Thursday: Traveling Day
I’m sure everyone who travels loses days to the act itself. This is one of ours. We leave our Agra accommodation at 9.10am for the trip to the train station. Here we say ‘goodbye’ to our driver, who has been with us since we arrived on Saturday night. He has been fabulous in every way.
We are boarding the Taj Express for Jhansi. Happily our local contact comes to the platform with us. The announcements are almost continual, but we barely understand a word. The occasional place name is all that we recognize. As we walk to the platform there are multiple offers to shine shoes. We find the place where our carriage will pull up, and we wait. When the train arrives we rush to get on board – we don’t know how long the train halts, and our contact cannot come on board to assist (but does anyway).
Despite what you may have read about entertaining conversations with Indian families on train journeys, we must be traveling the wrong class for this. Our group of seats all face the same way, making conversation both unlikely and difficult. Apart from a few mysterious stops in the middle of nowhere, the trip is uneventful, and late in arriving at Jhansi.
At Jhansi we are greeted by three small children, each eager to shake our hands and say ‘hello’. They are then just as eager to mimic putting food in their mouths. Our contact finds us on the platform (he thought we were traveling in a different class) and we make our way out of the station to our car and driver for the journey to Khajuraho. For five days we have been in a very recent, spotlessly presented Suzuki Swift, now we are presented with a Tata of indeterminate age, looking the worse for wear and tear. I can barely understand our contact, he mimics sleeping to establish how many nights we are staying Khajuraho. The contact provides instruction to the driver, and leaves. We suspect the driver has no English at all.
The road to Khajuraho is about 200 kilometres, and quite possibly the worse road IndianInterlude has ever been on. It is barely passable in places, particularly in our little car. The driver’s overtaking technique does nothing for back seat nerves. The highlight of this trip is our first elephant sighting. It takes us more than five hours to reach our destination. The road is narrow, and the driver spends an extraordinary amount of time on the wrong side of the road. It is dark, and we are in the country. Everyone appears to drive with their lights on full beam, and no one dips them for oncoming traffic. Pedestrians, cyclists, bullock carts, even auto-rickshaws, none of these have lights, yet are on the road. In the absence of a reflective safety triangle, traffic cones and hazard lights, when an Indian vehicle is being repaired on the side of the road there are a few bricks placed around the immediate worksite.
We finally make the hotel, and for that we are grateful. Tomorrow we visit the temples, the sole purpose of our trip to this town. One half of IndianInterlude says “They better be bloody good temples”.