There’s nothing I enjoy more than taking an overnight train trip on Indian Railways, though not every one shares my enthusiasm. Being a dreamer helps to enhance the experience. I try to get to the station early in order to have sufficient time to deal with the chaos and you never know when you are going to meet up with an unanticipated reason that the station is buzzing with thousands of swarming passengers and you can’t even move, let alone find your correct platform.
I tend to travel heavy. Most of the railway stations that are in the major cities have many platforms and to get to them you have to go up a lot of steps. There are no ramps and no escalators so carrying your bags up these steps is a challenge. I always need the assistance of a coolie, the name used for porters in India. The coolie will carry your luggage up the many steps to your platform and if your train hasn’t arrived yet, for a few extra rupees will find you a place to sit on the platform and come back for you just as the train rolls into the station and then bring your luggage up into your compartment. This service makes taking the trains easier for me.
Selecting which coolie to employ is a difficult decision. The young ones are strong but the older ones evoke your sympathy. More often than not, they pounce on you if you are foreign.
With a cotton cloth wound into a flat disk and placed on the top of his head, the coolie hoists your luggage on top of his head, stacks it accordingly and beats you up the steps to your platform!
The coolie’s fee is reasonable if you are a local but if you are foreign like me and are traveling in AC class, the asking price goes sky-high. I bargain like an Indian housewife. Usually it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t ask the price these days. I pay what I think is the rate with a small foreign surcharge once inside my compartment. Still, the coolies haggle for even ten rupees more. By then the train is starting to pull out. The coolie takes the money I hand him and dashes out of the carriage.
I come with my book and magazines to help pass the time as I wait for my train to pull into the station but I am so engrossed in watching all the teeming life around me that I rarely read my book.
I watch the people on my platform, just as they observe me and I watch as assorted trains pull in and out of the platform until it is my turn.
Waiting, we are all captives for beggars, salesmen and assorted scams.
A gaggle of passengers pass by on trains stopping for a few minutes in the station. They take a moment to stretch their legs, grab a cup of tea and view the scenery.
Every one is glad when their train pulls in or out of the station. Relieved, I smile when I see my coolie reappear, ready to take me to my compartment and ready for more Indian Railway adventures.