20th March, 2009
Yeah, I’m in a pretty nice hotel at the moment, but it’s pretty creepy. You know why? Cause I’m the only one staying here. And that’s weird. Take a look at the pictures. This place is really nice. There’s no hot water, but as it’s around 36 Celsius, that’s not a problem. No TV. You know why? Me either. Well, I do. I took an autorickshaw from Jabalpur to Beraghat (the LPG spells it Bedaghat, but its really Beraghat. It’s spelled right on the Rough Guide map of India I have). The ride cost me 200 Rupees, which is pretty good for a 23 km autorickshaw ride. I gave him 250. I was originally gonna book into one of the two hotel recommended by the LPG but the driver brought me to this Riverview Hotel, cause I said I didn’t want to pay more than 500 rupees. Well, this is how it started. He wanted me to stay at a cheap hotel in Jabalpur (300Rs.) but I managed to convince him I wanted to stay by the Marble Rocks so I could walk around. I was thinking of staying a couple of days cause it’s a small town and the river and the rocks are right outside and below the hotel. You can see that in the pictures. But hey, when I asked the guy at the front desk he said the rooms were 1250! I didn’t even argue. I just turned around and told the tuktuk tout to take me somewhere else. SO the clerk asked the tuktuk tout something, a brief discussion took place and I got the room for 500Rs. The place is really nice. Modern and all, and at first glance kinda non-inspiring, but after the boat ride and the visit to the temple, I had dinner in the garden overlooking the Narmada, and it was quite lovely. Only I’m the only person staying here. The waiter disappeared after I got my meal, so I eventually helped myself to a drink from the lobby. No one there. And came upstairs to my room. Freaky. The power just went off and I thought maybe they had turned the hotel off for the night and everyone went home, but. It’s back on now.
I went out to find the post office cause I have to mail some money to Rins and Rens for mailing the drum I bought for Lee to Canada, but I couldn’t find one, and no one seemed to know where I might find one, so I went up to the temple above the Marble Arches Hotel (I noticed the posted rooms were 1100 Rs, nice place, and later I found the Marble Arches Palace (in th LPG) where the rooms start at 300. Also the boat ride is 31 Rs. now not 20, but who really gives a…. but I digress…
I thought it was a temple dedicated to Durga, but two people insisted it was a Shiva Temple. But the shrine inside has Parvati and I guess it must be Shiva beside her on the bull inside the Holy of Holies. But the statues of Durga (Parvati) in her 100 incarnations are along the outer wall. They have all been damaged intentionally, and I would probably put it on some Muslim incursion. The faces, hands and/or legs have been broken off, and there are no images that are intact. In fact the entire building looks as though it had been razed and then reassembled with the broken bits. The temple ceiling is the same diagonal slabs that I’ve seen in the Debra Damo in wood in Ethiopia and other Axumite buildings and also at Hampi. Progressive 45 degree angled slabs are laid on top of each other, criss-crossing, until the ceiling is covered. Anyway, I went inside thinking it was an actula temple to the Great Mother, had a quite peaceful few minutes there, talked to the priest and then came out and took a buncha pictures.
After the temple I walked down to where the ghats (steps) led down to the boat rides, and had a cup of chai and some rotis with some tuktuk drivers, then went for a rowbaot ride through the marble rocks gorge. It was not quite what I had expected. Apparently from things I’d read, the rocks are suppsoed to change color in the light, but they’re kinda rock coloured. Even the white marble is a little discoloured. Kinda like the Taj Mahal, but not as over-priced. It was hard taking pictures cause the boat is covered, and you sit with your back to the river facing inwards. There were so many people in the boat I couldn’t really move around to get a good shot. Still, I took some.
This place makes me feel quite lonely. Being the only guest in a fancy hotel is a little too much like being in a remake of “The Shining”. Nice thing is though, checkout time is 12:00 even though the tuktuk driver said it was 24 hour checking. But as I got here at 12:30, it’s kinda the same thing. Still, I can sleep in, and take my time. I don’t really want to get to Jabalpur and hang out there. You know why?
