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Monday, December 08, 2008


Checking out, moving on

I have a seat on the 6.50 am train from New Delhi to Dehradun. A taxi driver and a taxi tout have both quoted me 250 rupees to get me from the youth hostel to New Delhi Railway Station. It seems a bit high. The night before my departure I spoke to the hostel reception clerk. I told him I would be checking out at six the following morning and needed to get to the station. I asked his recommendation for reliable transportation. He said to give ten minutes notice and the clerk on duty would phone a taxi for me. He quoted 150 rupees.

I set the alarm on my phone for 5.15 am and managed to get myself to the counter at 5.40. I told the clerk I needed the taxi for six o'clock and suggested they phone first before checking me out and getting my other bag out of storage. He told me the taxi would cost me 200 rupees. 'Hey,' I said. 'Your colleague told me 150 rupees last night.'

'There's a surcharge for early morning.' Didn't the other guy know that? But this is India and I'm getting used to this sort of thing.

All the business is done before six. He tells me to sit and wait as the driver will come in for me. He arrives at 6.08. Fortunately I'd given myself plenty of time. We carry my bags out and put them into the cab. I get into the back seat and wait. The driver doesn't get into the cab. After about a minute I look out the window to see if I can see him. He's over near the bushes having a pee.

One week in India has taught me that you NEVER make assumptions about price. You don't assume the driver knows the price you've negotiated with someone else. When he gets in he takes off immediately. I tell him where I'm going and quote 200 rupees. 'No,' he says. 'It's 250.'

'I was quoted 200.'

'Usually it is 200 but because of early morning it is 250.'

'No,' I say firmly. 'I was told it is usually 150 and because of early morning it is 200. I will pay you 200 or you can take me back to the hostel.' Partly I am bluffing. I don't have time to muck around. Also I don't know how much English he understands. In any case, he says nothing and keeps driving.

At this time of morning, there's not much traffic and it doesn't take long to get there—well, almost there. The street that leads to the station is chock-a-block with vehicles ranging from bicycle rickshaws to buses and it is absolute chaos. He takes me as far as he reasonably can. I grab my bags and pay his 200 rupees. He accepts—no argument.

The footpath is as crowded with pedestrians as the road with vehicles. I negotiate my way to the station carrying my three bags—virtually all my possessions. I enter through the scanner. I see security staff are checking some bags. Security in India is stricter than I've experienced anywhere else. Thank goodness I don't have to unpack all my bags.

An electronic board lists the departures and platforms—but not Dehradun. I stop, waiting for the display to change. There is a flow of people many carrying as much if not more than me. (All their possessions? Perhaps.) When I stop it seems everyone with a box or large bag bumps against me. The passageway is extremely crowded. After about a minute of this bumping the display has not changed. I decide to move on and climb the stairs to the overpass.

Stairs lead down to each platform and at the top of each set of stairs is a signboard with details in Hindi and English of the train waiting at the platform. There must be a dozen or more platforms before I reach the other side of the overpass. None of the signboards mentions Dehradun. The last one says something like 'Welcome to Northern Line' but no actual destination is mentioned. Not in English anyway.

There is a security guard or policeman (I don't know the uniforms) standing at the top of the stairs. I ask him and he points to this platform. Thankfully I don't have to make my way back through the crowd.

My carriage is right at the foot of the stairs. I find my seat with no trouble. I've made it with time to spare.

The journey to Dehradun takes about six hours and the ticket price includes basic extras like tea, breakfast and newspaper all delivered to your seat. I relax and enjoy the journey taking a few shots of the towns and villages we pass through.

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