Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Rajdhani - Delhi: Day 1

Long Post Alert!!

No matter how old you are, there is always a little child in you that decides to present itself when you least expect it. Like when you are at the railway station and you start jumping when you see the train. Because it's a red train. Yay!!

It may be hard for onlookers to understand why, but deep inside you know exactly why you reacted the way you did. Or maybe it wasn't a reaction; it was just a reflex, and only you understand the difference.

This story behind the reason for this reaction reflex, goes back more than a decade when trips to my paternal grandfather's native town in Punjab were frequent during Diwali holidays. We used to take the Paschim Express in the afternoon from Mumbai and it used to reach Delhi around 9 AM the next day; about the same time when the Rajdhani that leaves Mumbai around 4.30ish in the evening, also reached Delhi and you could almost see the Rajdhani through the tinted windows of the Paschim Express. During those trips, I always wondered what it would be like to travel in that red 'fully air-conditioned' train (although it wasn't as if we didn't travel by AC.) There was something about the red train that was simply exciting. A few years later, during my internship days, I did travel by the Rajdhani (albeit it was the August-Kranti), from Mumbai to Surat, but it was a blue train.

Last week, (one of) my (other) childhood dreams came true. I was waiting at Bombay Mumbai Central station to board the August-Kranti Rajdhani and was absolutely thrilled to see that it was red in colour! As for how I reacted, read the first paragraph of this post. ;)

I was on my way to Delhi (with my mom, chachi and sister) to shop for my wedding dress and lots of other stuff we would need for a Punjabi wedding, and Delhi seemed to be the perfect location to get it all. But before I move on to that, I want to talk about my experience in the Rajdhani; an experience I did NOT have on the four hour train journery to Surat during my internship.

First of all, I was surprised to see that every passenger got their own bottle of water (free of charge) as soon as the train started (...and thank God we forgot to bring/buy our own water bottles.) Then, this attendent came along to ask our preferences (veg/non-veg) for dinner and breakfast. A few minutes later, another attendant arrived with a tray in his hand (for each passenger) that contained a bread-butter-cheese sandwich, a kachori, a sweetdish, 2 eclairs and one packet of fruit juice (...and it was again, free of charge.) Once we were done with snacks, around 7.30ish, we were served soup that was, (I cannot emphasize this enough) free of charge, and about half an hour or so later dinner was served. Did I mention it was free of charge? We were also served tea/coffee along with the evening snacks and breakast the next morning!

I am surprised that we weren't charged for anything because whenever I have travelled by 3-tier AC in the last few months (and there have been lots of trips; at least one trip to all 4 southern states) we had to pay for everything. Considering that and the cost of our Rajdhani ticket, it was astonishing that we weren't charged an extra penny. What's more? Air fare is much more expensive than train and even then, you have to pay for anything you eat. Now the food wasn't lip-smacking-delicious or anything, but it was edible and I would like to focus on the royalty-like treatment we were given in the train rather than that.

As I wasn't going to be in town for the next three days, I had stayed up the previous night recording, editing and uploading a video tutorial as a part of my Design Team commitment, in the belief that I would hit the bed berth within an hour or so of our journey. But being waited on and being served something to eat or drink (thereby overloading your bladder, an action that required frequent trips to the washroom) made it kind of hard to fall asleep that early. Add girly chit-chat to the mix and you'd understand why it was 12.30 AM by the time we decided to get some rest.

And just as we were about to go to sleep, my sister dropped her chapstick.. that was open... on the floor of the compartment... from the middle berth...

And boy, was she glad she found it..

Once that was out of the way, I snuggled into my berth, nicely tucked myself under the cozy blanket hoping to get a good night's rest. But ha, lucky me! The other two passengers (on the upper berth) that shared the coach with us were such fierce snorers (is that even a word?) that I'm surprised anyone else in the coach was able to sleep. I figured with the fatigue, drowsiness and delirium, it would be a piece of cake for me to fall asleep and not even care, but it wasn't. So I decided to put my earphones on and play soft music to drown the snoring and that has helped me in the past. But not this time. I was fleeting in and out of sleep and by the time I actually fell asleep (sans earphones) it was 3.30 AM and what do ya know, I was up by 8.45 AM. What a wonderful night, eh?

Anyway, we reached Hazrat Nizamuddin station at around 10.55 the next morning.

There was a vehicle ready to pick us up and take us to the hotel (courtesy: my chacha) and we only had time to wash up because we had a busy day ahead of us since we had only 36 hours in Delhi and there was loads to be done before we had to board our train at 2350 hours the following night. So we were all business, once we left the hotel about an hour and a half after we reached. What? Did you think getting four women to have a bath and dress up was going to take just thirty minutes? And to quote my sister, "We are Punjabis; we dress up even for a one hour function." And that includes shopping. It's only like the second biggest thing after the wedding itself. And almost as big, if it is shopping "for the wedding."

