Thursday, 31 January 2013

Wednesday 30th. Chennai - Tick on the list

D is in the doghouse this morning as he has passed on a minor cold which has given R a severe attack of the snotters. We are complemented on our Indian attire as we go to breakfast. The lady didn't realise that we were too idle to get dressed.

We have booked a car to allow us to visit a few of the Chennai hotspots before we take the Nilgiri Express tonight. Our first visit is to the Rail Museum, part of the Integrated Coach Factory on the west side of the city. Sadly this follows the pattern of the other Indian rail museums that we have seen, with some fascinating exhibits but poor signing and an almost criminal neglect of some of the outdoor exhibits. Hidden in a corner was Darjeeling B-class number 793 which, superficially at least, looked to be in far better condition than some of the locos that we saw running on the DHR.

There was also an exhibition hall which was in rather better shape as well as being air condtioned. One of the exhibits was a large 'scale' model railway which was distinctly unscale in the view of this observer. A young man in an ICF uniform appeared to be employed to operate this and looked thoroughly fed up about his good fortune. The rest of the indoor hall included some beautifully made large scale model coaches ,  storyboards about Gandhi and how railways influenced his political thinking, and various railway artifacts including a large brass bell that could be rung. D really enjoyed that.

 R decided to rest on a shady bench while D explored the bogie park. When he returned she was surrounded by school-children who demanded a photo with Auntie. They felt so sorry for her and her runny nose that they collected some leaves for her and presented them as we left.

Next in line was a visit to the Fort George Museum. The security to get into the complex was chaotic but inside it was relatively calm and there was a nice breeze blowing off the Bay of Bengal through the open windows. Much better organised, laid out and signed than the Rail Museum, there was enough to see to keep us interested for well over an hour. The collection of old Indian coins was fascinating. D is sure that he has had coins like that in his change over the last week. No photography permitted here so nothing to see. .

Chennai's heat and humidity was starting to take its toll so we repaired to the Raintree hotel for a beverage. There was a very nice breeze on the roof terrace and a great view across the city. One item of interest that we had spotted in the Lonely Planet Guide was the Theopsophical Society's Gardens, described as a "peaceful retreat from the city". We wanted to let some of the heat fade so we aimed to be there around 3 p.m. for a couple of hours stroll. Gopi, our driver, did not know the place and got lost. The map earned its keep and we got to the car park at 3.35 to discover that LP has it wrong - they close at 4 not 5. It is a weird sort of park with various temples and follies dotted about.We set off for a brisk trot and were glad that we had made the effort as the place was teeming with birds and other wildlife. We spied a pair of brightly coloured Woodpeckers which of course were moving too quickly for photos. There were also bright red creepy crawlies of various sizes.

All too soon it was time to head back to the car. As we hadn't had much of a walk we decided to head for Marina Beach,  Chennai's famous sea-front. There was something in yesterday's paper about a man petitioning the High Court to force the City authorities to evict the various food stalls and vendors huts that had been established on the beach. He claims that Chennai now has the dirtiest beach in the world. Now we have seen it we might not agree with that claim but we would have signed his petition. There are still a few traditional fishermen based on the beach but most of the rest is litter strewn and not very attractive. We took a turn up and down the esplanade before calling time on our Chennai sightseeing.

The traffic was starting to build up but we were soon esconced in the A/C Lounge at Chennai Central where the TV was showing Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times". We didn't see it all as our train was at the platform well ahead of time so we took the chance to board early. Nothing special to report about the Nilgiri Express except that the sheets and pillowcases were pink and mostly clean.  Oh! And we got a 2 berth Coupe again!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Tuesday 29th - Retail Therapy

We sleep surprisingly well considering that we are on dry land and wake up to a bright sunny day in Chennai. Breakfast is a South Indian buffet with all sorts of pancake and doughnut type things as well as steel bowls to put your gravy in. This is actually better than it sounds but we make the mistake of ordering tea, which arrives with a frothy head on it and which is much worse than you could possibly imagine.

