Aren’t Indian People Amazing? Part 2: Indian Railways are better than British ones

15:07 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

Indian Railways are better that British Railways. There you go, I’ve said it. I know what you are picturing – old vehicles falling to pieces, delays, littered stations, passengers packed onto carriages cheek by jowl. And you’d be correct; travelling on the British railway system really is that bad.

In contrast, travelling on the railways in India is exciting, full of surprises and is the best way to travel across the country. But what makes the Indian Railways so much better? The trains are a microcosm of India. On your journey you’ll witness a slice through Indian society and no doubt speak to some great people with fascinating stories. It’ll be emotional.

Before your train even leaves the station, you’re exposed to one of the saddest sides of Indian life. Poverty is unavoidable and at the stations, before the sun burns away the mist, you’ll be reading the departure boards whilst people pick themselves up of their temporary bed on the platform floor. Whilst you sip your sweet cha, the people residing in the stations will walk to a quiet part of the platform and ‘freshen up’. And you leaf through your guide book they’ll dust down their clothes and set off for a day of work in the city.

The train will pull away from the station and only pick up speed once it’s clear of all the people walking across the tracks. A speeding train will blow fresh air into the second class carriages, providing natural air conditioning through the open windows. The burdened passengers compete with wooden trunks, bags of grain and livestock for comfortable position and a little breathing space.

The Indian countryside passes by and you settle into your seat with your book, but life doesn’t ease up on an Indian train. People are busy working and making a living. You’ll be offered English and Hindi newspapers. When you get peckish, there will be a chawalla not too far away selling spiced tea and potato pakoras. If you get tired of reading your book, you can buy action figures and toys from the young entrepreneurial kids working the carriages. You’ll be impressed with the kids’ maturity, until you realise they are the same age as your little cousin who is still in primary school learning his times tables.

Upgrade to the sleeper carriage and you’ll be sat with shop owners, tailors and office workers. You’ll even have your own guaranteed bunk. The bunks aren’t luxury but there is at least some personal space. You’ll be the star attraction in your little cabin. Eager eyes will watch you rummage through your backpack, fumble with your watch bottle and spill water down your top as you try and avoid touching the bottle with your lips. And when you try and hide your embarrassment your fellow passengers will give you smile and a jaunty little head wiggle.

Your fellow passengers will try to practice their English and impress you with their knowledge of the UK. They’ll be ecstatic to learn how much you have enjoyed their country. Get into a conversation and you will quickly find you have a new best friend. They’ll probably offer you their packed lunch and will not relent until you eat something. If you get lucky, you’ll even be in a carriage with people playing music and singing songs from their village.

It was while we were travelling from Delhi to Shimla that I met one of the friendliest people on the trip (the lady right at the start of the video below). I was sat next to hear on the train and she was very shy at first but ended up rabbiting on to me the whole trip. She didn’t take my book as a hint and eventually I started chatting and we ended up having a great time. It turned out that the lady and her whole village were travelling from Tamil Nadu to northern India to enter in a cultural competition. The whole of her village were crammed onto our carriage and must have been excited that the lady was talking to a western tourist. Every time I looked up, I saw ladies heads bobbing up and down to watch us and men walking past and stopping next to us. I was embarrassed with all the attention but that just seemed to spur them on. Like a typical Indian, the lady offered me all of her food - I refused because we had all been given a meal but she insisted that I finish morsel of food in front of me. Indians are feeders!

Later on in the journey some of the girls from the village just started singing songs from their village. I was really cynical for about 4 seconds until the whole carriage hushed. We listened to the whole song and the girls really belted it out. There was loads of applause afterward and we were treated to another song (on the video). Once the villagers realised us westerners were enjoying it they all wanted a go at singing and impressing us. It was really nice to meet the people from the village and experience a bit of their culture.

The classic image of Indian train travel is of a train gunning along whilst people hang outside of the train doors. You pluck up the courage to have a wander through the carriage to see if you are brave enough to stick your head out through the door. You hold on tight and lean out slowly. The wind hits you in the face, your heart races and your hair is left in a bit of a mess. Even your t-shirt dries.

With your newly found courage you walk through to the luxurious air-conditioned, airplane-seated carriage. The passengers are sitting down with a cooked meal and bottles of water. Surprisingly, you can understand most of the conversations because people are speaking English together. There’s lots of family gossip, “he did this and she did that” and you feel ever so slightly more at home.

Fortunately, you aren’t at home. You are already missing hanging out of a speeding train as you step off the train at your destination, back into the heat and the chaos. You wave goodbye to your new best friend and promise you will email them when you get home. You pick your way through the crowd of multi-coloured saris, bright starched shirts and bold robes. Your Indian adventure continues. Black-suited commuters avoiding eye contact and hiding behind briefcases couldn’t be further from your mind.

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