After taking my time in the morning getting ride, I made the long walk to the railway station ready for the train to depart. In a crowded narrow cabin filled with fellow travelers, I wanted to make sure I got my window seat that I was assigned. Originally I thought that I had burned some bridges among my nearby passengers but they soon turned into great hosts to the cheap backpacker on this long slow ride on the rails to Kalka. Each of the men this group of friends were all from Iran and pulled me in a way as if I were one of their own. Situations like this simply wouldn’t happen if I were traveling in a group. I am less intimidating and more accessible and willing to be engaged. They were feeding me snacks from a large sack I joked was endless and wondered whether even a whole tandoori chicken was buried within. It was an endless picnic that even included a homemade Iranian dish. I was a good spirit with my humor and they intermittently mixed in conversation with me amid their native tongue. We discussed politics because everyone seems to have a curiosity in the U.S. because rightly so it inherently involves international policies. One who turned out to be an ambassador at the Iranian embassy in Delhi offered me his card and an invitation for when I make my way back to the Indian capital. The views out the window from the toy train were nice as we rolled this way and that through tunnels and around curves through the greenery of the rolling mountainous hills but I found the experience with these Iranian men to be far more rewarding. This is why I love travel. I go in expecting one thing and receive something unlike anything that I could have possibly imagined or prepared for. We got to Kalka railway station from which I needed to transfer to Chandigarh. After purchasing my ticket through much elbowing and lack of any conceptual line, I boarded the train for the nearly hour journey. Once at the final depot to my destination, I exited and got myself an auto rickshaw to put me within the city and in reach of a hotel. I emphasized time and again to my driver even before he had much of a chance to make his pitch and pleas that I have no desire to go to any of his hotels since I know the routine. I checked into my hotel sans A/C since this planned city of Chandigarh is one of the more expensive places that I have visited. With not much to do with the remainder of the day after the ride that brought me through the wide lane roadways perpendicularly aligned in its grid-like system termed as sectors, I got myself some eats in the form of a filling thali that had all the necessities including dal (lentil), rice, sabzi (vegetables), chapati, papad (crisped, spiced thin cracker bread), raita (a spiced cooling agent yogurt/curd), pickles, and a sweet mango sauce. Damn! After that I spent quite some time at McDonald’s in this very modernized city for none other than its wifi to keep contacts with my fellow travelers. Walking along the shopping strips it was hard to put together the stark contrast with a place like this opposed to the chaos of Delhi but it still had its rickshaws, poverty, and food hawkers in keeping with its roots. Of course since most travelers tend not to make a stop in this city on the way to Amritsar and the Golden Temple near the Pakistan border, I became an attraction at times for the youth who wondered why I was traveling by myself and how did I manage through the language barrier. I told them all I knew was ‘namaste’ for hello but most Indians make it quite easy with their at least basic grasp of English. After awhile I finally found the energy to get back to the hotel and sleep. Damn I really need to get some laundry. I nor anyone else around me should have to put up with this.
Expecting the Unexpected in India Day 255: All Aboard the Iranian Express