We had reserved our first day for Karol Bagh where (according to our research) we would be able to find a wonderful collection. We were eager to start looking at some gorgeous dresses but not before we finished some work my aunt had. We were supposed to find Weaver's colony and since we are not familiar with Delhi, my aunt let the driver speak to the concerned person at Bunkar (weaver) Bhawan. Apparently, even that didn't help, so we were forced to ask people on the way. And my God, are Delhi people good at giving directions! For them, everything is "Aage hi hai." And if something is not 'right ahead' and say you have to make a few turns in between, here's how they explain it to you: "Wahan se aise chale jaao or phir aise mud jaao," and those "directions" are accompanied by hand signals. It's as if there is no concept of 'left' or 'right' there. So annoying!!

So it took us about one and a half hours to find a place where we needed to spend just fifteen minutes; and once that was out of the way, we took off for Karol Bagh, reached there around 4ish and first had something to eat. We had a really late lunch at Bikanerwala's Aangan; a lunch that consisted of Papdi chat, Paneer kulcha, falooda, fresh lime soda and some fried rice (yeah, I had a real craving for fried rice) and some brownies.

We started off with Frontier Bazaar and did manage to find some pretty good lehengas but knowing that we were working on a budget, we decided to check out other stores, but not before shortlisting two of our favourites, and telling the salesman that we'd be back in a while. Every salesman knows what that means. But believe me, we had every intention of returning back because I absolutely loved the one in that store (and that kind of also fit into our budget) but we did not want to rush into buying the first one we saw, or one at the first store we went to. It was no ordinary outfit, it was my Wedding Dress after all.

Next we stopped at a few other stores (not worth mentioning) where we didn't find anything that appealed to either of the four of us. My Chachi wanted to check out this store called Anarkali Sarees that she had read great reviews about, and which apparently had a good collection of lehengas and sarees which were the first copy designer-wear. What happened at the store, deserves a whole another post (and that's the one I am writing after I write about Day 2 @Delhi; and if you like drama, you're going to want to read that.) Long story short, go into that store only if you have loads of attitude to throw back (yes, I said throw back) and you're really good at it.

After the Anarkali experience, we decided to go to another store that was just opposite Frontier Bazaar (and a store that had a very strong salesman, who was only short of holding our wrists and dragging us into the store, on two occasions; once - when we were on our way to Frontier, and the other time - on our way out.) My mom was determined to check it out and fortunately for us, it was AWESOME and it was called Puri Silk Emporium. I must have seen barely six or seven lehengas when I found mine (not to mention that I needed my sister to convince me that this one was better than the one we saw in Frontier, and to reassure me about that about ten more times.) So one thing was done.

We also needed to buy clothes for other people in our family and we started checking sarees out. My mother was so furious after we left Anarkali (and that was within 5 minutes of us entering the store) that she decided to go buy everything from this store - kind of as a revenge. Thankfully they had good stuff. I slept through the saree selection process (on my sister's shoulder almost drooling over her as I hadn't slept well the past two nights!) and woke up only when they were done.
And that's Narula uncle in the blue shirt, who patiently showed us countless lehengas and sarees, and waited while we draped them on us, looked in the mirror and made a decision. He also, kept the store open till 9.15 PM when they usually close at around 8.30 PM.God bless him!
Once we were done there, we really wanted to get some rest because we had a longer day ahead of us. We were to go to Chandni Chowk and then come back to Karol Bagh to collect the stuff that we'd already bought.

For dinner, we planned to eat again at Aangan, but we were told we would have to wait for 10-15 minutes till we got a table. So we decided to go back to the hotel and eat there. But before that, we bought these yummy, freshly made jalebis from just outside Aangan.

We munched the jalebis and the imli golis that we bought from a vendor nearby, all through our thirty minute ride from Karol Bagh to our hotel in Surajkund. When we arrived at the restaurant after dropping off our bags in our rooms, we got a fine glimpse of the Delhi folk - the kind we had managed to not run into throughout the day.

The hotel had live music playing - bollywood and ghazals and Pankaj Udhas songs, those types; and all four of us felt that it was a little too loud; or maybe it was because we were all simply tired. Not just that, there was this huge set of people (who were probably there together for a party or something) that clapped loudly after every song and yelled, "Wah! Wah!" There was also an 'uncle' who danced with a glass in his hand. It was typically the kind of stuff you hear about, and we actually got to see it. It wasn't that different from our family functions, but yeah, Delhi people had their own style of partying. ;)

With all this going on in the background, we manged to have a quick meal that consisted of some more Paneer kulchas and quickly went up to our room retire; or so I thought! We still had to make a checklist of what was done and what needed to be done. So we quickly went through our 'To-do list' and ticked off what was already done, and made a list of things to do the next day. Finally it was time to go to bed!!

Phew! It had been a long day. I had no idea, the next one was going to be longer.

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