I have always loved train journeys. Trains are my favorite means of transportation, wheater I travel in first or third class. And luckily, that was just the way to get me from Kolkata to Varanasi!
I was overly excited when I booked my ticket to the sacred destination. And two days later, I was in the same state when boarding the train! Well, I was also a bit anxious. Traveling alone, third class, on a packed train in a South Asian country? I’ve done it before! But only day train journeys, during night rides I’ve always had travel buddies. ANYWAYS… What could possibly go wrong?
So, after a bumpy taxi trip to the terminal, I made my way through the crowded hall to the platform. I easily found my wagon and popped in, trying not to knock anybody out with my backpack. After wandering around the wagon for a bit trying to spot my number, I finally found my match!
Sharing Is Caring
Confusion: an Indian family is occupying the seats, staring at me with big eyes. I check the number once again and realizes how this works. There are 3 rows of beds, one on top of each other. The 2 superior rows are still hanging vertically in order to let the people sit comfortably.
I smile, the family (2 parents and 3 sons, aged 8 to 14, I guess) smiles back to me. I squeeze in. The older son moves to the perpendicular empty bunk, while the youngest stares at me with big fascinated eyes. I smile to him and retain a burst of laughter. Although I had just sat down, judging by his hypnotized eyes I was expecting a marriage proposal any minutes then. Thankfully, he didn’t. Instead, he engaged the conversation a few minutes later: What is your name? Where are you going? Why? How?
I got to know this lovely family from Uttar Pradesh as the train rocked us away. Soon they decided it was time for dinner: the father started unpacking hard plastic and steel plates. The mother opened up a couple of tupperwares full of paneer masala and unwrapped a pile of chapatis. Next thing before I knew it, they were handing me over a full plate! I felt so thankful by this genuine act of generosity. And, in order to express it (and to show off a little, I admit it), I thanked them in Hindi. Bad idea for my ego, they all started giggling because of my accent…
Sleeping On The Train
The bellies were full and two Japanese backpackers had joined us at the next stop. Suddenly, everybody got up to set up the beds for the night. That was the beginning of a big confusion involving a luggage crash, a finger squashed while setting a bed into place, leading to a forehead bump against it. I had a look at the bed’s numbers, silently praying not to bed on one of the top bunks. I had no wish to escalate up there thinking I might turn around in my sleep and kill myself crashing down on the floor.
Nothing to worry about, none of my bunks companions seemed to care about the bunks assignment. Taking advantage of the situation, I jumped on the upper perpendicular bed and wrapped myself in my dupatta, sushi style. I pulled The God of Small Things out of my backpack-acting-pillow, ready for a sleepless night, but after two paragraphs I was rocked away to the land of the dreams.
When I opened my eyes, the sun was already high up in the sky, and my bunk buddies had pulled the beds back to the vertical. I made my way to the toilets through the crowded train, bought a cup of chai to a tea boy passing by and sat down with my book and my bunk buddies. A few chapters, conversations, laughs and selfies later, the train entered the Varanasi station. I stepped out unto the platform waving goodbye, tickled by a familiar sensation: the loss of a comfort zone. A new adventure awaits!
If you wish to know more about traveling in India by train, you can check out the following and very helpful link: https://www.seat61.com/India.htm#routes