So the day had come where I was gonna leave Delhi – I had wanted to leave yesterday already but I guess I needed that extra day to adjust and re-energize.
Afterwards I hopped on the hoho bus (hop on hop off) soo touristy and I’ve never before did one of those tours even though they’re all over. It was actually okay and besides I only went for a few hours and it was a lot more private and relaxed than the metro..
But then again, most would be.
Then another turist area and shopped a little bit – I must have been home around 7pm and then stayed home the rest of the night, planning my journey.
Cutting through a whole lot of less interesting stuff, I finally decided on taking
the train up to Rishikesh. Getting the actual ticket was a circus and took me close to three hours, in which I got even more in touch with my rather cold and demanding self, barking commandos and questions and NO’s – it works but I wouldn’t want to live in a place where that is the person I would have to be, in order to get through the day semi-intact.
I got the ticket but was on the waitlist. The Indian railway system is a little tricky when it comes to waitlist tickets and something else called RAC tickets. I’m not even going to try to explain it, the point is I was on the waitlist and would have to keep checking my status online and then also go to the station and check the final charts and hope to move enough up the list to get an actual berth.
For irrelevant reasons, I called the cap too late and then it was taking a long time to show up and then finally he parked on the other side of the house so that also took some time to figure out.
I get in and ask how long for the train station.. He say’s about 45 minutes and I go nooooo..! My train was scheduled to depart in 40 minutes and getting through security and finding the right platform would take time as well.
Well, the cap driver embraced his inner race driver and I fastened my seatbelt and then we went all the way through Delhi. It was like one of those video games where you swoosh in and out, avoiding other cars, pedestrians and cows showing up out of nowhere – and all without slowing down. Not even a little.
I was in constant prayer but honestly had a really good feeling, not seriously worried.
The traffic in Delhi is crazy at best and it seems there’s no rules whatsoever. But still it works or at least it seems that everybody are able to navigate the chaos. Now take that chaos and insert a cap driver on a mission. What a thrill!
Sadly, every time I checked the time, it seemed more and more unrealistic that I would ever catch that train. I think my driver felt the same way because he increased the speed for an incredible finale and we flew up at the front of the station.
It was 10.16 pm – 4 minutes before my train would depart. And now it got exciting. All happening at the same time, we hop out of the cap, I pay my driver with extra tips and tells him he is a taxi driver superstar (he appreciated that), immediately a coolie is there, the driver throws him my backpack and he throws it up on his head, they both shout to me to follow him and so we run.
Earlier that day when I was getting my ticket, the security line had been very long – now there was only about a hundred people in it but my coolie ran straight for the scanner while he shouted and pushed everyone. And I just tried to keep up. Through the scanner, throwing the bags on the next scanner, grapping them again and all of it while violently pushing and squeezing and throwing ourselves forward and onwards. In less than a minute we were through the crowd and the coolie quickly checked if I was still with him before he bolted towards the tracks, up the stairs and over the bridge.
I was purple in the face, tasted metal and could easily have collapsed without further notice – but I just kept running. Finally at the platform the train is still there and my first reaction is relief. We are still running though and in the middle of the chaos and near-death exhaustion I wonder why I’m still picking up on that feel of urgency from the coolie as he is frantically trying to push open every door we passes.
Then I realize, the train is moving! Fuck, the train is moving and I’m not on it!!
Since we’re still running I figure there’s still a chance and so I run faster. We reach an open door and as it were in some movie, we jump in – coolie first and then me after. My god, I was dying and laughing and choking all at the same time and hurried and paid my superstar coolie so he could jump off again before we picked up too much speed.
I was joined by the train personnel, they checked their lists to find out which berth I had been assigned and oh horror, I was still on waitlist! All this risking my life and other people’s lives and the lives of roadcows and my coolies health – and then I had no berth! I wasn’t even allowed to be on this train… Poop.
They talked and looked very serious and told me to wait there and then they left and I was standing there, not really sure if they meant that I could stand there for the rest of the journey. And I realized that would suck – I was standing next to the toilets and they were already stinky and it was an 8 hour ride. It took a while and then I got impatient so I went and found them and they checked the list again and talked again and looked serious again. The dilli, the top boss kind of guy was a man around 60, a head shorter than me and with one of his teeth sticking straight out of his mouth. It gave him a funny and very authentic look but no doubt was he a man to take seriously and he looked at me seriously and told me that “you are on waitlist, you have not ticket and there is nothing that can be done”.
