Saturday, January 19, 2013

train trauma

October 31st, 2012

Left the little oasis of Varkala and headed in the direction of Hampi (via Goa) to meet Amanda and Ben! Amanda and I have been friends since way back in the Cicero's/university days, and her and Ben had recently finished 2 years living and working in Romania with the Peace Corp. Before they started their next adventure (teaching in China) they decided to stop in India and travel a bit.... perfect timing! 

My first train ride in India, from Varkala to Goa (19 hours) was really enjoyable - got a "sleeper class" ticket, so I had an actual seat and a bed for when the evening rolled around. No AC (more expensive), but I loved the windows and doors all being wide open, warm air breezing through, scenery zipping by, ample opportunity to do one thing I really love while in transit which is play good music on the ipod and watch the country roll by. Had a couple of hours of deep conversation with a young guy (20) who's a law student in Kerala, he really schooled me on history, politics, customs, culture, entertainment, etc - his intelligence was completely inspiring! Also, met a guy working in Chennai who was traveling with his whole family, and they were generous enough to offer me some of their food they brought and wake me at 4:45 a.m. when we were near my stop (I have no phone, watch, alarm clock...). All in all, a very pleasant journey through Kerala's gorgeous backwaters!

In Goa, asked for a train ticket to Hampi and immediately was thrown a little piece of paper and told to pay 84 rupees ($1.75) for the 8 hour journey. Now, something in me knew this was too cheap, but, I have no physical Lonely Planet guide book, it's only a PDF on my netbook, so I didn't bother checking into it, just waited a couple hours for the train and hopped on. I had unknowingly just stepped onto my first "general class" train in India. I am just gonna go ahead and quote exactly what I wrote about it in my journal:

"At 8 the train came - sweet Jesus! The general car was packed! That's an understatement. There were 2 levels of sleeper, each with 5 people in 3 seats. Each 2 person seat by the window had 4. All aisles were full, people even sitting on laps on the floor. Standing only in the aisle between the cars. Total shit show. I was able to put my bag against the wall and even sit on it for a while. It was right by the open door so at least I had a good view. After an hour or so (the whole time I was contemplating getting off and booking a new train...) at one of the stops SO many new people got on, it was absurd. I was pressed against 2 young (like 15) girls with babies, they were filthy and not wearing diapers and the girls were playing like babies themselves. Luckily that just lasted an hour and neither of them peed or pooped on my bag and I was able to sit on it again. Saw an old man's dick when he was re-doing his lungi. Had some chai. A few people attempted to speak English with me. Eventually had these little fried veggie things on small sandwich rolls. The food in the "poor" part of the train is inexpensive and not nutritious in the least. Every stop I just prayed there weren't a million new people pushing in. 

At the 5 hour mark a guy got on who could speak English well enough, he's a Sanksrit teacher. Some young guys also came on - one rubbed my face, the other touched my boob. "Don't touch!" was all I could say. After another hour I tried to get out when the teacher did so I could move to the sleeper class (I didn't care about paying any amount at that point!) but I literally couldn't get out! So many people were pushing to get in that it was physically impossible. Was a stampede. At that point, I was shoved against a wall, purse was around the corner, smashed and pulled against the wall. Small bag on back getting pushed in every direction as well. Horrible. I yelled out "owww!' and "fuck!", but of course all that meant nothing. Was able to stand straight eventually, so smashed in I couldn't put both feet on the ground and had to hold on to the wall to stand. Sweet little boy was sobbing near me. Teenage boys on the floor were tugging at my pants/pulling them down. I was so frustrated... when people asked me "where? where?" all I could say was "out! out!" and point to the door. At the second to last stop, with 30 minutes left before Hospet, I managed (with the help of a few guys) to squeeze/push my way out. They lifted my bag overhead and chucked it out (would have been impossible for me to carry it out). Was raining, I ran like hell down the train, every compartment was totally packed. Found a sleeper car only moderately packed, so dipped in there and stood in the corner for the last half an hour. Holy hell - STRESS!"

Upon arrival in Hospet, I paid 200 rupees for a rickshaw to go the 30 minutes (almost 3 times what I just paid for 8 hours) to Hampi. The driver sped through the rain and puddles on the dirt roads like it was a video game and played some trashy Akon song for me once I said I was American. For some reason  it was the most comforting thing in the world and I felt my nerves slooooowly easing back to normality.

Scariest Halloween ever, and the first and last long distance "general class" train I will ever take in India. It was so full I didn't dream of getting out my camera and taking a photo, but here's a few I got from Google so you can just grateful. 

"Travel is glamorous only in retrospect." - Paul Theroux


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