Ten days out of home... and some ten thousand kms. Did a dash across the motherland, across the deep blue waters of the Indian ocean and skimmed across the tropical sands of Malaysia and Singapore. Saw a lot of food - from awesome to replusive - and tasted some of them. Met a lot of people.. And finally crash-landed with a cough, cold and a deaf right ear... well, more on those later :)
*cough* *wheeze* *cough*
******** DAY 1: The Delhi-Dash ********
The whole trip was part of a holiday package which entitled officers working in the same bank as my dad, to travel to the above mentioned places. The only condition being (rather weird) - you had to touch the farthest bank region from here, and while on the return journey, you could visit Singapore and Malaysia. We were travelling in a group of about 15 or so families.
Date- 18-May08... time-0400 hrs: All baggage packed and ready. My sis all excited about the trip.. I was feeling sleepy and excited too.
The tour operator, 'Holiday Shop' had arranged for a car to convey us from home to Trivandrum Airport. A cool, pleasant ride at speeds around 80-90 kmph ensued, with the roaring diesel engine of the Indica doing a good job with the five passengers and all that baggage. At the domestic terminal of the airport, people were fighting sleep as we waited near in a queue at the baggage check-in counter. The guy behind the counter was an arsehole, and managed to screw up everybody's boarding pass. Even with everyone giving him hard stares, he made sure our queue moved the slowest. Finally after a lot of WTF(form my part) and what-the-hells(from other people) we got our baggage tagged, passed through the security check area and went up to the lounge. After a cup of scalding tea (sold at the scalding price of Rs.20 a cup), the announcement crackled over the PA system for all passengers of the IC 466 to board the aircraft.
The plane was a small one - Airbus A320 - with the usual 3 + 3 seating in each row. Our whole tour group included around 15 families, who were to board at various places to come to Delhi. The group from Trivandrum thus boarded the aircraft and awaited the take-off.
I myself was flying after a long time, the last time being when I was kinda small - in 2000 or so. The aircraft taxied for sometime about the small TRV airport, before halting in front of the runway for takeoff. The captain's voice came over - "Cabincrewgetreadyfortakeoff". What happened in the next few minutes is something I'd never grow tired of. The huge fuel-guzzling jet engines of the aircraft roared, and an invisible force pulled us like a million horses. The roar grew louder and the plane shook for a moment before nosing up into the air like some huge bird of prey. We pitched and yawed for sometime, keeping near the coastline. Looking down I could see nothing but lush greenery everywhere, which ended in a small yellow sandy strip near the sea. No wonder foreigners who visit kerala say "I've never seen India so green!" This was the ultimate testimony.
Back inside the plane, our small crew consisted of the pilot, the co pilot (a lady with the same name as my sis :) two stewardesses and a very smart-looking steward. Some time later, We crossed the western ghats and ZAP! all the greenery disappeared in a flash as we entered Tamil nadu, never to reappear in its full glory again as we passed the whole of India... that's the beauty of Kerala for you.
A light snack, then a full fledged breakfast - idly, vadai, fruits, fruit-drink, etc - all went down the digestive tracks quickly. Since the weather over most of the country was clear, it was pretty much a live Google Earth show up in the plane. After sometime I walked up to one of the cabin crew and inquired if I could visit the cockpit while flying. He answered that it wasn't allowed in these days. A fine plan foiled. Anyway I had nothing else to do except switch on my music player and watch the dry land go by below...
At around noon we reached New delhi airport. Due to some VIP activity going on below, the aircraft had to circle for about 20 mins over the airport (much to the dismay of some passengers who started puking into their bags the moment the big bird flipped to its side) The horizon outside tilted up and the rivers seemed to be coming from some huge hills. I was enjoying every moment of the extreme angles and g-forces... fortunately my digestive tracts remained intact. Oye bhaisaab, No puking if you are enjoying :D
Finally the big bird landed smoothly down the clouds into the blazing hot runway and taxied for a long time into the domestic terminal. The moment I got out I was shocked.. Something like a 45 or 50 degrees heat wave struck me in my face and did a full loop inside the auditory canals. But then a side glance told me my current position - right behind one of the jet engines :) Anyway with the infamous 'loo' of Delhi blowing around, there wasnt much of a difference outside the vicinity of the engines either :D Our pilots then alighted - the captain, a well built guy and his copilot was a tall,
One thing strikes you if you visit north India at this time - dust. (yeah, that 'strikes' was a pun, heh). It's inside everything - from yourself to what you eat and what you see. You have dust-roti for breakfast, dust-rice for lunch and dust tea for tea.
Even leaf tea tastes like dust tea.
Ok gentlemen, I stop these terrible jokes of mine and continue...
Well, we swam through the dust and boarded a very nice air con bus and traveled for about an hour to reach our lunching pit-stop - Andhra bhavan restaurant. The crowd there was plain bad and we met our other half (of the group) there; they had arrived the previous night. After some spicy mash of rice, puri, various curry and stuff, our stomachs gave forth happy gurgles and away we set on a short sightseeing tour.
