Monday, March 20, 2006

All aboard the Rajdhani Express

Delhi Diary

The Rajdhani Express arrived in Nizamuddin station, Delhi on Saturday afternoon with yrs truly aboard. The thirty-hour journey from Madras was the express version (it's normally 2 nights and 2 days). I wondered why my compartment-mates were so morose till I realized the CTI (chief ticket inspector, AKA "the man with the tie") had probably instructed them - "see this white lady? One wrong move and you're all in trouble." Later the CTI came by to ensure "there is no problem? All are gents, yes?" I assured him they were indeed.

Eventually the ice broke and I met some lovely people including a young Tamil man who serenaded us with classical Western guitar, and turned out to be doing a master's in cell biology in Delhi. He laments that he can't get into a music school in India because he is too old (31). They don't accept people over a certain age at colleges here. I told him to come to the US, being 31 there is like being 21 here.

Another "gent" turned out to be a senior investigator for the CB I (central bureau of investigation, Indian version of FBI) in Delhi, just returning from Maharashtra where he had handled an investigation of tiger-skin poaching and antelope-horn smuggling. This is a big problem, as India's tiger population is disappearing quickly. It's the fox guarding the henhouse -t he people they put in charge of protecting the tigers end up taking payoffs from the poachers with the result that in at least one major tiger 'reserve,' the population turned out to be 2 tigers rather than the officially reported 50 or so. I was invited to come by the CBI office any time and interview him about ongoing investigations (including heroin and hashish smuggling). It's good to have friends in high places.

An exciting moment in the landscape came while passing through the historic town of Gwalior, where we could see the famous ancient fort - perched on a sheer escarpment of rock in the middle of an otherwise near-desert - from the train. Also thrilling were glimpses of some of the minarets of Moghul buildings while passing through Agra (though not the Taj Mahal itself). All in all it was a nice ride with only one screaming baby on board.

The drive from Nizamuddin station takes you past all kinds of historic monuments, moghul tombs and ruins that are just casually chucked in as part of the scenery. One onion-domed tomb that I found quite impressive ("woww!" I exclaimed) was dismissed by my host as "not a very fancy one." They are now all surrounded by multi-lane highways and modern shopping complexes.

After a long soak in the heart-shaped tub (it takes a year of bucket baths in India to really appreciate a hot bathtub soak), Saturday night was spent being introduced, at the behest of my local host, to the cream of the Delhi expat volunteer crowd, bright enthusiastic young people from Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Australia and Philippines who are working for various NGOs, many working with street children and autistic or handicapped kids. Our age differences became a bit pronounced when they all wanted to go out to a loud techno nightclub till 4 in the morning. I begged out early at 1.30 am and my clothes and hair still reeked of cigarette smoke.

This is the first chance I've had to catch up on email since Thursday evening. I'm now staying with friends in Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi and receiving some well-deserved pampering (live-in cook, an actual bathtub you can sit and soak in, and tea on command) before heading up to McLeod for the Dalai Lama and more rugged living conditions.


King Amdo said...

"before heading up to McLeod for the Dalai Lama and more rugged living conditions"


Aadil said...

Good to hear about your travels from the south to the north!!! Any chance of meeting up someday inbetween in Mumbai?!!!


Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Thanks Aadil, I sure hope so. But probably not till after the worst of pre-monsoon season is over (that is, post-May or so).