…almost the start to a great joke!
Train breaks down for an hour or so
I had to get back to Delhi – I had my ticket to leave Varanasi, sometime around 1pm Sunday. India has a huge train network, probably the biggest rail network in the World – it’s certainly India’s largest employer. When it works, it’s fantastic and certainly a great way to see the country though when it goes tits-up, it really does!
Booking tickets is fairly straight forward if you’ve an Indian credit card or family member who can book you a ticket online. Otherwise it means joining the queue at the station and waiting in line. Not speaking the language there’s an almost 100% chance you’ll get something wrong which will see you starting the whole process over again.
They also have something called the ‘waiting list’ where you buy a ticket though you’re not assigned any seat – the idea being that on the day of departure you arrive at the station an hour or so before your scheduled time to check whether you’ve made it aboard, a case of finding your platform, then the notice board, scan for your name and all being well, jump aboard. It’s so back to front – I mean you book the ticket, turn up at the station (cause you maybe have a flight to catch, work to get back to, maybe a wedding) – anything only to find you might not get on, how bananas is that?
Having travelled extensively through India by train I’m an old hand at this which saw me saunter to the station with about twenty minutes to go, grab some chai and then nonched over to the platform. I scanned the list only to find my name wasn’t there, re-scanned – walked along each carriage as names are also found there though not mine! I was up at a certain Mata Ganga without a paddle and needed to get back to Delhi as we’re due to fly out 36 hours later and if the crowds for this train were anything to go by, I was well and truly stuck.
The small print on my print-out clearly stated ‘…no allocation, no getting on the train…’
So on I got, the train pulling out moments later.
Sitting myself down in 2 Class A/C I explained my predicament to the family sat there and they assured me all would be well – though to be honest I was a tad worried – years back whilst at school, me and a friend (P Nally) jumped a train from Milton Keynes to Birmingham to watch one of our favourite bands at the time – as much as I’d like to name a cool band, I’m really unable to – we went to see Erasure, Vince Clark and Andy Bell camping it up at the Powerhouse, Paul and I with our dyed blonde hair surrounded by lots of men screaming Vince’s name. It was a great night and at 14, quite an adventure though Varanasi to Delhi is a good 17 hours train ride and with no chance of hiding in the toilet, this was going to be an altogether different prospect.
Not the Guard
The guard duly arrived, (a sour faced, in love with his uniform type) – I just knew this wasn’t going to work. Scanning my ticket he quickly saw that I wasn’t supposed to be on the train and told me in no uncertain terms my ticket was not valid (having paid 1000rupees, though I see his point having not had my seat confirmed) and took great delight in telling me that I’d be getting off at the next stop! No amount of my saying Sir this, Sir that nor the family interceding on my behalf was going to make him change his mind – I even pulled a 1000 rupees from my wallet, asking whether I could ‘purchase’ a new ticket.
Resigned to my fate and I set about packing my gear up, starting to get my head in gear as to what next – most stations are in real backwaters so do I overnight there, grab a ride on a motorbike to the nearest big town or try and get someone to drive me, all these thoughts going through my head, none of which I was that keen on so decided to have one more chat. Being even more nice than before, sucking it up and really kowtowing to him, I explained the situation and he relented, not by much – he offered me a seat in sleeper class, I was over the moon and though the seats there are only a couple of hundred rupees I’d at least get back to Delhi.
Only when I arrived in Sleeper I couldn’t believe how rammed the place was – there were guys asleep on the floor, sitting in the corridors next to the toilet, sitting at the train door – legs dangling outside the train. I couldn’t find the guard anywhere and eventually a young Indian guy approaches me to ask if I needed any help… This guy turned out to be my knight in shining armour – he asked me to join him and his two friends, sharing their chair and we settled in for the rest of the day though I still had no idea where I was to sleep and what with the train becoming more and more busy, I knew one thing, it was going to be uncomfortable.
Between 2nd/3rd Class A/C is the galley, from where they prepare all the food. Needing some space I wandered there to have a look, take a couple of phots with aim of blagging soming chai. For some reason I could hear a chicken clucking though it’d didn’t really register nor the guy sharpening a knife upon a stone. It was only when the chicken was held upside down and had its throat slit I quickly realised chicken was on the menu tonight!
Following dinner, everyone started fighting for their spot to sleep, regardless of what your ticket stated – descending pretty much into a free for all. Being English and preferring a bit of personal space I really wasn’t sure what to do – join the ruck and get stuck in or go stand by the toilet for the next 7 hours.
One of the students offered to share his bench with me which was very kind of him and I opted to sit at the end whilst he got his head down. Eventually I succumbed, laying down with my legs stretched across open space to another bed and lying on my side, got my body and head wedged between his folded legs – face and nose pointing directly at this guy’s ass – I can’t even remember the guy’s name and here I was, my penance for getting on the train without a fully confirmed ticket.
Eventually I fell asleep but it was a tough night and around 7am we arrived at Delhi station – it was raining, I was shattered and just wanted to get home.