Today's tasks include sorting out a car for a tour tomorrow and buying a map so we can be certain of where we are going. Hotel reception recommend a supermarket just along the street as a good place to buy one. We swallow this advice hook, line and sinker and take a stroll. The supermarket sells nearly everything that you could think of except maps. R is delighted with the range of dal, lentils, flours and is seen here stripping the shelves bare.

Sense prevails and we come out with tissues and a bottle of water and turn left on a whim in search of a bookshop. Every 50 yards or so the same auto driver pulls up alongside offering us a one hour tour of the city. He just will not take no for an answer. We turn left again then double back, cross two main roads and think that we have given him the slip. Not a chance. He reappears and keeps this up for a further ten minutes or so then suddenly drives away in a cloud of blue smoke. Stalker Number One is replaced by a bloke with better English who offers to take us back to our hotel for 20 rupees. He is still there when we find a bookshop and a map so D asks if his offer is still on. "Oh yes sir" We get in and immediately the chat starts about stopping at a shop. D tells him that even by Chennai standards he is a disgrace to his profession and that we have no intention of getting out of his auto till we are at the hotel. Amazingly this tactic works.

We have a lunch time date today with legendary IndiaMike guru Nick-H who very kindly picks us up at the hotel and drives us to a restaurant on the Mylapore Tank. He is not phased by driving in India at all. Respect!!  After a pleasant lunch we take a stroll around the neighbourhood while Nick points out features of interest. When he suggests a silk shop R goes into full anti-tout mode and has to be reminded that we are among friends. The shop is quite amazing and both Nick and R had great fun fingering the merchandise and cooing over the colours. R even bought a couple of things.

We moved on to look at the temple. Scottish feet are not acclimatised to going bare on hot stones but we were able to find some shady areas. There has recently been a major festival and some of the idols were still visible.  R was taken with this chap who Nick thought might be one of the baddies. After a visit to a cookware shop it was time to head back to the hotel where Nick was able to demonstrate that some people like frothy tea. We had a really enjoyable afternoon.

A word from our sponsors

Nick also recommended the restaurant in our hotel for supper so we nipped next door for a quick beer first. We discovered a different bar where the music was a bit less intrusive but the beer was more expensive. Refreshed we returned to base and enjoyed an excellent vegetarian supper which cost less than £4 for more than we could eat.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Monday 28th - Our first visit to Southern India.

Once the AC had been tamed we got a decent night's sleep, waking up after first light to a dead flat landscape of palm trees and rice fields. We are somewhere in Andhra Pradesh between Vizag and VijayawadaThere are plenty of birds to look at including a field of Storks.  The train appears to be running about 30minutes late - no big deal at all. We breakfast on bananas and sweet chai - definitely preferable to the unsweetened stuff.

We have plenty to keep us occupied as our train heads in a south westerly direction.Trains at a Glance, Samit Roychoudhury's Great indian Rail Atlas (2010 edition), a copy of Saturday's Times of India. What more could be required? The bird life becomes more exotic
as we progress. We see several medium sized ones with electric blue wing flashes. They might be rollers but of course the birdbook is locked away in the rucsac and we are too idle to dig it out.

Lunchtime soon comes around and we make a total mess of the floor, the table and ourselveswhilst eating the aforementioned vastly expensive pomegranate. It is very good andcomplements the glucose biscuits nicely.

The fun still isn't over as we have plenty of time to indulge in the time honoured pastime of putting shoes on the fan.  There are no notices anywhere in our compartment to prohibit this.

