Monday, 4 March 2013

Getting from A to B

After leaving Khajuraho we drove to Jhansi in order to catch the express train to Agra. On the way we stopped at a small Indian town called Orcha. The drive itself was an experience for two reasons. Firstly because the driving hasn't really improved as we've moved across India- as we have been told the three things you need are good brakes, a good horn and good luck! Secondly because it gave us the opportunity to move out of the tourist cities and see life on the side of the road in India.

The drive was fascinating. Huge areas of India are agricultural and you can drive for miles purely seeing wheat fields and the women who work in them planting seeds. Every now and then we came across a small village or 'colony' as it is often referred to by Indians and it is here where you begin to see vast amounts of poverty. Many children appear not to go to school. Our guide informed us that it is too expensive for many families despite the fact that a months education including books and lunches costs as little as £2.00 at a government school. None of the houses have running water and instead water pumps are spaced every few miles along the road.

The other thing which was a real eye opener was the filth. There is literally s*** everywhere. Both animal and human. Passing the railway tracks in particular was really enough to turn my stomach. Obviously sanitation is a huge issue in India (my stomach hasn't been quite right since we got here and it isn't hard to see why) and driving through the smaller towns this is even more apparent. The children however, are amazing! They are so happy, constantly waving at us, coming and speaking to us, asking our names and where we're from. Despite the conditions which they live in they are ultra-positive. Seeing this side of India is a truly humbling experience.

Before arriving in India I expected it to be chaotic. As a landmass with a population of over 1.25billion people (which is constantly growing as the average family still has 5 children each)you cannot avoid crowds. The actual chaos however has completely surpassed my expectations. On the drive, an example of this is when we reached a level crossing. Rather than doing as we do in England i.e. sitting in a queue, scowling and repeatedly checking your watch, the crowd gathered on both sides. First came the motorbikes which the riders brought to the barrier and simply pushed them underneath crossing the tracks ignoring the potential risk of a train coming around the blind bend. Next came the various other forms of transport which pushed and shoved their way to the barrier in both lanes. The exact same thing was also happening on the other side of the tracks. Of course when the barrier eventually lifted, two opposing rows of traffic faced each other with nowhere to worries the driver said. Everyone pushed there way through the gaps and miraculously made it to the other side with no major accidents although we saw exactly why there isn't a single car without scratches on it!!

We eventually made it to Orcha. We went to the large palace there (again another spectacularly lovely monument) but the city itself was disgusting. There was filth everywhere, I was genuinely suffering with my stomach at this point and had to use the filthiest Eastern-style toilet ever (the less said on that the better), and I have never seen more insects in my life. Continuing on with this theme, we then made our trip to Jhansi for our first Indian rail experience.

I have never seen more people in one space in my life then in the economy class of an Indian train. Crammed in like sardines, there literally isn't space to swing a cat. We felt thoroughly lucky (and somewhat guilty) sitting in our first class carriage with (shock) air conditioning!! The journey itself was unspectacular but a few things to mention- NEVER go to the toilet on an Indian train or in an Indian railway station. Don't be surprised that when the porter comes to help you with your luggage he will carry your suitcase ON HIS HEAD. And finally, be prepared to get stared at for being a foreigner. It seems that like with everything else we have experienced in India, it is essential to take on the challenge of getting from A to B with a sense of humour and an open mind...and plenty of hand sanitizer!!

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