Night Train to Jaipur and DJ Rants
Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
165Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
These travelers can kiss my ass.
Eleven years ago when I started traveling, I was one of these types. If it would save me fifty cents, I would sleep in a ditch full of sewer run off (or what is simply called a ditch in a developing country). Don't get me wrong, I love these travelers. They are cute. They are poor, wide eyed, overly confident in their own coping skills and opinions of themselves, always up for something new, and always can tell you where the best dope in the country is (usually near a beach or in the mountains). They also engage in a subtle, unspoken game of one upmanship with other travelers - who is the poorest, who went where first, who paid the least for their baggy Himalayan clown pants, and who has the scraggiest beard. They are fun, have great stories, and tend to smell bad. Again, I say this out of love, having been one myself many years ago.
I am now 34. I have back issues. I have knee issues. I have stomach issues. Don't get me wrong. I'm up for it. I'm hardcore. I've pooped in more than my share of holes in the ground, and been subject to God knows how many near death experiences on public transport all over the world. But dammit, if by paying an extra $1.50 I get a real bed, and the possibility of a private toilet to nurse my ravaged bowels, I'm taking it.
Sorry, got a bit off track there. Where was I?
Ah, yes. Sleeper class. For a nominal fee, Danayi and I caught the train from Varanasi to Jaipur. Actually, due to a mistake on my part, I had booked the tickets to Jodhpur, another four or five hours past Jaipur. Considering we where crossing across a good chunk of the country for only a few dollars, we decided to get off at Jaipur, our original destination. We left around seven pm, sharing our seats with two Indian couples, one young and one much older.
Sleeper class works like this. During the day light hours, everyone sits on the bottom seats, facing each other. Bags are shoved under the seats as best as possible. Throughout the day, men travel the length of the train yelling "Chai! Chai!", the sweet milky Indian tea that is a national obsession. For a few rupees, you can buy a plastic glass full. Other vendors wander occasionally throughout the train selling everything from crisps to biscuits to curried vegetable patties. Arrival at a station sees an increased bustle as people fight to get their bags off the train, competing with the vendors and beggars who rush onto the train during its brief stop, hoping for a little business or pity.
As the evening comes, your little compartment prepares for the night. Above the bottom seats, are two cushioned slabs that swing down level, stopped by chains attaching them to the wall. Depending on your seat number (and wonderfully, sleeper class guarantees you a seat), you crawl onto your bed. Danayi and I were on the top bunks, giving us about two and a half feet of space to squeeze into between the bed and the roof.
On the night train from Agra to Varanasi, Danayi and I had splashed out rather lavishly to buy 2AC berths. These turned out quite nice with much more head space (only two bunks instead of three), and even linen, blankets, and pillows. We forgot that sleeper class didn't have blankets. Seeing as it was mid-Winter, the open windowed sleeper car was freezing. It was a glacial, miserable night.
Eventually, about 30 hours after setting off, we arrived in Jaipur. We were in Rajasthan.
Jaipur was, well· Jaipur was· annoying mostly. Yes, there were some beautiful palaces, an amazing old observatory with the world's largest sundial, a winding old city. But there was a lot of hassle. Now I don't mind hassle usually. For almost two years, I've been dealing with every street hustler, would be pickpocket, beggars, touts, hawkers, and I was fine. But this time it was different. The difference was traveling with another person.
Danayi is a wonderful amazing person. She's is funny, patient, intelligent, up for trying new things and taking chances. She is also black. Not an issue to me whatsoever, but apparently a big issue for India in general. In Africa, I had been often the target of discrimination, being white in a generally black continent. To my discomfort, this was often positive discrimination, being treated better than others might be, simply because of my skin colour. Being a former history teacher, and fully aware of the historic issues that white men had brought to Africa during the past 300 years or more, I often marveled at how well I was treated, and was humbled by the consistent acts of kindness shown me.
Say what you will to me. I'm pretty laid back, easy going, a hard guy to get a real rise out of. I love the chaos of travel and new cultures, and everything that goes with it. But, put me with a friend, someone I care about, and treat them poorly - well, we're going to have issues. Gradually we got used to the stares - any woman who travels in India has to or she will go insane in the first three days here. If a group of two or three young men got a bit too obvious with their stares, I would step into their line of view and give them my best death look (which is quite good after 6 years teaching high school). They would most often flush, turn away hurriedly, and walk away as fast as they could. When surrounded by a group of 100 men in a train station, all leering, there is little we could do (short of me starting a brawl), so you learnt to simply ignore them.
It was the race thing that was harder. India was not pleasant on that aspect. In Varanasi, a young man came up and pointed at Danayi saying "You are too black! You are too black!" Flustered and not thinking my quickest I think I replied, "No, she's just right. She's beautiful." Yeah, that will show him. Often when we walked down the street, black and white, people would come out and simply ogle us with slack jawed wonder. These types were fine. It was when they would look at us, then at Danayi and start laughing and yelling things to each other. While maintaining my cool most times, I admit to telling off a group of school boys at the fort in Jodhpur, yelling something like would they look at their mothers and sisters like that. I also punched a rickshaw in Bikaner and scared the shit out of a group of about five men who had been hanging out the rickshaw staring, laughing, and leering. It took off very quickly. Many of the people were even darker skinned than Danayi, but still showed the same type of behaviour.
I know I am behind in this blog, as I am currently in Nepal while writing this, but I bring it up because this soured my view of India. Again, I don't seem to care what most people try to do to me, but attack or belittle, or discriminate against someone I care about and we have a problem.
Shame on you India, shame on you.
(Obviously racism is an issue all over the world. But this is my turn to vent, and it happens to be here so deal with it. Rant over.)
Oh, the absolute best thing about Jaipur we liked was our hotel, the Pearl Palace, and the owner, the wonderful Mr Singh. The hotel has a wonderful roof top restaurant with great views and interestingly designed tables and chairs (done by Mr. Singh himself). He invited Danayi and I, an Isreali-Canadian couple, and two Japanese girls to celebrate New Years at his friend's polo pony breeding compound just outside town. It was a great night of bhangra dancing, too many whiskeys, and great food. And here, for a contrast, Danayi was loved and adored by all. She bhangra dances in New York sometimes, and all present were in admiring awe of her moves. (That's right India, you shit on her, and she still embraces your culture, and dances better than most of you.)