Writing this on the Uttar Sampark Kranti. UHP – New Delhi. Yeah, that’s a mouthful.
Every day is an event, I just never know which act is up next.
The Morning After (being horribly ill)
I woke up in Jammu Tawi, operating at about 80% power after the previous day’s gastro-flu powered illness. The fever had broken the day before, and while it was amazing to get up feeling like I could take on the day properly, I was confronted with another problem:
No phone signal. No data, no calls out or in, nothing.
The immediate problem was that I was hoping to give Christine a wake up call which would not be happening. The bigger issue was the lack of ability to update my progress, which if you have been paying attention to up to this point, I have been doing quite a bit.
“The hotel we booked has wifi, I have been assured.” Mark tells us. I barely believe it can be true at this point, half of what people tell us here has been wrong, the other half is like a coin flip to see which parts are true and which are not.
Unbelievably, wi-fi was actually available to us, and those of us inclined to use it went to town.
And other than my first significant meal in the last 54 hours or so, and watching Troy get a shave,
I really just thought today would be a quiet day of catching up on email in a chilly but charming, if rough around the edges, town of Udhanpur – the northernmost stop in our journey.
Things got moderately more interesting when we were invited to an engagement party happening upstairs.
More specifically, Lauren, the tall blonde of the group (other than Jason, who I suppose is also the tall blonde of the group), was invited, and the rest of us got roped in by some very persuasive, persistent children. They fed us, talked to us about their cousin’s engagement, and everyone there seemed very welcoming and happy to have us there. One young woman in particular made a point to ask for contact numbers from all the women of the group. What she expects to do with those numbers, I will likely never know, as I have boy parts and was not invited into that club.
We made it onto this train for a 7PM departure and set off on our 12 hour overnight train to Delhi. Everyone was tucked in nice and neat. I had even started writing this post, when two hours in, four Indian men wandered into our berth.
They had tickets for our seats.
We tried explaining our position, that the seats were posted outside the carriage door, that our own ticket would not have our berth numbers as they were booked months in advance. My blood pressure was cranked as I just waited for Mark, or better yet, a conductor, to come work it out. Mark was nowhere to be found, the berth was full with people unwilling to move.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the conductor finally showed. He looked at my ticket, saw the clearly marked UDHAMPUR to NEW DELHI, looked back at the seats.
“These are only to Jammu. These men are here.”
Abject terror. Where is somebody who knows something? After several rounds of back and forth with the conductor that all end similarly, Steven, the guy I trust most on this trip to know what is going on when we are on the trains, walks in.
“He’s right. I’ve checked them all at the door and they only have us booked to Jammu. We’ve got to get off”
And so, in utter disbelief, with no earthly idea of what was going to happen next. We got our belongings and got off the train.
This is where the documentarian in me needed to kick in, get video of this as it happened, photos, something. But no. I was in a little bit of shock, with no one in particular to be mad at. Wait, this isn’t everyone in the group. Where are the others?
The train started to roll away while we started to process what was going on and talk about what it might take to grab a night bus to New Delhi
An incredibly loud hissing noise erupted from the front of the train, which stopped dead. John, one of Mark’s school friends who quite often looks like he’d rather be anywhere other than wherever he happens to be, pops out of the cabin door.
“Mark says get on the train. Come on.”
Confused, we were not quick to reply. Someone mentions the conductor, that there’s no space.
“Fuck the conductor. Get back on the train.” he barks back, but not just at us, as it seems like a rebuke of all of India, or at least everyone on that platform who was making his night a mess.
We got on the train. And we stood. Four or five of us in between the carriages, nearly killing any through-traffic. We didn’t know where the girls in the group went, we didn’t know if we would be standing there for the next twelve hours or if we might be arrested at the next station, we didn’t know anything.
A well dressed Indian gentleman stepped through the door, asked what the problem was. When we explained and showed him my ticket, he looked it over closely, determined;
“This is good, this is no problem. Come.”
Uh, okay, you look official, sort of, you speak the language and you are on my side? Let’s do this! Which immediately made me worry that the losers here would be the other gentlemen who took our seats before. It was not their fault this happened, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for a perfect resolution. My new Indian friend and I walked into the storm of people in our group who had clearly been at this for awhile with the conductor. He passed my ticket forward and said something briefly. I waited.
“They found you. You’re in 15.”
Wait, what? That’s it then? There’s room? Well then. I shook this man’s hand, my new Indian BFF, who held the handshake well past what most westerners would consider a comfortable length of time, but by god, I HAD A BED. I shook the hell out of that man’s hand, and would still be shaking it now if he hadn’t let go.
It seems what they thought was a full carriage of passengers was just a lot of double booking. We each got our new beds and went over the events again and again, unable to fully calm down.
The Urban Legend
“John’s the one who pulled the emergency break.”
“Was that what that huge hissing noise was?”
“Yeah I’m pretty sure he pulled it and then came out to yell at us to get back on the train.”
I even asked his friend, Andrew to confirm this for me. “Yeah, yeah it was him.”
So this story has a hero. It makes perfect sense. John has had enough, he yanks the train to a halt and orders everyone back on the train like a god damn General. Perfect! Amazing! Still, I needed to confirm it with the man himself.
“Is that what people are saying?” He laughed.
That was not necessarily a denial.
“Are you saying no because you don’t want to be fined 1000 rupees or go to prison for a year?”
Laughter again. “No. I am not the guy.”
So we have a mystery person to thank for stopping our train long enough for us to board. Not exactly the ending I was pulling for here. Still, we all got a laugh at the end of the night.
…once the adrenaline started to wear off.