Day 3 - 16th Dec. 2012

There was a nerdy guy fiddling with his mobile at the waiting room in Jalgaon Railway Station & I approached him asking him about his time of departure, for he could wake me up for mine. He said that he had a train by around 1 AM, and I had asked him to wake me up by then. I had plugged my phone & camera for charging, which stopped working later, and all I had was my bag which I used as a pillow and went for sleep trusting that stranger.

But he kept his word. He woke me up by 1, and I was awake since then, and with extreme drowsiness bugged the station master in my broken Hindi about my train Mumbai-Ferozpur-Punjab Mail. It was already 02:30, and looking at me shuttling between the waiting room & the station master, a mid-aged woman, [by Tamilian instincts, an "aunty"] pacified me and pointed me to the right train.

I was quite scared at the crowd, and approached the TTE for a reserved ticket, and was told that the Sleeper Class was full, and that I can only get a spot in the Third-AC. He asked me to wait at the door, and a few minutes later, he did get me a spot in there, up-to Bhopal.

First-time journey in an AC compartment had to be done at a forced bribery. Even worse, he asked me 600, and then gave me the receipt of 400. Couldn't help it. I was tired, and had to sleep. The charging point right next to my seat was functional, and I couldn't thank Indian Railways any lesser for the quill. I woke up at 5 to see a 10-yr kid play with the grandfather, and he told me that Bhopal would be up in an hour from there. Over a cup of dilute coffee, I got into a conversation with a Malayali [in short, 'Mallu'], and told him of my plan to visit Bhimbetka Caves & Sanchi. Apparently, I should've got down earlier if I had to go to Bhimbetka, and it would take a good 5 hrs by bus. Skipped. I had to alight at Vidhisha. And that grandpa told me that the 10-yr old, Angela Sharma, was already a Kathak dancer & an artist in a Punjabi TV soap, and that her younger sister, the 3-yr old, Shiyana Sharma, was already a 'celebrity' famous for her appearances in ads of CEAT tyres & Huggies, et al. Cute kid; was playing Temple Run on her grandpa's phone.

I alighted at Vidhisha, to notice a board of Heliodorus Pillar. A Greek connection. I wasn't sure if I could go for it. The first shocker there was the restroom. It was so bad that I was afraid if I'd fall sick forever. The waiting room was occupied by 3 young ladies; they didn't even let me in and shouted me off as if I was about to harass them. Sigh! Thankfully, I got to know of a 'Sulaabh' complex right outside the station, and that was a life-saver. Spotted these tubors on the way & tasted good, more like tapioca. Well, the Sulabh was not so clean, but definitely, something is always better than nothing. If it's one thing Indian Railways should take up as a top priority, it really has to be restrooms!

I could find a tea-stall nearby, and I asked for Coffee. A weird glance was thrown at me, and I insisted my order to be strong. A few minutes of wait while charging my phone, and I was given what I had asked for. Not bad, I should say, for the 10 bucks, and for the place I was in. I walked to the bus stand, and got a jeep to Sanchi, where I was sandwiched among some 13 ppl for the next 20 mins. I was dropped right at the entrance, and I noticed that I didn't have the day's newspaper. I borrowed one from a nearby paan stall promising to give it back while I would return, but never did; forgot to. I had to buy 1/2 kg of Guava for Rs. 10, for the guy at the ticket counter declared that he had no change. But the guavas were pretty awesome, and that was the breakfast while walking in. The inclined path led me to a couple of stairs, and I walked into Ashoka's complex.

That we are at a place ruled & wandered by great men of unimaginable careers - is in itself a sense of pride, in addition to the jaw-dropping things left behind. This place was one such. I've always had this nagging lowly face when it came to History. Not only have I not learnt much there, but also I'm poor at recollecting whatever learnt. Bottomline: fail. What's the point of having a memory, then!

It wasn't too late; around noon. The Sun was just getting higher, fading the chills away. I liked it. It reminded me of my place, Tamilnadu, esp. Chennai, known for its temperature.

The first thing I could see was the giant Stupa with an ornate entrance that apparently had a lot of Jataka Tales. There were many students from a university at Mumbai, who were pursuing their Bachelors in Architecture. And one of the lecturers was seated near the Stupa, drawing. One of those thousand things that I'm terrible at.


