Traveling in India

B and I are spending our time between Jaipur and Gurgaon these days. His family is in Jaipur, but work opportunities in his field are in Gurgaon.

Our hope is that we can manage to do two weekend trips to Jaipur per month. This means that I am getting quite experienced with different modes of travel in northern India.

Without construction, the trip by car between the two cities should take about 3 hours. When we first came out to Gurgaon, we had packed a lot of stuff into our Honda, and felt it was a good idea to hire a professional driver for the trip. He agreed to take 1000 rupees for his trouble, which included bus fare for him to return to Jaipur the same day.

You may have noticed that I said in that paragraph “without construction.” Our trip took us about 6 hours, with a 15 minute chai break partway, and a stop to get our emissions checked before entering Delhi. What a trip–it is not for the faint-hearted. I told B we’d have to completely sedate my mother if she ever made that journey. She panics going 3 miles on mostly empty streets in Indianapolis.

At one point, we were driving the wrong way on the highway because of a traffic jam on our side of the median. At another point, we were skidding around in the dusty construction hills of the median to come out again on the wrong side, but to take the extension road (also going the wrong way), in order to avoid another jam. All intentional, of course.

All the while, the sun was beating on me through the side and back windows.  Hot + bumpy + motion sickness. No. I told B that we shouldn’t travel that way again.

Another attempt at traveling was to take the sleeper class of the train. The nicer seats were all booked already. This was for our return to Gurgaon from Jaipur last weekend. The train was very early in the morning–I think 5am–when we caught it. As we boarded the car, we had to step over all of the sleeping bodies on the floor, and B had to shake awake the two guys cheating and sleeping on our berths. They didn’t give him a hard time, and they moved. I climbed up to the top berth, and B took the middle one. All was well. Even though it wasn’t air conditioned, the open windows and the speed of the train meant that it wasn’t so bad temperature-wise. There were just a lot of people around. So I thought at the time.

When I woke up a little later, the car had transformed. People were no longer sleeping on the floor of the car, it was standing room only.  It appears that after the ticket checker makes his rounds, there is another stop along the way, and at this stop, a crowd of people like to board the train, probably without any kind of ticket or reservation. Very clever of them. I was glad I was on the top berth so I didn’t have bodies and crotches in my face. Poor B. It didn’t feel dangerous or any hotter with the extra people, but I started to worry about how in the world we were going to be able to actually disembark from the train. It only stops for 2 minutes in Gurgaon.

View 1 from my top berth in the sleeper car after some people weaseled onto the train toward the end of the trip.

View 1 from my top berth in the sleeper car after some people weaseled onto the train toward the end of the trip.

View 2 from my top berth. The girl in the green shirt was sharing her berth with two kids and a woman. And you can see all of the people standing in the aisles.

View 2 from my top berth. The girl in the green shirt was sharing her berth with two kids and a woman. And you can see all of the people standing in the aisles.

Our general strategy with trains is to leave our seats, carrying our bags, and sort of push our way toward the queue at the door as early as we can so that it improves our chances of actually disembarking once the train stops. This is on the 3rd AC or 2nd AC car where there usually are only the people who actually have reservations.

B and I did the best we could to vacate our berths with our belongings in hand in order to get a better position nearer to the door. We really only ended up standing next to our berths, but I correctly predicted that some ambitious people would probably take the seats as soon we left them, and they did. This gave a little more breathing room.

I fully anticipated one or both of us getting some kind of injury in the process of getting off the train. I imagined only one of us getting off and the other not making it, and we’d be reenacting the last scene of DDLJ, but in reverse. Me running after the train, stretching my hand to pull B off of it. Surprisingly, we got off fairly easily, and no injuries were reported.

I told B I didn’t want to travel that way again.

Yesterday, we traveled by bus back to Gurgaon from Jaipur. We had waited too long to book return train tickets, and a bus was the only option. We booked a Volvo/Mercedes bus with AC set to depart at 5pm and reach Gurgaon around 10pm.

