Our driver dumped us with much feighned sadness at Agra Ghantt station at about 4 pm. He scurried off back to Delhi and his wife relieved, I would think, to rid of two, well, one cranky old dame.
The station was about as bad as you would expect, lots of beggars and deformities, but we resolutely followed our porter who had T’s case on his head and hauled mine, through the jostling crowd to the waiting room for 1st and aircon passengers. We were thoroughly scrutinised by all the occupants and came out badly I would think, far too much luggage and no gold jewellery.
At 6 pm the porter came to get us and stomped off down the platform with T’s case held aloft and us scurrying along behind like two anxious old dogs. The train was only a little late, had come from Delhi and we were duly deposited on board by the porter, 100 rupees and we were installed in the right place.
We have travelled by train quite a bit but this one was a shock. Narrow gauge, like NZ , our carriage had 15 compartments each with 4 berths, a small passage way then two more berths across the opposite window.
Wow, and two toilets. Anyone remember my whimpering about a train in Spain where we shared with 14 people!!!! There were at leasta 100 people in this carriage and we had 38 hours to go.
When my eyes adjusted to the light I realised that not two but FOUR people were sitting on the berth opposite me! Yeeks, apparently this is quite common, two berths and four tickets are bought. This was a family of four, portly Dad, solid mum, teenage daughter and grown son, the latter two had horrendous coughs.
I was speechless, asked if they were all staying in this compartment, son said waiting on berths, well they waited for the next 38 hours!!!! Mum and daughter generally shared the bottom berth, about 2′ wide and 5’10 long and portly Dad scrambled somehow into the top berth. Son went off occassionally for a few hours to find a spare seat… I was not at my most gracious about this particulalry with the consumptive coughing.
Arranged our beds, with the family looking on, two sheets, had pillow and blanket were provided, we added our cotton sleeping bags plus our Khatmandu pillows, and piled in, still being watched. I was definitely incomunicado throughout this.
Lept out of bed and padlocked our cases together, they were under the berth. I shared my berth with my hand luggage, and our bag of fruit, water and bikkies which sustained us throughout the trip.
Walking constantly along the passageway was an endless stream of chai wallahs (tea), hawkers of everything from books to whiskey, and sellers of snacks and the odd scuffling child cleaner- you paid them.
Eventually everyone settled down for the night. I awoke with a start, there was another person sitting on the end of Mum and daughters bunk- I broke silence- ‘What is she doing here?”
‘Drug addicts” says daughter, I sat up with a start, “what sort of drugs” I asked – I had smelt cigarrettes earlier, and had spied the two in the compartment next door, commented on how lucky they were to have only two people, even offered them two from our compartment, they seemed like a pair of lads intent on having a jolly time – but drugs????
I leapt out of bed, fully clothed to sleep of course, skirts are the answer but Indians are fascinated and repelled by the white legs!!! Anyway I marched into the next compartment, was smiled at benignly by one of the two, snarled, marched back, grabbed the visting lady and marched her to her berth – she never returned.
Next morning Mum bought me tea and we chatted on and off for the next 24 hours.
There were cockroach races on the walls, every surface was grubby, but the sheets were clean, and the toilets stayed cleanish. I was fascinated with the Indian families enthusiasm for teeth cleaning, in fact there was an endless procession to the only handbasin with toothbrushes. Mine remained furry.
Terry went for a walk down the train said our section was luxury,no padding on non a/c 2nd class seats. Now, we would have had 1st class seats but there were none available, however it was an experience and I came out of it with immense repect for the avaerage Indians abilty to remain calm and clean.
The countryside changed quite dramatically , GREEN!!!! gradually moving into rice paddy territory.
Remember those pictures of Indian trains with people hanging out the doors, well Terry and I both had turns hanging out the door for a bit of air, it was actually quite lovely at night wending through the countryside with the starry sky above, my only fear was someone would give me a push!!!!!
Two hours late we finally pull into Madgoan station, a mad rush to get off some terrible stairs to scramble down along with dozens of others and finally a sign with our name on it to whick us away to Chorao Island where we booked for two weeks R and R before the last leg down south in Kerala.
We notice immediately that the temperature has shot up about 10 degrees. Next time Chorao Island