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Posts Tagged ‘Book tickets in India’

The train station at old Delhi was completed in 1862 and judging by the smells emitting from the platforms, this may have been the first and last time it was ever cleaned. Perhaps my time in Rishikesh meditating and breathing in fresh mountain air has weakened my resolve as I am feeling rather overwhelmed this morning by the crowds of people and the stench that hangs on a warm and dusty breeze. Unable to cope, I do something I rarely do for fear of offending the locals. I cover my mouth and nose with my hand. My expression of revolt is clear for all to see. I look down only to find endless piles of cow manure and human excrement on the tracks soaked in urine and covered with litter.
I wait for Greg to return, he’s drawn the short straw and has the delightful task of queuing to purchase our tickets. Greg returns looking ragged and clutching two unreserved general class tickets as the train is completely full. Only in India can you acquire tickets on a train that is sold out.

Queue at Old Delhi Station

Queue at Old Delhi Station

General Class is on a first come first served basis and allows you to get on only a couple of specific carriages that are often crowded and always filthy. There are no seat numbers, no rules and no compassion but it’s not a terribly long journey… only about 6 hours. So with ignorance in our minds and adventure in our hearts we take a chance. We place ourselves beside a family and a friendly man comes forward and introduces himself as Mohammed Hussein, a retired school Principal.
He gently enquires as to where we are travelling, then informs us that first class carriages are at the other end of the platform. No we are in Unreserved General Class I respond. A mixture of fear and disbelief clouds his face. Madam you cannot travel in this class. This is not a good class. They will cut your pockets. I try to ease his concerns and explain that we have been travelling on many trains and that it won’t be a problem. He insists that we come with him to his coach instead which is sleeper class…the next class up. He will share his seats with us as we are travelling during the day and not too far.

Waiting for the Jaipur Express at Old Delhi Station

Waiting for the Jaipur Express at Old Delhi Station

As the train pulls in I start to think maybe we should take him up on his offer. The General Class carriage is packed with so many people they are clinging to the outside of the doors. The grated windows are filled with dark and desperate eyes. Bodies and limbs are contorted and interlocked in what appears to be a macabre game of twister. Voices erupt and a mad push begins well before the train has stopped. One man, who tries to get on, is pushed away by those who are struggling to get off with bags and children under their arms.
Greg and I glance at each other and then look back to our guardian angel for guidance but Hussein has disappeared somewhere into the mob, nowhere to be seen. There is no chance for us to get on the General class carriage so I walk down to S7 or Sleeper carriage number 7 looking for Hussein. The situation outside the sleeper carriages is not much better. As the train squeals and finally comes to rest it’s every man for himself and it’s not a pretty sight. People are literally pulling and tearing their way on. No one is waiting for the other passengers to get off. They in turn push and fight their way off. It’s like watching angry penguins staking a claim on a crowded beach and the sounds being produced are not too dissimilar.
I make it to the first step and grab hold of the bars so I can pull myself up but my pack is caught and I can’t get on. I try to twist my body but then I realise that I am not stuck after all. A large woman behind me is trying to pull me back so that she can get on. I am not really sure why she cannot just wait just a few more moments. I shout at her to let go and get off me, but this has no impact. She’s a robust woman and very strong. My pack is also weighing me down… a 20kg pain in the neck. The train starts to move a little. She becomes more desperate and aggressive. I think she means to pull me from the train and leave me discarded on the platform. In a split second I snap and deliver a smack to her face with an open hand. This seems to do the trick and I am released at once by my hefty tormentor who runs to the next doorway.

This was after things had calmed down a little

This was after things had calmed down a little

On board I look to find Greg who has found the only available space by the toilet in the gap where the two carriages join. I give him a wave. The train picks up speed, we are both on but the battle has only begun. We are now wedged between other people unable to move with heavy bags on our back.
I have come to learn over time that the initial boarding of any mode of transport in India is always full of stress and chaos but it always seems to calm down eventually. This morning, this is yet to happen and I am faced with a plethora of penguins yelling and squawking at each other. Luggage is strewn in every available space, people are literally sat in the rafters and all eyes are upon me now curious as to what I am doing! I manage to get my bag of my back and pass it over a few people to Greg who has some space next to his left leg. I pick my way through the crowd with the usual hello, excuse me, so sorry, can I just squeeze past please. I can see no sign of Hussein. I look desperately to see if I can find any other space away from the toilet bay. As I make my way back a number of passengers ask if I am ok. I thank them for their concern and head back to find Greg standing with one foot on either side of the coupling that connects the two carriages. He offers to go looking for Hussein while I keep watch on the bags.

Hindu Guys

The Hindu lads who helped us with our bags

Standing in the humidity with the overwhelming stench of urine drifting up from the passenger toilet I wonder to myself how many tiny particles of pee are travelling up my nose and down my throat. As I ponder this thought I see Greg’s face coming back towards me, he hasn’t found Hussein yet but the other passengers have noted our back and forth movements and have offered to share a couple of small spaces with them. I head towards a group of young men who are in the Indian RAF. They kindly rearrange the seating configuration and give me prime position next to the window. Greg is sharing a seat with three other men a short distance away but just out of sight. Spending sometime thanking them for their generosity I discover that they are all between the ages of 22 and 24 years and joined when they were only 16. I tell them that I have a brother who is in the armed forces and that he also joined at the same age. We exchange stories and take some rest letting the rhythm of the train take over.

The Young Indian RAF guys who made space for us

The Young Indian RAF guys who made space for us

A short time later Hussein pushes through the crowd and finds Greg. As it turns out he is located in one of Hussein’s seats but he doesn’t ask Greg or any of the other men to get up. He is happy to share with his wife and daughter. These other men can use his seat for the time being. He assures Greg that Indian people are very accommodating and always sharing. That they need to look after one another. Upon seeing me he is delighted that I have acquired a window position and compliments the young RAF boys on their manors and hospitality.

 

Hussein our guardian angel

Hussein our guardian angel

Greg is now engrossed in conversation with two Hindu lads and a Christian man who after some time quietly confides that he likes eating cows. The train rolls on through Rajasthan landscapes that are soft and soothing after such a hectic start. The train slowly rounds a bend and the setting sun comes into view. A disc of blood hanging in a pale purple sky. The desert is pink with yellow flowers and light green vegetation. A day that started in dire and crowded stench has ebbed into wonderful beauty, I would not change any of it. We pull into Jaipur just after sunset. One of the Hindu lads kindly helps Greg off with the bags. Hussein comes to the window, we shake his hand through the bars and thank him for his kindness.
You are most welcome, please enjoy my India and… never travel in this class again. He laughs heartily and places a hand on his heart as the train pulls away. I know I will never see him again but he has become one of many who have helped us across the world. I can’t help but to feel my journey has been enriched by Hussein and today’s experience. That chain of kindness now has another link.

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