38 hours overall.
1 x very uncomfortable sleeper bus, from Goa to Mumbai.
1 x second class seated train, from Mumbai to Ahmdabad. Crowded but better than my bus.
1 x second class sleeper train, Ahmdabad to Udaipur.
Wow. What a journey. I’ve realised the nicest and most genuine people are met on public transport. Screw the AC, second class is where it’s at!
My first bus sleeper experience was awful. The lowest point so far. A dirty smelly Indian guy shared my 2 person compartment big enough to squeeze 2 children into. Do they not realise that Europeans do grow above 5ft!? 12 hours and no sleep. The bus is old and falling apart. The tyres are warn and with big chunks missing. Inside, dust and dirt cover the beds. Windows are broken. Some roads are dirt tracks, the main roads surfaces are damaged and in a poor state. The faster the bus went the more I was thrown around the bus. Surely no one can sleep on here?! Service stations were rat and cockroach infested. Toilets? Let’s not even go there! Believe it or not, the field full of many years of human excrement is always the better option.
I manage to get a train to Udaipur from Mumbai straight away. In india the train services are usually booked up in advance, so I’m in luck. I wait at Mumbai Central Station where there is a railway workers strike in full flow. Happy that it isn’t affecting my journey, I watch. Sound systems blaring and railway workers cheering, the strike is done so in good spirit. They want more money for working for the largest employer in the world. Fair play to them.
My train arrives and I am soon surrounded by Indian passengers. A man dressed as a woman, a transvestite to me and you, a Heirass, enters the carriage Not again! This is a strange part of any journey on Indian trains. The man came to me and in English said this bizarre sentence…’I am not man, I am not woman, I am gay. Give me rupees’. Now in England, we’d tell him where to go but in India, if you give money to the transsexual, not a gay, he will bless your penis so it produces non gay children. However a non payment will result in a clap of the hands and a curse on your manhood. Indians want healthy children who are not ‘gay’ so they pay up. What the fuck?! There are starving slum kids out there and you give your money to a tranny. Really?
Rant over with, the journey was brilliant. I talk to many interesting passengers of all ages. I buy chi and food from over enthusiastic sellers who bombard you constantly. Some are official and work on the trains, some are chancers trying their luck. Food, chi, coffee, pani, books, toys, sweets, crisps, every seller has a specialty I tried most of the food. This train was hectic. People getting on and off, some pay, some don’t. Some argue over seating arrangements, some stand. Sometimes there are over 30 sales people on my coach at one time. No rest here. I’m shattered but still people want to practice their English on me, advice and contacts passed on of distant uncles who have hotels in places I will visit.
I arrive at Ahmdabad. What a shit hole of a station. Filthy station. So many people sleeping on the floor, many disabled with missing limbs. There is a funny atmosphere here. I eat some street food and choose to share it with a homeless guy who looks to be at least 90 years. Passing him a piece of food, he is expressionless. He eats slowly, still expressionless, staring at me. I’m not sure if he hates me or is just numb from life on the streets. He leaves the platform skipping with energy. Maybe I made his day, maybe this was his first meal in day. Either way, no kind gesture, no baksheesh, no rupee, no amount of money can change anything out here. I refrain from giving cash to anyone, but if I have excess food, I’ll share it. Begging is usually run by gangs. If not, giving money only justifies what they are doing. I hope I made his day, but then again in reality, he’s going to go hungry for the next few days. Life continues. I am ashamed at the poor/rich divide. But I must observe. Try to understand this unique and sometimes unlogical society. The rail network sums India up, digital media advertising litters the station whilst underneath it, the homeless and disfigured lie, begging, sleeping, a disabled woman of 85 years sleeps in here urine.
The train pulls up, again, I am the only gora. This train is grim. Ancient and dustier than an Egyptian tomb, this beast is also slower than a tuk tuk. The next 12 hours are a good 12 hours, if you compare this to the 12 hour bus ride earlier on. The 6 bed berth I am in is shared by 3 Indian guys from Udaipur, who talk very little English. They look out for me and share their food. I am grateful at their generosity as there are no food or drink sellers on this dark and dusty old ghost train. Second class sleeper trains offer longer beds with the possibility to hang your feet over the edge. Plus trains are smoother and seem to throw you around a lot less. Sleeping is actually an option. However this train has horn happy driver, maybe because cows and monkeys block the tracks or maybe Mr Driver wants to keep everyone else awake due to his own lack of sleep. Either way, trains offer a toilet, which is usable and the opportunity to stretch your legs. In the morning I sat by the door and watched the landscape change. The wind in my hair. It is a clear and clean heat now. The monsoon passed weeks ago. Drier landscapes still have a thriving green glow. I pass local villages, farmers and waving children. Monkeys chase the train over a bridge. Udaipur is close. My new Indian friends share their breakfast with me. This journey has been an experience. Outside of the tourist areas, people are so friendly.
Money is a subject people talk about frequently, it is something that Indians are fixated with, something I am becoming fascinated by. How should I pay for this bottle of water? I haggle a 20R bottle of water down to 15R. That’s a saving of 7p. Haggling becomes a part of you. Pressure to buy things is constant. Indians know we have more money than them, but their sales technique pushes me away from buying anything. I get annoyed when they give me a Gora price. This place runs riot with your emotions and can sometimes make you panic, maybe even claustrophobic but when you stop and think, contemplate, breathe and relax, you smile at the intensity of everything you experience. Too many travelers moan and hate what they experience. I am learning to love this place and all it’s quirky if not chaotic characteristics. My senses are on fire and I’ve only spent 1 week here. This experience is more than what I expected it to be. I’m settling but not settled into Indian life just yet.