Indian Trains

8 February 2013

As a Sydneysider, you would say that one hour to get to work is not so bad, and a five or six hour drive south for a holiday is ok.

For almost everyone, the twenty four hour plane journey between Europe and Australia is not good.

I was sitting at Varanasi train station, looking for the carriage with my name printed on it. Forty eight hours later, I would be in Goa, and that’s quite a long time away.

For me there was no question of how long, it was just a question of why I ever considered catching a plane in India, since I’m in India.

And what a feeling to finally find your name on the long sheet of paper among all those names. They are the names tell you when you meet them, but because they’re so unfamiliar you have to keep asking over and over. The bunk inside was empty except for pristine white sheets and thick blankets. All this sudden luxury for another thirty hours. Below me was a fat man who snored as loud as someone shouts. Thankfully the belching and farting was not so loud. Opposite him on the other lower bunk was an old couple who didn’t move away from each other the whole journey.

Watching the country go by for so many hours is like watching the sunset. You know that it’s changing, so you watch it, but you just can’t get yourself to truly see that change through the colours. Every time it’s achingly nice no matter how you decide to look at it–whether it be through a window or hanging out the side of the train with your whole body being blasted by the wind.

Everyone that was on the road who went to Mumbai said go, and everyone off, or who could but didn’t go, said don’t go. So what to do? It’s India’s biggest city and unavoidably I had eight hours to kill, so I did something in between and walked around with my backpack from daylight to night.

Mumbai itself actually started before I arrived at central Victoria station, but I didn’t know it. All there was were mounds of rubbish acting as a wall for crumbling concrete and tarpaulin. Between the garbage mounds were strange ads in strange old fashioned English for water purification and post-diarrhoea salt/sugar replacement therapies. Breaking the pattern were the infamous purple suburban trains that were beyond full. Since they didn’t have doors more people could fit in–and more could hang out.

Victoria station then came as a huge surprise. After heading through the metal sheet extension full of fish deliveries, there was the original Victorian architecture train station that could happily rival any in the home continent of trains (at least the ones I’ve been to in Europe). Indians rushed around in shirts and trousers and crowded the ticket booths just the same as any other station in the country. Outside was a big cathedral, but again Indians honked endlessly and pushed through traffic just like anywhere else in the country. Down the streets to the seaside, there were big London-esque archways to walk under. Indians sold their services on the side and held my shoulders as they rushed past, just like anywhere else in the country. There was a little cultural festival going on, but everyone was dressed in jeans and t-shirts and singlets. There was a lot of English being spoken between the Hindi. The Indians were undeniably Indian, like everywhere in the country, though. It was very strange.

There was a nice famous hotel that also had nice toilets that I used happily. You couldn’t tell that it was also bombed a few years ago. Further up town I walked through a huge park where Mumbaikars were playing cricket and football after work, or just sat down and chatted with friends if they didn’t want to brush up their bowling. The lifestyle here didn’t seem so imposed on them; I’ve never been stared at less.

The sun shining through the palm fronds woke me. IT was bright and hot outside. At the speed the air was still a little bit refreshing and it all gave me goosebumps. To the right the huge train curved around the bend and I could see almost all the carriages. The soil was a fertile brown-red, and I thought how far away the dusty black-orange dirt of the north must be now. The soil supported big leafed banana trees and all those little tropical villages with very dark skinned people who didn’t take any notice of us.

It’s a big country. There were a few more mountain tunnels to go through before Goa.