At 4:15 am, there wasn’t exactly the abundance of autorickshaws that the hotel receptionist had claimed there would be, but after a few moments of worry, I found one. The driver tried to take advantage of my lack of options by quoting a price that was three times what it took me to get the same distance the previous afternoon.
Down the street, I noticed a handy bargaining tool — another rickshaw. I waved goodbye to the driver and started walking towards it. He drove behind me as I walked away and said, “Okay, okay.” He laughed in amusement at my pluckiness. As we began to head towards the train station, a man got into my rickshaw and I insisted that he get out. Strange men hopping into your non-shared transportation as you drive away was yet another situation I’d read warnings about that I actually encountered in India.
We sped through Agra as fast as an autorickshaw can go, until about ten minutes later when a police officer waved us over. There was some talking and pointing and then the policeman shoved my large backpack closer to me and two large old women crowded into the rickshaw with me. In response to my wide eyed confusion, everyone smiled and nodded at me. We drove off. After my initial shock, I felt okay with the two old police-sanctioned women. They got off about five minutes later and thanked me profusely.
At the train station, it was eerily empty. A few people were sleeping on the ground and few people were working. I tried to spot the woman from China I’d met in Varanasi who was supposed to be on my train, but didn’t see her. On the screens, it said that my train was on time.
Suddenly the train appeared one track away from where I was standing. It seemed like people came out of nowhere to board it. I made my way up the stairs and over to the train and found the woman from China already on it. She was sitting in the middle of a row of three on the other side of a table from me. We had both had tickets that showed we were supposed to be in a rows of just two.
As we chatted, we were joined by another foreigner, a man from France with salt and pepper hair who didn’t say much to us. Two other Indian men joined our table. As the train began to leave, the seat next to me was still empty, and remained so throughout the ride. I smiled at my luck, spread out, and took a nap.
At sunrise, it was gorgeous as that time of day typically is, but the beauty of the rising and setting of the sun is amplified in India simply because you are in India. It’s the calm before the chaos or the beginning of a respite from it. As we slowly began to reach alertness, a chai wallah came by with his pot of liquid wonder to aid in the waking up process.
Rajasthan. It’s a name that sounded magical and mysterious to me and evoked my imagination. I could now see it. I liked the emptiness and the dry earthiness of the countryside we were passing through. When the villages began to awaken, I found that I liked the aesthetic as well. Even more than I’d seen previously, men walked around in bright white khadi and women wore saris in the most brilliant shades of yellow, orange, pink and turquoise. In India, it seems that the more muted your surroundings are, the more vivid your attire should be. Color is always present.
Over dinner the previous night, one of the Australians I visited the Taj Mahal with had told me that Rajasthan is the India people imagine and a place that many travelers like. In Jaipur, I would find that while it still had all of the elements that made India a challenge, what the Aussie said was largely true for me. I was happy that my trip was beginning to wind down, but Rajasthan was the place that made me wish I had a little more time.