Monday, December 13, 2010

Trains, planes and automobiles....and balcony toilets!

Well, not so many of the planes to be honest, but lots of the other two.....Last Tuesday I began my journey from Delhi to Hazaribagh, which will be my home for the next 12 months. I had to leave the hotel at 9am, so it was a taxi to the VSO office...there were three of us and lots of luggage, so we got two cars. I guess it was an indication of the journey to come that my taxi had to be push started by the other taxi (note, not the other driver, the other car....he just drove slowly behind us and then bump started it!).

So, around 2pm we got in the car to the station. I had Amit with me to help once I got to the station, although his English was passable at best and I unfortunately hadn't reached full fluency in Hindi following five days in the country....conversation was sparse! My train was at 4.10pm, so I felt that we were being a bit over-cautious, especially as my ticket was already bought, confirmed and I had a seat number, but who am I to argue?

We promptly arrived at the station at 2.45. For those of you not familiar with Delhi station (I'm guessing most of you) there is not a lot for the confused foreigner to do. I sat in the main hall watching a board flip between Devangari and English train names without any mention of mine.....not a great start. Amit seemed just as confused and wandered off at random intervals to who knows where.

It got to about 3.45 and he'd just set off again, when my train got announced – platform 14. Off we went – wish we hadn't. Fun fact for you all – toilets on Indian trains are a hole in the floor of the train. Literally. There is no sewage tank. You can now imagine the smell in a train station. Lovely. Unfortunately, my train was then delayed, so I had the joy of a 1.5 hr wait on the station with nothing to do and no-one to talk to. Wonderful!

So, eventually, after a change of platform due to the delay, my train arrives. I'm in 2A class. That's 2nd class air-con for those of you not aux faix with Indian trains. Basically, you get 6 people in a cabin, three beds and three bunks. Amit has jumped onto the train before it's even stopped with one of my bags and grabbed my seat already by the time I get there. He looks very pleased with himself! We padlock my stuff under the seat and wait while the rest of the passengers get onboard.

The rest of the train journey was fairly uneventful. They bring you food like on an airline – trays of stuff and a never-ending (seemingly) supply of tea! At around 9pm everyone made their bed and went to bed. Unfortunately though, being the polite boy my mother raised me as, I agreed to swap with an elderly gentleman who was supposed to be on a top bunk. Mistake. The bunk he had was shorter than the others. I am not short. It was also narrower than the bottom bunks. Plus I was using my bag with laptop and camera in as a pillow. Not my greatest night's sleep I have to say!

I was met at Ranchi train station by Rajiv, who took me in a taxi to Hazaribagh. It's about a 2-3hr drive. We did it in roughly 1hr 30mins as we had a driver who decided that traffic jams are a good excuse to drive on the right (in India they drive on the left). It was also raining. And the roads look like something that the World Rally Championship would enjoy. Deep breaths Tim, deep breaths ;-)

So, we reach Hazaribagh with it raining pretty badly. I don't have a flat yet, so I'm put into the Hotel Upkar, which looks good all the way up to getting into my room and then drops back to my original expectations of Indian hotels! It does have plumbed toilet and shower though, so I can't complain too much...

Not much has changed since Wednesday in that respect. I'm still in the hotel, as my intended accommodation isn't ready. I say “not ready” in the loosest sense of the words. The majority of it is fine. There is a bedroom, a main room, a kitchen and a balcony. Some of you smart people may have noticed a room missing from that list. There is no bathroom. That's because, for some reason that I haven't yet fathomed, the builders decided that in place of a bathroom, they would make a hole in the balcony....

Yes, you did read that right. My toilet / shower was to be a bucket of water and a hole in the balcony. Now, I'm not a particularly fussy person. I could cope with a unplumbed toilet – I did in Ghana. What I'm not too keen on is trying to use said toilet whilst on a 2nd floor balcony that has a 1 foot high wall and faces out onto the street with nothing else to stop people watching me. Considering also that being basically the only white person in Hazaribagh people stare at me when I walk down the street to the extent that they will literally stop on their bike and stare as I walk past, I can only imagine the audience I'd get having a shower in front of the street, let alone using the toilet! Call me high maintenance if you want....

Amusingly, the third floor flat in the same block appears to have a wall protecting the privacy of the occupants. Why this was not deemed necessary for 2nd floor residents I'm still yet to work out.

Anyway, all this means that I'm not moving in and the landlord has said they'll sort it. I checked yesterday and they hadn't, so I don't know what's going to happen now! For the time being I'm hotel bound, which I'm thoroughly bored of, but don't have too many options at the moment. Fingers crossed for something happening soon!

Right, that's enough for now. Enjoy your toilet privacy wherever you are....

Tim ;-)


  1. Hi Tim!

    I found your blog by doing a search for vso volunteers in delhi...i'm quite determined when i want to be :) I'm also a vso volunteer moving to delhi in the new year...hence my excitement to find other volunteer blogs :)

    i've read back through your archives and look forward to reading along on your least until i arrive in india my self. i'm scheduled to arrive in since you missed some of the in-country training it looks like we'll be in the same training class! very small world.

    i look forward to your upcoming posts....and hopefully that toilet situation gets worked out because yes, i can only imagine that would cause some attention..... :)

  2. Hi Kay!

    Good work on finding the blog - there's a list of all the VSO bloggers somewhere online - not sure if you've found that yet? VSO Blogs

    For some reason I'm not on there yet, but you might be able to find some other Delhi-ites :-)

    Good luck for your preparations over the next couple of months and I might well see you in March.


  3. Yup I've had a look at the VSO bogs site..several times :) I have to get my blog listed there as well.....

    Good luck with your placement - I look forward to reading along.