Travelling In India can’t really be complete without a train journey. Whatever the Indians say about the way the Brits treated them and their sub continent, there is no denying that one positive lasting legacy for the new India was its technologically advanced railway network.
Sadly little seems to have changed in the past half century or more; some of the rolling stock passing through the station has most defiantly seen better days. We had booked onto the Delhi Express – an air-conditioned service direct to the capital.
We arrived early at the station, eager to avoid any potential problems, as it was getting dark, and if we missed this train, there was no other way of getting back to Delhi in time for our early morning flight back to Europe – the five or six hour drive at night was unthinkable – the roads are dangerous enough when you can see the bus hurtling towards you on the wrong side of the road, let alone at night with limited visibility and few headlights!
The station was extraordinary – exhausting to the senses. Continual multi-lingual travel pre-recorded travel announcements were broadcasted across an ageing PA system as ear piercing volume, whilst the platforms were bustling with activity. Obama Bin Laden had only recently been shot in Pakistan, so tensions between the old rivals were high and troops patrolled the station, armed with semi automatics. Yet, incongruously, the male military personal would often been seen walking the platforms holding hands with colleagues – nothing sexual, just an act of friendship or camaraderie, but from a western perspective the sensitivity of seeing two men holding hands whilst dressed in uniform and sporting huge guns just seemed funny.
Hundreds of people were heading back after the festivities and the low cost trains had rolling stock that is hard to imagine for animals, let alone fee paying humans. Decrepit, and dirty, the trains rolled in and out of the station with people only decided to run and jump aboard as the train began to leave, despite that fact that each service sat in the station for some minutes as passengers were called aboard.
The platforms were filthy – after enjoying the fried snacks and curries from the numerous kiosks on the platform, passengers simply threw the debris on the platform, oblivious of the large bins that remained empty. Bottles, food waste and human excrement filled the railways lines between the platforms. Amongst the filth a trash picker, a young boy no more than 14, sifted through the debris looking for plastic bottles and other waste that was salvageable. I handed him a few hundred rupee – my heart just went out to him. The boy seemed stunned I had noticed him; he stopped and climbed up on the platform, and came and shook my hand. People around seemed shocked too – I guess having an untouchable touch you is a rare thing – for me it was a moment to connect with a real person, in a society so disconnected, uncaring and sad.
Our passenger train, when it finally arrived looked like a train purchased from the developed world in the 1970s or 80s. Yet on closer inspection the train was most definitely Indian. Five seats wide, the carriages were like British trains on steroids. The complementary meal tray consisted of 4 different curry dishes sealed in foil dishes, followed by a Lavazza ice cream tub!
Arriving in Delhi, the sheer chaotic nature of this country was re confirmed as thousands of passengers, dragging plastic luggage bags and hauling boxes crossed railway lines, pushed through crowded doorways and then spilt out on to the street stopping traffic.
It took us at least 40 minutes to leave the station car park – a total free-for-all, with stray dogs and homeless kids fighting over left over meal trays that the train staff left out on the side.
We arrived late a simple hotel near the airport; collapsed and slept 6 hours, before being woken by our alarm. The flight to Europe was to be the end of this trip; where we had been in the air some 80 hours! (And our flights were a total of over 40,000 kilometres!) In addition, there was plenty of time at airports waiting for flights but we used that time to write our blogs and catch up on email.
It truly was a journey of a lifetime – a journey that took us to new and fascinating places; a journey filled with smiling faces despite the hardship and challenges around; a journey of unprecedented luxury in world that still has unforgivable poverty.
Gratitude – that is probably the emotion that most defined the trip. I am truly thankful for having the privilege to travel; to choose where to live; and the opportunity to exercise the greatest human right, freedom.