We just got back this morning from Orchha, which is in Madya Pradesh, about 20 K’s from Jhansi. (This is south of Delhi.)
To start off, we missed the train by minutes. These things happen. So we had to quickly get a refund (partial one) and buy another ticket for another train. Of course there is a system for this. Paul had to leave me in one of the offices for this with the luggage while he went and filled in forms to give to men to fill in forms to give to men…….
Meantime, one of the Indian men helping us comes up to me and says “Give me 5 rupees”. So I gave him 5 rupees. Then he comes back and says “Give me 20 rupees”, and I’m thinking “what is this, a shake down on this white woman with no Hindi while her husband is out of sight?” So we had a bit of a chat about this, neither of us understanding what the other was saying, and I finally gave him 20 rupees because the ball was in his court. Then Paul came back with yet another piece of paper, and the man came back and gave me a handful of money, and now I’m really confused! Turns out he was giving us a partial refund and needed 25 rupees for the right change,etc, etc. So, we now have another train ticket, but this time it is not for a reserved sleeper seat, it is for the “find a seat if you can and be grateful for it”section.
Now at this stage, I am becoming horribly aware that my brand new trousers I bought today were not sewn as well as they should have been and are starting to come apart in the crutch. We have to sit amongst a bunch of staring Indian men and I cannot do anything other than sit up straight and keep my legs very closed. Now this is okay for a little while, but we still have another 5 hours or so on the train Then the TC (Ticket Collector – they abbreviate everything possible here) comes along and says we can sit in the seats down the way a bit until the next stop, when it will be claimed. This was right beside a window. Yay! I was able to see out the window a little bit because it is full moon and there was a lot of lightning. So it worked out fabulously – dramatic lightning striking the countryside, frogs croaking by the thousands – until it started raining and we had to shut the window and could no longer see past the reflection. So now I am left sitting up straight, looking at the less-than-glamorous inside of the train and avoiding staring eyes, aware that I cannot relax any more than this as my trousers are splitting more every minute. Paul is faring better than me because at least he can cross his legs and change position.
So I think to myself, it’s okay, I can do this. I will try and sleep sitting up.” But of course, at the next stop, along comes the man who has booked this seat, and naturally he wants it. So we go and sit in the bit at the end of the train by the door, on the floor, (all the time keeping legs straight out in front) until someone takes pity on us and suggests we use the TC’s seat because he hardly sits in it, as he is very busy being important up and down the train.
This works well, until the TC comes back sporadically and wants to sit down. That is fine, he is willing to share his bench. It’s the security men with guns slung over their shoulders that want to surround him and chat that bothered me more. Not so much the guns, I doubt they were more than decoration and I didn’t see any bullets, but more that they were men and with every time I changed my position slowly to try to keep some semblance of feeling in my backside, my pants would respond with another dreaded ripping sensation. Please, if you wish to have a better idea of how I am feeling by now, find a very bone-rattling type of transport, ensuring you do not have a seat with any more than 1 inch of softness to it, sit there for 5 hours with your legs straight out in front of you and try to sleep. Thus you will gain insight into my predicament. Oh, and don’t forget to add staring eyes all around you, just for that added extra Je ne sais quois.
Anyway, somehow I managed to sleep for an hour, and we finally pulled into the Jhansi station. Now I have to step gracefully from the train whilst holding a medium-sized heavy bag and a large heavy bag and walk through crowds of people and bodies hoping the situation around my crotch area held together for a little longer and find a bathroom that wasn’t too disgusting so I could change my pants. Again I say to you, please try this at home. It really is challenging to one’s modesty factor. Especially when you’re the only white people around for miles and most the crowd is lying on the floor and looking up at the strange-looking white woman walking funny. It would have been funny if it wasn’t happening to me at 3am after one hour’s sleep.
After changing my attire, I strode out of the bathroom feeling almost like a glamour queen in my cotton tie-dyeds and we went outside the station to do the usual refusal routine with the taxi wallahs. We had a choice between sitting outside the station until 7am providing entertainment for the locals or getting an auto rickshaw to the village of Orchha and hanging around there in the dark fending off the dogpacks. Gosh, the romance of it all. We chose the latter.
The road to Orchha is about 18kms long and is a Osteopathic wallah’s paradise. Paul kindly filled me in on Madya Pradesh’s infamy for bad roading, and the potholes, spine-jarring rattles and juddar bars placed literally any old where along the way, gave truth to his words. Now, the fact that you are experiencing this punishment on your body is a good sign because it means you are successfully negotiating around the cows. They apparently own the road and lie there with an air of supreme confidence in the fact that you will go around them.
We finally got to Orchha, through some ancient gateways, past some slums and yes – more cows – and got dropped off in the village square. We then went through the usual routine of refusal with the rickshaw wallah, who wanted to give us a lift to a “good hotel” – probably owned by his brother’s brother’s wife’s uncle-in-law. We couldn’t shake him off – 10 points for tenacity on his part – so we just walked the few steps to where we were going and let him follow. I think he found us to be ever so disappointing foreign tourists, but generously hung around all night and part of the next morning, repeating his offer in case we hadn’t heard him the first 400 times.
The dog packs weren’t too bad really – mostly show, which is the case with most dogs. We told them we were very impressed at their ferocity and they apparently found that satisfying and moved over to let us in. We lay down on one of the wooden benches outside Paul’s friend’s restaurant and had a crack at sleeping. I tell you what, after the performance of getting there, the wooden bench felt like a feather and down mattress. I remember glancing over to a couple of other benches near us and thinking this must indeed be an honest and trusting place, as the stallkeepers had left their stock out and just covered it with sarongs. Then the stock moved a bit and a foot poked out and I had to do a little cerebral readjustment. Maybe we were lucky there was an unoccupied bench available without a having made a reservation.
Morning time came and we woke up to – gasp – a quiet scene. I think that was what woke us up – the lack of horns blasting. Cows were happily ambling by, the dog packs had just gone off duty and our dear friend the rickshaw wallah was asleep in his rickshaw a few feet away. He soon awoke also and reminded us he was there in case we had forgotten. Whilst he carried on his one-way conversation, we slung our bags over shoulders and made our way over the nearby bridge to the palace on the island. Wow! Not just one palace but three of them! Pretty impressive sight. We walked through anti-elephant devices (enormous gates set around a corner and studded with very long and unfriendly looking spikes) and stumbled wearily up what seemed like five thousand steps to the palace doors. Here was our home for the next 24 hours.