Independence Day on the Rails, Part 2

Back to Part 1 leaving Kochi

All aboard the Sabari Express – Indian Railways #17229

This was to be an overnight trip, from Kochi to Hyderabad, and we were booked in an air-conditioned sleeper car, which was more basic and less private than what Amtrak calls a sleeper, but it was also far less expensive, and comfortable enough. And there were outlets for devices.

There are two types of bunks on these trains: those stacked two-high and lined up lengthwise with the train on one side of the aisle, and on the other side those that are crosswise and stacked three-high in two rows per compartment. There are curtains for a bit of privacy, and the train provides blankets if you care to use them. Kimberly bunked in the crosswise section, and Dennis in the lengthwise section just across the aisle. Turnstiles and waiting rooms may be segregated, but sleeping compartments are one big family.

Coimbatore Junction

The trouble with the bunks is that in the daytime, except for the topmost bunks, they all do a transformer act to make seats. And since there is no standard beginning time for daytime seating, you theoretically could be rousted from your slumber at 6:00 or even earlier, so your bed can be sacrificed for the use of a sitting passenger. But while we saw that happen to someone else, we were lucky enough to avoid it ourselves.

We did, however, encounter a berth-related inconvenience of another sort. At the beginning of the journey, Kimberly tried sitting in seat 7, which was unoccupied and was facing seat 8, where Dennis was ensconced. Not only did this enable us to sit together, but we could take advantage of the little collapsible table between the seats to use the laptop or do other business. And being by the window, Kimberly could unleash her inner shutterbug.

But in mid-afternoon, a man came aboard who informed us that number 7 was his seat. We asked him if he’d be willing to switch so we could sit together, but he rather brusquely refused, saying that seat 7 was his, and he needed the table to get some work done — he was carrying a stack of old-fashioned computer printout sheets.

Singanallur Station

So Kimberly vacated his seat, and he sat down and began making annotations on the papers. Meanwhile, Dennis remained in seat 8, where he was booked, and began doing some work on the computer. The man seemed to be a bit annoyed that he had to share the little work table, which was indeed a bit tiny for two people to use. After a while, he got up to leave as abruptly as he’d entered, and announced that he was moving elsewhere and we could have the seat. We asked if we could have it for the rest of the day and night, and he said yes. Then he was gone.

His manner had been somewhat curt, which we’d found to be quite unusual in India. Everyone else we’d crossed paths with had been extremely friendly, polite and gracious. It turned out there was an explanation for his behavior; we learned of it the following day when another man — also dressed in white and carrying a stack of papers — demanded seat 7. It was then we realized that these guys were employees of the railroad, and that seat 7 was reserved for them.

So seated next to the window, Kimberly was able to wield her camera at full force. And wield it she did, as the train chugged past all kinds of fascinating views. The route included Coimbatore, noted for its access to wildlife safaris, and the 112-foot tall, sphinxlike statue of Shiva. Of whom we now carry a much more compact likeness in our luggage.

Finally, the train lumbered into darkness, and we hunkered down into our bunks for the night. They were not at all uncomfortable. And they were covered with vinyl, so they’re easily cleaned off if you’re somewhat germophobic. And we carry our own sheets to cover them with. So we were all set for a night of slumber on the rails.

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