Thursday, December 17, 2015

Travelling in Buses and Rickshaws in India

I catch a bus to Mangalore outside the university entrance. My friends drop me till the entrance. Now the bus driver spoke Tulu, which was the local dialect. When I uttered a word to two in Tulu, they all said,

'Ah, aae nama nae'

Which translated into, 'He belongs to the same region.'

It was a public bus, and I was sitting in the front, with a group of men. My Tulu was not very good. But I told them I had to get down at the station. I asked them to help me out and to tell me where to get down. They nodded their heads. For the next thirty minutes, I just listen to their conversation and try understanding their world. I did not pick up too much. