Friday, September 11, 2009
Yesterday marked the beginning of the end of my travels, as I took my last train in India. Training has been my most basic form of long distance travel. Not only is it faster and cheaper than buses, but it is also more comfortable. As a Foreigner, there are a certain number of seats reserved on each train (or they would otherwise be sold out far in advance). While one could travel "upper class" that is to say, in the AC car, I have only had one voyage in such a car, and found it to be far too cold! In fact, so cold, the train automatically provides blankets for you. You do have the advantage of less people, as there are only 4 people to a row rather than 6, but this is also because you are paying at least twice as much. No, for the long term traveler, the 2nd class sleeper is just fine. To travel a distance of over 300 kilometers, I paid about 200 rupees, roughly 4 dollars. You have a reserved seat, so it is a step above the chaos of general class, but knowing that I have a place to lay my head at night is worth the extra rupees. Of course, for all the reasons I remember the train rides, I will not forget them. I had the worst chapati and dall of my life on the train. I often never slept through the night. When in monsoon struck areas, i was often visited by the spitting rain on my face. Often having the lower berth (closest to the window and the floor) I had to wait till 9:30 before i could ask people to move from my bed (the bench) so I could set up the bunks and go to bed. I had the misfortune of spending a number of nights next to people who would wake up at 4 am, turn on the lights and get their things to leave. The chai and coffee sellers start coming on at about 5 am, and if you weren't awake already to desire chai, their loud shrill voices would ensure that clients would be awake and in need. I felt a bit of anxiety in my first few train rides with a constant hand on my luggage below my bed, but thanks to elsa, I had a chain to secure my things for the rest of my journey. Still, for all my complaining, the train has been one of the best ways to move across the country. It cuts indiscriminatley across the country side, through fields, valleys, towns and mountains. sitting in the 2nd class has often assured me a seat next to an open window staring out into india's natural heritage. The train berth becomes the great equalizer. Your neighbor is anyonmous at first, but upon exchanging glances, all the possibilities are open. Often, despite hinderances of language, people will reach out in interest. I met 4 muslims from Kerala on their way to Dubai for another year of work this past trip. We could not really communicate in depth, but even on the limited topic of marriage (in addition to "how many brothers or sisters do you have, a constant topic of conversation), after the 2nd or 3rd time of being asked why I wasn't married, I said, "why do you ask, do you have a sister?" The entire group burst into laughter, and slapping my hand with low fives. I could have just as well been with american friends, though I think my jokes are probably less funny at home.