The second point of our trip was Amritsar.
After first couple of days spent in Delhi and a large dose of Indian hospitality (you can read about it here) and also hoping to diversify our experiences in the country, we’d decided to go to the state of Punjab and its capital Amritsar.
Before departure to Amritsar we had to get to know an absolutely incredible place – the railroad station in Delhi. On that day we, people, who are acquainted with all possible variations of the notion of the ex-Soviet railroad station, were just struck by the scale of what we had seen. It’s hard to describe. The rule of “once seen is better than 10-times heard” applies here the best. Moreover, that one time “seen” will be enough for someone to last the remainder of their life.
When we were approaching the station in a cab, it was surrounded by the pack of people wearing red shirts. And I, terrified, asked who the hell they were. They turned out to be “coolies” or baggage-men, who would gladly carry your bags where needed. Is it worth mentioning that these people constantly scream, gesticulate and almost carry you out of the car? The important thing here is to not lose control and hold on to your luggage for dear life (nah, thanks, we’ll manage ourselves – not a drop of royal blood in our veins).
“Coolies” in Amritsar
The concentration of people on the station is unbelievable. Everything’s mixed up. Someone’s eating, someone’s sleeping, other people are in hurry to get to places, all of this smells and screams in totally unfamiliar fashion for a common European. We were so subdued by the crowds and the heat that we couldn’t take pictures of all that chaos.
We had tickets for a train called “New Delhi-Amritsar Shatabdi Express”. The trains Shatabdi Express is a series of trains that connect important Indian cities as to tourism, pilgrimage and commerce.
When the information about the train came up on display, we set out looking for our platform. Of course, we couldn’t skip the frame of metal detector, our backpacks were X-rayed. And although frames are constantly beeping, policemen indifferently check you with additional handheld metal detector and let you go.
Through the long gallery, situated above the roadway, we get to the platform and wait for the train to come. The gallery mentioned is a place to live and work for many – beggars, bums and those who simply missed the train.
The most comfortable thing on the platform was the light information boards, which tell where you should stay in order to board your wagon. It simplifies boarding a lot as there are way too many people on the platform.
Travelling by express was fairly comfortable and it seemed as though we’d returned to the usual rhythm of life after the chaos of first couple of days. The difference was only in the way fellow travelers looked – a bigger part of them had bright turbans on their heads. As we moved out of Delhi, we caught a glimpse of slums and completely unfathomable life of its inhabitants. With our jaws dropped we looked through the glass. It’s hard to believe that what was seen there is reality. Not the shots from “Slumdog Millionaire”, not the play, without decorations. Only a few yards away from the railroad the life of people went on, children played, mixed with fetid rotting waste, piles of garbage, under nothing but the sky and without basic human conditions.
Sitting in the comfortable wagon of a fast train I had a weird sense of duality: it’s difficult to combine the feeling of comfort (so easily accessible to us) and infernal existence “on the other side of the window”.
Our wagon’s class was AC CC (Air Condition Chair Car), we had comfy soft seats with headrests in a conditioned train car. The conditioning was powerful. We sensed it immediately. After the +37°C heat outside put together with high humidity, the sweat turned ice-cold at once. We delved in our backpacks in search of warm clothes. A word of advice – before going on such a train, pack a pair of sweaters closely. Although, the Indians feel themselves just fine – nobody wears anything, and even children travel clad in light clothes.
In 7 or so hours the train covers 450 km (~280 miles), separating Delhi from Amritsar. During this time you’ll be offered a bottle of clear water and 3 meals: appetizers (spicy crisps, a samosa bun, sauces and a cheese sandwich), a hot meal (always-present lentil soup, vegetable stew and rice) and even the dessert with hot beverages, tea or coffee.
Although dubiously we dined in the train, you won’t kid yourself if you’re hungry. ☺ Worth mentioning, that nobody was sick afterwards.
“Meal on wheel” – personnel in express
The food is included in the ticket’s price. Put together with Wi-Fi and fresh newspapers to kill time, 7-hour trip is enjoyable, compared to the tumultuous cycle of Indian reality…
The train came to the terminal station in Amritsar around midnight. We fell out into the sultry stuffiness of the night and went to look for our hotel. Google said that it’d take around 15 minutes to get there. Having successfully located the hotel we couldn’t check in there (as it happened to us on different occasion).
It was shaping up to be our new-born tradition. The hotel refused to accommodate us on the grounds of us being foreigners (at least it’s what they told us; there’s also an option that they didn’t want to spend their “precious” time on us). ☺ We didn’t lose heart and found the hotel on the same street in a few minutes time.
The outer appearance and the interior of the room left us speechless, as did the functionality of plumbing and helpfulness of the hotel’s staff (well, there wasn’t any, if you don’t get the irony ☺). After all, you begin to get used to things like that.
Amritsar awaited us in the morning, blissfully unaware and indifferent to 3 weary travelers falling asleep in sleeping bags in a hotel room…