Beware of strangers trying to poison you, Lil starts speaking French, and watch out for mushy cow pats.

Day 105: New Delhi & Alwar, India. We left our hotel in Delhi around midday to head to Delhi Cantt station, about 9km south west of the city.

We were hoping to get train tickets at the station to travel to Alwar, given our online booking attempts failed dismally due to local different payment systems. All we needed were two seats in an air conditioned carriage, which sounded fairly straight forward (the class is called AC Chair Car).

We arrived at Delhi Cantt, which is a much smaller station than Old Delhi, and thankfully not as chaotic. The lady at the booking desk said she could only give us tickets for the lowest class service (Second Sitting), as their booking systems don’t allow them to see ticket availability for other classes.

We bought the tickets on offer, then went to have a chat with the Station Superintendent, who had his own roomy office on the platform, to see if we had any other options. He said “You must get on air conditioned carriage, talk to train guard, ask if any seats available. If not, you must get off at next station and sit in Second Sitting”. Which all sounded fairly simple, except when the train arrived an hour later, it was massive, and we couldn’t spot where the air conditioned carriages were – and none were marked AC Chair Car.

It turns out we were at the wrong end of the platform, and as we walked along confused, the train started moving out of the station. Jim said “quick, jump on anyway” but Lil refused point blank to do so. She could see behind the barred windows of the Second Sitting carriages that there weren’t just more people than seats, there were more people than space, (in fact some people were hanging off the rails in the entrance ways) and a three hour journey in amongst that madness, along with two backpacks, wasn’t going to be a good one.

The next train wasn’t for two hours, so we sat and waited on the station seats. A guy came up and startled hassling us, and much to Jim’s surprise – and amusement – Lil broke into her best school class French, which got rid of him pretty quickly. It worked a second time when a girl came and sat next to us and started asking questions. Lil says she knew her efforts at learning French would come in handy one day, though admittedly it’s taken a while.

While we were waiting on the platform, we spotted a notice ‘Safety Instructions for Foreign Tourists’ on the wall. It had the usual warnings about not accepting offers of tickets from anyone, including taxi drivers, but the last warning on the list was a little ominous, saying “Do not eat/drink anything offered by any co-passenger or any stranger during the journey of trains. It may contain poisonous substances. The person who offers eatable/drink/water may steal your belongings after drugging you.” Alrighty. No repeat warning needed on that one.

When the next train arrived, we were at the right end of the platform and we spotted there was a carriage on this one saying ‘AC Chair Car’ so we climbed on board, and found two free seats. All the seats were numbered, so anyone who was lucky enough to book seats in advance was clambering into their allocated seats. Thankfully, no one claimed the ones that we were sitting in.

The train left the station, and after about an hour the train guard came through to check tickets. His name badge said Rajesh Kumar. Lil was going to ask if he’d heard of the TV show The Kumars, but thought better of it. It took a little while to explain about tickets and the Station Superintendent and what he said, and that what we really wanted was to stay sitting where we were, and pay extra money. The guard stared at this reservation list for a bit, then took our money, sat down in another free seat and spent ages creating a very detailed handwritten receipt and ticket.

And so we were able to sit back and relax and enjoy the three hour journey to Alwar. We couldn’t see much out the windows as they were badly fogged up with condensation, but we were just happy to have seats and a little space, and not to be hassled by anyone – or poisoned for that matter.

We arrived at Alwar and made our way out to the front of the station. There were lots of beggars, a few taxi and tuk tuk drivers, and a handful of cows lounging around. As we walked towards the town, which was about 2km away (we were happy to walk rather than get local transport), a smiling family pulled in a car and offered us a ride into the town. They were doubtless just being extremely nice and kind, however our protective instincts kicked in and we said thanks, we’re fine walking. They waved and smiled as they drove off.

Alwar isn’t on the tourist beaten path, which became very obvious as we walked along the road into town and every single head turned to stare, with people nudging each other to look at the foreigners. There were lots of cheery ‘hellos’ and ‘hello sir and madam, how are you?’ – others just stared like we were aliens (which in many respects, to these people we probably are).

We also saw a great ad for ‘India’s first scented vest’, which Lil reckons Jim should try out. He’s not convinced.

The cow situation got worse as we got closer to town – they were everywhere. We had to keep veering out onto the busy road to avoid them – and even more carefully, we had to keep stepping over heaps of mushy cow pats.

We reached our accommodation and after our disastrous Delhi dive, we were very happy to find that the hotel is lovely. There was some confusion about our booking (they couldn’t find it in the system, despite Lil having a confirmation email on her phone), but before long we were settled in our room and very ready for a beer.

We asked the guy at the front desk where we could go for a beer – he pointed to the second building of the hotel across the square, and said there’s a bar on the first floor. So we walked over there, and it was great, if a little dark – the dimmed lights to evoke atmosphere meant we had to use our phone torches to see what drinks were on the menu. The waiter who looked after us was fabulous – an elderly guy who ran back and forth looking after everyone and opening beer after beer. He brought us plates of fresh cucumber with a curry and salt dip, and some hard savoury crackers (which unfortunately chipped one of Lil’s teeth) and every time we finished a plate of cucumber and dip (which was awesome), he scurried off to bring us another one. We got stared at by the other customers in the place (though ‘squinted at’ may be a better term, giving the lighting situation), but it wasn’t intimidating, they just seemed curious at the out-of-town strangers.

After a few beers and many plates of cucumber, dip and crackers, we weren’t hungry anymore, so we skipped dinner and headed back to the hotel for a long sleep in a very comfy mossie-free room, with a toilet that works as it should, and no leaking pipes.

Tomorrow we’re planning to snooze on for a bit, then we’ll head out to explore Alwar. And lots of stepping over cow pats.

More then.

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