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Me with one of the bindis I’d received from a project.

Today was extremely uneventful, but at least it was cool.  We got up early to check out of our hotel.  I bought two postcards (one for home and one for grandma) and was annoyed by the hotel workers trying to make me buy just like the street vendors pester you.  I’ve also noticed that, if they owe me 3 rupees or even 10, they’ll say “close enough” and only give me the change if I really fight for it.  I find it frustrating because I admire so much of the culture for its honesty and good-doing roots in religion, but acts like these make me feel swindled and targeted as a tourist.  (That’s why I tend to dress very modern-college-aged-Indian-girl and put a scarf around my head.  Between that and my skin being darker than a lot of the other girls on the trip, I’m convinced it helps me blend in better.  I’ve certainly seen Northern Indians and Pakistani people lighter than I am.  Paleness appears to be a sign of wealth and the ability to stay indoors more often.)

When we left the hotel, we were pleased to find that no one was following us at this early hour.  We proceeded to the train station and immediately boarded the dreaded 9AM-5PM first class sleeper cars.  This time I got to sit in the six-person section rather than in the hall.  It was more private and comfortable, but it took teamwork to decide how everyone wanted to sleep.  There were three bunks per side and the bottom bunks were used as seat cushions, the second bunks folding down as seat backs.  You could put up the second tier and sit down without bending your head.  We managed keeping seats open on one side with four beds open for laying down or sleeping until other people who owned a couple seats in the compartment joined us.

I managed to transfer photos from a friend who went to me to Cameroon.  This lasted most of the train ride.  My internet key still failed to work, so I took to writing some pieces for my column instead.  I ate our packed lunch tray, drank some chai from the man running through the cars with a hot kettle, and then I joined my professors to chat in another car.  One professor had a pillow wrapped shaped like a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck as he told stories of his Indian citizenship landing him in terrorist questioning rooms while traveling.  We passed a region of rough terrain called Bundelkhand.  The Indian professors explained that bandits can hide here because it’s so hard to find anyone, and that the movie The Bandit Queen was made here.  I was surprised how quickly the eight hour train ride went – and by how cool the cabins got – as we finally heard calls for Agra and had to stand to make a long line of luggage in the aisle.

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An example of monkeys that we see at train stations a lot.  These ones were from when we arrived in Chitrakoot.

Trying to dismount was a nightmare.  People were shoving in before we even got any bags off.  Then those people were stuck up on our bags in the aisle because we had about two suitcases per twenty-some people.  When we finally  made it to the platform, it was hot, sticky, and full of people.  We had to drag our suitcases up a steep ramp and back down on the other side at Platform 1 in order to leave.  Once outside of the station, we found our bus in the parking lot and boarded it for the hotel.  As we drove, we saw similar things to that in Delhi.  A few things I hadn’t seen in Delhi (but maybe in more rural areas) were men being shaved at stands in the street, a peacock on the wall, and a  guy walking a dog on a leash.  I also saw the tip of the Taj Mahal in the distance.

We arrived at our hotel, the Trident.  A man greeted us from the door in an unusual hat.  The typical “Namaste” exchanges were made and we were given keys to our rooms to get ready for dinner.  Everyone was fascinated by the courtyard, not just because it was so fancy with a pool, shrubbery, and waterfall, but because there were a number of non-Indian people laying around.  I had the same effect when I was in West Africa for so long; you see a “Yovo“, as they call them there, and you can’t help but be as shocked as they are after a while.

The rest of the night was dedicated to dinner, the Internet, and sleep.  I watched some TV5 Monde – Asie television in French and was amused that it still had English subtitles in India.  (I always love seeing how the subtitles aren’t what the people are saying half of the time; it’s just paraphrasing the gist of the scene.)  We had dinner at a local restaurant where every course was already determined by bowls of soup, icecream, and communal bowls of paneer, daal, naan, and many, many, many other dishes they placed in front of us.  The power went out in the middle of dinner and was restored by a generator.  Some girls were sick from heat stroke (they were in the pool too long one day).  My friends and I weren’t sick, just full; we took some spice and sugar on the way out the door (the Indian after-mint) and loaded onto the bus to go back for the night.  Tomorrow, we visit the Taj Mahal before leaving for our next destination.