My 4am wake-up call came a generous 15 minutes early. Already packed, I laid in bed under the twirling fan trying not to fall asleep again. At half past four, I stepped quietly past the hotel employee who had returned to his bed, the lobby bench, for a few more hours rest. I picked up an auto rickshaw to the train station, savoring the rare experience of riding through the dark and empty streets.
My express train to Delhi was sitting idle on the first platform, the air-conditioning already turning the coaches into rolling refrigerators. After a requisite chai, I found my seat and settled in for the 6-hour ride to India's capital city of 12 million people. Interestingly enough, it was my first train ride in a non-sleeper carriage. As the express train is more expensive than the regular ones on the same route, it is also more comfortable.
We left the station on time, speeding out of Amritsar at a noticeably faster rate than I'd experienced previously on Indian trains. After a few stops, the two seats adjacent to mine filled up. The service was excellent, including the complimentary food: a liter-sized bottle of water, tea and biscuits, breakfast (non-veg: omelet and toast), and a juice box. The constant attention the first few hours made it hard to drift off to sleep for too long.
After browsing photos on my camera, the well-to-do Indian gentleman next to me struck up a conversation by showing off his Sony 3.5-inch, touch screen camera. Working in construction, he's been living in Dubai for the past 20 years and was talking up the city, suggesting I visit. I had written off Dubai as too expensive, however he countered my thought by telling me there were budget accommodations as well as luxury.
We arrived at the New Delhi train station around 11am as scheduled, a short distance from Connaught Place, the giant traffic circle at the city's center where I hoped to base myself for a reasonable rate.