Eventually we roll into Chennai exactly on time. As mentioned in all of the guides andforums the Chennai taxi/auto drivers are a real pain. A young English woman on her way intothe station stopped us to suggest that we get the bus to wherever we were going as the taxis are such a rip off. The Pre-Paid taxi counter was closed so that was plan A out of the window. The taxi hustlers insisted on quoting a price per person. The first quote was 400 each and we had to settle for 350 for the pair us - much more than either Delhi or Kolkata prices. We did get quite a scenic ride to our hotel and the additional thrill of being pulled over by the police. There was something about the taxi's windows that thepoliceman did not approve of and he issued a ticket before letting us proceed.

The New Woodlands Hotel seems to be a thriving place although the layout is a bit eccentric. We have a room in an annexe away from the main road which is very pleasant, along with an ante room that R describes as looking like a dentist's waiting room. We settle in, shower and then head out for something to eat.  The hotel next door has a bar/diner that is fitted out like an 80's disco but the beer is cold and we decide to eat there. They have several Middle Eastern style dishes and we opt for some of these. As we eat the music is cranked up - 'The Full Monty' soundtrack album. Time to go home.

Sunday 27th Coromandel Express (or should that be Coromandal?)

Postscript to yesterday. In honour of Republic Day all of the bars are closed and the restaurants are only serving soft drinks.  Odd way to celebrate.

Today we move on from Kolkata, having still not done everything that we wanted to. We will just have to come back again. Before departing we have a bit of shopping to do.  Our train trip is around twenty six and a half hours and, unlike the Rajdhani, meals are not included in the fare. We decide that some fruit would be a good idea so a spin round the market is required. A few of the touts make half hearted efforts to lure us to pashmina shops but R is having non of it and takes evasive action into a rather smelly poultry market.

Moving on R toured the fruit sellers' stalls, inspecting their wares and, while D had his shoes polished, she constructed a plan of action. Bananas from stall A, a pomegranate from B and oranges from C.  Like all plans it disintegrated on first contact with the enemy. "4 bananas please" "Madam five bananas 20 rupees" "OK" "You want nice pomegranate?" "Err" Into the bag it goes. "170 madam" "What! Too much. Take the pomegranate back." R cracks at 100 rupees. Does a pomegranate really cost a quid? The oranges are less hassle and we return with our bag of fruit to the Fairlawn.

Our precautions against rail-borne malnutrition also include an early lunch and we decide to get a take away parcel of pakoras for our journey.A quick online check of our reservation status tells us that we have been allocated the train's solitary 2 berth coupe. All too soon it is time for our taxi to Howrah, over the river from Kolkata proper. The Sunday traffic is pretty quiet and our driver drops us outside the South Eastern station. By now the sun is quite fierce but we find a bench in the shade for R and the luggage while D goes in search of information.

We are in the right place at the right time and our names are on the Reservation Charts. All we have to do now is wait. About 20 minutes before departure time our train ambles into the platform and our coach is at the near end. As we head towards it D spots Barry, one of the East of Scotland Garden Railway Group members. he has been in India since before Christmas and has just got back to Kolkata from Darjeeling. What a small world! He is helping a couple of people to find their berths on the train. We find our coupe without difficulty and fend off two young Indian women who want us to swop berths. They are only going about a third of the trip so tough.

Fewer flunkies and apparatchiks on this train but there is a fairly constant flow of vendors. One of them even offers sugar free chai which is even more disgusting than the sugar in stuff. Our compatment window leaves a little be desired on the cleanliness front so D gets tooled up to clean the outside at our first stop. sadly the platform turns out to be on the wrong side of the train when we get there. Another plan bites the dust.Eventually the TTE arrives - a man who clearly takes pride in his appearance. There is a short hiatus as D has mislaid the ticket but it is soon found. Once again we are able to reassure our chap that we fully understand why he is asking for extra dosh.

