Saturday, 3 March 2012

Thursday 1st March - Big Train Day

Pictures finally added at 18.30 IST Thursday 8th March

These early starts are infectious. We are both wide awake at 6 a.m. showered, dressed and luggage packed by the time breakfast kicks off. D has allowed time for the usual dilatory check out and for the traffic. Check out takes about 30 seconds and there is hardly any traffic to speak of so we get to the station more than an hour ahead of departure time.

The platform is busy but R manages to squeeze onto the end of a bench where she can watch the luggage while D goes for a stroll up and down the platform. Our train is the Marudhar Express (Train no 14854), one of the IR legends, connecting Jodhpur with Jaipur, Agra and Varanasi.

R has consented to slum it in 2AC for this trip - good job because there is no 1AC. The solitary 2AC coach is only about half full for this leg of the journey. After we get off it will be packed. One of the India Mike forum rail gurus describes 2AC as "curtain class" as everybody hides behind their curtains. We are lucky that the 4 berth bay opposite has only two occupants, an English couple about our age, who are happy to keep their curtains open so at least the four of us have light and can look out of the window on either side. North West Railways continue to perform as we have come to expect. The windows would disgrace a Kolkata bus and a mouse made regular appearances from beneath the seats.

His name is Richard Watson - what are the chances of that? Everybody else in the coach is Indian and apparently intent on sleeping all day. They don't know what they are missing. D is able to initiate Richard and partner into the delights of Trains at a Glance and answer a couple of train questions. They thought that they would have to hang around Old Delhi station for six hours between connections so we are able to explain how to book bags into left luggage and where to go within easy walking distance. Richard is also introduced to the delights of door riding as the Marudhar ambles through Rajasthan.

The train makes pretty good time although there are several waits to cross eastbound trains as the line is mainly single tracked. At one of the longer waits, where we cross the Marudhar going in the opposite direction, various hawkers appear from nowhere, walking along the track and selling up into the coaches.

As we get closer to Jaipur we pass through an area known as the Salt Lakes, where sun dried salt is produced in artificial lagoons and then heaped up to await collection. There is even an industrial light railway that runs out between the lagoons to pick up the salt.

In honour of today's rail marathon D is wearing his Great Circular Indian Rail Challenge t-shirt. GCIRC purists may not approve of the routing which involves three hundred odd kilometres backtracking the way we came on Sunday night in order to catch the Jaipur-Mumbai non stop Duronto. It also gives us chance to re-visit the Peacock retaurant on the roof of the Pearl Palace hotel, one of our favourites from last year and well worth the detour.

We arrive in Jaipur on time and, after checking our bags, hop an auto to the Pearl Palace. The streets are unrecognisable from last year due to major works on developing a Jaipur Metro. The Pearl Palace and its restaurant are still the same and we have a very leisurely late lunch and a couple of beers. R gives the loo an immediate place in the finals of the All-India best facility awards.

Before we get totally blathered we return to the station and spend a happy half hour in the land that time forgot - the metre gauge platforms at the far end of the station. We time it just right to see one train arrive and another prepare to depart. The coaches on these trains look as if they haven't had a coat of paint for twenty years.

Metre gauge is being phased out in India and D would love a trip on one of these trains.R takes one look at the upholstery and puts her foot down. She is starting to get a bit antsy about missing our train so we go to reclaim our luggage.

Next to the cloak room (=left luggage) is a check your PNR machine. The PNR is a unique 10-digit number that identifies your ticket status and when we check ours it shows that, for the fifth time out of five possible, we have been allocated a 2-berth coupe. BINGO. With the aid of a very modern lift make our way to the platform for the Jaipur-Mumbai Duronto (train number 12240) which awaits. Composed of modern rolling stock, painted in a rather ridiculous camoflage pattern our coupe awaits and even R can find only one fault - the bullet hole (?) in the outer pane of the double glazed window.

Here we see R in her best Lady Glenmutchkin mode lording it over the huddled masses on the platform. Our train pulls out right on time and we settle down for our sixteen and a half hour trip to Mumbai. D gives the ticket inspector a good laugh by telling him that the train had set off in the wrong direction. Silly D.

The catering service on this train is definitely the best that we have seen. The meals are included in the fare and are cooked on board in the pantry car. Two very smart young men are looking after the 1AC coach and they make a real effort. Dinner is laid out on folding tables with tea-towels as table-cloths. We kick off with tomato soup - always fun on a swaying train - followed by capsicum and paneer, with pommes de terre, daal, rice and chapatis, served from tureens at our seats in a most presentable manner. We finish off with tubs of ice cream eaten with wooden spoons just like at the cinema. It least it was like that the last time D paid to go to the pictures.

And so time for bed. R voted the linen very satisfactory apart from the pillows which were like rocks and had the obligatory footprints on them. We have our blow up pillows and we are soon curled up for the night.

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