The rain has stopped in New Delhi, but the road is muddy and messy from the water and brown dirt mixing and flowing over it, but I’m guessing it won’t take long for it to turn to dust in the sunshine. The pollution here has been irritating Steve’s sinuses and it’s gradually been getting worse – lots of sneezing and watery eyes and nose. We are looking forward to moving out of the big smoke of the capital and heading to rural India to a place called Buldana in Maharashtra State. Not sure if the pollution will be any better there, but let’s hope.
The girls are sleeping in one hotel room while Steve and I are in the other at Hotel The Spot. I walked into their room this morning to find Billie feeling sick. She was vomiting. So we assisted Billie while the other girls made a run for it to our room. No one wants to catch the dreaded Indian stomach bug off anyone else if they can help it!
After packing, we got Billie back into bed to sleep. Checkout was midday, and it was 11:30am already. So we carried all our backpacks and #onepinksuitcase down the stairs to leave at the reception area and notified them that Billie was sick and still sleeping. They were really nice about the whole situation, and said it would be no problem to let her sleep for another hour or more.
So we popped into Everest Bakery Café to have our final meal there, and say our goodbyes to our Nepalese friends. Yesterday the young 22-year old son Sam, who helps run the café with his parents and uncle, approached me with a journal handmade from Nepal with gorgeous handmade paper. They had noticed me writing and typing away while I sat there in their little cafe, and wanted to give me/us a gift so we could remember them. How sweet.
Jeff the American also dropped in and said goodbye after a brief chat. We are all connected on Facebook so we can keep in distant touch. We told our Nepalese friends that we would be returning in April with some other family members and we looked forward to seeing them then. We sat there and organised another Uber car to collect us and drive us to Nizamuddin Railway Station where many of the rural Indian trains depart from. Google maps told me it would be a 40-minute drive, but we know to allow more time with unexpected congested traffic conditions in India.
We are booking the Uber drivers through the app. It’s simple and easy to use, even in India. But obviously you need a local sim to use and be able to call them when things don’t go to plan. Due to there being six of us, plus luggage, an XL Uber car is required but can still become a little tight. And we found that out today when our car arrived and we couldn’t fit our luggage into his very narrow boot space. The situation of trying to get into the car and get going is a funny one, and sometimes in India one just has to see the humour in these varied but many hiccups.
Our Uber driver arrives along the crazy, hectic road of Main Bazaar in Paharganj New Delhi. The road is a shambles – traffic in all directions, horns constantly being used, people walking along it, and then of course roadworks taking place. It’s lucky that we can find each other on this road. We cross over with our luggage, as the Uber driver stops on the side of the road and then the horns start immediately – no honkey – just being pressed down continually. He pops the hatchback, but we soon realise the #onepinksuitcase won’t fit, neither will any of the smaller backpacks. He moved the car further along to try and find more of a space to move into and allow the backed up traffic to pass. We follow on foot. We try again…with the help of our hotel staff, we put half the backseat down so we can fit the #onepinksuitcase and pile the backpacks on top. I’m directing the kids to jump into the car with their backpacks somehow…just make it work! Two are in, then three. Steve and the hotel staff are still having trouble closing the hatch fully, and the horns are blasting. The Uber driver jumps in his car and moves slowly up the road again, this time Steve trailing behind trying to hold the hatch down but still not fully closed. The rear car door is open with Billie trying to jump in. I stop for a moment with all the noise and movement going on around me because this is just CRAZY! And I laughed so much I couldn’t stop. Steve finally pushes the hatch down and it closes, runs over to the front door and jumps into his seat. I catch up giggling with tears running down the side of my face and jump into the back seat after Billie. The driver, unfazed by the entire six-minute fiasco, doesn’t respond to Steve’s statement, “I think we can go now!”
In the very back seat, Charlie and Dacey are squashed on one seat with a choking pile of luggage surrounding them; Ash, Billie and I are in the back seat more comfortable, but Billie looking pale as ghost (I have bags ready) and I’m starting to get concerned that we will not make it to the station in time. So I get onto Google maps, and look at it every so often to put my mind at ease.
We arrive at the railway station at 3:10pm – 10 minutes before departure and we pile out of the Uber car and make our way to the railway station and correct platform. Billie is feeling unwell still, but at least she’s not feeling like she needs to vomit (yet). A large neon sign is out the front of the train station with a long list of train numbers and their departure times and platform numbers. And as we all look up at the sign, our hearts plummet as we see our train number has been delayed until 6:00pm. We make sure this is the case, as we don’t trust anything here in India without checking 3 times from different sources, and it’s true. Actually three quarters of the trains departing this station have been delayed!
