Now that we’ve moved on from India, I can better recap the events…
Though if I’m being honest…there’s is largely one event that comes to my mind when I think of our time in India.
A few weeks ago we arrived at the Tundla train station in the middle of nowhere with tickets for a somewhat special, overnight train. It was one of the few trains that still had availability to Jammu in the far North. In fact, it appeared that because of an unpopular no cancellation policy, the train had sold hardly any tickets at all.
When we arrived at the train station it seemed we were not only the only tourists there, but seemingly the only passengers not part of the Indian military. Despite the late, 11 o’clock hour the train station was quite busy, bustling with military men and the sound of pigeons roosting above. We became concerned when our train wasn’t listed on the information board at its platform. But…confusion is just sort of the natural state for experiencing India, so we didn’t make too much of it. Finally Drew found a station manager who was able to assure us that our train was indeed still coming, despite an unannounced delay and that, in fact, it was the train that all the military men crowding the platform were waiting too get on.
Excellent. We had a plan. Follow the military men. That solved the insecurity of second guessing our platform, and second guessing which train was ours.
And then…we were met with a new problem. Something I can only guess at an explanation for.
The train arrived with all its doors locked. We rushed to the door of our train car only to stand there and watch the anxiety rise in the soldiers around us…and thus…in ourselves too. The men started beating on the side of the train with sticks and shouting. Someone a few cars down managed to open a door and the crowd rushed inside. We stood at our car, hoping that one of the soldiers crowding on through the other door would open ours. A man next to us shouted at the soldier passing our door on the inside and he just gave a guilty shrug. At some point the men started shouting and gesturing at us, and one of them asked “you have tickets?”
Though I can’t be sure…they seemed worried for us. At the time I didn’t know why but it seemed they were not shouting in anger, but rather in noticing an obvious problem. It was becoming clear that we were the only ticket holders trying to get onto this train. Soldiers get a “free ride” so to speak if they can hitch a train with empty seats…but this creates a bit of a competition as there’s not enough room for them all. So someone on board locks the doors to minimize competition.
Like I said…this is my best guess.
Then… as we foolishly waited, hoping our door would open…a new problem presented itself. The train started to depart.
This is the part of the story where your brain stops working off of comprehension and problem-solving. It runs off of impulse. So we ran through the crowds to the car with the open door a few yards away and leapt onto the moving train, letting the “current” of the crowd push us further into the cabin.
It was the most terrifying travel experience I’ve ever had because it was the one situation in which we could have been separated. That is my worst nightmare. I can tackle anything with Drew by my side. When we barely made it into Vietnam and were stuck in no-man’s land between the Cambodian and Vietnam border with a faulty visa, begging for permission in, I was not this scared. Because whatever the fate, it would be shared. We would bear it together, solve it together, deal with it together.
But what happens if we are separated? Worse…what happens if we are separated in such a way that one of us is stuck alone on a 15 hour train ride full of young military men?
The whole night I was haunted by the thought that we could not have been more cautious without simply avoiding trains all together- by the thought that there are some things that will happen even when we do think we’ve gotten everything sorted out.
That was not the last challenging moment in India, though nothing else felt that intense. Our entire time in India, someone was a new kind of sick. We went through more ailments and more medications than anywhere else we’ve ever traveled. Related to India? Who knows.
India is also one of the most remarkable places we’ve been to. The culture is so vibrant and each of the prominent religions has a beautiful display of devotion. The daily habits are deeply intertwined with ancient rituals. So we were constantly in a state of awe at the incredible culture around us, and exhaustion of trying to manage on 50% wellness.
It was a strange and beautiful place that knocked us out of whatever false confidences we had previously had in terms of being savvy travelers. No. We are adaptable. But savvy? Hardly! In India, we are lost or at a loss, but that is part of what makes it such a valuable place to travel.
We loved it. We loved it and we hated it. That’s the kind of place it is.