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The Long Ride from Kolkata to Kodaikanal

January 29, 2011

As you can imagine, trains tend to exemplify many aspects of the Indian experience. You know, the bad air, the smells, the noise, the close quarters, the less-than-hygienic standards. But there’s also the personal side of things. The man pacing the aisles shouting (and selling), “Chai!” The family sharing your berth whose 7-year-old daughter is learning English and keeps glancing at you for approval when reading her book to her father. The families in other berths (often packing a few more than the recommended six to a berth), a blanket spread across their laps where they’re playing cards or “cheese” (as I discovered both Chinese and Indians like to call “chess”). The vendors that hop on at stops hoping to make a quick sale of fruit, samosas, ice cream, or maybe a cheese board if you accidentally left yours at home. It was always an interesting glimpse into the personality of India each time we found ourselves on a train.

And this happened a lot. However, the distance between Kolkata and Kodaikanal (read: nearly the entire span of the eastern coast) and the 36 hours required to traverse it were a little much for Laura to commit to, plus she arrived in Kolkata after us and wanted more time to explore. So while she prepared to fly out on November 2nd, on the first Wayne and I saddled up for the long journey we’d been anticipating for so long.

Except… now we weren’t so sure. We’d found the idea of a long train ride enticing for some time (you may recall we’d considered taking the two-and-a-half day train ride across all of China before it fell through for a variety of reasons), but circumstances had changed. For one, only a few days before we’d been on a 12-hour train, albeit in a lower class than we’d booked for the long ride, and rail transport consequently had lost a bit of its exotic luster. Secondly, we’d incorrectly assumed there would be a restaurant car that would allow for commiserating and such. And finally, we were still a bit plagued by food poisoning/dysentery/parasites (jury’s still out), which made a day-and-a-half of little personal space and train bathrooms less than appealing.

In the end though, it wasn’t so bad. We were in the 3AC class, which meant the beds were tiered in 3s (hence the recommended six-to-a-berth) and the car was air conditioned. There were also curtains to be drawn at bedtime, and bedding provided for when that time came as well. Our neighbors were pleasant and when we weren’t reading or watching Donnie Brasco and needed to escape we could hang out between the cars and watch the scenery go by:

haha, not at his finest, but there’s a cow behind him!

we made it! but not without receiving a good deal of misinformation first. some told us we’d stop here at 7 am (we stopped at 5), others told us there was no stop at kodaikanal road at all. and of course getting to the ashram from the train station was a whole new fiasco, but i’ll save it for another time.

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