I have never taken a long train ride in America, only ever traveling in couple hour stints. But I have spent countless hours on the railways of India.
The don’t have cafe cars on Indian trains but they do have chai Wallahs at every stop. If you, like me, had a thermos, you could have it filled with a pot of tea full enough to make it to the next stop. If you don’t have one, the to-go cups are terra cotta, which when tossed out the window, go back to the earth. Bidis too. They may stink the train up enough to make a Sista sick, but they too biodegrade rather fast when they hit the dirt.
The side of the tracks, for the first mile out of a stop, are speckled with orange clay like a mosaic.
If you are fortunate enough to score a top berth you can sleep as the train miraculously fills up overnight. When you wake, to claim your seat down below, it is usually filled to the brim with more people than should be in one place. If you have a middle berth they will make you drop it so they can sit their family of 13 onto the seat below. This is when your travel mate has to squeeze up into the top berth with you, and if you are slick you can fit the both of you like pancakes head to foot for some more rest. The top berths also put you at less of a risk of being groped. All of my male travel mates always made sure I got the top.
By morning the chat crumbs and peanut shells are an inch thick in every direction.
With the sun coming up, out come the breakfast pails making my bag of cashews and thermos of tea look like those peanut shells. Curries, chapati, dal. The smells so enticing that you find yourself pleading for a stop at a little stand with something similar even though the chances slim.
Rest stops on the train tracks are overwhelming and so usually you just wait for the sweet sound of the chai wallah. Chai! Chai! Chai! Garam chai!!” Nothing more delicious after twelve hours like a pancake.
He fills yer thermos through the bars on your window.
Indian people don’t smell bad. They just don’t. Perhaps it’s the curry and all of that cardamom they take in but, judge the poverty and overpopulation as you will, a train car bursting with indians just doesn’t stink like a train car lightly spattered with Americans.
There are no “beggars” on American train platforms, but we also do not have the luxury of traveling musicians for a stop.
This trip has me craving India.
(Had to steal the following video from YouTube. Many thanks!)