Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sleepless, in India

Traveling around India is a pain. The train system is complicated and convoluted, and trains book up weeks in advance. Weeks ago, Mark navigated the confusion that is the online booking system and got us on the waitlist for the night train from Varanasi to Agra. Everything he read and researched said that if you’re within the top ten on the waitlist, you’ll be good to go, and you’ll get a bunk. We began in positions six and seven, and moved up to one and two the day before. So we headed to the train station, anticipating getting a bunk, but the chart had been prepared, and we hadn’t made it off the waitlist. We were then told that we could get an “open ticket” and then talk to the conductor on the train, and he would fill us in the ‘no-show’ bunks.

However, on the train, the conductor was completely unhelpful, and instead of finding us an empty spot (which there were clearly lots of), he said something in Hindi, and gave one of the baffling Indian head bobs accompanied by a gesture which we were not sure meant come, go, stay, good, bad, yes, or no…

When it came time to fold the bunks down and turn in, we found a couple of empty bunks and settled in, careful to sleep in contact with our bags, which everyone, including the station master, had told us to keep an eye on, because theft was a huge problem on the train. Awesome! G'night!

The bunks were hard, dusty filthy, and had no pillow or sheets (like the Vietnamese trains did).

After a mere two hours of sleep, we were woken up at midnight by some passengers who’d just gotten on the train, and had tickets for our bunks. Bummer. In a sleepy stupor, we looked around, and the train had completely filled up! There were no free bunks! The only spot we could find was one of the door alcoves by the washrooms which reeked of urine. So we crammed ourselves into that space, and slept beside our bags, on the floor. Or, rather, I slept uncomfortably in fits, while Mark valiantly kept vigil for thieves and Indian men staring at me.

Oh, I'd so much prefer sleeping on a hard, filthy bunk right now!

At some point the conductor came around and made us pay a penalty for sleeping on the floor! It was all very shady and unpleasant.

I kept thinking, someday we will laugh, and laugh about this… but it is not this day.

We arrived in Agra, bleary-eyed, at about 6 am, with ourselves and our packs intact, and headed out to find a guesthouse. And though the hotel we found was ramshackle, dirty, and overpriced, we could see the Taj Mahal from our room! Albeit through the bars on the window, which were there to keep the roving monkeys out—an actual threat! But still, we could see it, and it was splendid, and we watched it change colour as the sun painted various shades of light across it. Was it worth sleeping on the floor of a train for this? You betcha.

The Taj in bright, midday sun.

The Taj in a warm, sunset glow.

The Taj at night.


  1. I love your comment that one day you will laugh at the situation - but NOT today!!!! So true. Definitely worth the view from your room!!!! Good luck for the rest of your time in India.
    Chey xo

  2. oh my gosh. how awful! The photo of you on the floor makes me so sad! I would NOT have done well in that situation!

    katelin xo

  3. Oh, you didn't know about the sleeping on the floor with urine odour charge? And I thought you guys were prepared! :-)
    Yes, another day indeed you will laugh.
    But holy crap! What a view!

  4. Hahaha, yeah, it was terrible... But we made it through! It was worth it for the view, but would I do it again... not sure...

  5. your terrible train story is more terrible than our terrible train story! Glad you survived :)