Indian Railway ticket offices are I have discovered a little like British Rail, but then not at all. There are queues, being British this makes sense to me, I am good in a queue, I come from a nation that knows how to queue, being presented with an Indian one I feel right at home, to begin with.
As my place in line nears the front as if from nowhere there appear to be more people in front of me. Hang on a minute, this isn’t cricket. I am not entirely sure if it is a figment of my imagination, but somebody has pushed in, who I’m not sure, I don’t know who to be annoyed with, this annoys me even more. Eventually I get to the counter, then two other people join me, their concept of personal space clearly doesn’t exsist. I am squashed on both sides, I deliberately shove one chap, then apologise, but it does the trick. Then the ticket man lurches into action, he like his British counterpart looks bored shitless with his job, I am just an inconvenience disrupting and puncturing his boredom, in the end I get my tickets after filling out copious forms, Indians love forms, the country would collapse without them. My tickets cost a tenth of the price in England, I am happy.
The night train arrives, I find my carriage,climb up and into the corridor which is pitch black, I pull out my torch and try to find my bunk number.Eventually I find it, a woman and child are asleep in my bunk. I wake them and turf them out, all the while feeling guilty. I lie in my bunk and peak through the chink of light in the window curtain as the train slips across the Rajasthan countryside, the darkness is punctured by village lights and junction stops, dusty stations where we stop for a minute or two, people get on and off, then we lurch again into the night. To pass the time I order a meal, a few minutes later it arrives, cost, 120 Rupees, less than £1.50. In the middle of the night I want to smoke, I get out of my bunk and walk to the end of the carriage, there are people around, I decide to sneak into the toilet for a fag, here I can do it without getting caught. If I do the fine is 200 Rupees, not so bad. The toilet stinks, in a way I cannot describe, I still smoke my cigarette, as I do so I think that perhaps this is a sign that really, now I should stop smoking. My butt is jettisoned down the black hole of the toilet, I head back to bed.
I arrive at Sawai Madohpur at 1am. Climbing down from the train and onto the platform I feel like I have been teleported into an apocalypse movie. The air is stagnant and oppressive, there are bodies all over the station floor, all motionless, young , old, all comatose in sleep on the platform, I negotiate my way out of the station and to my waiting taxi, the aircon kicks in and once again I am in the west, heading to my jungle safari air-conditioned tent with hot and cold water.
At 6am I leave my hotel and begin a three hour jeep ride through Rathambhore national park. I am here to see the Tigers, and maybe the leopards, crocodiles and whatever else this few hundred square miles of jungle may hold. As the Jeep trundles through the bush gradually I am taken over by the place, animals are everywhere, man is only a visitor, two three hour slots per day. I see Antelope, deer, monkeys, ruined temples overgrown with Banyan trees, lakes and streams. After a while I begin to find a sense of what the world must have been, before man began to take it over, this is Eden, before the fall, it still exists.
Tigers are spotted at 7am, my Jeep parks maybe thirty yards away from two, lazing under a tree. I pull out my camera, the lens jams, no picture. Maybe this trip is just to be remembered, a few photos could not do it justice.
Returning at the end of the day to the Hotel, disco lights are going up on the lawn, A Delhi call-centre is having its office party here, the noise is loud, the lights bright and invasive, its just another India, a newer India, all things change.
I have been in India for a month now, I came here for many reasons, to bake under a foreign sun, to master the art of forgetfulness and maybe to learn what home is for me and where to find it. These are the things that matter to me, that interest me now, along of course with Tigers, these things I pursue.