Throw Sarah from the Train!
Day two- is that really possible? It seems like longer... We woke up today after a somewhat painful rest (as sleep wasn't consistent enough to call it "sleep") on the hard, top sheet-less beds, and noticed that the streets were quieter than the day before. Still lots of honking, yelling and bustle, but less of it. A boy was throwing huge chunks of meat up into the air and a hawk was swooping down and grabbing them. We went downstairs to find breakfast, and the manager tried to get us to pay for another full day because we had not checked out at 5 am, which would have been 24 hours after our check-in. After some back-and-forth, we compromised and paid for one room so we could keep our bags there while we continued on to the sights of the day. (Our breakfast turned out to be curried dal and roti (beans and bread), spicy and delicious, and $1 for all three of us.)
We thought we knew where to catch the subway. There was a big staircase near the Red Fort labeled "Subway," and we made assumptions... We confidently strode past all the rickshaw and tuck-tuck drivers offering to take us somewhere, and down the stairs, only to find that their version of a subway was a little more literal. It was a pedestrian walkway that crossed under the heavily trafficked street above. We sheepishly walked back past the drivers and asked for directions. We made our way to Humayun's tomb on a bus (it was beautiful, more adorable puppies, and almost empty, we laid in the grass and listened to music from a nearby temple) then to the Lotus Temple (an enormous white marble structure with giant lotus petal reaching high and wide and blue pools that mimicked the leaves, gardens and flowers and inconsistently placed barbed wire) on another bus and tuck-tuck (think golf cart but faster, painted bright green with a yellow roof and a chain-smoking driver), and then back to New Delhi to book train tickets, via the very impressive new metro system. (The trains aren't sectioned, so if you are in the last car, and the train is on a straight track, you can see allllll the way to the first car. It was also clean, air-conditioned and our most expensive ride was about 30 cents each. After over an hour and at least six different windows, we were told the train was sold out, but we could try the Old Delhi railway station for a similar train. After at least six more windows there, we were again told that the train was sold out, no hope of getting to Dharamsala in time for classes. We sent Sarah to see how much a cab would cost for the 10 hour drive (about $170) as I pleaded with the man behind the counter. I finally asked him where the bus station was, at which point he turned to a female colleague and began a conversation with her. They talked or a while, long enough that I was wondering if he was done with me, but I stuck around and finally he sent me to another window with the woman, who I figured out had interceded on my behalf. She told me later that she made them give me a seat on the train (three seats, actually) because she was concerned about what would happen if we room the bus, which apparently full of "troubles." We got our tickets for the lowest class seats on the overnight train (about $5 each) and ran out to get our bags from the hotel (and a papaya) before the train left at 9:15. (Mac also stopped to get some food. He actually got so much food - four whole meals - that the men who were preparing it for him started to laugh every time he said "and some..." He's very good at eating.) We got to the station and found the platforms (it was either coming to 4 or 6 according to the tickets). When the train pulled up, chaos ensued- the cars weren't marked, so there was much dispute about which car was which. Six women in black veils- full coverage- very rudely pushed me out of my seat and took over the whole section. They were ultimately made to move, as the car agreed the seat (and the two next to it) were ours. We stowed our bags overhead and sat down, settling in or the night, laughing about how much nonsense was going on and how much easier it would be if the cars were marked. Just before we started moving, a train pulled into platform 6 ( we were on 4) and Mac and I both wondered aloud if we were on the right train, sort of joking at first, but we quickly decided we'd better ask. Nobody in the sleep car (the lowest class car) spoke English, and no one seemed to know if we were on the right train, but we looked at their tickets and realized, just as the train started moving, that we were not. We were headed to Lucknow, east instead of North. We jumped up and I started wrestling our bags down as Mac took them from me and ran for the door. I was right after him, but Sarah had headed or the other end of the train. We jumped out as the train was pulling away, and as I looked back for Sarah, I saw her standing in the doorway, looking like she wasn't going to jump. She finally did, but in the confusion she had gotten Mac's backpack-way too big for her- and as she jumped, it pulled her down back-first, so she landed, hard, on her back, on the the backpack. We ran across to platform 4, and nobody seemed to know that train number, either. We finally found someone who told us that our train had been delayed two hours - "the cost of delay is regretted"- and that it would be coming on another platform. It is now almost three hours later, and we are still waiting... ;) This place is fun. It keeps you on your toes.
