Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Jaisalmer Misfortune

Finally getting out of the city. Finally seeing a real desert, a bona fide sand dune for the first time. That’s because today, we are heading to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. But before all that begins, we needed to sort out all our other train bookings in India. Best to reserve them early as the Indian transpo system gets extra congested this Diwali season. So we thought, why not get our tickets at the New Delhi railway station today while we wait for our train to Jaisalmer. Not the best plan, looking back.

New Delhi Railway Station
By dlisbona | CC BY

We went to the New Delhi railway station at around 1 in the afternoon, four and a half hours before our scheduled departure. Seeing as we arrived pretty damn early, we went ahead and dropped by the foreign tourist ticketing office (second floor, Pahar Ganj side, New Delhi Railway Station). There was a long queue but hey, we had a few hours to spare.

We finished sorting out all our tickets at four-thirty. (That’s how long and slow the queue was.) But we were still taking our time. Indian trains are seldom early anyway. So before we collected our bags in the parked car on the other side of that huge train station, we thought we head to the adjacent tourist district and order some take-out for the 17-hour train ride. It was too late when we realized that that activity took a while, because when we checked our watches again, it was already 5:10. Our train boards at 5:30.

There was no other choice but to run. We ran the whole breadth of that train station and it still ate up 10 minutes of our precious time. When we finally got to the parking lot, we came across a group of porters. As usual, we dismissed them. Worry suddenly kicked in when I saw our Indian host abruptly stopped on his tracks.

A porter mentioned something in Hindi about trains to Jaisalmer and he understood it. He translated and told us that trains to Jaisalmer don’t board at the New Delhi Railway Station, but rather at the Old Delhi Railway Station. That station was at least 15 minutes away and with rush hour traffic, it was looking hopeless.

I brought out the tickets and examined it again. It clearly said New Delhi - Jaisalmer, I argued. But if you look down, I was told, the train station code is DLI. That means Old Delhi. That little code, that tiny code, indicated Old Delhi. Even if it clearly says New Delhi above, the code prevails. Board at the Old Delhi Railway Station. How is one supposed to know what codes meant or why New Delhi can also refer to Old Delhi, I can only guess.

Jaisalmer Ticket

We arrived at the Old Delhi train station 15 minutes too late. The one time Indian trains were early, we were late. That completely sucked. We ran a good 15 minutes in rush hour traffic outside the station, into the gates, up the steps, on the platform, carrying all our bags with us and we arrived 15 minutes too late.

Contingency plans were made from there. And I would like to think that everything worked out fine. Because had we not missed our train, we wouldn’t have seen this guy:

Portrait of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Museum, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

But more on that later. :)

Update: So we saw the Dalai Lama! We went up to Dharamsala in the Indian Himalayas because of this misfortune and there we attended a lecture by the holy man himself, the Dalai Lama. Full stories here: Finding Tibet in Dharamsala, India and How to See the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala.

Tell me we're not the first ones, the only ones, screwed over by the Indian transportation system, or any country's transportation system for that matter. Anyone out there? Anyone?

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