So, the trek begins. Arrived at Delhi station in time to watch my train arrive. Somewhat longer than at home. It’s 24 carriages long. Now I know why the carriage numbers are indicated on the platform. You do not want to have to haul you baggage from one platform end to the other looking for your seat/bed number. It stops and I am 20 feet from my berth. Fighting my way through the throng of arriving and departing travellers I clamber on board. My berth is the first one in and the loo is close by. Great, smoking is banned but my guide says I have the option to smoke in the loo. Given I’m going to be on the train for 23 odd hours the attendants will think I am suffering Delhi Belly the number of times I’m likely to visit the loo.
First things first, I push my case under the seat and secure it to a chain loop welded to the seat. My guide says ‘no chain, case go missing’. My spare underpants are in the case so chain it is. I settle in and wait. An Indian couple arrive and take the other seat. They also use a chain so it must be dodgy. We depart on time. Within minutes the attendants arrive with tea and biccies or ‘tiffin’ for those still yearning for the days of the Raj. I think I’m going to like Indian railways. 10 minutes later I decide to investigate the loo. Basic but serviceable and it has a fan for removing whatever (I’m not going to spell it out, use your imagination). Tea debris is collected and another attendant brings the bedding. Two sheets, a blanket and a pillow. After living for a week without air-conditioning the carriage feels a bit parky but I can live with that as this may be my last A.C. experience until December. I visit the loo again and on returning to my berth the outside world has gone black and night has fallen. I’d forgotten night falls fast in hot countries.
Two hours into the journey more food is delivered. This, I discover, is to happen roughly every two hours from now on, except during the official/unofficial sleeping hours from 10:30 until 6:00. At 8 the Indian couple settle down for the night, the woman disappearing totally under her sheets whilst her husband takes up what to me is a most uncomfortable position. In his berth I mean not with his wife (keep your evil thoughts to yourself, this is a clean blog). I know I’m not going to sleep easily so I amuse myself by watching the darkness flash by, punctuated by the occasional light(s) from villages we pass. At 11:30 I finally declare enough and settle down myself. However, being warned to never let my backpack stuffed with my laptop and other goodies out of my sight I shuffle it about near my head and attempt the impossible, sleep. Glory be, it’s 5:30 now and although felling a bit battered it’s daylight and at last I can observer the Indian countryside. No chance, more refreshments arrive. I struggle out of the bedding and hit my head on the bunk overhead as I stand up to stretch.
The countryside is to prove somewhat disappointing. For the next 1800 kilometres and 10 station stops it is a never ending vista of flat, green plains interspersed with isolated bumpy hills suddenly rising from the plain. Mainly rice fields, water buffaloes, goat herds and shanty homes. Oh, yes, and people working in the fields. Which reminds me, approaching one of the 10 stops I notice a female goat herder with her flock, she picking flowers or something, the goats feeding between the rails. This in and on the rail way itself! Somehow I don’t think British Railways would allow that if only because they would be constantly retrieving roasted goat from the third rail. But, there is no third rail here as it’s either diesel or in our case overhead power lines so that’s alright then. I have a question, how do you train goats to keep off the line being used or do they have a goat language timetable.
The train is referred to as an Express. Obviously the word has a different meaning here as the thing moves slowly most of the time although when it does speed up it shakes and rattles so much that perhaps it’s the driver attempting to shake the rattles loose and so allow him to proceed apace.
We reach our destination Bhubaneswar after 25 hours(no, I can’t pronounce it either so don’t feel bad about it) not quite two hours late. I wonder whether my pick up will have lost the will to live and I will have to find my own way to the hotel. I disembark and fight my way through the crowds to what I think is the pickup point. On the way I assailed on all sides by ‘taxi mister?’ and ‘I take your bag for you?’. I’d been warned to not let my bag be carried as once they have possession it costs money to get it (them) back. Being a mean SOB I prefer to suffer a heart attack and lug them myself. No pickup. What a surprise. There is a very persistent taxi driver trying to convince me he knows my hotel and that he is very cheap (not as cheap as me though) and will not go away. I locate my mobile trying to keep an eye on my luggage at the same time. I call the hotel; they tell me that the pickup is there with a large notice, looking for me. I repeat ‘at platform one?’. The taxi driver overhears and enlightens me to the fact that I am not at platform one. He points the way. Trying, and failing not to look stupid, I walk to platform one. Up a thousand stairs, down a thousand stairs, through the population of India plus China to platform one. I have 2 heart attacks on the way. Perhaps I can afford 20p for a porter after all. But I’m a hardy soul and venture on. Now I have another problem, I can’t see an exit sign! I find the ‘tourist information desk’. ‘Exit?’ I ask. He shrugs. ‘Exit’ I repeat. He shrugs again. A scruffy looking clerk at the back of the office looks up and points in a vague way to the left. I depart deciding that the problem with the world is that not everyone speaks English. I move left and bingo, people seem to be walking to a rather large doorway. YES, I shout silently to myself, found it. Just outside the door is a large sign, my name writ large. Fame at large. Or is it announcing the name of the most useless traveller in the world. I don’t care, comfort looms, I hope.
Silently he gathers me up (burk, he’s thinking) and off we go to the hotel. What can I say? The office has done me proud. A 4 or 5 STAR hotel, running hot water for a shower (the first I have ever encountered in Asia) and, good food. The first chapter of my trek is over.