Sitting in the first carriage of the Punjab Mail at 6.05 am, as it picks up speed out of Delhi, drinking black tea with background sitar music, feels a little surreal. Despite the early hour, the train driver rests his hand on the horn, pretty much incessantly all the way to Jaipur, five hours away. It seems it’s an ingrained habit in these parts. The driver who took us to the station tooted his horn through pre-dawn empty streets.
An hour or two out of Delhi it’s something of a surprise to find that there are hills, quite high ones, in India. After Delhi’s smog the clear air and green crop fields are welcome too. A pity about the train horn. I guess animals and people stray on and off the line and need to be warned off.
Breakfast is served at out seats by uniformed and slightly harassed young men. One of them is nearly left behind at one of the stops and he races for the door of the accelerating carriage. Tea is provided in vacuum flasks. I sense the traces of the old British Raj as I spread butter on fresh bread and sip the tea, trying not to spill it as the carriage lurches.
Four hours from Delhi the green crops have changed to dusty brown grass plains, acacia bushes, and, apart from small mud huts here and there, not much else. Suburbs of Jaipur appear suddenly amidst the brown dust and we detrain to be greeted by the ever-present touts and porters.