Monday, June 12, 2006

Late arrival

Sam woke up from his nap and he left to ask the conductor when we would finally reach Jaipur station. He came back about 10 minutes later. “No idea” seemed to be the reply from the conductor. Great.

We finally started to slow down and I could see the shadows of buildings through the train window. Finally, we began to really slow down and Sam and I started pulling our luggage out from under the seat and getting ready to disembark. It was after 1am, more than 1 hour behind schedule and I was hot, dirty, sticky, and tired, not to mention a very uncomfortable stomach from holding my bowels for so long.

We got off the train in Jaipur and the station was packed with people either coming to pick up passengers or sitting glassy-eyed, having waited more than 1 hour for the train to arrive so they could get on, headed for Delhi which was the final stop. Once again, groups of young men accosted us, hoping to carry our bags for us. We ignored them and walked swiftly to the main exit where our driver was supposedly waiting.

We stepped out of the station and our driver met us. We had to carefully step over the sleeping bodies in the dark outside of the train station. As in Jodhpur there was a sizeable homeless population that actually lived at the train station. We got our luggage into the car, which was at least 40 years old, and finally started heading toward the hotel. Long story short, by the time I got checked into the hotel it was 2am and we had to check out and leave within 7 hrs!!! Not a recipe for a good night’s sleep. I couldn’t wait to get into my hotel room and use the bathroom. I took a cool shower that lasted a good 30 minutes to wash off hours of sweat and dust that had accumulated on my body over the long day. It felt wonderful.

All too soon the alarm went off and I was up and getting dressed. I was dead tired but nothing could be done about it as I had a lot of work to do. I didn’t eat much for breakfast and wearily met Sam in the lobby. He looked about as tired as I was.

We headed out for the first factory. Jaipur is a much bigger city than Jodhpur, I believe Sam told me around 2 million or so, I could be wrong, but it certainly seemed more metropolitan than Jodhpur, although traffic, like anywhere in India, was still completely insane, complete with wandering cows, the occasional camel, and pedestrians/bikers darting in and out of traffic in both directions. On all the major streets there were signs in the center divider proclaiming “Jaipur, the pink city, welcome to green” or something to that effect. They should have called it “Jaipur, the litter city, welcome to the brown” because that is mostly what I saw. While Jaipur is closer to Delhi and further inland than Jodhpur, it is still in Rajasthan and still on the border of the Thar desert. So the climate is rather dry, hence not a lot of greenery in the city. There were trees lining the roadways but everywhere else was dry and brown. And there was litter everywhere, every roadway, every alley, every street was strewn with litter. At least the commercial and industrial districts were slightly better.

I won’t bore you with the details of my factory visits, only to say that the factories in Jaipur were more established and organized than the ones in Jodhpur. Jaipur’s industrial area was a bit more in line with what one would expect in another country, although still not on a scale as one would see in a highly developed country. We met a lot of very nice people and got a lot of work done and then we went to lunch. We drove forever until I saw a shiny, gleaming building off in the distance. As we got closer I could see line upon line of motorcycles and cars parked around it. Eventually I could see that it was a shopping mall, a rather new one, complete with movie theater and a full line of restaurants. What was odd about it, though, was that there was nothing around it. I mean nothing. There were several main roads around the immediate area and some minor construction going on, but the land surrounding the mall was mostly bare dirt. Across one of the streets were a number of tents and tin shacks where people lived. It seemed incredibly odd and yet growingly familiar to see poverty slammed up against wealth, living side by side and across from each other. As we pulled up to one of the parking areas I could see people in the “tent city” as I liked to call it tending cows or chickens or washing clothes in the clearly polluted waterway that tumbled alongside the main road. And yet, just feet away, was this gleaming air conditioned mall which was clearly for the local wealthy and upper middle class, as could be judged by the model of car and shiny motorcycles in the parking lots. Just steps away from each other and yet both sides seemed perfectly content with each other as people from both sides seemed completely ignorant of the other.

