Waiting, Agra Train Station

Trip Start Jan 22, 2010
Trip End Feb 14, 2010

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Hotel Gopal

Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Platform 2 is full of people waiting for the 2189 Makahausal Express to Delhi. Over on Platform 1 another express to Delhi has pulled up. I dimly recognize the name from the long list I read online of the trains going to the capital today.

The Indian rail system is vast and confounding. The online booking system alone can be a headscratcher. Say I want to go from Agra to Delhi. There are multiple stations in each city, and they aren't necessarily on the same rail line. Unfortunately, you can only view specific station-to-station connections. Once I've figured out that Delhi bound trains mainly leave Agra from AG CANTT station, I now have a choice of about 6 Delhi stations. Change my destination from New Delhi (NDL) to the Nizamuddin (NZM) station 10 minutes south of it and the list of trains running can change drastically.

With a possible station-to-station train and route located, I now have to search through different class tickets to find out what's available. Options include First Class AC (1A), First Class (FC), AC 2-tier sleeper (2A), AC 3 Tier (3A), AC Chair Car (CC), Sleeper Class (SL), Second Sitting (2S) and AC 3-tier Economy (3E). Like most things on the official site, there is no explanation for what these mean, nor about what the WL, RAC or CNF status results mean. There are whole websites given over to describing how to book a train ticket in India.

A train has pulled in on the other side of Platform 2 -- which being Platform 3 should have nothing to do with our train, but every passengers from our platform migrates over and begins boarding except the two of us and one other forlorn set of backpackers. You need an unshakable faith in the station's LED status boards not be be affected by this huge democratic movement, and you'd be very silly to put much store in any official information provided in India. So Emma investigates while I guard our bags and ward off the shoe shiners and crippled beggars that congregate.

I briefly consider ditching the wait for our train and making a run for Platform 1. That train is here, it's going to Delhi, and if I remember it was only taking 30 minutes longer than our express. Unfortunately, we are now weighed down by our ridiculous quantity of souvenirs. Without Rafiq and his car's trunk, we must stagger about with seven bags and a poster tube, and we'd have to go up and over the tracks to reach Platform 1. Inertia wins over strategy.

When she returns, I mention my thoughts about Platform 1 to Emma, who is a firm believer in the High Probability Factor, wherein the odds of arrival at a destination in good time far outweighs such trivialities as whether you have an actual ticket.The discussion becomes moot as the Platform 1 train pulls slowly away.

We bond with the other backpackers, swap some travel stories and exchange the standard wanderer conversation: Where are you going? Where did you come from? How long are you in India?

I can see that conversation getting tired after a few month, but since the commonality one shares is travel, the icebreakers usually get a connection going or let you know it's time to pull the conversation rip chord.
Eventually our train arrives. The vendors walk its length selling chai and omelettes ("Omellata, Omellata") and we depart. Within minutes, Emma's trip tally of "Indians Defecating Beside the Tracks" reaches 26. Considering she reads a book most of this transit, it's a very conservative number for her trip. I spot a woman squatted down, her dress billowed out around her on the ground, but after discussion we conclude that only men can be conclusively said to be taking Number Two.
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