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Taking the train in India: A story

Photo of New Delhi Train Station by Zwetkoff India

Photo of New Delhi Train Station by Zwetkoff.

At the New Delhi Train Station

I arrived at the New Delhi Train Station in the muggy pre-dawn hours, amid the usual chaos of honking autorickshaws and hordes of people. A pack of red-turbaned porters stood at the ready as the fat ambassador taxis disgorged their passengers.

I steeled myself for the usual assault. And sure enough, before my foot hit the broken, moist pavement, three of them were on me.

I didn’t really need a porter to carry my bag, I could do it myself, but I needed one to help me find my platform, my train and my bogey. And yes, as I was barely awake, it was a relief to have someone carry my bag through the teeming railway station to the platform that was almost a kilometre away.

“How much?” I asked, knowing what was coming.

“200 rupees,” came the answer.

“Are you kidding?! I’ll carry it myself.” There is actually a fixed tariff, though you would never know it.

Mariellen Ward of Breathedreamgo at train station in India

Me, enjoying a cup of train station “victory” tea.

“I live in Delhi!” I exclaimed, in Hindi. “I know the charge is supposed to be 40 rupees per bag!”

“Okay, okay 150,” came the retort.

And so on, until finally we met sort-of in the middle at 80 rupees (about $2.00), which was high, but manageable. I have come to expect a “foreign tax,” and I know these guys really do need the money.

I followed my porter, who was of course running ahead, thinking it was my lucky day: he was very tall, which made him easier to spot as he raced through the crowd with my luggage on his head.

We arrived at the platform and I showed him my ticket. After some confusion, and consultation with a notice board that listed all the passengers, he pointed out that I had a waiting list ticket only. Number 48 on the waiting list. I thought 48 was my seat number.

Panic. I really needed to get to my yoga ashram. The Kumbh Mela was only days away and millions of people would be streaming to my destination. There would be no chance to get another train. “I need to get on that train!” I told my porter.

He grasped the situation immediately, and sprang into action, sprinting up and down the platform looking for a conductor. We found the first class conductor surrounded by questioning passengers. A chubby, satisfied-looking babu in a worn uniform, he said it was impossible. All the trains to Haridwar were booked for weeks.

But still, my porter didn’t give up and neither did I. With only minutes left before departure we found the second-class conductor, a handsome man with a thoughtful face who simply said, “You can have my seat,” and told the porter the number.

On to the train we jumped, together, united in our sense of urgency and exhilarated by our success. The train was packed, but the porter found a place overhead to squeeze in my bag as the final boarding call resounded up and down the damp, cavernous platform.

The porter and I looked at each other and smiled, accomplices now, and I gave him a heart-felt thank you as I thrust a small handful of 100 rupee notes in his hand, much more than he tried to scam off me.

[NOTE: Originally posted on Travel+Escape as At the New Delhi Train Station. Photo of New Delhi Train Station by Zwetkoff.]

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21 Responses to Taking the train in India: A story

  1. indiamap September 18, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    You did right! and you won’t forget the number 48 in future :)

  2. adonmail September 18, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    Congratulations on being a featured Blogger of the day, on the front page

  3. Shalu Sharma September 18, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    Congratulations for making it to India. Nice to see you having that cup of desi “chai”.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..Train surfing, India’s extremely stupid sportMy Profile

  4. Mariellen Ward September 18, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Haha, you’re right Indiamap! That was an awful moment when I realized it.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Taking the train in India: A storyMy Profile

  5. Mariellen Ward September 18, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    Shalu, I am addicted to desi chai. Love it, and can;t get enough. I carry a small thermos with me and fill it up when I travel.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Taking the train in India: A storyMy Profile

    • vinayak September 18, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Welcome to the country of a billion:-)
      You look nice in Saree..!
      Enjoy the India:))

    • Shalu Sharma September 19, 2012 at 10:45 am #

      I am glad that you like the desi chai! I thought I must be the only one who’s hooked to the chai. Well done. Will wait for your next story!! Take care and enjoy….
      Shalu Sharma recently posted..Red Fort of Delhi – Lal QilaMy Profile