We walked in and the first thing I saw was a McDonalds. I chuckled and commented that no matter where I went in the world, no matter how distant the country or remote the location, I always seemed to be stumbling into a McDonalds (or a Starbucks). Sam stopped dead in his tracks.

“You don’t LIKE McDonalds ?!?!?!”, he said.

“Um, no, not particularly, but if you want to go there that’s fine”, I replied.

“But all Americans LOVE McDonalds! I thought you would WANT to go there!”

I quickly realized that despite the plethora of interesting restaurants in the mall that Sam had fully intended to bring me to McDonalds: a restaurant I had not eaten in since I can’t remember (I am not much of a fast food fan and have never really liked McDonalds anyways) and where you can’t walk 10 feet in America without tripping on one, where I could go whenever I wanted. And yet here I am in Jaipur, India and my guide wants to take me there to eat.

I kindly explained to Sam that if he wanted to go there we could, but that I could eat McDonalds anytime of the week back home, so why don’t we try something else? He smiled agreeably and quickly chose a nice Indian restaurant nearby, seeming both relieved and surprised to find that I did not particularly favor McDonalds. Apparently he must have had different, welcoming reactions in the past from foreign visitors he had hosted in India.

In the afternoon we visited 2 more non-furniture factories and then it was off to the Jaipur airport to head back to Delhi. Jaipur airport was larger than Jodhpur, but not by much. There was one rather small check in area for the 3-4 domestic airlines that serviced Jaipur and a single gate for all flights. It only required 1 small board to display the handful of flights leaving over the next 4 hrs. Keep in mind this is for a city of more than 2 million people.

As we checked in the gate the girl behind the counter wanted to charge us like $50 for heavy luggage. Huh? We both had carry ons, that’s it. Turns out we were taking a propeller plane back to Delhi and so bags had to be extremely light – mine was 1 kg over the limit. But with some quick explaining and pleading in Hindi by Sam they let it go.

We then sat in the gate area waiting for the flight to arrive so we could leave. We had 20 minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave. 10 minutes later they announced the flight would be delayed by 5-10 minutes. By this time I was used to it. I knew that 5-10 minutes could mean up to 1 hour. Sure enough, nearly 1 hr later the plane arrived. We had to walk from the gate out onto the tarmac – no buses – and climb into the plane. It was a long walk. I forget what kind of plane it was, but it was definitely the smallest plane I had ever ridden in. Very tiny, narrow seats and I think the plane held only 30-40 people. Once again we sat on the tarmac waiting…..for what?!? There wasn’t a plane in sight.

Finally we took off and I was asleep before we reached cruising altitude. Sam nudged me awake not 45 minutes later “We are landing”, he said. We circled for what seemed like forever. Finally we landed, only 1 ½ hrs later than scheduled. Inside the airport it was complete chaos. We could barely move through the crowds to get our luggage. There were multiple flights being handled by the tiny handful of luggage carousels and mass confusion by passengers ensued as it was difficult to figure out which carousel was handling which flight. Bags and suitcases were piled everywhere as airport workers simply removed them and stacked them on the floor to make more room on the carousels. The heat and humidity and odor from hundreds, if not thousands, of crushing bodies was overwhelming. Outside was just as bad, traffic was like a parking lot, a cacophony of horns and angry drivers yelling at each other. Swarms of people milled about uncertainly, looking for their rides or buses. We found our driver who looked supremely relieved.

“I have been waiting for nearly 2 hrs. I asked the airport people when your flight was coming in. They told me they had no record of the flight. I argued with them and then they said they had no idea when the flight would land. I checked later and the new person told me that your airline didn’t exist, which is impossible as it is a major domestic airline. I must have talked to 10 different people, none of whom seemed to have the first clue what I was talking about.”
This was a major domestic airline with 2 daily flights to and from Delhi and Jaipur as well as at least a dozen other cities. And nobody in the airport seemed to have a clue.

I stayed in the same hotel as the first night, except this time they had a nicer room for me, much larger and plush than the first night and for the same price too!

I settled down for a nice long sleep, but my stomach interrupted me around 4am or so. Little did I know that my troubles were just beginning……

To be continued.

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