LEARNING – the ‘special’ train

Usually when you hear the word ‘special’ you think it means better than normal – faster, prettier, tastier… Whatever the special item is, it should go beyond the normal version. Imagine my disappointment when the ‘special’ train from Hyderabad to Chennai, instead of taking the scheduled 12 hours for the journey, took a whopping 20 hours start to finish and departed 2 1/2 hours late. I left Hyderabad at 9:00pm on Thursday and arrived in Chennai at 4:00pm yesterday. This ordeal made the 1 hour flight from Hyderabad to Chennai look like a dream. This train should have been called the ‘sucky’ train. Cuz it sucky suck sucked!

I really don’t know why it was called the ‘special’ train – maybe it meant especially slow or especially dirty, or stopping way too especially often. It seemed like every hour or half hour we would stop for ten or twenty or one hundred minutes. We would let every other train in the vicinity pass and then we would proceed along on our plodding journey.

Of course there were no announcements to tell me why we had stopped or when we would start again. I think I only saw a railway employee on the train once throughout the whole journey. But no one seemed very agitated, everyone just took it in stride. This is India after all, and I have learned that this country runs on its own time.

I wasn’t alone for this horribly long journey, I had three wonderful gentleman for company – the Manager and Accountant from the Kaliyampoondi Child Haven home who went to Hyderabad for accounting purposes, and the Assistant Manager of the Hyderabad Child Haven home who was going to Chennai to visit his family. We had been put on the waiting list for tickets for this ‘special’ train and when it came time to board we still only had two confirmed seats. We all got on the train though and eventually (by 11:30) we all, thankfully, had a place to sleep.

I did actually managed to get a little sleep that night. I was very glad that I had the foresight to bring my travel sheet, travel pillow and my yak wool shawl for a blanket. I was well insulated away from the dirt and grime, and quite comfortable considering my surroundings. There are eight beds in each small area and 40 beds per train compartment. I was in one of the top bunks, which I prefer. This coveted position allows one the option of going to bed and getting up whenever they want, also you don’t have to worry as much about people watching you or trying to steal your belongings.

The train was pretty filthy to begin with and by the end it was abysmal. My pants were white at the beginning of the journey and a nice shade or grayish brown by the end. The seats were stained black from years of travel and lack of cleaning. There were remnants of food and bits of trash everywhere. But there were no bugs and there were no rats, I was extremely grateful for this.

The toilets were typical of India trains. A simple squat toilet that led directly to the tracks, a water tap for washing yourself, and a handle to ride out the bumps and jumps of the train. They weren’t too horrible at the beginning. Much cleaner than a western toilet would have been, in fact I didn’t even look in the bathroom with the western toilet, they are inevitably far more disgusting than their Indian counterparts. It wasn’t until mid morning that the toilet situation took a turn towards the nasty. I opened the door to one bathroom and there on pan of the squat toilet was a huge pile of shit. There was no attempt to wash it away – someone just did their dirty deed and didn’t think it at all necessary to clean up after themselves. Needles to say, I avoided this toilet for the rest of the journey.

Sounds like a pretty a horrible journey right. To make matters worse, it was also the first day of my period. Sorry for the intimate details, but Aunt Flow visited at the worst possible place and time. As any woman can attest to, traveling is not what one wants to be doing at this time of the month. Curling up in the fetal position – yes… Spending endless hours on a slow moving train – not so much…

So I laid down several times, read a little, watched a movie on my laptop, and counted the hours slowly going by. I’m sure things could have been much worse. I had to keep reminding myself of the good things – there was some beautiful scenery along the way, some very nice people in the seats next to us. I had some wonderful travel companions and some good memories of the time we spent together.

The total travel time from the Hyderabad home to the Kaliyampoondi home was just about 32 hours. Crazy, I know. I have learned my lesson – no more ‘special’ trains for me. No more ‘special’ anything for me. It is a term that seems destined for disappointment and I am perfectly happy with the ordinary.

Have you had any harrowing travel mishaps? Any drawn out departures and delays in reaching your destination? How you do cope with these situations?

Thanks for reading!


10 responses to “LEARNING – the ‘special’ train

  1. Oh my gosh, Rene! 32 hours!?! That does not sound like a very enjoyable experience. Plus, with all the other stuff, I cannot imagine. =(
    But you made it through — thank goodness!
    My only really unfortunate travel experience was when I arrived in South Africa on the last leg of my trip to Lesotho. When I arrived, it was too late to catch the last puddle jumper from Johannesburg to Maseru, so I had to either sleep in the airport or in a hotel. I made a reservation in the States but it turned out that my hotel room wasn’t $70USD like I was told by the program I was working with, it was $450USD. Not a good experience. I ended up staying there because I was so tired, confused, and unsure what else to do. But at least I was safe, could take a shower, and get a good night’s sleep before the flight the next morning.

    I hope all works out for you in the rest of your travels!!! Hugs!

    • Thanks Devra! That does sound like a horrible experience – that is a huge difference in price. But you looked at the positives and everything worked out just fine. I try to look for the positives in every situation. Sometimes it’s very difficult, but you can always find something to be thankful for. I was thankful for good friends on that train trip. -Rene

  2. Buenos tardes Rene, from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. A very clean city, in fact, although not unlike India in many ways (little shops being run out of someone’s home). This is my third Mexican city and I am pleasantly surprised. Your train journey sounded horrible. Maggie and I took trains in India and they weren’t at all bad. We got clean sheets and a blankies. Who is the assist. manager at Hyderabad? Did you travel with Ganesh? I need more details, please! Can never get enough of your blogs. Thanks so much for “keeping” me in India and Child Haven.

    • Thanks for the comment Maureen. Glad to hear you are enjoying your Mexican holiday. I was traveling with Ganesh, Seenu, and William. I was very happy to have them with me through that ordeal. They made it just a bit better. -Rene

  3. It was called special because it was a special experience in patience and overcoming the illusions of “special” expectations. (Excuse the Buddhist in me!) 🙂 Actually, traveling by train in the USA can be an experience in patience. Fortunately, they are clean. But, over ten years returning by train from a visit with my family in Florida, I ended spending the day waiting for the train to New Orleans with a woman I didn’t know, but she knew my mother.. We kept calling Amtrack and they kept saying they were sending a train, until they said they weren’t. Fortunately, she had a car and I rode with her to New Orleans and spent the night in her friend’s house. In the US, of course, the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and I got a private sleeper car to Denver. Trains still remain my preferred method of public transport in the US.

    • Oh yes – I am learning patience. I can relate to your troubles with Amtrak. I really wish there was some competition on the rails in America. There prices are ridiculous and they always seem to run late. Yet, like you, I definitely prefer traveling by train. Thanks for the comment! -Rene

  4. Hi Renee- you pretty much summed up a number of rail experiences I have had in India. The thing that I remember most though is what you described of the other passengers; I was always amazed at how everyone around me would just sort of take in it stride- “so the train is eight hours late- hmmm must be a day that ends in ‘Y’ …”.

    • Thanks Abe! Time is relative in India – nothing every seems to start or stop when it is supposed to. I’ve become accustomed to it for the most part, so when something miraculously does happen as scheduled, I am most pleasantly surprised. -Rene

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