Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Saturday 23rd - Third Class Ticket

R has volunteered for an extra train trip today rather than a trip in a hired car. This involves a 6.30 alarm and an early start for the station. We have been promised packed breakfasts but when we get up we realise that there has been a very heavy storm overnight. D goes up to the rooftop to find out about things. They are very apologetic but forgot as they were having to deal with a marquee that blew away. That must have come a shock to the clubbers.

The streets are covered in puddles and cow poo and it takes a few minutes to find an auto. The weather still looks more like Scotland than Rajasthan. At the station R is parked with the luggage while D queues for tickets. This queue is better behaved than either Old Delhi or Sealdah and D is soon at the window to request 2 tickets to Phalodi. "Only General Sir. No A/c" The clerk seems worried about our choice but D persists and hands over 50 rupees (62 pence) for 2 tickets for a journey of 110 km. Our train is at the platform and starting to fill up but we find a pair of window seats facing each other and get comfy. The chai we buy on the platform is particularly good and breakfast is completed with a packet of butter biscuits.

  Departure is due at 8.30 which comes and goes. The train keeps filling and by the time we leave at 9.15 there appear to be no seats left. We get our first view of a Hirja who is extracting money as he/she progresses along the coach. We are rather surprised when we just get ignored but are relieved to be spared the expense. The first stop is only about half a mile and quite a lot of people get on. By the time we leave the next station, on the outskirts of the city, the coach is jammed full, with people sitting on luggage racks and the floor and others standing. Personal space is a non starter but most people seem to be polite and reasonably considerate. D makes a new friend.

By the time our three hour ride is drawing to a close the crowd has thinned a little and D is able to draw up a cunning plan to extract our luggage. At Phalodi this works well until D gets to the coach door. The widest lady we have seen in India insists on climbing on board. D cannot retreat as there is a crowd behind who also wish to leave the train. There are some strong views exchanged and somehow D, trolley bag, and rucsac squeeze past Mrs Elephant.

 We have booked with the Lal Niwas ( red stone) hotel and we take an auto. Inevitably we pay twice the going rate because we don't know where we are headed. The hotel is a very nice old haveli that is undergoing renovations. Our room is very quaint with numerous doors off. The bathroom window opens straight onto a busy street. Fortunately the shutters can be secured.

 Lonely Planet says very little about Phalodi while the Rough Guide is positively rude about the place. At first it seems like the latter may be right until we find ourselves in a maze of streets away from the station and the main road through. The town has countless barber shops (a bit like Linlithgow really) and more urban cows than we have seen anywhere. More urban cows = more urban cow poo. As we stroll the back streets everybody wants to say hello and many to have their photo taken. It appears that Western tourists are still a bit of a novelty in this part of the world. R is adopted by a group of school girls who want her to come home with them but their dad doesn't think much of that idea. She finds a sweet seller who has orange flavoured boiled sweets and gets 3 times as much for her money as she has anywhere else.

Eventually we find ourselves back at the hotel and make ourselves a cup of tea. We read the guidebooks again to see what they tell us any more about the Desmoiselle cranes that we came here to see. They don't even agree with each other on the very little information they have so we decide therefore to make a foray to the village of Khichan to see for ourselves.  We are told that the birds come in to the village at 5.00 p.m so ask an auto driver to take us there. He is delighted with this huge fare (200 rupees) but keeps stopping to ask the way. Eventually we are guided to a pond where we wait and watch.

After a while a large group of cranes appear in the sky, circle and fly back whence they came.  The flock wheels again and comes back overhead, quite a sight, before turning round and disappearing. Can that be it? The auto driver comes down to the pond with young man from the area and he said yes, that's it, when we spot a lone crane which lands on the other side of the pond down in a dip.  We walk over to the far side of the pond from where we can get a clear view. We console ourselves with the thought that at least we have seen something and curse the man who recommended this visit. The sun is sinking rapidly and there is a very cold breeze coming from somewhere so we call time on the ornithology.

 Our boneshaking ride back to the hotel has earned us a refreshment. The bar is opened specially for us. Judging by the decor it was last open in 1976. At least the beers were nice and cold after 37 years in the fridge.  In contrast the hotel's vegetarian restaurant was so newly refurbished that we could smell the paint. The sevice and the food were both very good according to us. The other diners were an Indian couple who did not like anything and complained loudly and often. R had sought advice about the cranes from the front desk and as we ate a man came to the table to confirm that our auto had been booked for 06.30 (Groan - D)

When we got back to our room R came over all Indian and hammered on the connecting door to the next room who had the TV volume up to painful. It worked.

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