By six p.m. it is absolutely dark outside and we opt for supper and an early night. We learn that onion pakoras make better take aways than Paneer (cheese) pakoras. At midnight we awake frozen by the AC. Fortunately we are able to work out how to close the vents and soon get back to sleep.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Saturday 26th - Carry On up the Hooghly

The Midnight Cowboy builders knock off around 2 a.m. this morning (so R says), leaving the vacuum to be filled by fighting dogs. The alarm goes at 6 a.m. just as the dawn is starting and we wonder whether we really want to do this. However the ticket is booked (in one direction) and we drag ourselves down to the front gate where the ever cheerful porter magics up a taxi for us. The driver turns out to be a total headbanger who drives without stopping for anything via a back street chicken market to Sealdah station. We have had a couple of hair raising rides in India but that was the most exciting yet.

We are booked in Chair Car on the Maa Tara Express (Train 13187). Our train is not yet showing on the indicator but when it does appear we are swept along with a seething mass of humanity onto a nearby platform. We ask the man posting the charts where the Chair Car will be and he points to the far end of the platform. We fight our way through the crowd and as we get to the pointed end of the platform just as the chair car glides past, clearly destined for somewhere near our starting point.

Once onboard we get to watch a major pantomime as a very extended Indian family of about 20 board. They have been allocated seats all over the coach and all of the adult males in the group think that they are in charge of the party. Things are not helped by other people who seem to have ignored the seat numbers on their tickets. All seems to be sorted just as the train gets under way but then the foil containers of various items appear and have to be passed up and down the coach. At the first stop the vendors appear, mainly food and drink, but there is one evil type selling really noisy children's toys. The small boy in front of us is bought a ray gun that flashes and emits an endless barrage of whining noises. R strangled the child and hid his body under the seats while his parents were not looking.

Luckily it is soon our stop, Bandel, where we switch to a Howrah bound local for a three stop ride to Chandan Nagar - more about spelling later. There is no queue at the Unreserved counter, just as there are no working platform indicators or departure boards. We hear an announcement that mentions Howrah and Platform 4 so head there but that train is very definitely heading in the wrong direction. A train pulls up on the adjacent platform and D asks the driver if it goes to Chandan Nagar. Given an affirmative we just have time to hop into the first compartment which is standing room only. At the next stop two chaps throw on two enormous banana baskets which take up the space of about twenty people. Every body squeezes up and we make it intact to our destination.

We stroll down the main street of what seems like a quiet little town. Few of the shops are open and there is little traffic. After a while we find ourselves in a market area where there are furniture makers, some of whom seem to specialise in bed-heads. To be honest we were a bit lost. A local lady gives us directions - we just hope that she knows where we want to go because we don't.
A couple of minutes walk takes us to the Strand, a rather imposing promenade on the waterfront. Until Independence this town was a French Colony and there is still a lot of evidence of the French presence including elderly men on bicycles wearing berets. Maybe the French influence has caused the spelling confusion. Indian Railways use Chandan Nagar, the Police headquarters uses both Chandannagar and Chandernagore - the French spelling.

We were standing opposite the Police Station when we were hailed by a very important looking uniformed officer whose badges described him as an Inspector. "Come here now!" he ordered. They must have found the body on the train. It turned out that a translation of a memorial plaque on the front of the building was required.  D stumbled his way through, dragging O-level French up from way back. Nearly finished, he noticed R being escorted into the Police Station by the Inspector

Inside the cop shop D found her seated in the Chief Inspector's office surrounded by very important looking coppers. She was being made to write something. "Don't sign. They will use it against you!"  The reality was that the Chief Inspector wanted a written translation of the plaque. This done chai was produced and the chat turned to football and "Why can't Microsoft spell English words properly?"
We were able to escape before anybody had a close look at the translation that we had provided.

We had thought of visiting the French Museum but that was closed for the Republic Day holiday and the Sacred Heart church was also locked up. There was some thing happening on the playing fields and , peering over a wall to see what was what we were spotted by yet another policeman who firmly ushered us to two seats in the front row of the VIP enclosure, just behind the table with all the prizes. The entertainment was an energetic display of acrobatic stilt walking.

