After my brief but fruitful and productive stay in Khajuraho, i was ready to move west, towards the little town of Orchha. So i woke up early morning, put my guitar on a rickshaw and dashed to the train station, as apparently there was no bus service due to the upcoming election in Madhya Pradesh.
On the map these two places might seem very close, but i tell you…once you set your foot on a local train in the middle of the indian countryside, get ready for a sudden expansion of time and space!
The good thing about travelling in general class is that you don’t need to reserve a seat (and this might be a dangerous detail for many), and the other is that there is no dirty glass windows to stop you from admiring the beautiful view, and while travelling at a very slow speed, you can enjoy the surroundings through an open space, catch the breeze (and the dust)…!
Even in the middle of nowhere, there’s always life and activity around a railway station. Friends chatting enjoying the winter sun, people walking around carrying goods and others that simply sit down and stare, waiting for the next train to pass through.
If you have been to India, you surely will recognize the sounds of food sellers, offering samosas, pakoras, chaat and drinks.
Someone walks through the coaches selling chewing tobacco, pan masala, plus an array of local singers, blind old men walking around asking for donations, and even “hyra”, the Indian name for transgenders: they roam trains singing, chanting and apparently casting spells on the passengers who don’t give an offer. They are quite respected and feared, especially in rural areas, where ancient beliefs, superstitions and magics are still a big part of the collective culture.
General class on an Indian train, especially means common space to be shared. Often, a bench who is meant to accomodate 3 passengers, can get as crowded as entire families plus luggage and food in the same compartment. No one seems to bother, and the long hours of travel are spent chatting and eating snacks.
A 350 km train journey should’nt take more than 4 hours in my western mind, but here in India, especially when travelling in the countryside often travel times can double quickly. There’s always another big train that has to pass first, and as some minor stations have few rail tracks, the only option is to stop until the odd train to Mumbai o Delhi made his way through the station.
We stopped several times on the way to Orchha, and everytime i would ask the locals “ham kitna time rukhenghe?” (how long are we supposed to stop?), and the 10/15 minutes, would suddenly turn into 45 minutes/1 hour! No worries, just get off the train, grab another snack, a bottle of water and…wait! These are the few occasions where i wish i had’nt quit smoking!
At the end, we reached Orchha after nearly 9 hours of travel. I was losing my hope, but we finally made it! It’s been a great way to enjoy the local flavour, improve my hindi and learn how to take it easy…veeery easy !!!