Posted on February 26, 2014


As the train pulled into Achnera station, Ashok and I pushed our way through the human bollards to the carriage door. It was already wide open as people were sat on the floor with their legs swinging outside.

The momentum of the train appeared to show no sign of slowing down. It made me think of a story Tarzan (one of the activists from Congo told me about when he was travelling in India). He said he had to jump out of a local train while it was still moving using his rucksack to break his fall and rolling into the jump as he landed. He said passengers on board were only to happy to give him a shove and that in hindsight he wonders how he didn’t dislocated his shoulder.

“There’s no way I’m jumping, I’ve got a camera and an ipad in this baby,” I mused patting the bag with my hand.

Thankfully my fears were allayed and we were able to disembark civilly. There climbing along the roof of the station were a troop of macaques. Their silhouette dotted the skyline.

We checked the train times for the way back and headed into the village. We had an hour to kill.

Achnera is a very poor and rural village. People here have not ever seen a tourist, let alone an Indian-looking tourist. As soon as I was spotted people began to follow us. It was like being the Piped piper. Again with the questions – Ashok was kept very busy – especially by the swarm of teenage boys.

We drank masala chai from a chai Wahalla, bough burfi (sweet dessert made from sugar and milk), ate garam garam (hot, hot) samosas and pakoras from two street vendors. The chillies were particularly fiery. All with a crowd of people around us. Bizarre!

The village is covered in litter. People all over India think nothing of dropping rubbish. Plastic is the worst offender. They say the animals eat the paper – I’ve seen cows and pigs eating paper which is another issue, but nothing eats plastic. Plus the volume of it is staggering.

While I was in the village I heard shouting being directed at me. I looked up from my camera and there was an elderly man around 70 years old hobbling with a cane coming in my direction.

“Young lady, what are you doing here in this village? It is not safe here! You can’t just wander around on your own. This is a gundha (bad) village, the worst sort. Where are you from?” he said berating and questioning me simultaneously.

I told him I was here with Ashok and that we were killing time before the train back and that Ashok was my guide.

“No my dear he is not your guide. He is mis-guiding you. You go now to the train station. This is a gundha country.”

This highly educated man spoke in perfect English and had lived here for more than 40 years. His concern touched me and reminded me of my many uncles, who are sadly no longer around.

He shot Ashok a look as if to say, ‘you should know better,’ and then watched as walk back to make sure we were actually leaving.

There have been a number of attacks on women travelling around India covered in the media. I was very aware of the safety issues before I left and I still remain vigilant when I travel. It was of comfort to have Ashok with me, because I would never have gone into Achnera on my own and this was all done in daylight. Number one rule for me when I travel solo, I always make sure I am back at my digs before dark.

We waited for the 1840 train. It was the sleeper train (inter-city) so should have been on time. On time in India means within half an hour. It arrived late and there was yet another drama getting on – this time everyone on it was overnighting so we had to clamber over sleeping bodies on the floor. As we squeezed in like sardines I saw people sleeping in the luggage racks above the seats and one man in the latrine. There is no such thing as personal space in India, so if you want that, you most definitely have to book the AC carriages where you’ll find 99 per cent of westerners.

But as Ashok knows by now I fall into the one per cent and slumming it is an experience and something every self respecting hardy traveller should try at least once.