Riding India’s famous railway systems was always going to be one of the highlights of the trip. Notorious for their lack of space and general comfort these old systems have been the veins of the country for decades, pumping people in and out of major cities and it was finally my time to endure a 17-hour train ride from Goa all the way down to the coastal city of Kochi (Cochin).
What ever time you book the train a delay of at least two hours is almost a guarantee, so opting for a sunset journey seemed smart at first, however with the train not showing for over three hours my plans were shelved. Abandoned alone in the station was an adventure in itself as all sorts gather to these zones, ready for their next move.
The constant chitter chatter from travellers exchanging stories was at last drowned by the screeching noise of that huge green rusted box speeding our way. A tuut of the horn and it was at last boarding time in the pitch darkness. Everyone scattered hoping to find their booked seat however this race is harder to win than the national lottery. Initially booking a single bunk in a three zone I eventually settled for the highest bunk in a room of five snoring adults. Upon entering my quarter I was hit by a wall of smell, worse than any of the ones I met along the way so far. A poisonous cocktail of sweat, gasses and Indian food lingered on and the closed window allowed for no escape. At this point I was tempted to jump out to escape the dry, think atmosphere that weighed you down like a new force of gravity.
Thankfully at this stage all the cabin lights were off, so God only knows the state of the floor, but hey at less than €20a ticket I was not expecting first class. Sleep again proved to be impossible as the drowning noise of snores bombarded my eardrums. There I was, no pillow, no sheet just lying three meters high on a wooden bunk supported by two metal chains as it swung like a pendulum at each movement in the tracks.
My mental state was not helped by the fact that I had now been awake for over 24 hours straight and the temptation to wake everybody up to slap them from snoring was too great. Sleeping attempts were interrupted by the odd toilet breaks, which consisted of a small hole punched in the floor of a separate cabin. Never have I been so grateful for the torch on my old Nokia and that last piece of toilet role that survived from Goa.
Deep into the journey just at the cusp of sunrise I finally managed to get some shut eye, until…
“Chai chai chai…” came rolling down the isles trying to sell tea for any who needed breakfast. Trying my best to ignore him a slight tug on my toe was felt which shook me awake with me bouncing up almost meeting the ticket conductor flat on the floor. After a total of 39 minutes sleeping that was not the wake up call I needed.
It was morning time now and that breakfast looked appalling. I glanced around me to finally map out my cabin. Five bunks piled on one another, with three more opposite. Bodies laid around in single file like in a morgue, with their exposed toes only lacking the nametags.
Having an unsettled stomach from dodgy fish in Goa it was time for breakfast and I attempted the vegetarian samosas, which went down a treat. Dismounting from my bunk it was time to meet the neighbors who looked at me with disgust. I was the only European here, and they were not best pleased with my bag occupying the main space between the bunks. It now served as their coffee table and foot rest.
Innovatively each bed could be folded into a bench and we could now eat together and nothing broke the ice more than my next move. Enthusiastically squeezing open the Pepsi that had endured the overnight ride I forgot the basics in life and soon everyone in a two meter radius was soaked in brown liquid… ooops.
That window escape from earlier would be handy now I thought, however somehow somebody made light of the situation and burst out laughing. For the next 12 hours these drenched, cola flavored Indians became my travelling companions.
I was now fully awake and in good spirits, and craving some physical activity a walk through the cabin was in order. Queue more bad looks I at last clocked a Danish traveller I had met the night before and he showed me one of the best views I have ever seen in my life.
We stood between cabins as the train raced over a 50metre bridge and gripping the hand rail I peered outwards to get a breathe of the freshest air ever. I could not help but scream in delight as I experienced a strange feeling of freedom, rather like when a dog hangs out of a moving car.
Initially dreading the enduring journey I grew to love it and truth be told that moment instantly became one of the highlights of my trip. Travelling long distances you feel like you are in between worlds, and I feel like a small part of me still rides freely on that rusted box they like to call an express train. The journey took me to the edges of my mind and back and truth be told I would recommend it over any form of transport as my heart beat in tune with this massive nation’s.