Waking Up on a Train Chugging across India

Day Two on the Sabari Express (17229) on towards Hyderabad

Day 1: part I | part II

Trains in India tend to run notoriously behind schedule. And in recent days, a labor strike had thrown a shoe into the works even more. Not only were trains consistently late, but many routes would be cancelled altogether, and on short notice. (As we’d find out later, in dramatic fashion; stay tuned.) So far, we’d been lucky enough to dodge this curse. But the luck ran out on the overnight trip from Kochi to Hyderabad, which ended up arriving 5 hours behind schedule.


Our train stopped several times nowhere near a station during the night, sometimes waiting an hour or more before resuming. During these pauses, the power would shut off, which meant there was no AC. And July in India can get quite stifling. Like just about every other month. So we’d get warm, wake up, and uncover ourselves in our bunks. Then the journey would resume, and the power would come back on, which would cause the compartment to get frosty again. And we’d have to cover back up. This cycle was repeated throughout the night.



In the morning, as on every morning, we considered it our first priority to round up a cup of tea — Dennis doesn’t allow the sun to come all the way up until he’s had one. And there was no hot water to be had. There were vendors on the station platforms, but sometimes there wasn’t enough time to dash off and get what you needed, and then get back on before the train pulled away and left you stranded in the middle of East Shiva. (At most stations, you had a gap of two minutes either to get on or off.) Quite often, however, the vendors would stroll around the platforms, carrying bundles of their goodies, and conduct business through the windows of the stopped trains. Some of them also would come aboard — some in fact were permanent fixtures aboard, in lieu of a canteen car.



Among these was a fellow selling cups of chai. Well, actually, what he was selling was hot water dispensed into paper cups filled with the contents of packets of chai mix — largely sugar, to be sure. So it didn’t exactly measure up to the honest-to-goodness traditional home-brewed Indian chai that we’d become accustomed to and spoiled by. But beggars and train passengers can’t be choosers; and it at least held us over and prevented us from being terminally tea-deprived. And even at the exorbitant train-rate cost of 40 rupees (about 50 cents) for the two cups, it was worth it.



Since we’d brought enough food to last even for a trek of unexpectedly protracted length, our only other expense was 50 rupees for a large bottle of water, which we obtained from a stand at one of the stations during a lengthy stop. Other than that, we were set for what had become a seemingly interminable journey. But unlike most endless Twilight Zone excursions, this one offered an endless variety of fascinating camera fodder just outside our window.

Ya know….most of our blog posts end with Birds

July 5, 2023

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