Tuesday, March 27, 2012

3 July 2011 – Chandigarh

[Part of my write up for the Leh Bike Trip]

After crossing Delhi, the endless fields passing by the window make you realize that you are in Green Revolution country. Armed with the information given by the Dentist, we exited Chandigarh railway station and enquired how to reach Kissan Bhavan, which the dentist had recommended as a cheap and clean place.

A rickshaw driver approached us outside the station but ignoring him we went to the newspaper stand for information. The guy didn’t have any idea but the same rickshaw driver was around buying a newspaper and he told us which bus would drop us at our destination. We came out, realized that waiting and then boarding a bus with all our luggage wasn’t a good idea, and approached the same rickshaw driver.

Mr Mishra took us halfway till Kissan Bhavan and then asked us why we wanted to stay there. He made it sound like a god-forsaken place visited by poor farmers and recommended better hotels at a slightly higher price. A quick poll and we decided to give it a go. He took us back towards the station, went a little ahead to Dariya village, through a kuccha road to Maurya’s farm house (Phone: 0172-5083134). It’s a company guest house and rooms are let out to others when official guests are visiting. We paid 1000/- for an AC room with enough space for five guys after a bit of bargaining. It’s a 5-minute walk from the station but take a rickshaw if you have more than a backpack. Get out of the railway station, take a left and take the first right (you will have to go a little ahead to find a U-turn).

We couldn’t pick up the bikes as the transport office was closed on Sundays. We would have to pick up our bikes early the next day and start for Manali in the morning. We decided to explore Chandigarh and catch a show of Delhi Belly. Rickshaws are a very convenient way of moving around the city but rates aren't fixed. Just check with some localites how much the journey should cost and then don’t budge from that price once in the rickshaw – worked well for us! We went to a mall in Panchkula first, nothing exciting and all shows of the movie were sold out. We then moved halfway across the city to another mall but again, all shows were houseful.

Another rickshaw to sector 28-D and we were at the famous Pal Dhaba. 

(Pal Dhaba with pavement seating)

At 7:30 PM, we were the first ones in but people keep streaming in and by the time we left there were no empty seats. The food is lovely -- typical Punjabi, a little on the expensive side, but huge quantities. A hearty meal would work out to 100/- per head if you are a big group.

(Desi ghee and Leh-induced disorder of neural development)

Having a lot of time on our hands, and a heavy meal to digest, we decided to walk back to our guest house. The route is littered with public parks and open spaces that were still open. Safety isn’t an issue with girls moving around freely in the parks even after 10 PM. Just before we reached the station road, on an unlit road, the road crosses over a nullah that was swarming with fireflies – nice sight!

At the guest house, we relaxed at the garden sipping tea and listening to old Hindi tunes wafting in from an equally old radio.

Friday, March 16, 2012

2 July 2011 – Train

[Part of my write up for the Leh Bike Trip]

The bikes had been neatly packed and parceled from the Jaipur Golden office near Safed Pul (Sakinaka) for Rs 1600 and now it was time for us to catch the train. 

Life in the sleeper class 

It was as exciting as train journeys across the country go. We shared the coach with an astrologer whose prediction book had dates of recent festivals wrong but made tall claims on the duration of Kalyug, Satyug, etc. but had the date of an upcoming festival wrong.

There was an unusually large number of passengers with waiting list tickets who repeatedly walked into our coach to talk to the ticket checker (Gajendra Singh). Many stayed back to take up our seats and tended to sleeep off extending their legs over all three seats as soon as we were out.

Ticketless passengers (who looked like migrant labour) were harassed by the fat TC in plain clothes and their mobile phones were taken away when they could not give the money for the fine.

Egg biryani is the safest thing to eat on a train journey. At least you get boiled eggs that will keep you going. With the veg or chicken options a million things could go wrong and they did (for my fellow passengers) making them go hungry.

We were sharing our coach with a young Dentist from Chandigarh. Got a lot of tips off him and we knew all the hotspots that shouldn't be missed in the city. He had been trying to get a US visa for the last two years but complained that the officials tended to be biased against Punjabis as they are seen as potential citizenship seekers. This gave me the impression that he might have bigger plans than the average illegal immigrant and I asked him what he planned to do if he got the visa this time around. His reply was as straight as they come, "Stay back in the US of course". 

Life in the unreserved class

At Godhra, a passenger asked a platform vendor for bhajiya worth 3 rupees only for him to ridicule the amount and walks off. 

Life along the tracks

At Ambala, I was walking along the platform when a lady shouted “Police Police”. A policeman walking next to me stopped to investigate. She pointed at a guy (with an outfit that would make Dev Anand proud) who was drinking on the adjacent seat. He continued to drink openly from a beer bottle, perhaps too drunk to even realize that a policeman was watching. The policeman got him off but he wouldn't let go of the bottle. 

Saw a dog eating a cow just outside Varanasi station!

An individual's win and a team's loss

Another century and another loss for India...arguably because he slowed down in the death overs when close to his personal milestone. However most Indians are too busy celebrating the individual win ignoring the minor inconvenience of a team loss.

I don't blame them really - it's the system's fault. The systemic fanaticism that has made a god out of a flesh and blood mortal. Every Indian kid plays cricket and as a kid you know very little and search for idols to learn from and emulate. When you are the leading run scorer and own more records than you knew existed (Hundred 100's combining two forms of cricket, really?), you are automatically idolized. Now imagine a country of 120 crore and you get a sense of the magnitude of awe that accompanies this man. A deep rooted fanaticism that tells them he can do no wrong.

This man didn't ask for it but he's getting it and each generation passes on the baton to a new generation who listens in wonder at the stories of his great innings and how he blasted his many centuries. The new generation listens, but is not so easily indoctrined by the fanaticism because they see a different man. A man so burdened by the expectations of his own image that he is a diminutive self (pun unintended) of his glorious past. A worn out engine that stutters and chokes when the pressure gets uncomfortable. An engine that no longer meets the latest norms for emissions - an engine whose time has come...

(...but is not being phased out because the officials care more about it's glorious past, trophy laden walls, and most importantly his pull with sponsors. Yet, what they don't realize is that the game goes on. The cycle churns and there always new, better ones that will catch the fancy of fickle sponsors. We need to learn from recent history and exchange this clunker for a better model before it pulls Indian cricket into recession.)