Indian Railways: an experience (not) to be missed if at all possible

November 23, 2013

The best piece of advice I got before I left was from a woman at the gym who has been to India three times:

“Bring a face mask and latex gloves, especially if you’ll be traveling by rail.”

In fact, during our 19-day trip we had three flights within India, one train ride and lots of bus time. And her advice really came in handy.

train stn indHere’s the train station in Agra. Really, it’s the nicest part of Agra, which is to say it’s still dirty and awful. As you can see, we were there quite early and it was a bit chilly.

We entertained ourselves by watching the trains come in and out of the station–and they stop only briefly to let passengers on and off, so it’s a crazy scene.

Here’s a video of the pandemonium when people needed to catch a train.

train windows

No, Dorothy, this is not Caltrain.

train window

This whole country could use a bath. Including these trains.

And sometimes, we enjoyed a laugh:

He doesn't look like a lady to me.

He doesn’t look like a lady to me.

And then, the good stuff happened.  A guy came along with leather and fabric stitching tools and offered to mend any damaged bags.

fix lugg 5 rr

He’s not a pickpocket.

On the spot, while we waited for our train, he fixed three bags for the equivalent of about a buck each.

Industrious guy.

Industrious guy fixing our bag.

On the spot he fixed three bags for the equivalent of about a buck each.No kidding.

He was great with a needle. Even better than my husband, who's damn good.

He was great with a needle. Even better than my husband, who’s damn good.

And then, our train came in.train door turbanAre you getting the drift about how dirty this country is?

Once on the train for our three hour ride, refreshments were served. I wouldn’t have touched them if I were dying of thirst, but I watched a woman in our party order a cup of tea and drink a couple sips before abandoning it. That afternoon at the jungle lodge she got violently ill and missed the entire next day’s events.

Seriously, I didn’t eat much while here for that very reason, and even I got a mild case of Delhi belly. But a few others were hit much harder.

Another thing we take for granted is sanitation, in all its permutations.  So, Indian Railways: not the best mode of travel. But if you must, don’t eat or drink. And bring your own toilet paper.

That’s another thing. BRING EXTRA TOILET PAPER FROM YOUR HOTELS!! Because Indians do not use it. More on that later.

12 comments on “Indian Railways: an experience (not) to be missed if at all possible
  1. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    HAHAHAH! Yes! I kept my TP in a nice felt case from a shoe shine kit I swiped from one of the hotels we stayed in, which as you hopefully know, can be such a juxtaposition from the trains. My travel mate ate a full breakfast on the train, served to us in first class. it stayed down, remarkably.

    And if you ever wonder why the India people fold their hands at their chests and bow for Namaste, it’s because they don’t want to shake EACH OTHERS hands. How about that scenery from the train window….ever see anything like it? Garbage galore. Notice when you fly back to the Sates, the aisle in your plane–most likely it will be loaded with dropped garbage. It’s just their way. The stewardess says she fully expecls it to be a mess. Interesting.

  2. Kay Lynn says:

    I know it’s not your intention, but you’ve confirmed I’m not adding India to my travel bucket list. You told the story great with the images and words.

    • admin says:

      I noticed it on the way in, funny you should say that!

      • admin says:

        Actually, I meant that first comment for Ryder. Kay, this place is absolutely not for the faint of heart and if I’d known then what i know now, i might not have gone. For sure I would’ve been better prepared. I’m glad I went, though. Thrilled it’s over! Pamela, their wages are far lower than ours, you can’t judge by our standards. A mid level manager makes between $8K-12K a year. That’s why we outsource here. And TP is not their custom. Something else is, and I’ll blog ’bout it later.

        • Kelly says:

          yes the whole left handed thing. but then if someone is left handed they should use their right. so really you shouldn’t shake hands with anyone. good lord almighty. yes. I can’t wait to read ALL your stories.

  3. Pamela Mason says:

    No TP?? EwYuk!!

    And… I was afraid you would say the guy was a thief and you caught him redhanded. Glad he was not and I hope he made honest wages for his work, though it sounds like he should have asked for more than just a dollar.

    So he could buy himself more TP…

  4. Diana says:

    You really should have upgraded to non-e coli class.

  5. Holy crap. Literally and figuratively. I’m transfixed by this adventure of yours.

  6. Kelly says:

    I’m sooooo very ok living vicariously through you when you travel. really. omg.
    my 4th grade teacher went to India the summer before our year with her so we learned about India that year in detail. One of her slides was of a mouse in a tea cup. they dumped the mouse and poured her tea in it. and its rude to decline but she did anyway. I remember that distinctly.
    I do not take sanitation for granted. LOL I really don’t.
    also one of my fave novels ever was “the great railway bazaar” by Paul Thoreux.
    I’m gonna go shower now, on your behalf. xo

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