Monday Dec 20th
20 hours into our train journey Delhi to Chennai (Madras)- 12 hours to go.
We spent all of yesterday organizing ourselves for this long train ride. First we had tea in our room, then showered and had breakfast (nearly hard-fried) eggs with toast & coffee in the roof-top restaurant. Not quite as fancy as it sounds but pleasant and airy with 3 round metal tables and chairs. Wendy has been a bit disappointed by the grumpy-ish service of the head waiter, but we left them Rs100 tip to share.
At breakfast we met two families on holiday in Delhi from Bangalore. We asked about the lake where R’s dad was sailing in 1952 & died of a heart-attack. We could not locate the lake, but marked the location of the main branch of the Imperial Bank of India (now State Bank of India) so we could look that up when we get there. The men work on Gas Turbine Research & invited us to visit them when we get to Bangalore .
Back to the room to pack everything, then an “Indian Helicopter” (bicycle rickshaw) ride to Rajesh for the motor bike. R loaded our bags high on the carrier, and received some more instructions. The plan was for R to ride on the back, so a mechanic could take him to a quiet place to learn how to ride the bike. Unexpected change of plan. R had to follow the mechanic on the rented bike. Oh dear! Panic!. Starting very slowly. Clutch – accelerator –release clutch – moving forward – turning – going too fast – front wheel wobble – panic – break – and over we go onto the road!! Peals of laughter from the big crowd!! Oh dear Oh dear.
Lots of help, and up he gets, following the mechanic through the melee that masquerades as a street. Weaving through the traffic, round the roundabouts and into the clear. Michael (the long- time India motor-cycling German) had told us that there is only one rule on the streets. He with his nose in front has the right of way. Everyone jostles and pushes to get a nose in front, and cuts off the vehicle behind. Trucks, cars, busses, tuk-tuks, cycle rickshaws, pedestrians, all pushing to get nose in front.
Following as best he can, R finally gets to the destination – a small area of dirt roads off a street. There at last he can practise in safety. It is determined the wobble (and fall) was caused by the high-packing of our bags and these are moved side-saddle. The bike rides better and confidence comes with practise.
A bit more practise, then off to the station with Wendy on the back, delivered to the practise area on a bike by one of the other mechanics. Immense relief all round that we make it to the station safely.. It’s fun and we can handle this. So far anyway!
We need to bear in mind that, R has only had 2 days practise alone on a 200cc motorbike, and even then failed his m/c test in civilized Vancouver There has been a lot of fear around taking Wendy on a classic 500cc Enfield “Machismo” in India..
Repeated dramas , panics and a huge amount of time - the rest of the day till the train left at 6:40 p.m. - at the station to get the bike packed and booked on our train. Major problems getting photocopies of needed documents on a Sunday with all shops closed. Registration card lost & has to be replaced. Cost Rs1960 each for our train tickets to Chenai & about Rs 4,000 for the bike with freight, packing & bribe to the “loader”. R stayed and watched it loaded in the baggage van while Wendy walked the length of the train to our coach and found seats – the list of names and seat assignments posted outside each coach. Highly organized.
At last all is done & we are on board. Wendy getting anxious as the minutes went by and phoning R from a borrowed cell phone just as he comes down the corridor “Look up and you will see me !!” a few minutes before the train departed.
We are sharing our 4 person compartment with a Muslim couple from Southern Thailand. She is fully covered in black – even down to her gloved hands. All that has been revealed so far is her eyes – the black veil briefly lifted. They have commandeered the other lower bunk (which we paid for), so R is back on the top bunk. The husband, also dressed in typical Muslim has erected a screen with the sheets so we cannot see his wife & he sleeps at the foot of the bed to guard her. Poor Wendy has to live with her naked head & arms exposed and unprotected by her lord and master at night. Not a word of English or any Indian language between them, so they are pretty isolated. They are part of 4 couples from the same place travelling to Madras/Chennai for a holiday or gathering with other Muslim ‘brothers’. One of their group speaks English.
A bunch of men also on the train have befriended us. Helping with advice and ordering food. One took over part of our bench/bed & 3 of them talked (in Hindi) loudly for several hours last night. Fortunately, they have taken over another compartment today, so their loud talking comes slightly muffled from down the passageway.
We slept 9 hours last night, Wendy not coughing hardly at all. We eat the train food, which is brought to us – cheap Rs 60.meal and quite edible but also quite forgettable as a cuisine – not to be sought after. Wendy knits and knits. We listen to stories, look. out the window, write the blog. We’ll watch a movie soon. Time passes. We are quite comfortable. It’s a long trip, however. Not sure what express train means and under the circumstances of booking it, we didn’t ask but were just glad to get a train. What it doesn’t mean is non-stop or fast. It stops at most stations and also in other spots for purposes we can’t determine. Station platforms are swept and clean – all the debris moved on to the tracks or off to the side somewhere, I guess. A window cleaner washed the windows at one station and in the cabin, cleaners come around and sweep and spray. The population of vendors constitutes a high percentage of the travellers and they come through constantly with soup, tea, coffee, sweets, and other goodies.
The landscape is flat and farmed with rice, sugar cane, oranges and probably other crops we can’t identify through the windows. There are long stretches of woodland interspersing villages and farms, but mostly we see farms and villages – some more prosperous looking than others – the others being predictably ramshackle – everywhere, people.