It was time to get a move on and since we had to hand over the keys to our rickshaw, we were faced with only one way to get out of town – train. Train travel is generally not horrible, but train travel in India is a whole different level.
Just getting to the train was an event. We jumped on a moving subway that had no doors, shoved ourselves into the mass of men and exited to find ourselves face-to-face with a multi-acre slum. Also, there were sheep on the platform. SHEEP.
There are shacks and people living on the street all throughout Bombay but this was the first sprawling, 2-story slum community we’d come across. And we didn’t just see the slum from above, we got to walk right through it!
The subway exit is not a far walk from the train terminal, but what an interesting walk it was. Monsoon rains had caused a minor flood and the passing buses sprayed us with stinky, fetid water. We tip toed through mud and cow shit while tuks tuks screamed around us. Birds sat on cows who were busy eating piles of garbage and on the side of the road kids played cricket. It was 40 degrees.
And when finally arriving at the terminal we discovered that our wait listed ticket never got off the waiting list. We couldn’t get on the train! So we had to turn right around and do it all over again the next day, only this time we had a real ticket and it was worth exactly what we paid – 10 dollar to travel 1,100 kilometers in a non-AC, second class sleeper.
This may not have been the cleanest place to lay your head but it was certainly interesting. The train was packed. People without tickets had boarded early to claim their tiny spot on the floor, lying down newspapers to sit on and opening containers of home cooked food to eat for dinner. When the train started moving people appeared from nowhere to shake hands and join conversations, cramming 8 people into a booth or sitting on top of bunks with their legs dangling into the seat below. Even with so many people sitting so close together, the mood was oddly upbeat and jovial, people were laughing with each other, babies were crying and someone played Bollywood tunes from their phone. Everyone was eating and ordering Chai. It felt like a big crowded family party.
After a questionable nights sleep our 22 hour train ride wasn’t even half over, in fact the fun was just beginning. During the day, sellers (wallas) began to walk through the cabins. Chai walla after chai walla yodeled down the corridor. Shoe repair people, women selling fruit, locksmiths and toy sellers all had their own unique sing-songy cry to let you know they were there. Beggars would crawl on the floor asking for food or stare into the train giving you sad dog eyes at each stop. The train was never, ever silent.
And when we entered Rajashtan the drumming began.
Men with deep baritone voices and tambourines sang down the train, stopping to play for 20 cents. The men in our area adored the drummers and suddenly we were in the middle of a concert. 100s of rupees were thrown around, guaranteeing us a show for the ages. The men began dancing, pointing their fingers in the air and waving their hands. More and more people came to sit in our 6-person space, more and more drummers added their voice to the dim. Tomato-onion-cucumber sandwiches were passed around and we all began to sweat in earnest in the 100 degree heat.
This did not stop for three hours.
In India something as simple as taking a train is never that cut and dry, there is always drama. There is some odd farm animal in your way, there are thousands of readily apparent safety violations and dozens of very poor, very dirty people are asking for cents. With all this happening someone gives you a huge smile, serves you a sandwich and buys you song.
This country is crazy full of life.
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