Friday, August 20, 2010

Destination Ludhiana

What a day!  After carefully laying out everything I would need for my early-morning departure to the train station, I missed my train.  Which is not to say I did not try.  I first took a taxi to the train station.  This station was in a bit of a, uh, transitional state.  The roads were mud, the traffic rendered the area impossible to move, and it was raining.  After dragging my rolly bags over construction mud piles, I arrived only to be told that I missed my train and I should head to the tourist office.  My scam-dar immediately went up; rightfully so, it turns out.  After being told both the 8:30 AM and 11 AM trains were sold out, I was offered a car for hire at Rs 7000 ($155).  Luckily I reached the USIEF office, promptly took a taxi back to the hotel, filled up on free breakfast, and was rebooked on a later train, sans air conditioning.  

I was lucky enough to have two USIEF staff drive me to the station and one to help with my bags.  After dealing with a crabby coolie (Red jacketed bag porters who are very adept at carrying passengers' bags. They twist and roll a scarf for a cushion for their heads, upon which suitcases go on top the scarf and provide cushion.), we, the self-described USIEF office boy and I, waited for an hour for a delayed train.  This man was beyond nice – buying me bananas and rushing to my defense to ensure I wasn’t getting ripped off when I purchased some crackers and cookies from one of the train station kiosks.  

The man sitting across from me on the train was a very nice man returning to Amritsar with his mother and father.  His mother was not well, so she took up the entire seat, while this man carved out what little space was left.  He insisted several times I use the rest of his seat to rest my feet.  Anytime he ate he offered me some and he bought me a “sandwich” (The sandwich consisted of two pieces of white bread cut on the bias and stacked, coated in batter and deep fried.  It was a bit like a very bland form of French toast, although the bread was not soaked through with the egg mixture, as in French toast. It was served with hot sauce.  Other train treats looked much better, but my concern for my digestive system overrode my hunger pangs.) from one of the men filing through the aisles approximately every two seconds shouting helpful, né redundant, information about their wares.  (I found out later that those sandwiches normally are filled with aloo (potato))

Our other fellow passenger (the seats on this section are two benches facing each other), the one sitting next to me, was a Punjabi man traveling to the capital to take his TOEFL test because the test in Delhi was sold out.  This man was also quite nice, and offered to warn me a bit about living in India.  But instead of just informing me of his concerns, he wrote it down.  Issues one: “Beware of Punjabis.” Which he later amended to say “Beware of Punjabis/Indians.”  This seemed extreme to me, but he concluded that it was his duty to protect foreigners living in India.  He respectfully did not want his country to get a poor reputation for the way it treats women.  Issue two: “Do not eat meals from Indian restaurants.”  Knowing me as some of you do, you can probably imagine that this is not an option.  The man was only concerned for the hygienics of the city.  I’d say he’s on the right track but is a little OCD about the whole hygiene thing.  “What else?” I asked.  “That’s it,” he says.  “That’s it?” I say.  “That’s it,” he says.  So there you go, only two concerns, although very broad ones, I need to have in India.  I like it!

To give you an example the kindness and helpfulness of many Indians, I leave you with this story. There was a man on the platform that first helped the USIEF office boy find my coach when the train approached the New Delhi stations. He thought for some reason I was to get off at Amritsar (probably because this is a popular tourist destination).  So when he saw me depart at Ludhiana he steped outside the train and warned me that I was not at the correct stop.  Very thoughtful of him.

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