It’s just not a very touristy place. It’s headquarters for the army and police and heavy industry. Remember Bohpal? Union Carbide? It’s not far away and in direct line west of here the way the wind blows. And get this: another perk of this second class. The cops got on the train in the morning with a buncha prisoners tied together with rope. Another compartment had a guy chained by one hand and being led around like a dog on a collar. It was quite weird cause the family of one of the prisoners was travelling alongside him, and his little daughter kept going over to hold his hand. Her mom gave her some water to give to her reprobate dad, and she sat holding his hand. Then the prisoner’s brother got on at another stop and sat with him as well. A kid got on and swept the carriage. Beggars do this and then ask for a tip. I gave him 2 rupees. It had been swept by a woman earlier as well, but he didn’t know that. When he got to the next compartment one of the cops whacked him pretty hard for begging. Beggars aren’t allowed on the trains or the platforms, but they manage to get on anyway. Every once in a while the police get a complaint and they chase after them. Not like Will Smith chasing aliens in Men In Black, or anything, cause the kids ususally get away.
So, I guess I’ll check out and then get a autorickshaw back into Jabalpur. I think the guy told me a train leaves for Varanasi around 5. But I’ve been through that before. When? OK, that should’ve been yesterday:
OK, so I went to the Taj Mahal. There’s not much to say about it except it’s impossible to take a picture of the darn thing other than the one you’ve already seen a million times. As you get closer, you can take a kazillion pictures of different bits of it, but the only one that makes any sense is the one they use all over the world all the time. I guess that says something for the totality and completeness of the design itself. The bits are nice but they don’t really turn a crank until you see it all at once in that one view. Here’s something else: Its pretty much the same on all four sides, but the view from the south is the only one that will fit well into a camera. I tried, dammit. I took a kazillion pictures! But I’m not gonna show them here for the reasons I just mentioned. I do have a special treat for you, and it doesn’t really make any sense unless you come here. Have you ever wondered what’s behind the person taking that world famous shot? No? Well, truthfully neither did I. But at least now I know. This is what is directly behind you when you stand on the pedestal before the Taj Mahal:
Pretty neat eh? It’s the South Gate to the Taj Mahal (as far as I know Mahal is the word for palace, cause there’s Mahals all over India. Like The Shopping Mahal. Just kidding! But there are). So. That’s your treat for the day. I was gonna stay in Agra, but the Hotel Kamal’s idea of moving me to a cheaper room was to give me one for 700Rs. Which kinda sucks cause I know this Kiwi gal who was only paying 400 Rs. for her room. But she WAS drop dead gorgeous! And very nice too. She went to the Taj first thing in the norning to do that sunrise thing, but I slept in, or rather lay in. I woke up in time to go early, but I just couldn’t get the energy to go vertical. Anyway, they gave her room to some other woman, who then split it with another woman who just walked in, so they were only paying 200Rs. each! I decided I’d take a chance on the train to Jabalpur, so I checked out and left my bags in the hotel locker and made an 11AM trip to the Taj. Sun was good for the Taj’s good side. It was 700 Rs. to get in! Indians only pay 20. But that admission price does include little hospital type disposable booties to cover your shoes when you’re in the Taj, and a 900ml. bottle of water.
I took a tuktuk to the train station about 1:30 or so, and was surrounded by guys trying to take me to see the Taj Mahal. Been there, done that, quit buggin’ me! Some guy took it upon himself to guide me through the train ticket procedure, and he was nice enough and all, but I’d already done it before. You have to go get a reservation form, fill it out with your name, age, sex, and other info and which train you want. If ya don’t know the ticket guy usually fills it out for ya. So the train to Jabalpur was the 2091 at 17:28 and I waited quite a while in line. There’s always some guy here who buts into line, and the interruption slows everyone else down. Same thing happened a dozen times at the Home Office and the Foreign Residents Registration Office. The queueing here is better than in Yemen, where it’s actually a swarming. There is no line there, just a big bunch a people trying to squeeze into a single lane space, but there are rampant queue jumpers here. It’s quite irritating.
