we had only been on the bus for about half an hour, when it’s engine sputtered and died. as the bus, propelled by its own weight, kept rolling slower and slower, the driver kept hitting the ignition trying to get it started again. a minute later, we were pulled off on the side of the road. ah, india.. land of surprises… although really, in a lot of ways i wasn’t all that surprised. mostly i just hoped that we would finally make it to our final destination that we had been traveling almost 24 hours to reach.
the journey had sarted the day before at mumbai central station. we got to the station in the evening to find that there were people sprawled out all over the place on the floor. groups of people were sleeping, covered in sheets, others were squatting around and chatting. i’m still not sure whether all of the people there were soon to be passengers or if they were just homeless people looking for a spot to crash. probably a mixture of both. since the train ride we were taking was all night long, we had paid to get sleeper class. now, in most countries, if you get a sleeper, that’s the most comfy ride on the train, but here there is a huge array of different classes to choose from, with sleeper being near the bottom. the only thing below sleeper class, is second class whch is basically a huge free-for-all w/ unreserved seats. it had been quite a task getting tickets as right now it’s high season here. i wont go into details about it here, but let’s just say that when we first got to the ticket office, we pulled a number which was about 200 people back from the number being served.
when it was time to board, we walked along the platform and then noticed a huge mob of people waiting in a long line. second class. with a wave of his hand, a police officer motioned them to go through and the floodgates were opened. a quick moving, scrambling, pushing, running, frantic river of people had been unleashed. they all ran towards the second class train while shoving each other, hoping to get good seats. luckily, as i said before, our seats were reserved so we didnt have to endure this. actually we didnt realize just how lucky we were until later when we saw another train roll by. the second class section was unbelievably packed. inside there were people standing everywhich way, and there were others literally hanging off the side in the sections between cars. it was quite a spectacle.
when we got to the section that we were in, we were shocked to see how uninviting it was. honestly, it looked like a prision cell with a couple ugly old fans on the ceiling and random odd chains hanging from the bunks. so this is where we would spend the night? the layout of this place was such that each person reserved a bench, and when it as time to sleep, they slept on the bench where they sat earlier. nice and roomy since each person had a whole bench to themselves. i had just been reading for a bit, when a man came into our section and asked if we would be willing to switch seats w/ him. he had a group of 10 w/ him and was hoping that he could find a section to fit his whole family together, so if we switched, he might be able to do that. not knowing what we were getting into, we said ok. as we walked through the other sleeper cars, we realized that we had been insanely lucky to have the one we were first put in. the other cars were packed w/ people. the benches that were made to seat one, would have like 3 adults and 3 kids on them. we sat down in our new seats, and although we had room, we were peered at by all the others who were squished everywhich way on their beds. hrm. not to mention that the man’s family had smothered one of our seats w/ curry oil before we traded. nice.
during the ride, i ended up talking to this guy named sukumar, who was extremely nice and gave me all sorts of advice about india. he told me some stuff about yoga, talked to me about the homeless situation, and even offered for us to stay at his place! unfortunately, we couldnt take him up on his offer since we still had a long journey ahead. eventually, everyone turned their lights off and we tried to get some sleep. hours later, we were still trying. when we arrived in ahmedabad at 5am, i had only gotten a few minutes of sleep here and there due to the rocking of the train and the insane cold. we staggered off the train, sleepy and in a foul mood.
at the ahmedabad station we were shuffled about and had a ridiculously hard time getting tickets to Veraval, the closest train stop to Diu which was our final destination. just as i was at the end of my rope, i finally got tickets. but since the train was arriving soon, we could only get second class unreserved tickets. uh-oh! we had read in the book that if you get unreserved tickets, you can upgrade on the train for an extra fee, so we just went straight to the sleeper car, put our stuff down, and seconds later we passed out. just in the middle of an insane dream, i was awakened by the ticket collector. it turns out that we were supposed to take care of the upgrade *before* the train started moving, and that we had actually violated the law etc etc. luckily, he let it slide and told us to talk to a conductor at the next stop. at the next stop, we just switched to second class, which was surprisingly empty (although we found out later that we had mistakenly gotten on the “ladies only” car… oops!). so everything worked out well, and we got to use the sleeper for about half the journey while only paying for a second class ticket! nice!
on the train, we met a school teacher from mumbai named miss manda. she was super nice and, like sukumar, told us a lot about india. she explained to us the difference between some of the states here in india (what we didnt know before coming here, is that each state here is *very different*, almost like a different country in itself. the people in different states speak different languages, eat different foods,and have different styles of dress). we also talked about this kite festival that was going. from the train we could see dozens of kids running around flying homemade kites and the trees and powerlines everywhere were covered in kites that had met an untimely demise.
eventually, we finally reached the town of veraval. we hired an auto rickshaw (basically, a glorified gokart w/ three wheels, a bench seat, and metal to keep people inside) to take us to the bus station. as we cruised through the streets of town, i realized what a different world we had come to. cows, tons of them, wandered everywhere throughout the streets. and not just ordinary cows like from back home, but odd ones with huge humps on their backs. elsewhere, hairy pigs of varying sizes ran about, and dug through the rubbish searching for food. when we pulled over at the bus stop, i went looking for snacks, and wanted to buy a coke. no one on the street sold coke. nobody. i honestly think this may be the first place on the planet i’ve seen where they didnt have coke for sale.
i was so psyched. *this* was the india i had really wanted to see. a place so different than what i could see back home. animals roaming the streets! no coke for sale! and the people… everyone that i met on this street was so friendly and really excited to meet a foreigner. when i brought out my camera, everyone around kept asking me to take photos of them, and laughed hysterically when they saw themselves on the little screen of my digital camera. everyone kept asking us where we were from, and everyone was super helpful in helping us get on the right bus to Diu town. in some ways, i was a bit bummed to be moving on from here and going to diu.. but we had to get going.
this kid was really excited to be in this photo
after eating a parcel or wrapped samosas, we boarded the bus, and waited as more people got on. and then more people got on. and then… even more people got on. soon, every seat was full, the aisle was completely full, and the side door of the bus had to be left open so people could hang out the side. this thing was packed!! so we strated driving, and less than a half hour later, the engine sputtered and died. the driver kept trying to start the engine, but then engine refused to comply. luckily, a litle later, the bus got going again.
of course, our luck didnt last long. within another half an hour, the engine died again. this time refusing to get going, no matter how hard the driver tried. all the people in the aisles had to pile off the bus, and the driver took the cover off the engine to work on it. eventually, he fixed the engine, put the cover on, people boarded again, and we were off. during the brief 3 hour bus ride, we repeated this 2 more times: everyone off, fix engine, everyone back on. finally though, we made it to diu. it was dark, and we were hungry and exhausted. we had been on the go for the last 26 hours. we stopped at the first hotel we saw, and after a quick dinner, passed out.
the moral of the story is that traveling through india is not as easy as it may seem. we had initially though that getting to diu would be easy, quick, and straightforward. it ended up being none of those things. it’s little (or not so little) things like this that make traveling both aggrevating and at the same time, incredibly exciting and adventurous!