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August 15, 2008 / calebdresser

How not to ride an Indian train!

 

Based on an entry in my journal dated July 15th 2008.

 

 

Its been very exciting to get back on the road after a month in Modipuram. I’m a bit tired as I write this, but I’ve found a clean, peaceful, and uncrowded spot in the shade of a tree on the battlements of a hill-fort overlooking the city of Jaipur several hundred feet below.

 

 

After endless advice, check-ins, and general concern from both Dr. Gathala and my hosts, Mr. Mittal finally drove me to the army cantonment train station. Excited to be on my own again, I chatted with some local students until their train came. Their laughter and waving faded slowly as the train drifted out of the station like a ghost in the hazy, sultry dusk.

 

Night had truly fallen by the time electrical power in the station failed, plunging the platforms into total darkness broken only by distant flashes of lightning from the ever-present thunderstorms of the plains. I was amused at first, keeping my backpack close and trying to remember my fifth-grade French so as to chat with a man who used to work as a driver for the French embassy. Problems arose quickly, however, when my train arrived in the still-blacked-out station. Not knowing the organization of the cars I ran up and down the rather long platform looking for the 1-AC car I was supposed to get into, according to the paper e-ticket I was clutching. I was soon sweating profusely and out of breath – its a real battle to stay fit here, between the heat and the low-protein diet. Without warning, a whistle blew and the train started moving. I jumped into the first open door I found, which turned out to be a baggage compartment. It was empty except for two scraggly youths clearly stealing a ride into Meerut City. On our arrival in the station there, we found that there was no platform on the open side of our car and that the other door was jammed, so we jumped into the rainy darkness, landing sloppily on sloping wet gravel nearly five feet below. While they dissapeared into the drizzle, I started to look for my car  and then realized that the dang train was moving again and this time I wasn’t even on a platform! I jumped at the door of a passing third-class car and was hauled aboard by a crowd of grinning, grimy young men. During my brief stay in this car, my companions pointed out that my backpack had come open during my exertions and was exposing my camera. Thats real honesty – it would have been incredibly easy for any of a dozen people to grab it and disappear into the masses.

 

In Ghaziabad, I made another forty-second dash up the platform, but to no avail; my berth was nowhere to be found, and once more I hopped into a passing car. I was almost immediately confronted by a large plastic foot at eye-level. Looking around, I realized that I had somehow managed to get into the “disabled” carriage. I don’t know if it was also for the mentally handicapped, but  do know that a man spent most of the next thirty minutes passionately explaining to me that the world was going to end on August 28th, 2012, at which time angels are apparently going to rise from the depths of the ocean near Mumbai to create a second world of men. I’m pretty sure that was the gist of it, but my Hindi and his English were roughly on par, so its really anyone’s guess.

 

In any event, I finally found my car in Old Delhi, thanks to an immaculately attired conductor who seemed genuinely hurt that I hadn’t boarded his train properly but showed me to my berth nonetheless. Everyone else was asleep, so I toweled off in silence – I was completely drenched in sweat at this point. I slept fitfully, keeping an eye on the time, and groggily disembarked in Jaipur at a little after five am. Fending off incredibly aggressive rickshaw drivers, I made my  way to a waiting room and began memorizing the street map in my Lonely Planet. Once it was light enough that I figured  I probably wouldn’t get mugged, I picked up my little pack, tightened my boots, and wandered off into the city.

 

 

Busty western-featured manikins advertising Indian clothing that tends to hide body curves. I was amused.

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One Comment

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  1. Becky / Aug 28 2008 1:54 am

    That’s one amazing train ride! Worthy of at least a one-act play :).

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