We thoroughly enjoyed our rather off-beat visit to Chandannagar where we met some very nice people in unusual circumstances. R has a standing invitation to drop in at the Police Station whenever she is passing. By the standards of the day the Unreserved journey home was a little uneventful. We even got seats. A minor error by D meant that we caught the wrong ferry from Howrah and nearly ended up back at Chandannagar but we got back to Sudder Street in the end and were able to watch some of the street cricket.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Friday 25th Burns Night in Kolkata

We discover that our new room faces a night time only building site . We suspect that an illicit additional storey is being added to a place over the road.

Today is dhobi day and we gleefully stuff a sack full of laundry before heading out on the town.
R enjoyed her tram rides so much yesterday that she pleaded for more today. We made our way to the Esplanade transport interchange.  Just like last year we waited in vain for a tram heading north. At least it was a bit cooler this time and the general odour of the tram stop area was tolerable. We did witness a bit of transport jugaad in action.

After an hour we gave up on the trams and headed to the metro for a trip up to MG Road. The wholesale fruit market was pretty well finished for the day but we walked through to Rabindra Sarani, a truly wonderful street with proper shops and pavement stalls where you can buy anything including dried cow pats. There is a section devoted to men who hammer sheet metal in order to make a lot of noise. By way of a by-product they also make metal chests in a range of different sizes.

As we are in India there are also endless refreshment stalls and drinks counters. We watched one young man showing off his skills as a hot milk juggler. When he saw the camera he really turned on the style.
The best thing about Rabindra Sarani is that it has trams and they were around in significant numbers. When we felt that we had walked far enough we took a ride back down to BBD Bagh and strolled around taking in some of the historic buildings.

D's  research project for the day was to visit the Eastern Railways International Tourist Booking facility. Unlike the one in Delhi which resembled a Casualty waiting room at closing time on a Friday night the Kolkata office seemed very relaxed. Within a few minutes a token purchase of a Foreign Tourist Ticket was made. The next step is learning how the refund process works.

We found a cab back to the Fairlawn beer garden where we watched the world go by for an hour. R was scandalised by a group of young Indian girls who were drinking Kingfisher rocket fuel on the table next to us. But come on - it is Friday. We have been chatting on and off to one of the residents - an Indian gentleman who has lived in Sheffield in the UK since 1967.  Today he has been at a very serious reunion lunch at one of the Calcutta clubs.He advises us that tomorrow - Republic Day will be very busy and noisy in the city. How will they spot the difference? It has been quite a warm day so a short siesta seems in order. The Fairlawn team also think that it is summer as the bedspreads have been removed.

After a few zs we hit the streets again. R's Shalwar Kamize man appears to have moved on so we take a turn round Treasure Island, three floors of mainly ladies' clothing. Nothing is deemed suitable so we retire to the 9th floor terrace of the Lindsay Hotel to watch night fall over the city. It was well worth the effort, especially as we were almost on a level with the kites wheeling over the city.

We could have sat there all night but decided to move on to a restaurant that R had spotted on her Kindle Lonely Planet Guide. She particularly liked the comment "The decor is striking and contemporary without being upmarket" . The "celebrated biriyanis" also got a mention and that was the clincher - no sonsie faced chieftain o' the puddin' race for us tonight . We strolled down the lanes and found the unfortunately named Arsalan Restaurant without difficulty. The decor did not disappoint and the place was busy without being crowded. Our policy of not lunching or snacking meant that we were ready for a decent meal and we certainly got that. The total bill came to around £7 and we thoroughly recommend this place next time you are passing.

We walked home via cosmopolitan Park Street but nobody famous spotted us. We rounded off the night with a beer in a Sudder Street 'packers dive where the waiter bore a striking resemblance to Little Richard. An excellent day.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Thursday 24th Tombs & Trams

The downside of our room adjacent to the dining room becomes very apparent at 6 a.m. Why are crockery and cutlery made so noisy?  But these are minor tribulations and we shall rise above them.  There have been a couple of innovations at the Fairlawn since our last stay. The bird - poo proof shelter over the beer garden is a plus but we are not so sure about the "Full English Breakfast" featuring baked beans and cold chips.