Since Malaysia and Singapore, not Delhi was our main aim, we did just a little bit of sightseeing. Indira Gandhi museum - #1,Safdarjung Road - the official residence of the former Prime minister of India, where she was assassinated has been converted into a very neat little museum featuring her life and her articles. Right from news clippings to pictures drawn by Rajiv Gandhi when he was a child, not to mention lots of photographs, everyday items used by them, last robes(still smeared with blood) worn when they were assassinated, etc. I couldnt help feeling how smart R. Gandhi must have looked at that time and how those people could think of putting such a fellow human to death. (Disclaimer: no political propaganda/opinion expressed here)
Firing in self defence is one thing. Killing a person you know, in cold blood is quite a different thing. Yet another it is to understand the mysterious complexities of the human brain...
Next stop was the India gate. The heat was unbearable and it was only a matter of time before we ran back to the cool interior of the coach. We were to catch the evening Amritsar Shatabdi to Amritsar. We whiled our time away, the coach taking us through the Parliament, North Block, South Block, Rashtrapati Bhawan, Janpath Road, etc etc. Finally at around 1530 hrs we crawled into NDLS station. The crowd there was overwhelming and the station hadnt changed a bit from the last time I went there. Same bloody dirty tracks, same myriad of electric locos(that's all right Sid, you know me), not a single diesel loco except for a tumbledown WDS4B making strange noises as it clambered about the platforms, shunting rakes from all over the country. I couldnt help comparing this station with Trivandrum Central. No, there isnt half of the traffic there as in NDLS, but the place is neat and walkable. Locos neatly lined up, a variety of diesels and electrics, clean coaches, and no little girl saying "maa, susu aayegi, kya karoon?" and her mother replying "Teek hai beti, platform mein kaam karo!" (not even in malayalam). Though Kerala is one of the most densely populated states in India, you wont find a single person crapping outside in public. The railway line passes beside houses a vast majority of the time in southern Kerala yet I've never seen a person doing his/her early morning ritual near the tracks - that's the social development of kerala for you (statistical reports say the social development of people here is alike to that of modernised contries). As for economic development, you might as well go hang yourself off the nearest cliff. The problem with kerala is everyone is damn educated and wants to have his or her own bloody way in everything... so nothing proceeds in the way of development. *sigh*
Back to Delhi. We were waiting at Pf #1 for the ASR shatabdi. Earlier researches (by yours truly) had revealed the presence of LHB coaches (unlike the usual azure-blue coaches - ask anyone who has traveled in the ASR shatabdi, Bhopal Shat., Howrah Rajadhani, or Bombay Raj., etc and you'll know) for the train. The sceduled departure time was 1635 hrs. At 1625 the WDS4B shunter brought in a shatabdi express rake. It had the usual cream-blue Shatabdi (non LHB) coaches and I knew this wasn't the one. A few of our co -groupers were fooled (naturally - non railfans ;) into thinkin this was the train and were about to jump in when I told them this wasnt the one(besides, there was a board that said -"Darjeeling shatabdi" but it was not easily visible - I spotted it because I looked for it :D ), and in a few seconds the train reversed with the shunter loco pilot giving a sheepish smile :p Then at 1630 hrs the LHB rake pulled in smartly behind the same nutty shunter. I jumped in, frustrated because there wasnt any time to check out the loco... I had ascertained from fellow railfans that this was gonna be a WAP7-hauled train, and it was my first ride behind India's most powerful loco class. A high tone sounded at 1650(late by 15 mins already) and we crawled out of NDLS, wended our way through slums, garbage heaps and various small stations. I went out to the doorway after sometime and found it blocked with some big boxes.. damn.. these northie Shatabdi trains never let anyone take a peek out. Finally I came upon one that was not blocked and managed to get a glimpse of our loco... much to my surprise (and indignation) - it was a WAP5 and not the WAP7... a case of an odd link, exactly on my day of travel. I thought, "oh well what the hell". I told my sis that it was a P5 and not her favourite. She wasnt too let-down anyway since she had never travelled on the WAP5 too, whereas I had.
After about 1715 or so we picked up spped with the white beast in front determined to make mincemeat out of the clean LHB rake. Inside, there were no jolts and no sounds of the track, so it was quite boring. i went and stood by the door and had the real feel... The wind outside roared as the train flew over the tracks at a hundred and ten kilometres an hour. It was quite frightening to stand by the door, so I sat on the small stool-like contraption near it and watched the dust flying as we thundered past stations. What a loco!
Then it was back to the cool smooth boring interiors of the coach. Food seemed to be the prime thing in the train. It arrived every half an hour or so.. something or the other to chew on :) After dinner I went to the doorway and enjoyed the cool breeze. It got very boring after sometime (this is what happens when you have an electric loco at the front - no sounds, no smoke, nothing), so I slept off inside.
I woke up as we arrived, very late, into a sleepy Amritsar station. Half asleep, we dumped our bags into yet another tourist coach and slept till we reached our place of stay for the night - Hotel Khyber Continental. Nice big one. We entered our rooms and i slept like a log till next morning.
...Continue to Part two...