It is said that one cannot remain neutral to the specific charm of India. Just a few moments, a few steps after leaving the airport, a glance at the surrounding world and first gust of wind is enough to fall in love with this country or hate it with passion for the rest of one’s life.
The authors of successful advertising campaign “Incredible India” and Bollywood film producers made a great effort to create an impeccable image of the land saturated with vibrant colors, incenses, spices, spiritualism and fragrant oils. The land, in which monumental temples, diversity of cultures, centuries-old traditions and natural beauty give us a promise to relocate ourselves into a totally different dimension and a magical, perfect world. No surprise then that people do get tempted to spend their dream holidays in India, hoping for spiritual purification and purely aesthetic, ideal beauty.
Subsequently they do often get surprised when this perfect picture is rapidly and without prior notice, suddenly and violently disturbed by images of poverty and trash, omnipresent noise, overcrowded streets, smog, traffic jams, tons of garbage and smelly sewers. This image is sometimes so overwhelming, that tourists completely unprepared for this kind of “attractions”, decide to speed up their departure date or spend most of their time at the hotels, waiting to leave the “magical land” as soon as possible. There is no doubt that India is moving, inspiring, fascinating and attractive when taking into consideration an incredible cultural wealth, fantastic works of art, diversity and natural wonders. But for those looking only for the bright side of life, India might be shocking, scaring and highly depressing.
What makes this country so unique and unforgettable? All those contradictions; images of beauty and ugliness, poverty and wealth, lofty atmosphere of the temples and noisy streets, diamonds and sewers – everything combined together in an amazing, emotionally affecting package. My Indian adventure is still one of the most memorable travel experience I have ever had.
INDIAN RAILWAYS – No MONEY BACK BUT AN ADRENALINE GUARANTEE
Some of the most exciting moments of my entire journey need to be attributed to the bottom category of Indian Railways – a sleeper second class. Those looking for comfort should definitely choose something else. For those looking for adventure, this is it!
The distances in India are quite big, so trains are relatively the best, the most popular and the cheapest means of transport. They are definitely not the fastest trains on earth (average speed is 30km/h), but for those having lots of time and patience, they give a lot more than sense of movement.
Just before catching my first train I was told that these vehicles are so overcrowded, that sometimes one needs to push, squeeze others and eventually trample upon one another in order to get into the compartment. This valuable warning gave me another, third in a row sleepless night in Delhi. From a time perspective, now I know that Indian trains are not that bad after all… You just need to follow some rules.
Rule number one: BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
There’s no space for courtesy. You need to push everything and everyone, which is in front of you – ruthlessly and with no hesitation; don’t let others be faster and don’t get surprised. Giving somebody a way or counting on others to let you in first, is a sign of ultimate naivety and weakness. A train will not wait until everyone gets on or off, there’s no compensation for a ticket unused, any damages whether for loss or injury, punitive or otherwise. This is not a romantic journey across the country when you sit comfortably sipping a cup of tea and admiring the landscapes. This is a survival and if you do not accommodate yourself, then the loss is yours. Strange as it may sound, it is not that scary after all.
My first train adventure went quite well. Together with my travel companions, I managed to get in, locate appropriate compartment, take proper seats and unpack the luggage with no casualties involved. Even a personal encounter with a cockroach, lamp shining straight into the eyes and rather unpleasant smells coming from the nearby toilets didn’t interrupt my very first sleep that night. Although it was quite clear that the sanitary services never paid a visit to that vehicle, but who cares if I managed to survive!
Rule number two : BE ON THE ALERT AND FIGHT FOR WHAT IS YOURS!
Purchasing a ticket with a place to seat (or sleep) guaranteed, does not necessarily mean that this seat is guaranteed or available at all. Prospect of spending hours in a scrum is not highly motivating. No other choice – you have to demand what you have paid for, categorically insist on having your seat vacated and tell those ten guys sitting on it and pretending they have no idea what you are saying, to look for luck somewhere else. Good news is that normally they do not protest and stand down without a fight.
During my entire journey a necessity to be more assertive arose just once when a group of young nationalists from Maharashtra didn’t want to cooperate. Luckily a fearless leader familiar with local customs took responsibility, started pushing those guys – one by one out of the seats and smashing those individuals, which were more resistant. I watched this scene with a fear of a bloodshed but fortunately a police officer came offering some help. His intervention brought the desired effect but to some extent only. Boys gave away the seats but didn’t go far and decided to watch, harass and make fun of our group for the entire journey. It ended up with a sleepless night, tied shoelaces and a slight fear of throats to be cut. Fortunately, even nationalists in India appeared to be gentle and even-tempered as most of the people out there.
Rule number three : TRY TO ENJOY
Indian train is alive. In an Indian train you will never get bored, never feel lonely and never achieve a peace of mind. There is always something happening, someone passing by, screaming, talking, commenting, showing up and disappearing. Tourists cause additional movement and interest, attracting passengers from nearby compartment, curious looks headshakes and smiles.
Between 2 – 5 AM there are some chances for relative calm and slight possibility to fall asleep even without earplugs. At any other time there is a constant movement, noise and many people who want to sell you something. They would appear from nowhere, roam back and forth offering all sorts of goodies, snacks and beverages, shouting : Chai Chai, Chai / water, water, water / samosa, samosa, samosaaaa,.. one after another. As I tried hard to understand local business rules, market needs and simple principle that there’s no easy money in this world, it was difficult for me to digest an Indian tea being offered to me every three minutes. (Although I love Indian tea!)
Rule number four : BE STRATEGIC AND FULL OF OPTIMISM
You need to arrive at the platform at least one hour before the train’s departure in order to find a strategic position, which would increase your chances for a successful maneuver of actually getting in and finding some place inside. Then you just have to wait.
Typically, of course; a train is late, but how late it is (an hour, two or eight?) – that is something the most knowledgeable experts in local communication cannot predict. In this scenario, one can only help themselves mastering social skills and personal virtues, such as patience and perseverance in particular. There is always something interesting going on in the area, so no time to get bored, again. There is a big chance that somebody will show us interest, initiate a conversation, ask for a collective selfie, or record a “secret” video without asking. Or a totally different attraction: a holy cow entering the train track or stealing some food from your backpack. As you are dealing with sacrum, you cannot do anything about it but just laugh and let it go. It is worth to take a close look at the surroundings; people moving in all possible directions, cows and events. Although it seems impossible at first glance, with time one can actually see a sense of balance in all this chaos. There is no doubt that the time spent while waiting for the ghost train, is never wasted time.
MAGIC OF INDIA
As time passes by, we do not remember the details anymore. Faces become blur, names of the places and monuments vanish from our memory, facts from the guidebooks are being forgotten. What stays with us however are emotions experienced together with travel companions and people met on the way. We do remember all those stories, feelings and adventures shared in a totally different part of the world.
I have seen the beauty of Taj Mahal, Hindu temples, religious ceremonies, tropical rainforests and Goa beaches. But the biggest attraction in India was a possibility to experience this country with all senses involved. Although these experiences have not always been pleasant, I lived emotions so strong, that will never be forgotten. The act of movement was a real adventure itself.
Indeed, India is incredible.