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A word about train rides...

Kolkata, India

I think I should give you all an idea about train rides here in India.

Glen and I have been travelling on sleeper trains. They have six beds to each berth (one upper, one middle, one lower). These are long (semi hard but not unbearable) seats which are suspended from the compartment. During the day they fold down to form a long seat (three on each side, facing each other), and at night you hook them up to form you bed. Thus, you can sleep at night, and watch the world go by out the window during the day. This way of travelling is super cheap (it cost us 500 Rps for both of us to go from Varanasi to Kolkata - about NZ$8 each for 700kms), but very basic. They don't give you blankets or pillows, and because the windows don't seal completely, it can get pretty cold up north during the winter nights.

This class of travelling is popular with families and middle class folks. We've made a few friends on these rides, though it seems that many only speak very halting English. We always seem to draw audiences for simple things like playing a game of cards, or just because we're different. Men here aren't afraid to stare, though it's generally innocent. Still, when you're tired or trying to sleep, it can be unnerving when some 30yr old man keeps watching you.

At the bigger stops, there's a mad rush as travellers, chai wallas, and every other walla (loosely translated as sales person) climb on board. They walk up an down the aisles, chanting their now familiar call, tempting us with their amazing chai(Indian tea) which as likely been simmering all day, infusing with spices. Other people sell roasted peanuts in their shells, fresh fruit, dodgy looking street food, water, locks and chains, toys, basically everything you can imagine. There were even shoe polishers on our last train.

The trains take us through farmland and the backs of towns. In the early morning we see farmers rising, walking to the train tracks to do their morning business (many people don't have indoor toilets, and the side of the train tracks serve this function nicely, or so they would have us believe). In the evenings we see teeming bazaars, with people selling fruit and vegetables late into the night. Once the sun has gone down, we see very little! There are very few houses, and those which are out there have few lights.

At the smaller stops, the train doesn't even stop, it just slows. You have to jump off when it's still moving (a feat we have not yet had to master). The Indian people have this down though. Women in saris with a child in one arm and a bag in the other seem to glide off the train (which is a good half metre above the station platform) without effort. Chai wallas or men with armfuls of fruit do the same. I don't think I could bring quite so much grace.

For the most part, I love this travelling. There's something about the fresh air which rushes in through the window, and the endless fields and farms which is so India. I don't mind the long period of reading or just watching, but this is largely due to my sailing upbringing, when I would spend long hours reading or sleeping or doing very little. Glen on the other hand gets a bit more easily bored, and finds the rides tedious.

Unfortunately - as we are starting to learn - the Indian rail system is far from efficient, and delays are common. OUr last train was delayed by 6 hours at the time we were supposed to board, was delayed a further 4 hours before we even got on the train (which was evenutally at 3 am), and then delayed another 5 while we were on the train. We ended up spending 30 hours in transit for what should have been a 14hr train ride.

Oh yeah, one last note. Here there are no bins on the train. Everything goes out the window when you're done with it (Miyuke, you would cry. You really would). Water bottles, plastic bags, fruit skins, broken clothing. Everything goes out the window. Glen and I collect our rubbish in a plastic bag and leave it for the cleaners who come through, but I have sneaking suspicion that this ends up on the tracks anyway.

We are in Kolkata now, here for 4 more days, then flying to where it's stinking hot. It's hot here already! Ugh. Still, it's good for Glen, who's getting over a cold (probably induced by cold train rides).



permalink written by  Capto on January 21, 2010 from Kolkata, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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Oh god I really would cry, haha. Good on your for collecting your rubbish although I think I would be sceptical too.

It's fun reading about your adventures!

permalink written by  Miyuki on January 21, 2010

oh poor Glen... hope your feeling better. Please give hime a hug from me Margaret!

permalink written by  Glenn Dransfield on January 23, 2010

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