If I hadn’t made the train I would have had to take a cap back to the apartment and then figure out something the day after. I hadn’t calculated with making the train and then being kicked off at the next station in the middle of the night.
While we are standing there a man comes out from one of the compartments and realize that something is going on. He offers his assistance and English skills so we at least can understand each other and he sort of takes over. He and dilli decide that I can go sit down while someone figures out something. So I go and sit with the guy and his wife, Deepak and Pudva. Within 20 minutes they’re my friends. They just got married three months ago and now every once in a while they try to take a long weekend and go somewhere. Mini honeymoons :) They tell me to not worry and that in India something can always be done – even when dilli says that nothing can be done.
A guy comes through the train with a sort of metal bucket and we all get chai in small plastic cups while we continue talking. Dilli comes in again and talks to Deepak and Pudva – I guess by then they have all agreed to take care of it without burdening me with the details. They discuss and look serious again, dilli says something, Deepak nods and respond something, Pudva suggests something and both dilli and Deepak talk again, they all nod and then dilli leaves.
I thought that was bad news, that nothing could be done and that I would be spending the night at the next station.
I was wrong. It was all going to be okay, dilli had found me a berth and in a minute he would come back and tell me the number. “But first we drink tea”, Deepak said.
When we had finished the chai and I had managed as a final tribute to my good luck to spill chai on my pants, the seat and the floor, we exchanged contact info and I got Deepaks private+work email and his phone number and was told to call anytime if I ever needed help – he even made sure to tell me his office hours. Then Pudva took me to my berth and made sure I was settled in before she went back.
I’m so grateful for Deepak and Pudva and for those magical moments when everything just falls apart and then reassemble in the most fortunate way.
My berth was in class 3AC, which means that there are three layers of berths (bunks) – on one side of the train divided into six and six and with curtains for privacy and on the other side of the train a single three layer row all the way down. I was in a six’er and in the bottom berth – normally it’s better to be on the top because that ensures more privacy and safety and normally I guess, I would have preferred 2AC with only 2 layers – but I was just happy to not spend the entire trip sitting on the floor next to the toilets or even worse, sitting in some cold station all night.
Yay for dilli and Deepak and Pudva :)
Most of my fellow travellers were already sleeping and I put the sheet on and got situated. I’ve heard a lot of stories about rape and other sexual assaults in these trains so I was staying alert and feeling out the atmosphere around me, trying to determine if I had any reason to be worried. I found no reason to be paranoid and so I read for a while before closing my eyes. Our six’er was right next to the door and so every time someone went in or out, the curtain would get caught in the door and open a little and let in very bright light from the hallway – but in between I managed to get some sleep.
We arrived in Haridwar around 6am and even though it was early, there was plenty of people. I found the bus terminal, which is just a big parking lot area and then you have to walk around and ask the individual drivers where they’re going. The Rishikesh bus had apparently just left 5 minutes ago I was told by a guy, a second lieutenant in the Indian army. He asked the usual questions, where I’m from and so on and then he wanted to know if the women really drink alcohol in Denmark as he had heard. I could see that it troubled him that I confirmed and it also troubled him that I was travelling alone, that I wasn’t married and that Denmark in general seemed to be such a different country. With a deep wrinkle in his forehead he kept repeating “it’s not right”.
Then he asked for my email. And then I lied. For some reason I didn’t want to give him my email address and probably for the same reason, I didn’t want to tell him that. So I lied and gave him some bogus address, embarrassed of my dishonesty and hoping for some universal understanding. He wanted to email me right away and took out his phone and I thought “shit, he’s got internet connection and now he’s going to find out that I lied and then he’s going to get pissed and I don’t even know in which direction to run”.
But he didn’t find out and I lived to tell the story.
Finally the Rishikesh bus arrived and 40 relaxed and uneventful minutes later I was dropped off and hopped straight on a rickshaw to find a hotel.