The Only Train in India to Ever Leave Early
If you go by the saying “when it rains it pours,” then Carrie and I have been stuck in a monsoon lately when it comes to our luck with the trains. It all started when our 9 hour express train from Agra to Varanasi was canceled all week due to fog. Staying in Agra was not an option so we booked a set of far more convoluted connecting trains that would net us 17 total hours on two trains with only 40 minutes to connect to the second one in Delhi. Well, after a huge traffic jam getting to the train station in Agra, we arrived four minutes early and were told that our train was late, which we confirmed for ourselves when we didn’t see it on the platform.
During the hour we waited for it to arrive, Carrie and I must have talked to around five people and their responses ranged from the Station Master telling her “don’t worry” to a random man telling me that all trains out of Agra were canceled that day due to a huge train accident the night before. However, none of that mattered since the train was now more than an hour late and there was no chance of making our connecting train in Delhi. So, it was off to the ticket counter to see what our options were.
While the people at the ticket counters speak some English, it is very limited and they have a tough time coming up with creative ideas on how to get places. Fortunately, the head of trains in Agra was quite helpful and found us a pair of connecting trains to take us to Varanasi, though we would have to wait around six hours in the station. I was also trying to get a refund for the train that never came, but had to wait another few hours as a train is not considered late until it’s been delayed at least three hours, regardless of how it effects your next train.
Three hours later and after speaking to half the employees of the station, I was told that the train had actually been on the platform and left on time. I argued this fact with the head of trains as nearly a dozen locals stood around me in a circle seeing what the white man up to. To this day, Carrie and I are convinced that it was the first train in Indian history to leave early, but regardless, they only refunded 50% of the ticket. Even with the time we waited in the station for our new train, we still got into Varanasi at nearly the same time. Too bad someone hadn’t told us about the train we finally got on from the beginning!
Our next commute involved a train from Varanasi to Satna and then a connecting bus to our final destination of Kajahuro. This time we wanted to take no chances and got to the station an hour early, only to look at the board and see that it had already been delayed by an hour. The entire station was packed from wall to wall with people sleeping on the floor, as most other trains were also super delayed or canceled. We sat around, read some books, had some food, I slept on the cold floor for a while and we watched as families of monkeys in the station jumped around, fought each other and even “did it.”
When it finally came, just under three hours late, we randomly found ourselves in a section of the sleeper car that had other backpackers who had also gotten stuck in the delay. This worked out well, as the delay meant that we missed most of the buses from Satna to Khajuraho and would have to wait nearly 7 hours in a teeny town with nothing to do until the next bus departed. However, six of us from the train bargained down a taxi driver to take us all the way there and, for the first time in a while, we had a nice, quick and easy bit of transportation joking about the delay and the monkeys.
31 Hours From Here to There
After a few relaxing days in Khajuraho with our friends from the taxi it was finally time to head to the south of India and warmer weather. We left our hotel room at noon (take note of this start time) to head to the local station where our first train to Janci arrived a mere 1.5 hours late. We had no idea what we were doing for our connecting train but figured since our destination was close to Mumbai there would be no problem. Well, when we got to Janci (at 6:30pm) our only real option seemed to be a 19 hour train ride that left at 9:30. Not so terrible except for the fact that because the train was already en-route we could not reserve seats and the train looked quite full. We decided to roll the dice, purchase General Class tickets (the cheapest way that only the poor travel in with no beds or assigned seating and more than 100 people crammed into a car) with the idea that we could just go find a couple of beds in sleeper class and pay the difference when the ticket collector showed up.
Almost two hours after it’s scheduled arrival (now 11:30pm) our train arrived and I asked an employee with a clipboard if there were any available beds in the entire train, to which he, of course, replied “no!” My heart sank. What were we going to do for 19 hours without seats?! We still decided to hop on and figure it out, but after wandering through countless cars looking for even one bed to squeeze into we had run out of options. All we could come up with was to sleep in the doorway area and take turns guarding our stuff.
As luck would have it, Carrie decided to give it one last shot and some nice Indian guy (who we would later become friends with) said that there was one extra bed for her for a few hours until his friend got on board at a later stop. Where did that leave me, you may ask? Sleeping on the floor, of course. So, as Carrie snuggled in a teeny train bed next to half of our bags, I spread out and laid down on a sheet in the two foot (at most) space in between the rows of beds filled with sleeping Indians.
Laying there with the smell of dirty shoes, urine and dust bombarding my senses, I tried to find a comfortable position. The winner was the fetal position, as laying on my back left my feet in the middle of a heavily trafficked aisle. So I lay there, surrounded by snoring and farting Indians with the pain growing in my hips from laying on the hard floor less than a foot from the train wheels. Somehow I managed to fall asleep for a few hours but when I woke up and tried to stretch out into the aisle I found that it was now completely full of Indians laying head to toe. I had no choice but to return to the fetal position for the rest of the night.
At around 6:30am, the owner of Carrie’s bed came back and she had to join me on the floor, which didn’t really work at all as we were both now halfway under the seats with our faces pushed up against bags. Thirty minutes later we decided to give up hope and just sat cross legged on the floor for an hour or so until people started waking up and seats became available (its much easier to cram 5 people onto a seat bench when no one is sleeping on it).
The rest of our trip was actually quite pleasant and probably our favorite train ride yet, as we spent the rest of it making friends with half of the train car who were all beyond kind and offered us their beds to sleep on (sure, noooow they offer them :P ). Even a 1.5 hour delay as we stopped to replace our train engine couldn’t dampen the good mood. A friend that I made during the delay said had he known that a white person was sleeping on the floor that he would have traded places. I was sure to tell him how unnecessary that was and that I never would have agreed to that, but it was still a very nice gesture.
The final drama came when the ticket man tried to charge us for the nearly $20 difference between the tickets we bought and the ones we needed to be in sleeper class. It didn’t matter that I had slept on the floor: just that we were in the wrong car. Our new friends told me not to pay before I knew it I was playing the stupid tourist card with half the train watching the show. My fib was that I had already paid nearly $20 for our reserved seats to some random man at the station who told me he would do everything for me (an obvious con that we would hopefully never fall for). As such, we didn’t have the money to pay for the whole difference. After about 20 minutes of pure acting on my part and the help of our new friends, he left with only $2. In reality, it would have been easier to bribe him or just pay the $20, because really, what’s $20, but we had so many people joining in and telling me to do different things it quickly became impossible to backtrack from. So not worth it!
This saga of train stories comes to an end with us finally getting a hotel in Puna at 7pm the day after we left Khajuraho: 31 hours later and not even at our final destination, but as far as we could go that day. There was also a rickshaw driver who tried to run a con on us when we were looking for hotels, but that’s a story for another day and possibly the karmic reprisal for the con I pulled on the train.