The flights were fairly uneventful. Lots of movies, lots of sleeping (for me) and not much to eat. We informed the attendants that we had requested vegetarian meals, but they told us coldly and firmly, "No." No questions, no apologies, just a decisive ruling before they handed us each a dinner salad consisting of one piece of romaine, about the size of a business card, a cherry tomato, a black olive and two slices of cucumber. Livin' the raw vegan dream! We were on Aerosvit, a Ukranian airline, and they were less than hospitable. But the planes were comfortable, the flights were smooth and we arrived on time- to applause, no less, from the other passengers. We did have a five hour layover in Kiev, not enough time to get out and see the sights, but just long enough to feel how cold Kiev is in March- freezing!- and to see that the landscape was as warm and fuzzy as our flight attendants. We napped a bit, then happily climbed aboard our next plane, which was neon!
Once in Dehli, we had some samosas and channa (mmm, spice!) and found our friend and headed for Chandni Chowk. We found a hotel by 5am and settled in (after some really extensive paperwork by the desk guy) and then marvelled at the Jama Masjid as the sun came up, the streets already full of people, carts, cars, bikes, goats, sheep, dogs and vendors. As I readied myself for the cold bucket bath, I had a moment of panic. (And I mean "panic" in the most relaxed way possible.) I was confronted with a mildly grimy, tiny "bathroom." There was a non-functioning sink, a squat toilet, an old mirror mounted on the wall, and two faucets coming out of the wall, labelled "cold" and, incorrectly, "hot." Below the faucets was a big bucket and a smaller bucket. No towels, no toilet paper. So my thought pattern was something like, "Ew! This is kinda gross- Why am I here? Wait, I like dirt! Why is this bothering me? Because I like outside dirt, not inside dirt that came from other people's-stranger people's- bodies! Ah!! Maybe this was all a huge mistake! I should have gone camping, in the outside dirt! Not to a big icky city with people dirt!" Then I took a breath, realized that not only was I being a privileged asshole, but I also already committed so I better make the best of it. And I was wrong, anyway.
We had a lovely day, visiting the Jama Masjid, where we were given garrish robes to wear, to cover our arms, and distracted from our meditation inside the mosque by other (Indian) visitors taking pictures of the white people. The whole taking pictures of, and with, the white people went on all day. We were swarmed by a class of school children on a field trip to the Red Fort, yelling "hello" and wanting to shake hands. Then they asked for a picture with us and cheered like they'd just met rock stars. It was hilarious, and we must have taken at least ten other pictures with random people that day, too. (Including one at night with a guy and his family, but his camera was bad in low light, so he asked me to take one with my camera and email it to him. I did.) In the seemingly unending little streets that make up the sprawling markets, cars, pedestrians and rickshaws fought for the right of way as flies buzzed in and out of pots of rice and dal and locals stared at us like they'd just seem a new species. We got a papaya and asked them to cut it in half, which they did, though they seemed pretty confused. We walked the rest of the way carrying the papaya halves and eating with forks, now being stared at like a clinically insane new species.
We ate at Karim's, famous for their biryani, none of which was vegan, but dinner was spicy and delicious nonetheless. We walked through more markets, saw some kids playing cricket at some point, and even caught some of the sound and light show at the.Red Fort, which was mosquito-y and not terribly impressive, but the dollar ticket got us in at night for some amazing views and an almost deserted fort. There were also adorable, filthy puppies. Seriously filthy. I played with one and my hand was black when I walked away. On the way home I tried to buy a sari (but walked away when I realized the guy wanted me to sew it myself), we got lost in the market streets, met three bulls and saw a cat chasing a huge rat, and then, right as she was about to catch him, she stopped and walked away. But we found our way back, and are nestled in our tiny room, with its three twin (or, is there something smaller than twin?) Beds, with wood frames, pushed side by side and taking up almost every inch of floor, but still with a few inches of wooden frame between each.mattress, so it isn't quite the "one big bed" it might have been. And yet... so glad I came here, no matter how great camping dirt is.
Amanda has been teaching yoga, making (and eating) delicious raw/vegan food and coaching people for almost ten years. All that experience has taught her just how much there is still to learn, explore and discover.