|Udaipur is the centre of the Indian universe as far as the old, narrow, 1 metre guage train lines are concerned. And with that title comes the 'honour' of being home to the oldest relics that Indian Railways has to offer. And aboard one of these antiques began the longest series of our train rides around Hindustan. As I clambored onto the upper bunk of our sleeper carriage I knew this wasn't going to be the best night's sleep. The berth was barely a shoulder width wide, built certainly with local ergonomics in mind, and not even sufficient headroom to crawl into place. It wasn't until we steamed off that the real icing on the cake was delivered. The tracks and carriages were so neglected that the train bucked and wretched along the tracks, noisier than a class of pre-schoolers let loose on a percussion section. The writhing of the carriage seemed to resonate up through the bunks to the point that it felt like I was stuck in the middle of a scrum being tossed back and forth. The noise seemed to come in waves and with each tirade I waited nervously for that critical crescendo when our carriage would take no more and derail into loco heaven.
At 5:00am, almost 6 hours after leaving, we eventually arrived at Ahmedabad where we were thankfully reunited with modern wide guage lines and back to the air conditioned carriages that we have come to know as our second home. Another 12 hours on the rails (going off them) and we arrived in Jalgaon, our home for the night.
As we were checking into a local hotel a band started up out the front on the main road. I was thinking that either they don't get tourists very often and were putting on a good show for us, or that we had won some kind of lucky door prize, something like being the 1 millionth visitor at the hotel or something.... As we went outside to have a closer look we found that half the main street had been blocked off with large procession beginning. The music got into full swing and the dancing began, 50 or so locals busting some moves, well outnumbered by spectators, and a bloke stuck on a horse towards to rear wearing some fancing garb and headress - the groom to be... We were in the middle of a wedding celebration, one of the local wine merchants was hosting a wedding for his son, so no expense was spared. Later in the night I popped into the reception and found an area the size of a football field, packed with guests, and a stage at one side where the bride and groom et al were posing for photos. It was then that I noticed the stash of wedding presents - a car, whitegoods, TVs, stereos - you name it, they got it. And wine... there was wine everywhere, everyone I spoke to had consumed a LOT of wine and were trying to get me in on the act. The party looked to be way too wild at that stage for a sober tourist to get involved - so I congratulated the happy couple and made tracks for the hotel.
Next morning was an early bus ride to the Ajanta Caves, a series of about 30 caves carved into the rockface along the Waghore River. They date back over 2000 years, but were abandoned for over half that time and only rediscovered in 1819 by British explorers. Because of the length of time they sat dormant, most are in great condition with many of the original frescos still intact, and the most of the carvings look as sharp as new works. A couple of hours there and it was back on the bus for Aurangabad and a rendezvous
with yet another train - next stop Mumbai...