Monday, March 11, 2013

So Long and Thanks for All the Trains

Leaving India felt like when a really good friend moves thousands of miles away (I'm looking at you Erin and Petra, and Karen and Monica… hmm, maybe there's a pattern…). Kind of empty, excited for future adventures and aware that the friend is always there, just farther away. But still sad and maybe a little lonely. We are excited about coming back to India, and knowing we can stay for a shorter period and see less, now that we've done the sweeping 2.5 month overview. There were parts of India that were hard and tiring. But all real travel is tiring, thats why not everyone does it, and it doesn't count as a "vacation". In fact, travelers we talked to expressed appreciation for any vacation from their vacation they could get.

I read a lot of newspapers in India and can't even begin to understand the political and social workings. I'm not sure that all Indians understand how everything works. But I'm actually OK with that. I read recently a quote by an India writer that said something to the effect of (I'm paraphrasing): India is in no way a "developing" nation, there are years of advanced civilization there, it's just currently in an advanced state of decay. I love that sentiment. Of course there is shiny newness coating the decay, sometimes built soundly on top, but other times just thinly masking what's underneath.

You see all of humanity on Indian railways (I'm sure someone famous also said that). When we set out on this big train journey through Siberia and China and Tibet I always knew that India was our penultimate goal. It more than lived up to the hype. Last time I took the train from North to South with a few dozen Canadian and Indian youths, riding the whole time in sleeper class. We were too young and enamored with our journey to notice any discomfort (including the 20 hour diversion due to flooding). This time we travelled AC 2nd and 3rd class (usually whichever had the shortest wait list). I told myself that 16 years later we had earned cushier travels. We shared the AC classes with more upwardly mobile Indians, those more likely to speak English and less likely to spend the night staring at us. We met lots of European (but few American or Canadian) tourists and traded plans and tips. We watched as young Indian men shoved their way into the unreserved second class, hanging 3 deep out of the door (hopefully they were not headed for any tunnels). It took a couple trips but I was soon brave enough to start buying the dishwater chai that sells for 18 cents again. I've heard Indians deplore its quality but agree that it is a quintessential train experience. One of my most lasting memories of the last trip is waking up to "chai, chai, chai, kapi,kapi kapi, chai, chai, chai"

In all, we traversed the entire length - north to south - of the subcontinent. As well as many side trips, diversions and indirect traveling. Some of the trains were late. Many hours late. But aside from that, we always felt safe, the trips were fun and they got us where we wanted to go. So, thanks India Railways. See you again soon. That goes for India as a whole.

- Bree

Indians waiting for our train to pass.

Cholera vaccinations at the train station. Today was a school day, but yesterday they vaccinated 200 kids.

The easy-to-understand India Railway system.
Matt poses in the jail-cell of our cabin, a poster in the train station, and Bree gets comfortable in another of our cabins.
The train waitlists in India are so game-like that there is a website that allows people to predict whether you'll bet a seat or not.