20.09.2012 30 °C
Wide inquisitive eyes. Dangling feet. Blaring chai wallahs and rickety carriages with a million tales. Indian train travel is in itself a unique experience.
The first thing that strikes you is the buzz and roar of the train station. Uncountable families and individuals fill every nook and cranny of the platform floor, waiting, chatting, eating, napping, even living. Intermittently a food vendor rattles his pans and bellows to gain the attention of anyone he can to offer an array of hot local delicacies, and street children hover hopefully pulling on your heart strings with pleading open hands.
The grumble of an engine and the wail of a horn signify the arrival of a never-ending train. This train already looks full to the naïve outsider, however hoards of people beg to differ. Passengers scramble on three at a time into crammed doorways, limbs flailing around, and the unique combination of desperation, determination and optimism, convincing that there is still plenty of space onboard.
If you have made a reservation you will eventually find your seat, which may or may not be empty, and fellow travellers will gaze at you in amazement, smirking at your damp brow, oversized backpack and stressed demeanour. Personal space is not an understood concept, so you will no doubt be wedged in-between any number of people, them, dressed in brilliant sari’s and long tunics, you, probably in sweaty clothes that are unlikely to make it to the end of your trip.
Your journey begins, and you are filled with an awkward, guilty feeling as you pass by the railway slums, and although you know you will see them, and although you have seen Slumdog Millionaire, nothing quite prepares you for this devastating reality found across India. Soon you will be out into open countryside and very different pictures will flicker by of local people tending to their rural lives in the varying landscapes of India, each astounding in their own way. And meanwhile vendors scamper up and down the train aisles selling no end of tea and samosas. You may also be lucky enough to receive a performance of the mini tambourine’s greatest hits – initially amusing, ultimately annoying.
Given the immense size of the country, you could find yourself on the train for hours on end, passing away the time deep in thought, reflecting upon your trip so far – so many experiences, so many unique moments, so many memories made. Until finally you arrive at your destination and are faced once again by a mad rush of people fighting their way off and onto the train – at the same time – and dozens of men fervently competing to ensure you that their rickshaw is indubitably the best priced whilst you try your very best not to trip over the swarms of people sat on the platform floor.
And finally, having battled your way through the railway circus, you make it out of the station in one piece, eager to take on the next chapter of your Indian adventure.