Riding the Indian Rails

23 Jan

One of the more commonly known facets of Indian life is that things rarely run on schedule. If you visit this country, you have to come fortified with extra patience. It’s for this reason that I wasn’t too surprised that this happened to us for one of the train rides we had booked. We had tickets for the 11am train from New Delhi to Pune, which rolled into our station to collect us at 2:45pm, over four and a half hours late for our 30-hour trip to the Southern part of India.

A little naively, I was looking forward to this train ride. It was my very first overnight ride on a train ever in my life. However, on the station’s platform that morning, The BF took notice of my eagerness and in an instant knew that he had to manage my expectations. Simply, he said to me: “Don’t expect this to be the Hogwarts Express or anything like it.”

Spending so much time on the platform gave me the opportunity to really observe this part of Indian society. Locals from all walks of life populated the train station. Wallahs traversing the length of the platform selling various things, from chains to secure your luggage on the train, to paan, to various snacks, to chai.

There are a few classes on the train. We were situated in AC 3-Tier, which reserves you a berth in a curtained cabin. Second Class Sleeper was the lowest, and it was these cars that commanded your attention as soon as the train approaches the station. People on these jammed cars who need to exit are clamoring their way out the door, pushing against those who are charging their way onto the train through the same opening. From what I could see from the outside, the insides of these cars are absolutely packed from wall-to-wall with people. Those who are unable to get inside properly hang onto the handles beside the door openings, and continue to do so as the train starts to move away from the station.

There was one family on the platform that afternoon that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. One man, accompanied by two women and six children. All were barefoot, and one small boy had no pants on. Unable to squeeze onto the Second Class Sleeper car of one train, they waited patiently until another train stopped at the station. Although this train was traveling in the opposite direction, the entire family hopped down from the platform and crossed two sets of tracks, carrying all their children, huge baskets and burlap sacks so that they could pile onto this train. It was obvious that their destination was of no consequence to them.

While our train ride was long, it was a gave me a superb vantage point from which to see India. Traveling from the North to the South, you observe parts of the country that would otherwise be obscured – farm villages, slums, small towns, laborers, children at play, stray dog colonies and other wandering animals.

Laundered bed linens are supplied for each berth. Because there were only three of us — me, The BF and his Mom — we had the misfortune of having to share our cabin with an ill-mannered man, who’d embarked at an earlier station and who steadfastly refused to fess up to the fact that he’d swiped one set of sheets and a pillow while we were arguing with the Linen Manager that they were missing from one of our berths. As a result of this, The BF and I had to share a narrow berth and a tiny, paper-thin pillow for our overnight trip. Meal, snacks and tea can also be ordered. Meal service is not often on time, but is sufficient. However, something that we ate upset both of our stomachs.

Though our car was equipped with a Western-style toilet, its seat had been broken off. Therefore, I had no choice but to learn to master the Indian-style toilet. This is made up of a hole in the floor, with a chute leading to the tracks outside, and two footrests on either side of the hole. Using this toilet requires that you firmly plant your feet, squat down on your haunches while gripping the bar on the wall in front of you as the train sways and buckles.

The BF was great and helpful, and it’s a good thing I’m not shy about these things with him because as discretely and as modestly as I possibly could, I would strip out of my almost all my clothes for him to hold onto outside of the stall so that I could do my business inside. It was a complicated process, but it ensured no unsightly accidents or messes by this germaphobe from Canada who’s used to modern luxuries such as flush toilets.

A far cry from the Hogwarts Express, that’s for sure.


11 Responses to “Riding the Indian Rails”

  1. Tom Beidler January 23, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    Great post and pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  2. aileen05 January 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Wow amazing photos. Can’t wait to read and see more photos about the rest of your trip.

  3. reni January 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    these are the kinds of photos that i like, it really shows the depth of the country’s normal/local lifestyle. i like beautiful sceneries, too, but this is what i travel for. thanks steph. very refreshing! cute photo of you in that stall 🙂 don’t worry, we will have flush toilets in vegas when we go, i can assure you that. LOL.

  4. Leesh January 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    WOW is all I can say after reading this post. Your BF explained the toilet situation on the train but I enjoyed hearing it from you.

    You took some great photos but after seeing these photos, I am so proud of you. I don’t know how you did it with the crowds and toilet situation. I would probably be in tears and ready to give up.

    I can’t wait to see and hear more about the rest of your trip.

  5. courtney January 23, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    gorgeous photos. here in the us (especially in the west) we just don’t ride trains enough. when i lived in spain during college, it was a similar thing where the trains and buses didn’t really come on schedule. after several months i started to get used to it. train rides were sometimes so beautiful and peaceful and other times they were smelly and gross and i couldn’t wait to get the hell of.
    the bit about the six kids breaks my heart.

  6. kat January 24, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    love this post and the pics are fantastic. are you sure those were from your iphone? to hell with my dSLR, i’m getting me an iphone 4!! 😀

    and girlfriend, you should be used to squatting when in a public restroom – all chinese mothers teach their daughters how do go like that since we’ve been potty trained. it’s the chinese way! 😀 haha

  7. Kristi January 25, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    Amazing captures. The way you photograph really brings me into the scene. Love <3.

  8. Krysten January 25, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    Wow these pictures are AMAZING. Lucky you for getting them, this will be something you cherish looking back!

  9. Lizzi S. January 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Your photos are incredible!

  10. Maureen January 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    wow you’re photos are amazing. you’ve captured India and i definitely feel like i’m there by your pics and your posts!

  11. Elisse February 6, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    What a great description of a train-traveling India! You got to immerse yourself in the culture, and in the process made you appreciate your life here in Canada!

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