On arriving at the bus stand, we discovered that the 4pm had not yet departed. That caused a little worry, but it ended up that our bus with its ticketed passengers (us) would still be departing on time. Poor 4pm bus saps passengers. Who knows when their bus came?

Our bus had a lot of, shall we say, battle scars. I’m not sure when it was cleaned last. There wasn’t trash on it, but the handles were grimy, and the seats had stains all over them. The AC smelled like cold sweat. Not to worry, we pulled out of the station more or less on time, and we even each had a free bottle of water. This bus driver was a maverick. I can’t think of any other word for him. Nevermind that he was driving an enormous bus; he was zooming around like he was in a Fiat. And he loved that horn of his. Trigger happy, I guess you could say. It was better to keep my eyes closed.

1.5 hours into the trip, I happened to have my eyes open and I happened to be looking at the driver in his rearview mirror at the exact moment he was shifting, and missed his gear, and stalled the bus. This was while we were inching along at a toll plaza. The next 30 minutes had the bus driver trying in vain to restart the bus, a dozen guys getting off the bus and hanging out on the shoulder of the road, and a half dozen guys animatedly advising the bus driver on what else he could try to get the bus going again. Calls to his manager were in vain.

The temperature on the bus, with the AC, had gotten down to about a chilly 94 or so. It was the kind of heat where any part of your body touching anything was pretty much wet with sweat. This was mainly because the sun was just beating down on the outside of the bus relentlessly. The curtains were closed, but it was still an oven. With the AC off, I’d guess it was about 96. Once the sun set, the bus was comfy temperature-wise.

As B and I were contemplating what we’d do if the bus never started again, and if the driver never reached his manager, and therefore would not be able to get a replacement bus sent, it finally rumbled back to life. I was the only person who clapped. And B, with his excellent grasp of American idiomatic language and cliches, told me I’d better not count my chickens before they hatch. That’s probably why I was the only one who clapped. Everybody else knew better.

But actually, we did not have any further mechanical issues with the bus. The construction on the road was the problem, and despite our driver’s best attempt to get the bus to turbo boost (a la Kit from Knight Rider), it was slow going in many parts, and very bumpy at times. When it wasn’t bumpy, the driver liked to add a little drama, lest we get bored, or fall asleep. He’d accelerate even though there were loads of brake lights ahead of us, and then pump the brakes. Thankfully, the brakes were in good working condition.

The trip took us about 7 hours, including a 15 minute stop at a collection of shops and stalls for food and potty break.  We reached Gurgaon around midnight, collected our bags, and breathed a sigh of relief. We’d paid double the price of a train ticket for that joy ride.

I told B I didn’t want to travel that way again.

And suddenly, the sleeper car didn’t seem so bad. From now on, we agreed that we are booking train tickets weeks in advance, and are no longer hoping that fate smiles on us with good seats at the last minute. That has always been my strategy, but it took a few experiences like this for B to agree that actually planning ahead is for the best.

If anyone reading this is contemplating travel in northern India, I highly recommend you take the train, and that you book 3rd AC or 2nd AC a few weeks in advance. You can actually sleep on it, it’s safe, and it’s smooth. The only tricky part is getting off at your stop. Good luck.

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This entry was published on May 20, 2013 at 5:17 pm. It’s filed under India, Lifestyle and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Traveling in India

  1. Ohmydear, I think I’ve been on that train… and maybe that bus… or something like it. Next, try riding the commuter train in Mumbai! You… can… not… breathe! (And that’s in the “ladies” car, they really shmoosh ’em in on the “gents” car.)

    • I have heard that people have died on the metro in Mumbai. So horrible. I don’t understand why they don’t make the platforms and trains a lot longer since this is the second most populated country in the world.

      B and I took the metro from Gurgaon to Delhi a couple months ago. It is brand new, and really nice inside. It started out fine, but when we got really close to our stop, which was in the heart of Delhi, it was really packed, and getting off the train is dangerous, because people just do not care and they try to aggressively push their way onto the train before letting people get off.

      I did the Poisonwood Bible trick (Rachel’s strategy when they were fleeing) where I stuck out my elbows and mostly let the crowd carry me off the train. It worked!

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