All Aboard The India Express

By Irene Butler
Our India Photo Galleries

Published in BC Travel Writers

tracks at Gorakhpur Train Staion“Will you take a look at this?” asked my partner, Rick.

“Wonder if they know the train schedules?” I shaded my eyes to have a look.

“They don’t need a schedule. They have the right of way,” Rick added.

“Well, I’ll be. You’re right.”

The shrill whistle of an incoming train at the Gorakhpur station hardly budged the holy cows that wandered down the middle of an adjacent track. The scrawny bovines eventually veered off at a leisurely pace and allowed the locomotive to pass.

I slumped back down on my backpack on platform B. Our train was an hour late according to our tickets. We did not know the cause of the time discrepancy, but felt confident that we were waiting in the right spot. Finding no information counter at the station, I had shown our tickets to the armed guards at the security desk. They did not speak English, but confirmed with gestures that we were on the correct platform.

Before leaving Kathmandu, Nepal we had booked and pre-paid our complete trip right through to Calcutta, India. This included a bus from Kathmandu to the border town of Sunauli. At Sunauli we successfully picked up tickets at a designated travel agency for the remaining legs of the trip, from Sunauli to Gorakhpur by bus, and now from Gorakhpur to Calcutta by train. How efficient.

The platform began to fill up. A good sign, but we figured there would still be a long wait as the locals were plopping down on their luggage in a relaxed mode. Women in brightly colored saris, tended to hordes of children, under the scrutiny of staring men. Full course meals appeared as if by magic out of rucksacks and suitcases amid chatter and laughter. As I looked around I noticed a lot of eyes looking back our way with smiles and nods. We were the only Caucasians in the crowd that day.

The throng continued to thicken until hardly a square inch remained unoccupied. A touchChhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Mumbai (Victoria Station) claustrophobic, Rick left the immediate area so he could pace a bit. I just snuggled down further and turned my face towards the warm, mellow, evening sun. People began to stand and organize their bags. I took this to mean our train was nearing the station. Rick noticed the change in activity and quickly returned. For the tenth time since arriving at the station we checked our coach and seat numbers.

The crowd moved en masse to the platform edge as a long train approached. I suddenly felt tense. As the train slowly passed, we checked the coach numbers. They didn’t seem to be in any particular order. The train came to a complete stop. Hampered by our double packs, we awkwardly jogged towards the end of the train, scanning numbers and jostling the bodies rushing in all directions. We came to the last coach and still no corresponding number. How did we miss it? We started back towards the front of the train.

“Look for a train employee. Where are they?” I hollered at the back of Rick’s head. About twenty feet away we both saw a fellow in uniform. Please, let it be. We pushed our way towards him waving our tickets. Yes, a train man, with a clipboard. And he answered in English.

“Your coach is two back.”

“Why is the coach number different than on our ticket?”

“That sometimes happens when you don’t buy your ticket here. You should have checked in at the office down the street.”

Miffed that we had not been told that, but relieved to have found our coach, we
turned to walk back.

I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. It was the train – pulling out. I glanced at the platform. It was suddenly bare, with the exception of those waving good-bye to their friends and loved ones now tucked safely on board. Even the train agent had
disappeared. Panic set in. We charged towards the nearest coach. Several teenage boys
rushed past us.They were vying for the same car. They beat us to it and by the time they
all swung aboard, the train had gained momentum. I caught on to the vertical hand rail.
The train was moving at such a speed that I could hardly keep up. My front pack kept
hitting me in the face as I bounced along. Finally I managed to swing a foot on the
bottom step. I tried desperately to hoist myself up further, but my body would not co-
operate.

“Get up (pant, pant) get in (pant, pant, pant) Irene, move it!” I saw Rick’s head
bobbing over my shoulder as he galloped along.

With one fell swoop, Rick caught the hand rail, gave me a shove upward, and swung himself onto the bottom step. I landed with a splat in the entrance way to the coach. Rick leapfrogged over me. I raised myself until I was on all fours, and made it all the way up with helping hands that belonged to several people who were packed in the small confine of the coach entrance.

An instant replay spun through my mind. What had we just done? As the adrenaline rush subsided, disbelief set in, followed by exhilaration. We had actually been dangling from the side of a moving train. Hysterical laughter ensued as I thought of what
our kids and grandkids would say if they had witnessed our antics.

I knew my old, well-worn lecture would erupt from our children’s mouths, “You have not acted responsibly. You are grounded.”

What an introduction to India. We had a feeling that it would be just one of many
unpredicted, bizarre incidents that we would encounter exploring this fascinating country.
At that moment, we felt more than ready to meet the challenge.

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