#5 from Agra to Jaipur

Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 7:00 AM

Agra Cantonment station is relatively quiet when we arrive to catch the7.15am Marudhar Express to Jaipur. This means that the crowd is of Division 2rather than Premiership standards allowing occasional glimpses of the platform through the throng .

The train is sat waiting for us and our names appear on the reservation list taped next to the door of our carriage. We board only to find a man a sleep in one of our berths but the Ticket Inspector soon appears and reallocates us to two nearby seats .

We are travelling in Class 2A which, I think, ranks third out of the seven classes that Indian railways recognise. The guide books tell us that the class below, 2nd Class Sleeper, is ok, and, at approximately 1/3 the cost, also much cheaper. But for our first long journey we wanted the comforting blanket of air-conditioning and this, the more expensive option, still only costs 610 rupees (9 pounds) for a 7 hour journey. On one side of the carriage are booths where two long seats face each other (seats 1 and 2), each seat converting into a bed at night. Above these seats are two bunks which can fold away during the day (seats 3 and 4). On the opposite side of the narrow aisle two single seats face each other. These seats (5 and 6) convert into a bed at night and have a further flat bunk above them. The pattern repeats down the length of the carriage with curtains offering a little extra privacy when required. Whilst our single seats are just on the cramped side of cosy the four-berth booths are more spacious .

The train has travelled overnight from Varanasi so we board to find people in various states of consciousness. As the morning progresses I expect to see the occupants of the four-berth booths all get up and the top bunks to be folded away allowing the four passengers to share the two long seats which provide ample space. Instead the downstairs occupants remain resolutely horizontal, imposing the same restriction on their fellow passengers in the bunks above .

Evidentally what you have, you hold .

Eventually, with maybe an hour remaining of the seven hour journey, the young English couple who are our only near neighbours thaw sufficiently to respond to Sausage's overtures. I am busy typing and feel no urge to join in as, almost from the outset, what they have to say is really annoying .

The stories they tell about what has happened to them since their arrival in India a fortnight ago mirror our own, but they are told with a sneering dislike of every interaction with an Indian. 'They' (said in a way that makes clear it is all of 'them') are all out to lie, cheat and rip you off. No-one can be trusted and, what is more, the whole place stinks. They cap their pronouncements with Stereotyping Proverb No. 4 - "But of course it's not a holiday is it? It's an EXPERIENCE"> As we part they are vowing to stay in better hotels and inflict the cost on their Visa cards, such is their determination to find a cleaner, less hassled, more Westernized version of India .

I have some sympathy for what they have faced, our experiences on arrival shocked both Sausage and I, despite the warnings in books and from friends, but the place is what it is and so far we have found that by rolling with the punches, allowing ridiculous amounts of time and being prepared to argue toward a fair price for things, we can get by in a way that we are happy with. I just hope that we continue to enjoy ourselves and don't end up sat on a train loudly spouting racist crap .

As we arrive in Jaipur it is as if a deity specialising in foreign relations has eavesdropped on the rant in the train and has arranged a further learning experience for our unhappy travelling companions. For our experience on arrival sums up exactly the type of situation about which we have just been lectured .

Auto-rickshaw tout No. 1 is at my shoulder before my feet hit the platform and makes five attempts at his sales pitch before acknowledging my lack of interest and retreating to a point where he is following us from a position four metres in front of us. He makes two further attempts as we approach the door leading from the station onto its' fore-court .

We emerge through the station doors onto the floor of the London Stock Exchange in an age long before computerised trading. Evidently I have in my hands the hottest shares in the market's history. This can be the only explanation for the swarm of men who surround me, each bellowing their offer, raising a cacophony out of which I can occasionally pick out prices which range from the blatantly too low (and we can't be bothered to argue at the end of the journey), through realistic, and upwards to ludicrous heights. All the time, like an old mono radiogram with the record stuck, Tout No. 1. is repeating in my ear 'You must pick me Sir, I spoke to you first.' We stand in the middle of the bear-pit, take a deep breath, laugh, and pick one of the less aggressive drivers. Despite a couple of brief moans from those we have not selected within seconds the crowd disperses and silence reigns again .

We undertake the journey to our hotel to the accompaniment of the hard sell of the driver for his services over the days to come, but all I can think about is the couple we met on the train and I wonder what they will have made of their welcome to Jaipur .

Diggi Palace, our home for the next couple of days, is a 'haveli', formerly a merchant's house now converted into a hotel. The forty bedrooms make plain that it is a big house and our guidebooks tell us that we will find a similar layout wherever we come across other converted haveli .

The auto-rickshaw enters through an arched gateway and we walk across a large lawn to get to the building. Our room is in what was formerly the wives accommodation. All the doors, spread over three floors, open out on a cool, shaded square courtyard with windows giving views in all directions which allowed the wives, in Purdah, to keep an eye on the comings and goings of the house. The public spaces feature lots of murals and hand-painted motifs, all in good condition. Slightly peculiar is our room which has a border of blue and red lines running parallel to the ceiling at the top of the walls, dropping vertically to mark the location of each and every light switch and power socket .

Later we buy postcards and stamps from a kiosk in the foyer where we are served by an elegant white haired man wearing jacket and trousers in the smart, cool style popularised by Nehru. He explains that for 25 years he was an art teacher and, in addition to painting the entire interior of Diggi Palace (accounting for its' decor accommodating latter day wiring so fulsomely)he also now produces miniature paintings a couple of which we purchase at prices that would make a Hoxton artist weep tears of sorrow .

The hotel garden is beautiful, an island of green surrounded by high shady trees where, despite being in the centre of a big city, the only sounds are of bird-song and, through the trees, the sound of boys playing cricket on the adjoining open ground .

Sausage's throat has got worse so we rest up for the remainder of the day and she relents and starts the course of anti-biotics we procured with difficulty in Agra. The medication makes Sausage decidedly squiffy in a way that people have been known to pay good money for. We must wait and see if the drugs have the desired effect .

In such a tranquil setting we both start to relax and our notion that we need to find somewhere to unwind fully grows into a determination to do so as soon as possible .

The next morning we manage an abortive trip to buy bus tickets to Pushkar which is not entirely wasted because we find Strepsils for Sausage. With Sausage still feeling off-colour we abandon all plans for the day and settle down in the garden to read, type, relax and snooze .

We are entertained by two puppies, each just a few months old, but not related to look at them. They are floppy and immensely playful, in turns chasing, play-fighting, chewing each other and then resting for a few moments before repeating time and again. Both are black, the smaller with a white chest .

They run in and out of the garden furniture, including the stout antique deckchairs, still a little too floppy to remain standing for very long, as they try out all the crouching crawling and running poses that will soon become second nature. Sausage looks at me with doe eyes that are intended to remind me how ill she is when one of the dogs emerges from under her deckchair with one of her lilac flip-flops in its' mouth. Confused about my species I allow my tongue to loll out of my mouth as I gambol off to 'FETCH!' back the slip-slop .

We didn't need Sausage's ailment for our time relaxing in the garden to feel like just what the doctor ordered and we will pursue more of the same in Pushkar tomorrow .

Lots of Love The Travelling Sausages