We did it! Our trip to India is finally sorted and we’ll soon be ticking a couple more items off the bucket list. Now there is a brief pause for breath before the packing saga begins.
We managed a compromise that suited both Adventurer and Princess – one week of quiet contemplation and meditation in Bhutan, followed by one week spent in a blaze of colour and noise in Agra and Jaipur. So now we’re both happy. Let’s hope it stays that way.
We’ve managed to improve our carbon footprint a tiny bit. I realise it’s pretty academic when we’re flying all the way to Nepal and back, but at least we can try. As soon as we land in New Delhi we transfer from plane to train – Delhi to Agra for a visit to the Taj Mahal, then Agra to Jaipur. It took a while for our very helpful tour planner, Jim at Audley Travel to get the point across to his Indian counterpart. Yes, we did want to go on the train. No, we didn’t want the car to do the same journey alongside the train so they could pick us up at the other end.
I’m not sure what to expect of the train
I’ve only been on trains a few times in India. The first time was in Mumbai, with the amazing Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (previously Victoria Terminus) as our home base. Built by the man who designed St Pancras we felt immediately at home. Our friends, however, were horrified: ‘what do you think you’re doing? You never go on a train in Mumbai!’ And in fact they never have been on the train – they consider cabs much safer.
I did take their point. This is nothing like our UK trains. They do run on time, which is a definite plus. Part of the reason for that is they forgo the luxury of doors, which means there’s a total scrum on arrival with passengers jumping off as the train slows down and new people shoving their way on. Not to mention people hanging out of the doorway as the train rattles along. We let three trains go by while we developed a survival strategy. Let me tell you the time for getting on and off is extremely short. None of this ‘mind the gap’ nonsense – it’s everyone for herself!
We took our lives in our hands
And we were right to take our time – watching those first trains go through was terrifying. And I’m not being dramatic – if people fall off the train, it won’t stop or go back – they are just lost. So maybe our friends were right about the cabs being safer!
As the train approached, people all around us pushed forward and we had to plant ourselves firmly in order not to be swept up in the crush. The concept of letting people off the train first hasn’t reach Mumbai, neither has waiting for the train to stop before alighting. With just split seconds of stasis there’s no place for hesitation. Imagine jumping onto a moving object alongside the rest of the world, some of whom are coming with you and others who are leaving to go home – and it’s all taking place through a small carriage door way.
‘Ladies only’ carriage
On one of the journeys, Miriam and I jumped into the ‘Ladies only’ carriage for the experience. It was brilliant! We were so drab in comparison – it was like landing in a carriage full of brightly coloured birds. From the moment we launched ourselves inelegantly through the door space, they looked after us – they huddled closer together to make room for us on the bench seats, asked where we had come from, where we were going, how we liked India. They offered us food, talked us through the tricky process of getting off, giggled, told us about themselves, asked about London – it was a full social occasion.
Train journeys can be the perfect time for catching up and these women were no exception. Except they weren’t catching up on social media or that pesky work document, they were getting the dinner ready – peeling and chopping veg and onions for the pot. And for those who didn’t want to cook there was the lady walking up and down selling freshly cooked curry – the ochre smelled particularly tempting. Plus sales of toys, kitchen implements, cards, shoes…. The whole world was there for the taking.
As our station approached, they got us up, took us to the non-door, so we were in pole position. As the train slowed, they shoved us off with a cheery ‘goodbye’.
It was the worst of the Piccadilly line
It took a while to find John and Anthony who’d been in the general carriages – the platforms are always really crowded, like PEAK rush hour on the London Underground. They’d had a much more challenging journey managing the machismo of the Indian male, but still felt cared for by fellow passengers when it came to getting off.
Alarming as it was at times, none of us felt unsafe or at risk from the people around us. No one was angry, just assertive and determined, but always with awareness of others. It reflected the nature of the roads in Mumbai – apparently chaotic, but with a clear order; everyone going their own way, but always conscious of other people as they travelled.
Coimbatore to Cochin by afternoon train
In contrast our long journey to Cochin, en route to the Backwaters in Kerala, was very calm. We had doors and windows – all mod cons. The loo’s left a little to be desired. Like the loo on a Romanian train that asked us – in eight languages – to ‘leave this toilet as you would wish to find it.’ Sadly the journey wasn’t long enough.
I’m guessing Agra to Jaipur will be pretty civilised. As long as it runs to time, we’ll be off the train before the long distance travellers start taking down the beds and getting ready for the night. And there will definitely be air conditioning – a must since the temperatures will be in the very high 30’s
So hopefully this will answer some of John’s desire for adventure, while the ecology of the train works for me. That just leaves my inner ‘Princess’ to satisfy ,but I think she’ll do fine with a final burst of glorious luxury at Samode Palace before we head back to Nepal.