Today I had nothing on my books before taking my 14:50 train to Jaipur, so I mostly hung out in my hotel room until it was time to check out, then went for lunch to the restaurant next door (had a butter chicken that was to die for and a vegan mango cheesecake that I didn’t much like) and called myself an Uber to Agra Fort station.
When I arrived at the station, I was fully prepared for more “Your train is cancelled” type scams, but no one so much as uttered a word in my direction. Inside, the place was overrun by families of monkeys: on the stairs, on the roof, on the trains, walking up and down the platforms like they owned the joint, occasionally trying to snatch an unsuspecting person’s bag.
In this station, blissfully, the panels did work so I was able to find my platform straight away. The train was already there, even though it was around fifty minutes before departure. I double- and triple-checked the train number to make sure it was indeed my train and got inside; I was carrying my bag, so I wanted to get on early to ensure I’d have space on the luggage racks above the seats. If you can’t fit your bag overheard, you have to leave it in one of the compartments on either side of the train, and nobody wants that.
As people kept arriving, including a shocking number of foreign tourists, there was some mild chaos on board because we found out that the train company had messed up the seat numbers: that is to say, the seat numbering on the train had nothing to do with what we had booked on the website. Couples were sitting apart, people who had booked window seats were in the aisle and viceversa… I was placed in the middle seat between an Indian family; I was relieved when they asked me to move to the aisle by the kind man who asked me where I was from (they’re from Kolkata). Eventually everyone negotiated new seating arrangements, the official who checked our tickets couldn’t care less, and we got on our way more or less on time.
Exactly as with the last train, this one started on time but slowly picked up an hour’s delay on the way, so I arrived in Jaipur at eight instead of seven. I think AC Chair class is supposed to be one level lower than 2AC, but in all I think I was more comfortable on a chair than on a bed, although after five hours I couldn’t wait to get off.
It was completely dark outside when I left the station, which made me a bit nervous -not for my safety or anything but rather because I wasn’t sure where the prepaid taxi booth was and rickshaw touts were swarming around us and hesitating for even one second invites lots on unsolicited assistance. I marched ahead with such steely determination that one of the guys said “Relax, it’s all right!”. I rolled my eyes, kept ignoring his offers, and eventually as I reached the booth he went “Everyone’s taking tuk-tuks, see? Why don’t you?” and then he exclaimed, I quote verbatim: “Why are you so different?!” Man, that threw me for a loop. None of us have the time to unpack that perfect crystallization of so many of my social interactions, but my first reaction was to laugh out loud, which threw him for a loop.
At the taxi booth, which was really one guy sitting on a chair with a receipt book, I gave my hotel’s address and he quoted me 170 rupees (€2.15). I knew it meant 200, because drivers are reluctant to give small change, but that was okay by me, especially at night and especially as I was starting to nurse a headache. When I got my receipt and got it pointed out which taxi I was to take, a man walked over and gestured to take my bag. I looked at him like, “Excuse me?”, and he backed off saying “Don’t be so suspicious! Your taxi’s here”. I wasn’t ingratiating myself with the locals, but the truth is that in all stations and transport hubs here lots of people appear out of thin air to help you out and give out free advice and more often than not they’re just trying to get you to hire them -even while filling out a transaction at a counter I’ve had guys come over for a pitch.
So that’s a long-winded way of saying that I wasn’t in the mood, but the taxi ride was very quick and when it dropped me off at the Umaid Mahal hotel I almost laughed again: the front is this exaggerated Bollywood Taj Mahal kind of façade, and the lobby is garishly coated in gold and marble. I had my hands full to take pictures but trust me, it makes Graceland look understated in comparison (you can read about Elvis Presley’s mansion on this very blog!). My room is spacious, more discreet than the lobby but not by much, and oddly enough I have to walk across a rooftop restaurant to get to it -which means my room is on the roof?! I walked past tables of fellow tourists having dinner while I was dragging my bag and going “Heyyyy”.
Tomorrow, it’s time to explore Jaipur! I’m feeling good about this, because at least on the map it looks like many sights are all packed close together in the old city, which means I might be able to take an Uber to town and then explore on foot. Tune in tomorrow!