I flew from Kathmandu to Japiur and spent a couple days there, and now I’m in Udaipur. Both cities are in Rajasthan in northwest India. I took what was planned to be an overnight train from Jaipur to Udaipur. It was scheduled for 10:25 pm, but didn’t arrive until 6:10 am, so I spent the night with hundreds of others camped out in the train station. There’s a special waiting room for passengers with the more expensive “AC” and “Sleeper” tickets. When I arrived there were no more seats, though I eventually got one. The locals know enough to bring a blanket to the train station to spread out on the floor and sleep on while waiting. By morning there was no more room to lay down on the floor. I was maybe the only foreigner in the room.
Use of the very dirty toilet cost two rupees (about a nickel). It was guarded by an angry older gentleman in a neat but worn dress shirt and trousers, who sat all night at his little table, which he banged on when people didn’t pay. Most seemed not to pay, so there was a lot of banging and discourse. In each case he eventually had to choose between letting them in or cleaning up a mess, so he usually gave in. I waited until morning so as not to lose my seat, since I wasn’t smart enough to bring a blanket. When I left the two rupees on the table he seemed to want more. The sign over the door said it was five rupees to use the “washroom,” and two for the “toilet.” I wasn’t sure what the difference was, and played dumb, figuring that what I had to do was likely covered under the cheaper service. He pantomimed something either functionally accurate or extremely vulgar. I nodded, and he unhappily let me in. Anything else I needed to do was going to wait for a better deal.
The main waiting area for those with cheaper tickets was a lot like the one I was in, but larger and accessible to the public, and it had a lot of through traffic. It also seemed to house fewer children and more single men of all ages. Many of their blankets hadn’t seen the wash in a while. I really should have taken photos of both rooms and various other places, including the train platforms, where people were camped out, but it felt like it would an intrusion and an unnecessary risk. Just picture a couple hundred homeless people sitting in seats or laying on blankets in a very dirty train station, and picture what they would look like after a few days. When a guard came through at 5 am blowing his whistle and “tapping” people awake with his night-stick, they neatly and carefully folded up there blankets, even the dirty ones, and proceeded to wait less comfortably.
To provide an idea of how elite a traveler I was in my fancy 3AC/Sleeper waiting room, my ticket for the 260-mile journey cost about $4.50. The thirty-year-old guy sitting next to me spoke six languages, has a PhD in medicine, and does research on HIV in conjunction with Harvard Medical School. He too was sitting on a hard wooden bench in high-end waiting room for an eight-hour-late train, but unlike me he wasn’t doing it for fun. After an hour or so of sitting I had the brain-storm to pull the foam padding out of my backpack to sit on and ease my aching, and I did so much to the amusement of my temporary neighbors.
This trip has flown by, and I’ll see some of you this weekend. Check back in over the next few months. Over time, I’ll be editing and uploading some of the thousands of photos I’ve taken while here, since there hasn’t been time to do it on the road.