We observed the hustle and bustle of the station for nearly two hours, waiting to board the train from Agra to Goa. Like everyone around us, we all sat on the dirty, hard, cement platform floor beside our pile of luggage.
We boarded the 37 hour, two-night train, hungry. Although we had scouted out every little stall and vendor in the station for a meal or snack, we could not find anything except Petah. These sugared pumpkin chunks, a traditional dessert from Agra, would not do for dinner, but we bought some anyway.
The train was packed, and the six of us were split between two compartments, located in two adjacent carriages. We shared a six berth compartment in 3AC (3rd class with air con) with a young couple from Delhi, and the other in 2AC with an older Indian couple. Although we intended to switch places with the young couple so we could all be together, the conductor refused our request firmly because we would have to swap seat class, which was not allowed. So, we spent the entire journey moving between the two carriages. This was a big disappointment.
Although the meals were far from the greatest, we eagerly devoured the chicken and vegetable thalis (curry set) as soon as the train attendant brought them. My chicken thali was very spicy and purged me from my sins right down into my tummy. The last curry we had was quite bland, so I hoped for something that would at least leave a tingle on my tongue. But this was ridiculous! I drained the tiny cup of water in record time. It felt as if there was a fire raging in my throat and mouth.
Even though the beds in 2AC were more comfortable and you could create some privacy by drawing a thick curtain, I still liked 3AC more (there are no curtains in 3AC). I liked to be part of the chaos, the noise and the activity. Someone walking towards the bathroom would say hallo, come sit down, and end up having about a thirty-minute conversation. Children would inquisitively come over to our seats to play or just stare. Although we were the only non-Indians on the train, we felt just like any other local family, traveling.
At one stage, four men from the Indian Army came over to talk. They were on their way home and in good spirit. At first, we were quite nervous, but in the end, it was great fun. We exchanged stories about our travels and about their duties that took them to South Sudan and other places. We also took endless amounts of selfies and group photos! One of the men was wearing a red turban and had a long black beard, or “god’s gift” as he referred to it. He jovially quizzed us about our blonde hair. “God’s gift!” Mom replied pointing to our light hair, drawing laughter from the men and people around us that were listening in on the conversation. During a time when the train slowed down somewhat, two of the men jumped out, rushed into a sugarcane plantation, cut off a few juicy stalks and dashed back, barely in time to grab the moving hand rail of our carriage. We had a sweet time together!
Ever so often, the steady chant of a carriage attendant selling food or drinks would ring through the carriage: ‘Tomato soup! Dip chai!” or “Garam Pani, Chai, Kopi!’. Often, they would ‘rest’ on one of the benches in our compartment. They would sit for about a minute, watching us or say hello.
The activity on the train never stops, even at night. The 3AC carriage echoed with crying, yelling, talking, and so many other noises that it was a nightmare trying to sleep.
At one of the stations, I greeted a group of girls around my age that boarded the train. After they had organised their things, they started scouting around and came to speak to me. They asked me all sorts of questions and told me they want to teach me Hindi. This was obviously just to speak to me and pummel me with another truck load of questions. I tried to use “getting to bed” as an excuse to escape the questions, but even as I was laying on my uncomfortable middle bunk, they passed through our open compartment about 10 times. Each time they would look around, smile shyly and disappear into the next compartment to visit their “friends”. I was very amused by this.
The train arrived 3 hours late in Madgaon station in Goa where our next adventure began. I was exhausted, but looking forward to connecting with some of the local people in Benaulim, our home for the next few days.
Until next time,