Thursday, 1 January 2009

An Indian New Year's Eve

For us, New Year's Eve began before dawn. Looking like armadillos with our packs on both back and front, we walked past the Taj Mahal's East Gate where, for once, no one asked us if we wanted our money changed, postcards or a souvenir at a very good price. But we got a taste of hard-nosed Indian business practice when we got our auto-rickshaw (the ubiquitous three-wheeled Indian taxis). Being the only one there he charged us probably double the going rate.

It was a great ride though. The normally clogged streets of Agra were empty of almost everything except stray dogs and a handful of early risers pulling carts, so we raced towards the train station. We had a soundtrack too, as our driver blasted out some Indian pop. Narrowly avoiding a crash with another auto rickshaw on a roundabout, we got to the station in probably a quarter of the time it had taken us the day before. With visions of The Darjeeling Limited in our heads, we skirted around the people sleeping at the station and went to see what platform we were on.

Then the man at the enquiry counter said the Marudhar Express was going to be four hours late.

Not to worry, there was a very good bus leaving at 6.30am, another rickshaw driver told us. So we dashed off again, forgetting in our hurry to see if we could get a refund on the train ticket.

There was indeed a bus. Which left one and a quarter hours late.

Still, aside from that frustration and toilet facilities that consisted of the back wall of the bus station, it was a good trip. We snoozed for a while and chatted to a very well traveled pair of Aussies, who are doing what many do in this part of the world and are taking months to see the Subcontinent. I'm not sure what it is about India, but we've met some exceptionally cool people on this trip.

And of course, we could always watch scenery go by. Colour and chaos and industry and poverty and temples and trash - India is endlessly fascinating.

Indian street scenes

We struck gold in Jaipur, with The Explorer's Nest, possibly the best (certainly the friendliest) place we've stayed at. One of the highlights of our trip was sitting on the roof in the late afternoon and watching the sky come alive with kites. Anyone who has seen The Kite Runner can pictures the scene - boys and men all over the city standing on rooftops, floating kites in the breeze and trying to cut the cords of their rivals. The trees and power lines are littered with kites that were on the losing end of the duels.

Another highlight came a few hours later, when we, the owners, two Thai men and an American couple sat around a fire on the roof, drank spicy soup, had a few drinks, ate some delicious cake, talked about travel and life, and watched fireworks bloom in all directions as the clock hit midnight.

Best New Year ever.

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