  6. Reg of The Spain Scoop September 18, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    What a story! Sounds like it was stressful but I like that happy ending. Does make me a little nervous about my upcoming India trip!
    Reg of The Spain Scoop recently posted..Wine Country Calls, We Answer: A Day in LaguardiaMy Profile

  7. Greg Goodman September 18, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    The trains are by far the thing I miss most about India. OK, so that’s really not true at all. I love plenty of other things too…but man, Indian train stories are the best!!!
    Greg Goodman recently posted..Painting With Travel Photography // the Symmetry ProjectMy Profile

  8. Claire Bryan September 19, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    That was quite an experience you had in India. I’m glad you made it.
    Claire Bryan recently posted..Montana FishburneMy Profile

  9. Nisha September 19, 2012 at 4:55 am #

    How beautifully you’ve narrated this story, Mariellen! :)

    Sure, you won’t forget the number 48.
    And is that a kulhad in your hand? Desi chai tastes best in Kulhad. :)
    Nisha recently posted..Ganapati Bappa Morya !My Profile

  10. Mariellen Ward September 19, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Hi thanks all, train journeys are such an essential part fo the India travel experience. No need to be nervous though Reg — just always remember to go with the flow. Try never to resist or get angry or frustrated; that will make things worse not better. India teaches people to be in the moment. By far the best way to enjoy your trip. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Top 10 movies about IndiaMy Profile

    • Rajesh September 26, 2012 at 1:22 am #

      so true…’its not about the destination, its about the journey’

  11. Shane Curtis October 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    That was really a travel fun experience in India and you really have so much fun right? I wish I could go in India and meet my favorite actors there. I love there movies and as well as their music.
    Shane Curtis recently posted..Brisbane The Worlds Fastest Growing Mature CityMy Profile

  12. Addison at Visa Hunter October 4, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    Wow! And I thought the trains here in Brazil were packed and chaotic. I will definitely have to add India to my bucket list though.

  13. Ankur October 30, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Hey,

    I was just going through your blog and like I observed that you have mostly been visiting Delhi, only?

    Try visiting other cities, specially the south. You’ll get an entire feel of it.

    Karol Bagh, Janpath, Rajouri Garden, Khan Market, Saket, Gurgaon, Vasant Vihar are all the good places to go for. I stay in South Delhi itself and The southern part of Delhi is so different from that of the east, the west and the north! But nonetheless, you have a LOT to explore ;)

    Have fun!

  14. Baron's December 21, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    I’m going to read every word you write….very well done….you should read “the great railway bazar” by Paul Theroux if you haven’t already done so.
    Baron’s recently posted..July 4th – 2012My Profile

  15. Jackson January 27, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    This wonderful post reminded me somewhat of a documentary I saw some years back about Chinese workers commuting via train for work. My father was a conductor and I’ve long since dreamed of working on a train, taking the Eurail, etc. I just got an Alaska Tour Job and will be an onboard Tour Guide between May and September. I’m sooo stoked! I pray I have the same level of excitement you enjoyed, but without the stress of trying to find a seat last minute. Great story and how inspiring!

  16. Rachit Aggarwal February 14, 2014 at 3:45 am #

    Nice post. I really like your observation about your life. Such things happen with many of us but we failed to note down it. I like you r documentation piece of it.

    Truly enjoyed reading this post. I have travelled in this train many times as my Hometown is in Saharanpur which is one of the stoppage in its way from Delhi-Haridwar.
    Rachit Aggarwal recently posted..MahaShivratri celebrations at Brahma Kumaris, Shanti SarovarMy Profile

  17. SaravanKumar April 3, 2014 at 8:04 am #

    Good that the conductor gave you his seat.. imagine if you were in a group and need of more than 1 seat.. you may probably get but scattered.

  18. Yahoo July 28, 2014 at 6:57 am #

    I am happy with train travelling in India. However I feel horrible when traveling local buses because of the crowd.

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