Anyway, I booked a second class sleeper, no air conditioning. But this helping guy was bugging me to go tour around Agra til the train came. I finally peeled away from him. He was nice and everything, and quite helpful, but I like to be left to do my own thing! I went inside the train station onto the platform to get away from people trying to take me somewhere else and had a nice cup of tea, and a really awful fresh squeezed orange juice. I sat for a while, got bored, and checked my bags into the baggage check (actually called “Coat Check”) and went outisde. Agra pretty well looks like any other Indian City, and all the tourist stuff was too far away to walk. I saw the helpful bugging guy and we settled on 350 Rs. to drive me to the Agra Fort. I thought the ticket I bought for the Taj Mahal included the fort but apparently you just get a 50 Rs. discount from the 300Rs. ticket. I took a couple of pictures of the gate but didn’t go in. Some guy tried to get me to buy a Taj Mahal souvenir book. I thought he said 20 Rupees, but he wanted 20 dollars. I gave it back but he followed me to the car, dropping the price with each step away from the fort. He went down to 350 Rupees That’s only 50Rs. profit he said. His cost was 300. By the time I got in the car he had gone down to 150 Rs. and I took it. Apparently he had gone down to 100 Rs. by this time but I missed that and paid 150. The car driver guy didn’t think much of me for paying the extra 50. (Later he was more sympathetic to me paying more than the quoted price.) The car driver guy drove me around for a bit, took me to a marble place where they make beautiful inlaid marble plates dishes and tables. A 12 inch bowl cost 39,000 Rupees. The table was 275,000. I didn’t buy anything, but I found the jade green marble bowl with shell inlay more impressive than the Taj Mahal. The driver wanted to take me to a rug place but I decided I’d had enough and got him to drive me back. I gave him 500 and he said he didn’t have change. Of course, I told him to forget it and keep the 3 bucks (not in those exact words though). Along the way, he gave me a tip in driving in India: “A driver in India needs only three things: a good horn, good brakes, and really good luck.” But here’s the dumb thing. He quoted me 350 Rs. I gave him 500Rs. and then he asks me if his boss asks me how much I paid to tell him 250 Rs. So, the real cost of this trip? Right! 250Rs. I paid double!
Oh here’s the thing about the train. The guys at the ticket counter told me there is no 2091 train at 17:28 to Jabalpur, and that I should book the Mahaborsomethinganother Express which left at 19:28. Fine. It cost me 243 rupees. Imagine my consternation when the non-existent 2091 marked Delhi-Jabalpur pulled into platform 3. I was on Plaform 1 at the time. And get this: Every single train up until and way past the time for the 2090 Mahaborsomethingoranother train to go to Jabalpur, was also marked as going to Jabalpur. I was quite at a loss, emotionally somewhere between absolute confusion, uncontrollable despair, and earth wrenching frustration, and my ticket was almost worn through from checking it every five minutes to make sure the train in front of me was or wasn’t the one I needed. And the time for my train just kept moving back. But get this, it was always about 10 minutes earlier than the real time, so I was continually thinking I had just missed my train. The tea vendor guy assured me the next train was mine. It wasn’t. The shoe shine gut told me the next train was mine. It wasn’t. The conductor on the next train told me the next train was mine. It wasn’t. Finally, my train arrived at 21:15! I know because it had a big poster saying Mahaborsomethingoranother paster to the first railway carriage. I should also mention, all this time the posted reservation sheet for that train was never posted. And here’s the thing that made it even more confusing. The Chinese girl who had helped me figure out the advance registration sheets for the train had told me there are more than one of the same coach numbers on a train. She was wrong, thankfully, and when the Express finally pulled in, I found my coach number, and an Indian guy confirmed I had the right train, the right coach, and even the right seat. Except there was a baby in it. Sleeping.
Everything kinda worked out and we chatted for a while, then I turned in on the top bunk. Always try to get an upper berth, cause the lower one is where everyone sits, so you kinda have to wait until everyone else wants to go to sleep to go to sleep. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to sleep in an Indian Railways second class non-air-conditioned train, but it makes the same kinda noise as an uninsulated DC-9. Only louder. If you’ve never slept inside a flying DC-9, it’s about the same as sleeping in an Indian Railways second class non-AC sleeper coach, only quieter. Still, I fell asleep. Woke up at 2AM, and was cold! There’s no blankets in 2nd class non-AC, and I was gonna try and stick it out and suffer and thinking how smart this indian guy across from me was for bringing his own blanket, and then I remembered I brought a sleeping bag with me! Duh! So, I pulled it from my pack and bundled up snug as a bug in a rug. The cold caught me off guard. You know why? Cause its been 34 Celsius every day since I got here in February. I’m not complaining. Just stating a fact.