As I was finishing my meal two young men asked whether I'd mind if they joined me. Go ahead I told them. I'm always a little defensive when this happens but it turned out they were just touting their tour guide business in Kashmir. One day I'd love to head to north India, to see the Himalayas.
Next morning I packed and hailed a rickshaw to take me to the train station. As we were waiting at a busy junction the driver asked me"do you have ticket?" When I confirmed, he asked me where I bought it from. I explained that I had booked it from my hotel. You pay a commission doing it that way but it ensures you get exactly the ticket you want. "Ah, not good, maybe they sell you bad ticket. I can take you to government tourist office to confirm ticket?" This seems to be a common Delhi scam in which unsuspecting tourists get taken to a not-at-all official government office to pay inflated prices for their ticket/tour (I assume the rickshaw drivers get a cut). "No thanks" I told him as a little girl did handstands in front of the rickshaw, her sister holding her hand out for a tip.
I arrived at the train station and made my way to platform 7, a slight grain of doubt in my mind that maybe my ticket wasn't valid after all. I needn't have worried. After a while the huge 30 carriage train pulled up and hundreds of people spilled out. It made for a chaotic scene, people crowding down the platform, pushing trolleys, carrying bags on their head, as the same amount again tried to barge their way on to the train. I walked three quarters the length of the train before I found 'coach class' C3. I settled down to my window seat and felt relieved when we began to pull away, exactly on time.
I love travelling by train. It's a really nice, relaxing way to watch the world go by. We soon left the tall buildings and slums behind (almost every corrugated tin roof had a satellite dish) and sped through flat and featureless countryside. It maybe wasn't the best view but it was lovely to be out in the open, green fields as far as the eye could see, the sun shining brightly. Whenever I leave the capital, it always feels like the holiday is truly beginning.
The journey to Sawai Madhopur took five and a half relaxing hours. I had four chais - hot sweet tea - and a packet of massala crisps from passing vendors. The sunset was dark red and purple, like an angry bruise, then we pulled in to the train station. I shared a rickshaw in to town with an Australian couple with possibly the most Australian accents I've ever heard. They ended every sentence with a high note, like they were asking a question. They were on a four week honeymoon in India. We said goodbye but I reckon I'll probably end up seeing them tomorrow in Ranthambhore National Park, one of the few places in India its possible to see wild tigers.
I checked in to my hotel - Vanraj Palance - and booked myself on a jeep safari at 6.30am tomorrow morning. It's not guaranteed I'll see tigers but if not, another trip leaves at 2.30pm. If I don't see them on the second trip, I can always extend my stay.
I went up to my room - a piano version of 'My Heart Will Go On' was playing in the lift - and my room seems very nice. I didn't linger though, I was hungry, so headed upstairs to the restaurant that was recommended to me by the receptionist. It was completely empty - probably 50 seats and no customers. I was tempted to creep back down (not so much the thought of eating alone which doesn't bother me, rather a nagging doubt that a restaurant as quiet as this can't use the freshest ingredients) but a man I assumed to be the chef sprang to his feet and said "hello sir" with a big beaming grin.
I'm glad I stayed. I ordered paneer laziz, which had crispy paneer with a tomato gravy but the star of the show was the aloo dum kashmiri which had stuffed potatoes. The stuffing had lots of nuts and herbs. When I ordered it he asked "spicy or medium spicy?" I went for the spicy version and it was absolutely gorgeous. All washed down with a Tuborg beer two months out of date.
The staff here are very friendly. When I asked if they have internet they said I could use a computer behind their reception desk, where I'm sat now. It means people walking in probably think I work here. I noticed a man perusing the menu as he checked in and couldn't resist recommending the spicy aloo kashmiri. I wish I was on commission because he ordered it!
Early night tonight and hopefully tigers tomorrow...