We are recognised by the day boss who offers (without being asked) an upstairs room. We take him up on the offer and move to a very nice double on the front corner, well away from the madding crowd. This takes up an hour or so which allows the sun to burn off any morning chill. Our regular Sim card dealer is not open for business so we try another chap, round the corner on Chowringee Lane. In theory it has got much more difficult for visitors to India to get a Sim card. Judging by today's experience it has merely got a little bit more expensive.

Today is R's turn to choose the fun so we head for the Park Street Cemetery via the Oxford Bookshop. Here we are very tempted by Salim Ali's Book of Indian Birds but it is a hardback and weighs a ton. We already have a decent bird book and reluctantly pass, purely on grounds of weight.

Park Street Cemetery is the last resting place of many East India Company employees as well as their wives and infant children. Actively maintained and restored by the Association for the Preservation of Historical Cemeteries in India, the walled burial ground is a collection of monuments, tombstones and faux Greek temples that starkly illustrates the frailty of existence for Europeans in Bengal in the late 17 and early 18 hundreds.

As we left the cemetery the attendants noticed that we had listed our address as being in Scotland and they asked us if we were interested in seeing the Scottish Cemetery. It was quite close and we were given very good directions. The contrasty was quite remarkable as the Scottish Cemetery has suffered some severe vandalism and is virtually ruined although there is now some security in place and some limited restoration work is under way.

Slightly subdued by what we had seen we hopped on a tram back to Esplanade. There have been several changes in Kolkata since we last visited. Repairing the cable trenches on the pavements on Chowringee is a big plus. A 50% increase in tram fares is not. It now costs a whopping 6 rupees to spend an hour not going anywhere fast. D will not be voting for Trinamool either.

Our next mission was to find a card reader that could cope with the gadget out of R's camera. The posh shops couldn't help although one did suggest that we try Chandni Chowk. We strolled up to this busy shopping area and got lucky almost straight away. Problem fixed for £3. D even picked up a charger for his ancient mobile phone for 90 rupees. Sated with success we headed back to base for a short siesta.

As dusk started to fall we headed out for a twilight tram trip. The plan was to get the first tram we saw that was going anywhere that we had heard of. We dropped lucky as one of the new(er) trams was sitting empty waiting to go to Park Circus. These trams have previously evaded us. They are cleaner, have more seats and more legroom but still have opening windows.

The Park Circus route is highly entertaining as the tram travels in one direction while the street is one-way in the opposite direction for all other traffic. The result is chaos. as the oncoming tide of traffic refuses to make way for the tram. A West Bengal version of a Mexican standoff is frequent. The highlight (?) of our trip was a five minute power outage where the darkened tram was stranded in the middle of a busy street. Eventually we were shooed off the tram which was going home to the depot and we had an exciting few minutes trying to negotiate 4 lanes of racing traffic in order to have a chance to leap aboard a moving tram. We had to do this twice as the first tram was going to the wrong place.

A quick stroll down bustling Chowringee brought us home where we had a splendid supper and an early night.

Wednesday 23rd The inconvenience caused is deeply regretted

We awoke to find that the train had stopped and that the countryside was shrouded in thick fog. Our bed tea call was booked for 7 a.m. but we had forgotten about Indian Time. It arrived at 7.45 and was very welcome. One of the stewards told us that we were just about to arrive in Allahabad which was not so welcome as it meant that the train was now running around 8 hours late and judging by the start stop progress likely to get later. At least breakfast was more or less on time - fish, chips and omelette.

