Travelling by Train
I had a knot in my stomach as I stood on the station platform. We had no idea what time the train would arrive but we knew that when it did, it would only stop for 5 minutes. I looked around and saw how many others were waiting on the same train and clipped my backpack firmly around my waist, preparing for battle. After the tourist exercise of visiting the Taj Mahal is was time to pack away my good dress and get back to some hard-core travelling! My next journey would take me into Central India to the region of Madhya Pradesh. So far I had travelled by taxi, tuk tuk, bus and metro, but I had yet to grace the railways. I had seen pictures of people hanging from trains and I had a sense of nervous anticipation as the old silver train approached. Myself and the two Austrian girls I was travelling with were the only tourists in our carriage and we settled in together. The train was more comfortable than I had expected and I was pleasantly surprised to be presented with a tray of food within minutes of boarding. While reading this, you may think I am describing a 1st class cabin. I am not. The meal provided consisted of 2 slices of vacuum packed bread, two potato croquettes, two French fries and a single garden pea! I’m not sure if the solitary pea escaped from another plate and landed on mine, but I didn’t eat it just in case! I also had what I thought was a yogurt or dessert, but it turned out to be a carton of citrus flavoured water. All was well until we needed to use the bathroom. A dirty hole leading out onto the tracks and a filthy bar to hold while you squat…… delightful!
|Grubs up on the train|
Checking in to the Palace
After a short journey we reached Jhansi Station in Uttar Pradesh and boarded a bus to take us to the village of Alipura in the neighbouring state. Our accommodation, a functioning palace awaited and we couldn’t wait to see if we could catch a glimpse of the Prince. Alipura Palace was not what we expected at all. A cement palace perhaps, at first sight it seemed colourless and cold. We were directed straight to the dining area where we sat at tables covered in plastic tablecloths, while servants took our bags to our rooms. Surrounded by black and white photos of the royal families of times gone by we were served probably the best food I had eaten in my time in India. A veritable feast of butter chicken, pallak paneer (spinach with cottage cheese), Rice and Naan breads. It was a welcome change from this mornings odd train lunch.
|Finally some real food!|
After dinner I was directed to my room which was more like a little cottage at the edge of the estate complete with a beautiful porch and thick mahogany furniture. Inside the furniture was all the same dark mahogany and it felt damp and cold. I attempted to have a shower, but warm water was not to be had, so I quickly dressed. In the corner of the room, a thin staircase, painted black, led to a small square room. There was nothing here, except a lamp and some pictures of a little boy. It felt creepy and weird. On further conversation, it seemed that I had drawn the short straw on the room front and that other rooms were quite beautiful with marble balconies overlooking the town.
Near- Death by water Buffalo
Leaving the room we took a walk around the village of Alipura. We spoke to local people and played with the children. A group of women sat making cigarettes with vine leaves. They offered us a try of the strong pure tobacco. We bought 10 tiny cigarettes for 10 rupees and moved on through the village. As we turned the corner I heard a violent scream and saw people scattering to the side of the streets. Suddenly, a large Water buffalo charged horns-first in our direction. Without thinking I jumped up onto a rock and closed my eyes for seconds until the sound of his thumping hooves faded.
|A curious little boy|
|Children in Alipura|
|A local woman covers her face as a sign of respect|
As soon as my heart rate had returned to normal, we continued our walk and were next met with a large group standing around two child entertainers. One banged a drum, while the other performed uncomfortable acrobatics and contorted himself through metal hoops. The crowd seemed delighted and cheered him on throwing money in his direction. We strolled back through via the palace gardens and stopped to appreciate the fresh guava trees.
Meeting the Prince
It was cold at night here and we gained comfort from a campfire. As the people in our group gradually dwindled, I stayed back, in no hurry to return to my cold, damp, mosquito-ridden room. Eventually only myself and my two Austrian friends remained. I was just ready to give in and the camp fire was almost out, when a man approached and announced that the prince would like our company for a drink. Similar in age to me, the Prince was, like his palace, not what I expected. Wearing beige trousers and a navy equestrian-style jacket he appeared unassuming and quiet. Realising that every girl’s dream of marrying a Prince and becoming a Princess did not apply to me, I decided it was bedtime. Royalty or not, this girl needed her sleep! After struggling to finish a glass of whiskey and some awkward small talk, I left my younger, prettier friends to impress the Prince, while I retired to my little cabin to process the weird and wonderful things that had just happened in one day!