The Great Train Journey


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Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Thanjavur
November 23rd 2007
Published: November 23rd 2007
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Hiding from the midday heat and my own exhaustion after The Great Train Journey. Did it get me safely to Thanjavur? Certainly. Was it worth 6 quid? Absolutely.

Got to the station an hour ahead of scheduled departure, 15.45. So did the train. You need most of that time to sort yourself out. As I was clearly a Country Cousin, the only European on the train, a man at the staion took me in hand. I didn't know I had to 'check in' in the manner of an airline passenger. Nor had I identified how to use my ticket info. to find my seat, though I had realised all passengers had their names on a list on the appropriate door.

During all this time, other passengers got on with the business of their day. A large family spread themselves cofortably on the ground, got out metal plates and cannisters of food, and got stuck in. Other women, like me, headed for the calm and cool of the Ladies' Waiting Room.

The train was fairly empty and I had my bit of the compartment to myself. As the journey started, char and coffee boys went up and down the train, and the train itself got into the habit of making long stops apparently nowhere in particular.. As darkness fell, I was struck by the low level of street lighting in the towns, and more particularly the stations. Even Big Bangalore. Where we stopped for ages. More char coffee and water sellers got on. I got some spicy nuts, fearful that I would get nothing else, but immediately after, I got the choice of a veg. or non veg. meal for Rs 20 (25p). Quite good actually. Piping hot vegetably rice with raita, and quite difficult to eat with fingers but without napkin (you probably know cutlery is rarely used). By now I was sharing the compartment with a College Librarian and College lecturer, who was dying to talk, but impeded by our inabaility to find much in the way of common language.

One young woman who got on was having difficulty wielding her mobile phone, to which he was much attached, since she'd just had her hands henned, and was trying to prevent them being smudged. One family produced a 3 course meal, which they served nicely on metal plates with all due decorum. Then mum went to wash up in the sink in the corridor

By 9.0-0 p.m., boredom was setting in, so most of us made up our beds. We converted our area into 2 sets of 3 bunks, one above the other, and 2 further bunks one above the other by the window. Staff had already handed out crisply laundered pillows and sheets, and a double blanket each , so we each made up our beds in our own fashion.

And so to bed. And oddly , considering how badly I've slept here, to sleep. Till Trichy at 4.00 a.m, where most of my companions got off. I was due in at 5.00, so didn't sleep again.

I had arranged to meet Gwen, my CouchSurfing host, at 7.00 a.m. I was slightly dreading the 2 hour wait on the station, imagining a deserted Harrogate Station at the same hour. But no! The station was full of life, and when I went into the Booking hall, a party was going on. Well, not actually, just dozens of boys and men collating all the daily papers, sitting in convivial groups on the floor. So time passed quickly enough, and then Gwen came sailing up on her motor scooter, took charge in fluent Tamil, and negotiated a rickshaw for me. This is going to be fun

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