i arrive with time to spare but notice that the station is all locked up. There about 100 people sleeping on the pavement and entrance. I peer through the gate and see that my train is scheduled to leave at 3.30 in the AFTERNOON
! By this stage my taxi has disappeared and I have no option but to join my sleeping compatriots. The reason I flew into Bangalore was firstly it was cheap but I love Indian trains. It immerses one into the Indian way of life. There is always something happening and a continuous stream of vendors plying their trade through the carriages. I always meet interesting people and have some great conversations. All this while you rattle along enjoying the rural landscape. Well I'm embracing India now with its odours and rats that are scuttling between and over sleeping bodies. At about 5.30 the ubiquitous chai wallahs start their noisy rounds and after a few cups I'm feeling a bit warmer after sitting on the cold concrete steps. When the station opens I find a decent waiting room, lock up my bags and head off to buy a ticket. I'm sent from office to office and no one seems to know anything. Eventually after the fifth queue I'm informed that I cannot buy a ticket in the sleeper carriage as the train has already left its original station of departure. I buy the cheapest ticket I can and will negotiate with the conductor once I'm on the train. It is illegal to travel without a ticket but usually easier enough to make a deal once on the train. It is long boring wait which is made worse by the train being over two hours late.
Eventually we depart Bangalore and I find a sleeper carriage that is virtually empty
. Soon enough the conductor ambles along and is quite happy to upgrade my ticket. He doesn't even rip me off or ask for baksheesh, I give him 50 rupees and ask him if he can bring me a bedding bundle from 1st class which he does. Good man. I stretch out on my bunk and enjoy the scenery through the windows. My only concern that the windows all have bars across them and if there were to be fire or accident I don't know how I would get out. Maybe that's why so many people perish in Indian train accidents. I love it when we pass little villages right next to the tracks and can observe the goings on. Kids playing in the dusty roads, people cooking over open fires, young boys herding water buffalo. I love pulling into stations and watching everyone hurtling around and boarding the trains. There is so much going on with many vendors selling food, books and toys, porters touting for business, a complete cross section of Indians from beggars to high caste, dogs scavenging for scraps and of course the railway platform staff always looking important and officious. I love holding on the rail by the open door watching the landscape flash by when I sneak a cigarette. I don't love the toilets. How can people manage to make such a filthy mess. You sit or squat, depending on the type of toilet, do your business, flush and leave. How do they manage to get shit every where else in the room?
I buy a really spicy but tasty Breyani and chat to the guys who supply it
. They have a whole system in place for their section of the train trip. One guy gets on about two hours earlier from their stop. He walks up and down the train taking orders from the passengers. He then phones his mates with the order and by dinner time they board the train with boxes of food in packed into take away dishes and then distribute it while it is still warm. They jump off at the next station and wait for the next train to take them home again. They do this for breakfast, lunch and dinner for which ever trains pass their way. A good system supply hot tasty meals to weary, starving passengers like me.
By 6am the train pulls into Margoa station and there is already a hustle and bustle of activity. It feels strange because it is one of the few places that I have returned to. It is almost comforting in its familiarity and I enjoy a feeling of 'coming home'. I did spend nearly three months in Goa last year and got to know my way around. For once I know where I'm going and don't have to negotiate with touts and tuk tuk drivers. I brush of a few taxi drivers and head outside the station. The sun is just rising and the sky is a pretty pink colour, the mynah birds are noisely waking up and as I puff on my ciggie, I have a good look around and realise that I love incredible India.
The flight from Hanoi had a 7 and half hour stop over in Singapore. If you ever have time to waste than this is the airport to be stuck in. Free movies, free Internet, free massage chairs, garden smoking areas and for a change some reasonably priced food outlets. Definitely the best airport I have been in. I have planned my trip down to the last detail. When I arrive in Bangalore I inhale the air and get a taste of India. It smells of shit and piss, insence, burning plastic and diesel fumes. I love it. I love India. I have enough time to get a taxi to the train station to catch the 2.45 am train to Goa . But as usual plans in India are subject to local rules.