The pillars of the arch were adorned with intricate sculptures, and there was one Buddha(or so) with the head missing. Saddening, indeed.

The Stupa has a central dome with steps on 2 opposite directions spiraling clockwise from the ground to half its height, and this surrounded by a mesh of pillars & cross-laid logs, all granite [I presume]. And nearly every inch of this is carved to tell a story, which I could hardly receive. Significance unknown, is a sin too. There were a few other similar stupas too, although smaller in size.


And there were other interesting things to note too.

Ashoka's Warning

A Gupta Temple

A Colosseum-like. This must've had a roof, methinks.

I went around the complex, just to find a lot more students all along, which made me think that I was losing my youth. I still am. Well, we all are. I walked around a part of the complex where there were ruined buildings with varied designs & patterns, accompanied by disfigured statues.

I came back to the direction of the entrance, and there was this huge hall-type construction in front of me. I descended the well-shaped stairs that led me first to a large tank and then to the hall. The symmetry was not just passable but impressive.

I walked further downhill & noticed a huge monolithic bowl that was apparently used for water storage. A lady & two guys were taking turns to get in there for a photograph, and all of them panicked and moved away on me reaching there. It took me a few seconds to convince that I wasn't any ASI official and that I was just a yet another guy roaming around. Sigh! And I walked even further in to find another stupa!

While the structure was following the same grammar as that of the others, this had some suspicious images. Seriously, what's smokin? Or, what was smokin?

Poor-photography-attempt alert.

Roses are red, Violets are blue.
The flower on my palm is not with dew.
Lines are straight, curves aren't so.
Such is life, so move on, bro.

As I just walked out of there bidding a bye to one of the monuments built by one of the greatest emperors who walked on Earth, I noticed a tree with too many pieces of cloth hung over, with a shrine next to it that had Buddha behind bars. And a modern-day inscription in front of it told me that this was sponsored by a certain Christian lady Margaret Fernando from Sri Lanka, in memory of her parents. Many of Ashoka's deeds were also known by Mahavamsa, a Sri Lankan text. Such connections don't get lost soon. Not yet.
I walked downhill to reach the road, and a stranger offered me a lift on request & took me to the main road. Along the roadside was a Pani Puri vendor, and that one plate was the most truest I've ever had, for 5 bucks. Upon several questions with a few locals on what to visit nearby, I was told that there were Udayagiri Caves, but the auto-fare was around 500. Skipped. I waited in the Sun, boarded a jeep to Vidhisha, got a lift to the Railway Station road to find a veg. hotel. God blessed, I found one. Limited veg. meal for 70 bucks. That awesomest Paneer Paratha made me have another. The moment teleportation is invented, I'd totally go here.

That full meal made the walk difficult. Stepping out of the dhaba, I noted for the first time a motorbike covered with fur, or like. The winter was just getting severe. I reached the railway station & inquired about the train to Kajuraho, which was via Jhansi. The first train was at 8, and I had 4 more hours there. I decided to get to Udayagiri Caves, and got an auto that'd take me to-n-fro for 150. Although jerky was the ride, there was the much-needed rest for my thighs, which made it worth the price. Udayagiri was tall all the way, but the temples carved out of it were less in number.

Udayagiri Caves

There! There was Vishnu in Varaha Avatara, a man-boar saving the Lady Earth. #LikeABoss man!

There were a few steps that took us a few feet above, and lying up there was Lord Vishnu again, as Ranganatha. There was another Vishnu, standing, and even Lord Muruga.

There was another hillock nearby with a Shiva temple housing a disfigured Shiva Linga, and the hard steps led to the top which had a grill door locking a passage. The man near there told me that it was a subway leading to Jhansi. Not sure. I headed back to Vidhisha by 6 & was welcomed by the bone-chilling winds. I had never experienced such a low temperature. My mom had warned me that the Norther I go, the colder it'd get. I should've listened. I felt I was getting sick. A coffee at the same stall where I had in the morning, didn't help. I felt dizzy.

Yeah, that bad. I got myself a ticket to Jhansi in the Hyderabad-Delhu Super Fast Express by 8, for 71 bucks, headed out into the market, bought a jacket for the first ever time in my life, for 600 bucks, and made sure I'd be alive for the rest of the night. I should've gotten a muffler too, but didn't. I don't even remember if I had dinner.

