Grant Muller

JTTE: The Hell with the Train

India-1925We got an early start on our first full day in Udaipur as their was much to see and do. Our first stop was the Jagdish Temple, very much a working Hindu temple near to our haveli. We proceeded clockwise around the grounds to each of the small shrines, examining the elephant plinth and the representations of the gods around the base of the temple. We had arrived early and several people were performing their morning prayers; we did our best not to disturb them.

After traversing the outer temple we proceeded inside. The temple was constructed of carved, unpainted stone with a central shrine where several worshipers with giving offerings. Speaking of offerings, a man dressed in typical Indian security garb, beret and all, tried to insist that we pay him 50 rupees to enter the temple. I sensed a shady deal, especially as the false guard skulked behind the columns of the temple while rubbing two grubby fingers together like a bellboy begging for a tip. I cocked an eyebrow and shook my head. No chance buddy. We wandered the temple, trying hard to keep ourselves from taking pictures inside out of respect for those worshipping quietly. I also had to try very hard not to drag my new bellboy out by his goofy beret and beat the hell out of him; you know, respect.

Breathe deep, my friend. Calm as a Hindu cow.

India-1951We left the tranquility of the temple for the hustle of the narrow streets and headed up towards the City Palace where a crowd of tour buses had gathered. When you’re on vacation you don’t realize when the week begins and ends, and we hadn’t realized it was Sunday until we encountered the huge crowd at the palace.

The City Palace in Udaipur is much like the one in Jaipur. Formerly the home of the Maharana of the city, the royalty has quietly sequestered themselves into a much smaller segment of the palace and opened the majority to the public as a museum. Several of the halls, including the now familiar Moti Mahal have been opened to view the fine glass work and fixtures. Several segments of the palace have been devoted to museums of Mughal art portraying tiger hunts, battles, and games featuring the Maharana and his sortie. You get the impression that in Udaipur, there is still a great amount of respect paid to their royalty. We would find out later that he is still drawn by horse and carriage, in full regalia, during a procession through the streets of Udaipur on Holi. We had just missed it by a few days.

India-2230After the tour of the City Palace museum, we took a boat ride around Lake Pichola and onto Jag Mandir. Formerly a prince’s pleasure palace, now a luxury hotel and spa, the accommodations of the manmade island that aren’t open to tourists are available starting at around $899 per night. Cary and I checked our wallets and decided we might consider booking here after a few years of saving. On the other hand the spa did smell nice, and the gardens were well maintained. I don’t usually dig on spas, but I would certainly consider taking a day to indulge here; if it was good enough for a Rajput prince, it’s good enough for me.

We left the island by boat and meandered back to our hotel. Our intention was to grab a bite to eat, and do some last minute shopping for family before heading off to the railway station to catch our train.

"Waitlist 1 and 2? I’m sure you’ll get on the train, I have been waitlisted as far back as 14 and still gotten. You have nothing to worry about."

We heard this same story at least a dozen times on our second day in Udaipur, intended to put us at ease as our seats had not yet been confirmed on the train back to Delhi. We still checked our ticket status constantly to be sure, but at least in our minds and the local’s, we were as good as home. Our local Tata connoisseur looked up our ticket info. "Oh no, you’ve made a blunder!" he said. I apparently didn’t know the ins and outs of the India rail system when I booked the ticket, and had inadvertently booked the most difficult seats to get. He gave us a ton of useful information and urged us to rush to the train station as soon as possible to try and get our tickets modified.

Only a certain number of seats are actually reserved on the trains in India, the rest are put into statuses such as "reserved against cancellation" and "waitlist". We were in the latter group. Additionally there are several other mechanisms like "foreign tourist quotas" and "emergency seats" and something called Taktal that are held in case any last minute travelers must get on the train. Our strategy was to get into one of these quotas, and we were equipped with some pretty decent information regarding how to do it. Then the reality of the Indian Railway bureaucracy set in.

If any of the above information looks like a lot of nonsense, that’s because it is.

India-1991We arrived at the train station and found out that our tickets had effectively been cancelled; even the highest ranking waitlist ticket is still a waitlist ticket, thus we could not board. Furthermore a very surly ticket collector poring over a huge paper chart took one look at our ticket and waved us off, saying in some kind of broken English "train is full". I spoke with the superintendent as well as the tourist office manager. Apparently there was nothing anyone could do. We would not be getting on the train.

We left the train station with mixed emotions. Bewildered at the silliness of the bureaucracy, I no longer desired to take a train in India, and we were both having a great time in Udaipur anyway. Staying another night and riding back with Mashtan was our backup plan, and executing it didn’t bother us at all. We shrugged our India rail experience off, went back to our inviting haveli (the owner’s of which were incredulous that we couldn’t get on the train), and took up residence in our former room.

India-2294This gave us time to take a rickshaw to another tourist destination in Udaipur, the Classic Cars Museum. Over the years, the Maharana of the city have gathered a collection of cars, on display in what is essentially his garage. It was an experience. The guard at the gate took us by each individual garage, unlocked it and threw open the doors, describing the vehicle inside and what it was used for. There was a Rolls-Royce for everything; one that was hacked up to look like a jeep for royal hunts, another opened up like a truck to transport the cricket team. There were a few ancient Chevrolet trucks and buses, as well as cars whose manufacturers I had never heard of, like Morris and Nash. It was here that we had a look at the Maharana’s official carriage as well. It turned out to be a fascinating side trip, and well worth the rickshaw ride.

We left the car museum and slowly made our way back to our haveli. We had a restful evening planned; we couldn’t have picked a better city in India to be stuck. We took up residence in one of the best seats in the house on the terrace, had a lassi or two, then retired around midnight. About 4 hours from then we would be en route to Delhi by car. It was going to be a long ride.

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