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When researching family travel in India, I perused brochures about luxury trains. Works of art in themselves – envelopes within envelopes, ribbons, seals, and gold, lots of gold – the brochures featured trains with exotic names like the “Golden Chariot” or “Palace on Wheels” promising a bounty of earthly delights. Our own train to Jaipur – the 2994 BDTS Garib Rath -had a somewhat less alluring nickname – the “Poor Man’s Chariot.”
Set to depart from Delhi S Rohilla Railway Station at 9:37 a.m., our train arrived at the platform only a few minutes late. Plenty of time to bat persistent flies and take in the scene. One sight, no more tragic than many we’ve seen in India, will be forever seared into my consciousness. A mother sleeping on a bench, sandals strewn on the floor below her next to a dust-clad child burrowing his face into unforgiving concrete.
Mostly, the bustle of transit at the platform was interesting.
Even perplexing. Although there is a perfectly functional bridge, a steady stream of men and women jumped down onto the tracks to cross to the other side. And I have to assume that this is sanctioned by the authorities as a pile of broken concrete blocks formed semi-permanent steps.
I had assumed that since our tickets showed assigned seats in Third Class that we would be shown where to go when the train arrived. But you know what happens when you assume.
What actually happened when the train reached the station is that a mass of luggage-laden men, women, and children started running in all directions, and there was no conductor to show us the way. At a loss for where to go, we lost precious moments – only pushing and jumping aboard when the train started moving again. Which would have been exciting if it weren’t for the very real possibility of being separated from my children in the process. As it happened, the only item I lost was a lens cap that disappeared into the cracks while traversing between train cars.
When we did find our seats, it turned out that no one was actually heeding the seat assignments. So even though we were supposed to sit in the regular seats, both kids were able to score an upper-bunk sleeper berth. They loved that, and spent the entire 5-hour ride in supine comfort.
But I was even happier to remain at floor-level where I could chat with my seat-mate. A sari-clad new mom and pediatrician in Delhi, accompanied by husband and two-month-old, she was headed to her hometown to see her parents and extended family. And as the swaddled baby slumbered peacefully on the vinyl-upholstered bench between us, the new and old mothers gazed out on monsoon-lush green fields passing by. Our train ride was a moment of calm before the storm that is arrivals at Jaipur Train Station.