Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Overland by Train Through North India

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Inspired by Paul Theroux’s railway adventures, D and I opted to explore North India by train.  We took the train from Delhi to Agra, from Agra to Jaipur, from Jaipur back to Delhi, from Delhi to Amritsar and from Pathankot back to Delhi. I’m glad we did because traveling by train across India is cheap but comfortable, frenetic yet fun and confusing yet clarifying all at the same time.

With 64,000 km of rail, 7,000 stations and 11,000 trains transporting 12 million people every day, the Indian railway, without doubt, constitutes the very lifeline of the country. Being one of the most sought after means of transportation, Indian trains get fully-booked several weeks in advance. I wanted to secure our seats early so I booked our tickets through Cleartrip two months before our travel dates.

These are the routes and the corresponding trains that we took:  


Upon arrival at the New Delhi Railway Station in Pahar Ganj, we were immediately confronted by men in uniform who looked and acted as if they are railway officials.  They asked to see our e-tickets and claimed that our train has been canceled and directed us to go to a certain Tourist Center at Connaught Place.  Clueless tourists who do not know any better would definitely fall for this ploy. They were so convincing.  But, having read about this scam while doing my research, I didn’t believe any of it, of course.  We ignored them, proceeded to our designated platform and waited for our train to Agra, the Bhopal Shatabdi 12016, which, contrary to what those men said, was not canceled.  

four-berth, air-conditioned cabin
aboard the Khajuraho Udaipur Express
After a day of struggling with crowds while marveling at the grandeur of Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, the comfort and privacy offered by our first class compartment at the Khajuraho Udaipur Express (Kurj Udz) 19665 were such a relief.  The compartment, which we didn’t have to share with others, had beds, pillows and blankets. What more can a weary traveler ask for?

We were put on waitlisted status despite having reserved our train tickets bound for Pathankot from Amritsar months in advance.  Our seats were not confirmed till our travel date so we opted to go by taxi from Amritsar all the way to McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala.  At 5,000 INR (USD92) it was a bit expensive, but we didn’t have to go through the trouble of transferring from a rickshaw to a train to a bus to a cab just to reach our destination.

food served on the train
It is also true what they say about trains providing the most unique of experiences in India: the food that was served, the people that we met, the beauty and kindness beyond the stench and the squalor, the mundane concerns of ordinary Indian men, women and children and the candor and complexity of their way of life. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Treinta y Cinco

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Nobody wanted your dance,
Nobody wanted your strange glitter, your floundering
Drowning life and your effort to save yourself,
Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil,
Looking for something to give.

~ Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters, 1998

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Slowing Down in Pokhara

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

“Imagine a perfect triangular mountain, capped by snow and buffeted by the icy winds of the Himalaya. Imagine a millpond calm lake, perfectly reflecting the snowy peaks. Now imagine a village on the lakeshore, thronged by travelers and reverberating to the sound of ‘om mani padme hum’ from a hundred shops selling prayer flags, carpets, masks, singing bowls and CDs of Buddhist mantras. That’s Pokhara.” (lonelyplanet.com)

If the Himalaya are the rooftop to the world, then Pokhara has prime position on its front porch, from where it rocks away contentedly beneath the serene guard of the Annapurna mountain range.” (lonelyplanet.com)

The name of the town itself sounds excitingly exotic: Pokhara, with its hard ‘k’ and trilled ‘r,’ conjures mystery and adventure, a combination I find hard to resist. And when I caught my first glimpse of this Nepali town, I knew that it's my kind of place.

Still dizzy from rushing from one temple to another in psychedelic Kathmandu Valley, we flew to Pokhara where we got our bearings back.  Its soothing, laid-back atmosphere gave us the perfect reason to stay, slow down and practically do nothing.  Unhampered by the fetters of a guidebook or an itinerary, we were free to lose our way in the old village; we had time to go around on foot instead of public transport; we could afford to take pleasure in the daily power outages by idling our time in the balcony, watching the Himalayas play hide and seek with the clouds. It is in Pokhara that I realized that it is really more satisfying to have an unhurried experience of one place than a rushed taste of several. 

Lakeside, where we whiled away the time, is settled along the serene waters of sparkling Phewa Tal

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tourist and Traveler

Monday, January 14, 2013


For, as he claimed, another important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.

Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky, 1949

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rereading Roth

Thursday, January 10, 2013

To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life. – W. Somerset Maugham

When I heard that Philip Roth has decided to retire from writing, I told myself that it’s now time to revisit his books. Rereading five decades’ worth of his work is a tribute to the author and an indulgence I can’t possibly resist.

My birthday is just around the corner. And what could be a more precious gift that I can give myself than to bask in the exciting novelty and comforting familiarity of my cherished books?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Back in my Mundane, Solitary World

Monday, January 7, 2013

The holiday season is over, taking with it the hurricane of activities it inevitably brings.  And so I am back in my mundane, solitary world, prepared to battle the loneliness lurking within. The things I gave insufficient attention to for the past few months I can concentrate on again: my fitness goals, writing, the neglected books on my bedside table. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Another Year of Making Travel Dreams Come True

Friday, January 4, 2013

2012 was the year I got absorbed in Bollywood and Hemingway, in house hunting and weight lifting, in learning Spanish and keeping things simple.

It was another year of making travel dreams come true:


 
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