We throw the bags off our backs and place them in a cosy pile, while Steve, Charlie and Dacey go searching for a café to hang at for 3 hours. Ash and I stay minding the bags, while Billie sags to the floor with no energy to keep standing up. I try and make it as comfortable as possible on the concrete floor. They return with a destination, so we collect the bags and start walking out of the station and down the road to a nearby restaurant. It’s not that comfortable, with upright chairs and tables, but I look around and find some better couches upstairs which will work better for Billie. We clamber up the stairs, and find Billie a place to lie down and rest while we sit down around her and gather our thoughts and plan for the next few hours.
Indian Lesson: every train we have caught so far in India has been delayed – so do we no longer need to worry about being on time???
We get out our devices, use my personal Vodafone dongle that I have just messaged Moses to top up with 11GB of data for 1,500 rupee (I cannot top up as no one here in online world in India accepts international credit cards – we owe Dr Moses lots of rupee at this stage) and we the girls enjoy catching up with friends back home on social media, while I pull my lap top out and do some journal writing. Steve takes the opportunity to do some research on Spain and China – we are tossing up between these two countries to go next after Buldana. Steve has found some very good priced plane tickets to Malaga (south coast of Spain)…hmmmm.
We buy some soft drinks, stock up on chips and chocolate and fruit (bananas, grapes, oranges) and water. The train food is not really that pleasant, so we know food will be limited on the 22-hour journey to Buldana. We are finally ready to move to the platform, and board the train. This time we are going a class up from our previous train journeys – from 3 a/c to 2 a/c. The reason is that this will be the longest train journey we have been on in India, and for the extra $20 each for a little more comfort, we think it might be well worth it.
The only problem with Indian train stations is that both the train and the platform are very long. And when you have to board a certain carriage and class number, it can get quite anxious just finding it within the stopping time – which can be 2 minutes, or 5 minutes. So we see the train coming, and we note the classes on the carriages that go by – S1, S2, S3…we are looking for A1. S12, S13, S14 and further down? We start walking down along the platform looking for A1 but can’t locate it quickly. Did we not see it at the front of the train? This train is so long. So I start running down the platform while the tribe walks quickly together behind me, S19, S20…We stop to ask a man waiting on the platform where carriage A1 would be and he points back to where we came from at the front of the train. But we have learnt to not trust what people say, especially if they don’t look confident with their answer. This man was one of those. So we ask a man in station uniform who appears out from a little door. And he points the opposite way – the way we are walking. So we go with that. And as I continue to run down the platform searching for the magical combination of A1, I find it! And send out the SOS message to the troops way behind by waving both arms in the air (that also means hurry up please).
We get on the train, altogether and find our sleeper seat numbers and I start to breathe normally again. The carriage is fairly empty, and we start to push our backpacks under the beds. The only difference between class 3 and class 2 trains is that there are two less beds in class 2 (so 4 beds in a compartment, rather than 4 beds) so there’s more room and it’s a lot more comfortable with extra head room, and there is a privacy curtain between the compartment and the aisle (whereas in class 3 there is nothing). Toilets are the same – fairly dirty and waste leads straight onto the tracks, most are squat but there’s always one sit down in a block of four (the girls always seem to be able to find it!) I must admit the sit down is a better toilet just for the fact that when the train moves and you’re using the squat toilet it’s common to lose balance. No one wants to touch anything within the toilet precinct!
We depart at 6:15pm. 22 hours later we should be in Buldana. But we’re not. It took 25 hours before we arrived into the closest railway station to Buldana, Malkapur Railway Station. We had a nearly normal journey, except when Ash suddenly felt the need to rush to the toilet that night. I’m not sure how I can best describe the situation without going into the ugly details, but let’s just say she wasn’t well in her tummy and obliterated the squat toilet cubicle. Steve and I had the unfortunate task as parents of cleaning it up best we could.
So Billie and Ash slept most of the time, well Ash slept after she vomited her guts up in a plastic bag (or two) after the toilet incident. Once she was empty, she slept all night. Getting the Indian bug is instant and uncompromising. We think it was food poisoning from the night before fried chicken dish that both Billie and Ash shared.
I woke early on 28 Jan, and enjoyed watching the changing rural landscape appear. Lots of land, and farms, and animals. People waiting on their bicycles at train crossings, herds of goats, and the odd cow or two walking along the tracks.
Dr Moses had arranged drivers and cars to pick us up from Malkapur Station, about one hour’s drive from Buldana. So when we rolled in at 7pm, and disembarked the train as the only white people so we were spotted easily by the drivers. Glad to be off the train and on solid ground once again. In the car and an hour later, we had arrived to Buldana, and walked into the apartment we could call home for the next two months, Dwarka.
Note: Kilometres travelled by train (and plane) in India so far 4,894km (including one plane journey). I wonder if this makes us train travel experts yet?
- Cochi to Goa – 850km (3 a/c train)
- Goa to Mumbai – 775km (3 a/c train)
- Mumbai to Amritsar (Punjab) – 1420km (*plane)
- Jalandhar (Punjab) to Malkapur (Buldana) – 1425km (2 a/c train)