All Aboard

Posted on February 27, 2014

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Before coming to India I had planned to take the train to each of my destinations. Everyone I consulted gave me a different response. Some friends said do it, it’s cheap and the best way to see India conveniently. Others said only do it if you can travel first or second class for safety and comfort reasons.

I just wanted to get on a train and mix with the locals and today that’s exactly what I did.

Ashok met me after lunch and we went to Bharatpur train station to catch the local service to Agra. The station is small and busy but by no means as chaotic as Delhi. We were headed to small village Achnera about 45 minutes away.

Ashok went to get the tickets so I wouldn’t get ripped off. A return for the two of us turned out to be 120 rupees (£1.20). As we stepped through the ticket hall onto the platform, the sight was one that summed up India. Young, old, men, women, children all clumped in various groups on the floor. Patiently waiting. Some were squatting on their haunches, their bottoms hovering just above the ground. Others lay sprawled out on shawls or blankets. Everyone knew the train was not going to be on time so they were just getting comfortable.

I looked across to the other platform in amazement. Although there is a walkway, most people jump down from one platform onto the tracks and walk across and hop up onto the other platform. There is no such thing as health and safety. I saw the elderly do this albeit very slowly, one middle aged man carried a dining room table across unaided; a child was sitting down in between tracks to take a leak. And an entire family formed a semi circle on the gravel in between the train lines to have a discussion.

My presence cause a bit of a stir being the only foreigner on the platform. Over the course of the 2 hour wait Ashok was asked by about 20 different people who I was, where was going and if I was Indian. His response was always the same.

“Not Indian, tourist. But Indian from England, father Gujarati.”

He’s a patient man, I’d have gone mad repeating this over and over. It happens everyday when we’re out.

We were stood chatting for sometime when a red-eyed station manager came stumbling towards us. He barked something in Hindi and made a gesture about moving back away from the platform edge.

I sniggered as Ashok began arguing back.

“Look behind you mate, there are people walking across it and sitting on it right now,” I thought.

But then I wondered perhaps he wanted money.

Turns out Mr Jobs-worth was drunk. Yup you get a lot of that, drinking while on duty. He thought Ashok was also a tourist and was trying to be arsey, but it didn’t work. Ashok ignored him and told him to move on much to the amusement of people watching.

The station manager looked at me long and hard, I did think that perhaps he might kick off, but he left, dragging his feet as he went.

Moments later there was some commotion and I heard shouting and a big crowd was forming. As I pushed my way through I saw an Indian police officer slapping the drunk station manager with some kind of broad belt, herding him like a cow out of the station. He was then pushed onto the street and told to go home. Karma – talk about instant.

When the train pulled up nothing prepared me for the sight that ensued, it was carnage!! Pushing and shoving and grappling to get on. The entrance to the carriage is narrow and those trying to get off were stuck while a barrage of people were trying to force their way on. Ashok grabbed my hand and pulled me into the scrum. I watched while being jostled thinking there is no way we are getting on this. One man got stuck. His bag wedged into the gap where people were trying to fit. Insults were thrown and hands went up and onto the bag to push him in. Women and children getting off were literally grabbed and hurled off like luggage being loaded on the tarmac of an airport? This sort of behaviour is how I imagine people might react trying to escape a burning building…….. blatant regard for anyone other than one’s self.

“Juldee juldee!!!” (Hurry hurry) were the cries from those still unable to get close to the steps to board, arms still outstretched. The frenzy now reaching a climax.

Ashok pulled at my hand “Chal-lo…!!” (let’s go) he motioned to the front of the train. We pegged it down the platform and jumped onto the tracks in front of the driver’s compartment and ran like crazy down the length of the train trying to find an open door on the other side.

He went up the steep steps first, spun around and held out his hand to pull me on. Just as my feet hit the carriage floor the tug of the train made me fall inwards. We were off. Inside the chaos continued and people were still trying to get on from the platform side while the train pulled off. It tom a while to sink in that this happens every time you take a train. I have never laughed to hard because it was sheer comedy. Definitely the craziest scene I have ever been in the thick of and I’m so pleased I had a chance to experience it!!

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Posted in: India