There was a Shiva temple on the way to the railway station and there, I prayed with all my will, what, I don't remember. But I went in barefoot, put my palms together, looked at the well-decorated idol as if in a stance, got my eyes moist within a few seconds, shut my vision down in hope for some unearthly being to take myself over in exchange of liberation. Nothing happened, I was aware. But I do remember having felt better. Times of distress & agony, I learnt, could make one change to someone they aren't. It was funny, for a moment, that an agnostic me would surrender myself to an idol I would see for the first time. I wish I could've. I left the temple, in silence, while surrounded by prayers, songs & bhajans were in all glee.

There was an open corner in front of the station, which terribly smelt of a lavatory, but wasn't. Right next to it, was a stall in which a guy was seated, selling tobacco et al. With the greatest discomfort, I spent a minute there to get a sachet of sweetened beetle-nuts, for I didn't wanna puke in the train. I could hardly breathe, and had I stayed there another minute, I'd've gotten myself asphyxiated to death. That's when a million things popped up within. That the place had a higher consumption of tobacco. That the sanitary conditions were the worst I had ever seen. That the no. of lives that are to get better is still high. That there were plenty of things to do. That I couldn't do anything then. That I could hardly stand firm.

I entered the station, spread my towel next to an iron bench, rested my head on my bag, and went into an involuntary nap. When I should've been asleep for about at least half an hour, unconscious, a guy I was talking to, on that train, woke me up. I squeezed myself into the unreserved aka general compartment, and could hardly find space to stand. Yes, to stand. That was the most-packed place I've ever noticed, let alone being in. I pressed my bag hard enough to place it amidst a few others, and stood with my eyes closed, wishing some sleep. I couldn't, standing. I decided that I needed to come out of the illness, and took The Krishna Key out, while reading which, I stepped over a foot by mistake. Though I apologized in prompt, the bearer went on to curse me, to which I had to retaliate that I could hardly remain stood. Meanwhile, there was this boy selling masala puri!

A few minutes later, my palms involuntarily reaching my forehead, I almost collapsed over an iron frame, noticing which, the same guy who yelled at me, put me on half the seat that he was on, and two others offered me water. I thanked them all, taking rest. In an hour or two, I felt better, and a packet of Good Day was my dinner. A group of cheerful guys who were apparently on their way back to their natives after giving a Civil Service examination, were in good conversation, and I was probed with too many questions, which included:

"aap vidhEshi hO?"
- Are you a foreigner?

"Where are you from? Bangalore? Tell na, sir, how many girlfriends?"
- That gentlemen, was what is called fuel-into-the-fire.

The man in the Safari overcoat at the centre is the one who offered me his half-a-seat.

Somewhere in the next station, a battalion boarded my coach, and since I was right next to the door, I was one of the main victims in the massacre that followed. A group of peasants rushed into the coach, carrying some large sacks that were wider than the coach's entrance, but were flexible enough to be squeezed in. There must've been some 20 of them, and 10 such sacks. Each had some smaller sacks within, containing, what I was told to be, chikpeas, i,e, channaa leaves. Gradually they invaded the entire coach, fitting these smaller sacks under the seats, and tying them over anything they could. The same scene continued for the next station as well, and it took around an hour for all the ruckus to subdue. Apparently, none of them ever buy tickets, and if any inspctor finds them, he'd let go of them, for they can't pay. Incredible India!

I did manage to get some sleep, and alighted at Jhansi by 1 AM, during which the number of passengers getting into the coach seemed to be more than the existing already. There was quite a noise [oxymoron?] all around, and I had almost lost my new jacket. Although it made me sound a bit feminine, I shouted "mErA jacket! mErA jacket!", and some guy sitting up above there at the luggage area threw it on me & only then I rushed out of the coach. A man from the coach, who I boarded with at Vidhisha, was in conversation & he got me to an auto asking him to drop me at a lodge. Hopping in, I realized I had lost my towel when in search of the jacket. Felt as if I'd lost a companion. The auto-guy took me to a costly one who mocked me at my price of 400/500. He again took me to another, for a crappy room that demanded 400. Had to take it, for it was already 11. I was ill, tired, confused, afraid, and many more. I finished the Good Day that was remaining, forced myself to write the expenses down on my notebook & slept.

Peace. Peace. Peace.

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