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An Ode to the Indian Sleeper Train // Poetry, Stories & Pix

For me, a long journey by train evokes a feeling of being in another age.

A time when slow travel was the only travel

An era when getting from here to there was its own adventure; and the journey was the destination.

Foggy sunrise over the Amritsar Train Station
Foggy sunrise over the Amritsar Train Station

I love trains!

The last time Carrie and I were in India, we took every chance possible to ride the rails.

I always could spend hours gazing out at the countryside and snapping photos, but my favorite experiences were the overnight sleepers.

On one such night, I even a poem about the journey.


…a night in an Indian sleeper class train…

“Ba bump. babump. babump. babump,”
the tracks repeat as I lay there dozing off to a symphony of the rails.

The view you get when sleeping in the lower berth of an Indian Train
The view you get when sleeping in the lower berth of an Indian Train

A train whistle covers the sound for a few seconds, sometimes more. Then back to the tracks.

“Ba bump. babump. babump. babump.”

 

Station Break.
The buzz of passengers getting on and off the train.

Silence.
The train is still.
Everyone settles in.
We wait.

A Sadhu sleeping in the doorway of a Indian Overnight Train, stopped in the Haridwar train station
A Sadhu sleeping in the doorway of a Indian Overnight Train, stopped in the Haridwar train station

Dreams often happen here.

Back to the journey.

“Ba bump. babump. babump. babump,”

softer. softer. softer. sleep.

 

“Chai, chai, chai,”
the wallas cry at three in the morning.

Who wants to be woken up for a tea?

People must, I presume, since the wallas continue to call.

 

Brightness passes into dreams
Sunlight bathes the lower berths.
Noise.
Movement.
Life.
Wake up, have a seat and watch it all go by.


Our Experience on the Overnight Train

After a month of tranquility in Rishikesh, the time had finally come for my wife Carrie, Lauren, Tara and I to head out.

Our first stop was Amritsar and the Golden Temple, by way of an overnight train.

 

A long exposure of passengers getting on and off a train at the Haridwar Train Station
A long exposure of passengers getting on and off a train at the Haridwar Train Station

Berth (n): an assigned fold-down bed on an Indian train. In Sleeper Class, they come in three levels: lower, middle and upper.

 

Sleeper Class...the only way to travel around India at night!
Sleeper Class…the only way to travel around India at night!

Carrie Lauren and I had already booked our Sleeper Class tickets together when Tara decided to join us in Amritsar.

Unable to book a ticket in the same area, she decided to treat herself to a first class cabin: something Carrie and I have never done.

Our dreams of sneaking down to Tara’s first class cabin were dashed, however, when we realized that her section of the train wasn’t even attached to ours.

Literally; her cars were on the opposite track from ours. Once we left the station the two halves joined up, but there was no way to get across the train and say hi.

Carrie's view of me, Lauren and herself in our Upper Berths of an Indian sleeper class train -- taken by Carrie
Carrie’s view of me, Lauren and herself in our Upper Berths of an Indian sleeper class train — taken by Carrie

Meanwhile in Sleeper Class, we were fortunate to have three adjacent upper berths.

That meant a bit more privacy, a reprive from the never-ending flow of people, and room for my 6’3” body’s legs to dangle above the aisle without being knocked into while I slept.

Our night on the sleeper class train was spent chatting, taking some obligatory photos in our beds and waiting for sleep to find us.

By 7am, our train had pulled into Amritsar station and it was time to figure out our next step.

But first, I spend a little while taking photos in the beautiful early-morning light.

 

Empty Sleeper Class of an Indian train at sunrise
Empty Sleeper Class of an Indian train at sunrise

 

The front of an overnight sleeper train car in the station in Amritsar
The front of an overnight sleeper train car in the station in Amritsar

I once spent the night on a train floor after hopping on without a ticket.

you can read the full story here

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