Our mollusc-like progress through the fog continued until noon , two hours after we should have arrived in Kolkata. While we waited in Mughal Sarai station outside Varanasi the fog lifted and our train began to make real progress. D estimated that we were travelling at c. 125 kph for some stretches. Shame that there were still 660 km to travel. A phone call ahead to our hotel to make sure our room was held cost a mere £5 - thank you O2.  Tomorrow we get an Indian Sim card.  The catering team managed to produce an unscheduled lunch meal of rice, dal and cheese in gravy so we should not starve before we get to our destination.

The landscape now revealed is flat like much of North India but there are palm trees dotted about amongst the rice fields. The train's speed makes bird spotting a bit difficult be we do identify egrets, pond herons, a couple of kingfishers and a brilliant green bee-eater. The staff play another blinder as the sun starts to set and deliver tea, cake, nuts and biscuits - that's two bonus meals at no extra cost.  Every cloud has a silver lining although R says she would rather have arrived on time.

Eventually we roll into Howrah station, not quite as chaotic as we feared it might be. A polite young man asks if we want a taxi. one look at the official queue makes our minds up. He wants 250 rupees which is probably double the official rate but it was worth £3 to us to jump the queue. It was an official yellow Ambassador taxi and we did recognise the route, even if he did take a wrong turning 30 metres from our hotel.

The Fairlawn had saved us a huge ground floor room next to the dining room. We dumped our bags and went for a beer, ordering fish and chips on the way. It was good to be on dry land again.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Tuesday 22.01.2013 Howrah Rajdhani

An announcement at New Delhi railway station.

"ALL passengers are requested NOT to be friendly with ANY strangers."

R is very anxious that you know that she wasn't really stuck on a platform bench for 3 hours and yes D did pay for her to use the Executive lounge as well.

We get to the interesting bit (says D). Our three hours worth of Executive luxury living turns out to be a fine investment. We reluctantly take our leave just as our delayed train is pulling into the station. Inevitably we are at the wrong end of the platform and have a brisk march with full pack along 18 or 19 coaches to find ours. Coupe E is a bit threadbare and could do with a bit of TLC but it will be home for the next 17 hours and 1453 km so we make ourselves comfy.

If you have not travelled by Rajdhani before the first thing that you notice is the endless parade of stewards, caterers, linen wallahs, train managers, flower givers and finally the TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) In quick succession we are handed bottled water, towels, a glass of mango juice, an individually wrapped wet-wipe, a rose, bed sheets, and soap tablets. A man then appears with a folding table which is set up to receive trays which contain a snack for each of us. This is known as Evening Tea and for most of us would be seen as a substantial meal. We also get 2 china cups , a flask of hot water and a tea/coffee kit which allows us to make a passable cup of black tea.

Finally the TTE reaches us and we see his spirits sink as he spies tourists. Indian Railways fares increased yesterday and they have decided that tickets booked in advance must pay the difference. The poor man starts to explain and D is able to tell him that we know all about it and expect to pay extra. He looks so relieved and says that he will send a receipt and we can pay then. For some reason R (travelling as a bona-fide little old lady) has only 25 rupees to pay while D has to cough Rs.150 - nearly £2. That's the last time that he votes Congress.

Meanwhile the train has been crawling out through the Delhi suburbs - if it doesn't go faster we will be counting days late never mind hours. Eventually the speed picks up and the train starts to rock and roll a little - just in time for the soup to be served. Very good soup it is too, followed by a sort of Welsh Rarebit with a white sauce containing peas and chillies. Tonight's vegetarian main course is a triumph for Indian Railways' catering policy. The standard main meal is listed as rice, dal and a paneer dish. There is a menu footnote that states "OR Any other regional cuisine as per popular demand as decided by Railway."

Today's Quiz Question: Which Indian Region popularly demands spaghetti with peas, red carrots,a vegetable rissole on eggy bread?

The feast was rounded off with a tub of butterscotch ice cream (with wooden spoon natch) that was officially declared nummy by R.After our folding tables were cleared we had a visit from yet another cast member - the sweeper. Another employee arrived with a receipt for the additional fare and seemed disappointed that D was able to produce exact change.

