November 24, 2017. Still Thanksgiving evening back home; here in Jaisalmer we’ve moved on. I am so happy to be here…and will be equally (equally plus) happy to be home soon. Here’s a teaser photo of my room at the Mud Mirror Guesthouse and then a long tirade about Indian Rail. This will bring my railroad stories to an end…and let the healing begin.
Pollyanna reporting in…if I had not wanted a long train ride on Indian Rail I never would have scanned the map of India until I found a strange sounding place called Jaisalmer twenty hours from Delhi. Forty hours altogether traveling west into India’s Rajasthan state and then returning would be like reliving a piece of my Siberian/Mongolian/Chinese train adventure which was one of my life’s highlights, wouldn’t it? Well No. It would be as different as activities within a category called rail travel can be.
Where I’m going with this however is…I am here in Jaisalmer tonight because of yet one more daunting Indian train experience…and this place is different and beautiful and well worth some trials and tribulations to get here…and thanks to Indian Rail I had them…and I’m here.
Actually, I’m on the verge of being ill from never eating anytime I’m near an Indian Rail station or train. But tonight with some peas paneer, nan, and enough lassis I’ll be okay. But…ROBERT and MARSHA, if you read this could we please have BLTs and Baileys Monday evening?
ONE LAST INDIAN RAIL ADVENTURE
Yesterday morning, in my least favorite place of this entire trip, Agra, I rose early to get to the train station early to get to Delhi early to transfer to another train station early so I would be sure and catch the one train a day to Jaisalmer…which miraculously enough was only half hour or so late. I spent about five hours at Old Delhi Station. Which has a McDonalds. Trust me when I say that’s a good thing.
I made notes about this train ride at dawn today by which time, except for my fish sandwich and one of the bananas the monkey hadn’t swiped from the vendor yet, I had not eaten for 30 hours. Now we all know Indian food is loved the world over so most of this finickiness is just me and my stomach. Although I will give the condition of the stations and trains some credit for appetite loss as well.
For hours I thought of backing out of the this Jaisalmer adventure. Instead of passing through Delhi, why not just book in early to my nice hotel and spend a few days watching TV and eating ice cream and drinking wine and never worrying about how much coffee I drink because there’ll always be a toilet nearby. Nah…I’d be ashamed if I gave up now…and I wouldn’t have anything requiring bravery and hardiness to brag about. So onto the night train to Jaisalmer…
And jumping right in to what in my opinion is the absolute inexcusable worst aspect of Indian Rail…and remember I was traveling First Class! Some of the stations and all of the trains I’ve ridden on have been filthy. Not just messy, not just kind of dirty. Actually filthy. There was not a surface, hard or fabric or glass, in the train I rode here to Jaisalmer that had been cleaned in years, decades, since being in operation for all I know. Neither soap and water nor any disinfectant nor any cleaning method known to mankind has ever touched these surfaces.
While writing this morning I realized that none of the other drawbacks…like never being on time, or having irregular and chaotic messaging about what track your train is on, or not having toilets readily available are deal-breakers for me as far as enjoying the ride. Layers of dirt on every surface comes close though… Don’t mean to sound like a little old Minnesota Lutheran housewife aiming for a fresh doily on every surface—you do know we Norwegians once pretty much lived in the other half of the house from the cows and spent the winter drinking homebrew and eating butter…or at least that’s what the Viking historians say. But I’m pretty sure we washed up now and then. Maybe not. Anyway sorry if I’m being persnickety about this but I cannot be in perfect-tolerant-traveler-mode all of the time.
May as well get the other major negative out of the way. There are no railway employees anywhere in the stations for information. None. Nada. I mentioned this to a young Indian guy I met on the platform who said that most of the time the employees are hustling their other side gigs in and around the station instead of being at the consumers’ disposal. I do have some sympathy for that since it’s obviously tough to make a living here.
Okay enough with the griping. There’s a lot of good stuff like relatively smooth rides. Outside of Swedish or Chinese trains, the trains here feel as good as any I’ve been on. Trains are, in fact, still the best means of travel. That particular train gait, that world passing by, those brief encounters with new 10-minute friends, the surprises. It’s good…already the sticky surfaces are receding into just memories.
Long story short…I seem to have major issues only with the cleanliness or rather lack thereof. It’s amazing how one adapts though. Enter compartment. There are clean sheets and previously used blankets—the airlines don’t wash every blanket every time we open it up, drop it on the floor, why should the trains. And that doesn’t bother me usually, it’s just that it’s hard not to get a little paranoid given the immediate environment. And the toilets? After using the squat toilet the entire trip I discovered the one across the hall had a seat. And honestly, the toilets are watered/doused enough so they don’t really smell that bad.
So I’m finally in the train about six last evening. Given that the day wasn’t wonderful, I pretty quickly pulled my purple blankie that goes everywhere with me over my head and went to sleep. And in spite of everything I’ve just said…there is nothing quite as wonderful as falling asleep on a train (or at least one that’s not threatening to jump the tracks at any moment). Slept until 2am but since the AC had been turned on as soon as it got dark and cool outside, I wake up freezing. Find fleeces in bag, pull them on under the covers in dark, okay may as well go to the toilet now too, back in bed slowly warming to sleeping temperature. Dawn and I’ve already slept at least 10 hours so what to do. I’ll read awhile. How about a “A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived…” Wrong choice for daybreak on an Indian train.
Oh yeah, I’m flying back to Delhi on Saturday. I did it though. I rode three Indian trains for about 50 hours all told. And I get at least as many points for that as my kids get for all the hiking they’re doing…only Michele, who just did a full marathon, is ahead of me in the physical department and I may be ahead of everyone when it comes to meeting a mental challenge. Thank you Indian Rail.