Running Through India, By Any Means Necessary

When you go to India for 3 weeks and want to visit the north and the south and do as much as humanly possible, you don’t have the luxury of being selective with transport.  In India the best way to get around is by train travel.  The train network in India is extensive with lots of different trains running all over the country.  The great thing about riding the trains was meeting local people.  It was the one environment when you could actually speak with locals and not worry about them being a taxi or rickshaw driver.  My favourite lady that we met was one that couldn’t speak English.  Her smile on her face just showed her bemusement at me and my idiot ways, when I was wrapping my feet and legs up with a scarf because I was freezing on the train and not prepared to be cold.

We did a lot of sleeper trains which didn’t give that much excitement except for the night when the military came into our car and took up berths and then a screaming match ended up in front of me as two locals fought over a berth.  There were a couple of times when we took day trains which seemed to be a bit more interesting especially when we had the lowest class tickets to get on the train.

We had this train that we had to get on, but we were not able to get tickets for a higher class because they were booked out from 6 weeks prior.  So we were told to buy a general ticket and then when the ticket man comes, ask to if there is space in a better class and pay for the upgrade.  We entered the train and just went into any carriage.  It was relatively empty.  We sat there for an hour or so until the ticket man came and told us that we had second class tickets and we were in the wrong carriage.  He said at the next station, get off our car and go down to the last two carriages.  We weren’t sure how long the train would wait on the platform and these trains are very long.  So when it stopped, with our backpacks on, 5 of us ran down the platform trying to get to the back of the train.  The leader of the pack got down to the end and turned around and said “wrong carriage!” So we all turned around and started running back.  We passed a couple of carriages and said “too many people, too many people”  (Little did we realize that was where we were supposed to be.  General class is battery chicken class).  We jumped on in another empty car.  So we sat and chilled there for a couple of hours until we made a stop and the car just swelled with people who had assigned seating.  “Get up, get up!  These are our seats!”  So we had to move again.  We just started roaming the train in search of seats.  Then we found ourselves back exactly where we had started.  The ticketman recognized us and came back and said “I told you guys to move!”  He said that at the next stop this car was going to fill up and we would definitely have to move.  So we packed our bags again and continued to roam the train.  Finally, we found a friendlier ticketman who let us upgrade our tickets and gave us seats.  I really wish we could have filmed ourselves running down the track!

The next time this happened, I was with different people, but I knew how it worked.  So when the ticket man came along, he more than happy to upgrade us for more than double the cost of the ticket.  We knew the cost of the ticket because we had already purchased a ticket on another train that was 3 hours late.  So I started barking at him.  “Why does it cost that much?”  He quickly ran away.  An hour later, another ticket man came along.  We explained to him what we wanted to do, and again I said “We know the cost of the ticket, why is sleeper class that price?”  He signalled for me to lower my voice and then he ran off with his tail between his legs.  The ticket men are not very good at getting bribes off of people!

One method of transport that was completely new to me was the sleeper bus.  It sounded like a marvelous idea.  Having berths on a bus so you can lie down and sleep overnight.  However, I guess it would only work on smooth roads and if you actually maintain your vehicle and change your shocks.  Imagine lying in a very squished space with a driver driving like a maniac: taking curves quickly so that you end up against the glass and not slowing down enough to go over potholes and speed bumps.  Probably about 4 times during that night we were jolted awake as we went flying a foot of off the bed.  I swear I spent the whole night bracing each time I felt the driver slow down.  However, my friend said that I somehow managed to fall asleep for some of the ride.  Crazy!


Being Equal Under a Golden Sun


Probably one of the most humbling experiences that I’ve ever had when traveling happened in Amritsar, a town in Punjab which is the most holy of holy town for Sikhs.  Amritsar has the Golden Temple, one of the most, if not the most, sacred temple for Sikhs.  We visited there and walked around in awe of the splendor of the temple.  Unfortunately, the holiness and spirituality of the temple was missed out on us as our knowledge of Sikhism was none existant.  At this temple, everyday they cook a pilgrimage lunch and everyone is welcome.  So we decided to go and have this lunch.  We were given our steel plates.  We went into this massive dining hall with rugs rolled out in rows.  Everyone has to sit down side by side cross-legged with the steel plate on the floor.  These men come along and slop some gruel on your plates and water in your cup.  You have to cup your hands together so that they can throw some chapatis in your hands.  Then you bend over your plate and eat the food as quickly as you can.  As quickly as we were shoveling the food down our throats, we were still the last to finish in our row and the workers were busy trying to wash the floor getting ready for the next round of people.   I had this 12 year old girl beside me with her family.  She kept tapping me on my knee and speaking  to me.  She wanted to know how old I was, where I was from, how long I had been in India etc.  All of this in a mixture of English and Hindi.  The experience was so special.  It was so humbling to be equal with everyone in the room.  Although some people were intrigued by our presence there, we felt so equal to everyone eating the same gruel as everybody else.