And then it was time for bed.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Where not to stay in Delhi.

We are unable to produce a definitive list but we urge you to avoid the Hotel Ajanta.  As you can see from the photo there is no shortage of alternatives.The street noise eventually subsided at about 2.30 a.m and we were able to hear the hot and cold running trains from then on. Whenever there was a silence outside the in room fridge took its cue to kick in. Given the racket going on we were amazed to discover on waking that we had slept in until well after 9 a.m..

Add the unrivaled view, the paddling pool in the bathroom and the exorbitant breakfast charges and you have the complete package. Good practice for the trains though.

Today's plan was to sort out the packing, dump the bags at the station and go for a wander in Old Delhi. Last night we discovered that the card reader on our netbook has decided not to work. This leaves us with no way to get photos off the xD card in R's camera. Looking for a suitable USB reader meant that we had to start trawling little electronic and camera shops to find a reader. We checked in the bags and hopped on the metro up  to Old Delhi.

Having drawn  a blank on  Chandni Chowk we decided that it was time for lunch and hopped on a cycle rickshaw to Haldiram's which has had a face lift since last year. Obviously they were fed up with having their decor and fittings described as being like McDonalds - the ambience is now more Soviet tractor factory canteen.  The food is still pretty good and the hygiene generally reassuring for the acclimatised.

We decided to try our luck at Connaught Place. The metro was jammed for this trip - fortunately not too far. As soon as we hit the open air the touts started. "Where are you from?" "What are you looking for?" and the classic "I am not selling anything".  Serves us right for going anywhere near the place. A few camera shops knew what we wanted but could not deliver "Almost obsolete Madam". We sought refuge in a handy Chinese restaurant that provided sustaining beer and tea before deciding it was time to head for the train.

At NDLS we were greeted with the dispiriting news that our train was "Rescheduled" - in plain English three hours late. However every cloud has a silver lining and it gave us the chance to check out the brand new executive lounge facility.. Tastefully done out in shades of beige and lacking a significant number of light bulbs it offers wifi, power sockets, spotless loos and inclusive snacks and beverages. It certainly beat sitting on the platform for 3 hours and I was surprised that R didn't want to pay the 300 rupees admission.

Monday, 21 January 2013

So far so good

This is going to be a bit of a boring post as we are rather short of photos. Our lift to the airport was on time, inevitably we flew over our house 4 hours later and the fizz served in BizClass was Veuve Cliquot.  Very nice. D also managed his annual viewing of 4 episodes of the Big Bang Theory. Is series 5 recent?

The switch from air-miles paid Business class to steerage at Dubai was a bit of a shock but we survived. The boarding call for the Delhi flight was a real introduction to India with everybody ignoring the row number instructions as they raced to load their entire household possessions as carry ons.

Immigration at IGI was very straightforward and we even got a smiling "Welcome to India". The hotel is not what R is used to but as I have explained to her we cannot really go to India without experiencing Paharganj for at least one night. Our experience eventually led us to the Metropolis on Main Bazaar where they allowed us to use their feeble wifi in return for us buying beer. It seemed like a decent swop.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Goodbye Snow.


Today is D-day.  Time to leave freezing, snowy Central Scotland and head for freezing, foggy Central Delhi.

But wait! It looks like the weather in the Indian Capital is improving. Guys are swimming, guys are sailing.

Can we rely on this forecast? Will we freeze without winter fleeces? Will D's carefully researched plan deliver?

Stick with us to find out. 

As is traditional on these occasions we offer the ritual luggage picture to amuse the masses.  We are actually getting better at this.

If you are new here and wondering "Why Radinja3 ?"  we have a clear message. Keep up!

 This is Indian trip number three for the W's and it is the longest yet. Both in time and distance.  If you want to know more about trips 1&2 look over to the right of this page where you will see something like this.  Click on the link that is circled in the illustration and you will get a choice of earlier blogs.