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The India Journal: Train Ride

India Journal Entry #2: Train Ride

Come the end of the month, that I have spent traveling around the enormous country of India, and exploring the expansiveness of its culture and many lifestyles, 3 1/2 of those days will have been spent riding on a train.

India's train system, albeit complicated, unreliable, and... how should I put this... "basic," is also extremely large and is a very crucial mode of transportation for not only the Indian locals, but also tourists wanting to get a glimpse of as many parts of the country as possible during their stay. They are always overpacked and people zoom along the tracks, hanging out from the open doors.

One of those train rides, and my first train ride in India, was the 26 hour haul from Jaipur to Varanasi. These two cities are pretty far apart, but are also two main points of interest when exploring India, in my opinion. I sat for hours at the train station, waiting for the delayed train, with constant panic growing inside- that I would somehow miss it. I used as many context clues as possible to decode the Hindi announcements that continued to blare from the staticky intercom in the waiting area. Two and a half hours after I was initially supposed to catch the train, I finally boarded the Marudhar Express and located my compact bunk, which would be my home for the next day.

I opted to reserve a seat, purchasing the "2A" train ticket, which is a step down from first class, but still offers an air conditioned train car with my own bottom bunk to sleep on. Of course, I only had the luxury of stretching out when strangers weren't sitting on my "bed" with me, which happened more than I appreciated. I sat on the small "bench-of-a-bed" and listened to the other passengers, watching them all as they crowded in around me. They were shoving bags in every available space and talking loudly and enthusiastically to one another, in languages I surely didn't understand. I smiled every time I got "the look" from a fellow member of the "2A" train car, the only white human who, most definitely, looked perplexed and confused.

(Side Note: I would like to take this moment to say... Indians do NOT wait for trains to stop before climbing on and off of them. Arriving passengers literally jump from the trains as they enter the train station, while others waiting to board begin crowding the doors- pushing, throwing luggage and children through open windows and crowded doorways. They yell, fight, pull and shove, as they run alongside the moving train in mobs. I was fully taken aback by this, and stood motionless -watching with my mouth ajar- thankful that I had paid for a reserved seat and wouldn't have to participate in the scene set out before me. I was very concerned for the safety of these people.)

Anyways, there was zero English being spoken on the train I was traveling on. I tried communicating with the other riders in my bunk- as I was unsure of one of the stops- however, they stared back at me like the white and blond foreigner that I am. "No English, only Hindi," they responded. I smiled, said thanks, and sat there hoping for the best- sure that my instincts would kick in. I, nervously, snacked on my butter cookies that I had purchased at the train station and watched the fields pass outside from the window.

I've chosen to explore India in the off-season, Monsoon season- to be exact. It's summer- and it's extremely hot- reaching temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit on most days. I've only seen a handful of other tourists during my stay, mostly in the bigger cities. It's really too hot for most people's comfort. (I thank that summer living in Australia for the conditioning!) That means that I don't have to fight with big, foreign crowds when I visit important landmarks and such, but it also makes me quite the commodity at this particular time.

At every stop, men would board the train and begin shouting down the aisles as they walked through. They would sell everything from tea, snacks, handmade items, and dinners. Of course, I couldn't really understand them- and although my stomach was alerting me that it was a good time to eat... I had no idea how to go about that. Finally, one of the passing men stuck his head into my bunk and spoke directly to me in broken English- something along the lines of "Dinner?" "Yes!" I responded, and then added, "Vegetarian!" 100 rupees later, I sat eating some vegetarian curry with rice on my bed- one of the spiciest meals I've had since arriving in India.

When I was finished, I went looking for a trash can. I stopped one of the train workers, and motioned that I wanted to throw away my garbage. He took me to the door of the train and opened it. It was night, and I couldn't see anything but darkness outside, as the wind blew in and the loud sounds of the tracks echoed into the cabin; the train speeding down the tracks. He motioned for me to throw it out of the door. "Just throw it outside?" I asked, confused and feeling like I were being told to do something extremely wrong. He nodded. I looked back at him once more, and then I quickly threw the garbage outside- as the wind grabbed it and it landed among the train tracks in some wooded area of India. I walked back to my bed feeling horrible for my actions.

All night long, I listened to others loudly talk, snore, burp, cry, yell, fart, and smack. I smelled a mix of spice with the odor of feet, as everyone took their shoes off. The train was bumpy, and I tried to get comfortable under the small, scratchy blanket that I had found sitting on my bed when I boarded the train. I debated whether I should sleep, or fight to stay awake all night- afraid to become vulnerable in an unconscious state, leaving my bags and myself at risk while we stopped at rural train stops and people boarded all throughout the night.

After holding it as long as I could, I was forced to get up and search for the bathroom. I walked to the end of the aisle, near the spot where I had been forced to litter... and In a tiny room was a hole in the floor. I stood over it and watched as the tracks underneath zoomed by. Thankfully, I only had to pee.

As I rode throughout the night, tossing and turning to get comfortable, I heard a toddler's toy in the berth next to me begin to play nursery rhymes. "Bah Bah Black Sheep" sang out in English, and at that moment, it was my grasp at reality. Hearing English, if not from a person but a toy, was comforting to me. I listened to it sing, felt at ease, and I fell asleep.

To say the train ride was an adventure all of its own would be an understatement. The experience was life-changing.

Traveling alone in a foreign country is sometimes quite tough- especially when the language spoken isn't comprehendible to you. There are times when you question every decision you make- including the decision to put yourself in that position to begin with. However, allowing yourself to wander into uncomfortable places stretches you. It grows your experiences and enriches your stories. It creates in you a desire to "trail-blaze," to "discover," and to "thrive." It molds an identity that is willing to see life from the eyes of someone else. It gives you a respect for others, and it helps you gain respect for yourself.

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