a string around his shoulders and a pair of spectacles on his nose. He is skin and bone with bleached blonde hair and leathery sun dried skin, even he needs to go somewhere. I think about the mountains of shit we have with us, and him, Mr. Travelsuperlight.
I then head down to get tickets at hatch 61, where I am approached more than once to be told that it is only for Indians and that I cannot buy tickets here, I join the jostling mob that is supposed to be the queu. Order is kept by a bloke in a worn out uniform with a bamboo pole which he uses liberally to keep some semblence of order. I get up close to him and he spy’s me. I mop my brow, and he nods at me as if to say too hot for this lark, which it is. Imagine going to see your favourite football team and the last bit just before you go through the turnstyles, that’s what this is like. I get to the hatch and hand in my ticket request and am issued my tickets. It’s easy once you know how, its finding out the how that is the hardest part.
Five hours later I return to the hotel to check out , get the bags , kids and wife . By the time I get there we have missed our train to Agra and have to start the process all over again.