06.03.2012 - 09.03.2012 28 °C
On all of our train journeys so far we've travelled 'sleeper class' which is the 5th best of the 7 classes available. At night you get an assigned bunk and in the day time you technically have one of three spaces on a squishy bench reserved. In reality people buy tickets for the cheapest classes then pay the charge to be bumped up to sleeper when they're on the train. Essentially it means that, even with a reserved seat, it can be a bit of a hassle to get your seat and all the space you've technically paid for until it's night time. The train from Jaipur to Delhi was a very full commuter train for the first 3 hours and we were squished 5 to a bench. When we got to Delhi we had the worst rickshaw wallah harassment we'd experienced to date - they encircle you shouting 'auto, tuk tuk, where you want go, come here' - but managed to fight our way to the pre paid auto booth and got safely to the correct hotel without having to pay any extra in commission.
The following day we explored our immediate surroundings - the area called Pahar Ganj which is a back packers' hot spot full of shops selling psychedelic hippy t-shirts and cushion covers. We then spent far too long organising our train ticket to Amristar. Most train stations have a 'fully computerised reservation centre' where there's a specific counter for foreign tourists. You have to fill in a form saying when and where you'd like to travel and include the name and number of your preferred train. In Delhi there's a whole office just for tourists with comfy seats which sounds great but most tourists arrive in Delhi so have no idea about how the trains work, how long they take or even where they'd like to go. The other problem is that some Indians have found out that the tourist office exists and that all foreigners are much more diligent at queuing than Indians are so, instead of waiting in the Indian queues downstairs, they simply queue jump at the tourist office. After an hour and a half getting equally frustrated at cocky Indians and clueless travellers we set off on our first trip on the Delhi Metro. After the chaos of trains, sleeper buses and rickshaws Patrick was particularly impressed with the clean, cheap, efficient and air conditioned metro system. We got out at Connaught place which is a large circular colonnade of shops set around a park. You could easily be on Oxford street or Knightsbridge in London and Patrick was, again, impressed with the large glass doors leading to sports clothes shops and air conditioned coffee shops. We stopped in one of the biggest chain cafes - Cafe Coffee Day - for lunch then went to look at a Hanuman (monkey god) temple. We noticed that lots of people were coming out with pink and green paint on their faces and clothes. We were expecting colours for Holi on the following day and had already set aside some clothes we were willing to throw away afterwards but, as these clothes were back at the hotel, we skipped the monkey temple and went straight on to the Jantar Mantar. This rather strange group of objects was built by Jai Singh (who you'll remember from the Jaipur post!) to chart the movement of the celestial objects. He had an obsession with astronomy and he built several Jantar Mantars around his kingdom. We looked at all of the objects / buildings and read the descriptions but it was pretty hard to figure out how they were supposed to work. One object looked like a mini Colosseum with a wooden wheel inside whilst another looked like a stairway to no where with two semi circles stuck to the side. We felt it was impressive without truly understanding why!
The following day was Holi. This is a Hindu festival which welcomes the coming of spring and it's celebrated by throwing perfumed coloured powder over people. It's also known as a festival to loose your inhibitions and we read several articles in the morning paper about how men should remember that, as it was also International Women's day, they should 'play safe' this Holi and not use it as an excuse to harass women. We managed to walk from our hotel to a nearby cafe without getting any colour on us and it was fun to watch tourists, children, shop owners and young Indians 'playing Holi' together on the street. On our return journey we were well and truly Holied and then decided that, as we were already covered in the stuff, we might as well buy some colour of our own and stay out to play. Everyone seemed in a very jovial mood and it was nice to be able to take part in this old tradition. The festivities died down by around lunch time and, as there were no tourist attractions open on this public holiday, we spent the rest of the day relaxing on rooftop restaurants and watching the women's day themed films on our hotel TV.
The following day we were up relatively early to pack, walk to the station and get our next train to Amritsar in the Punjab.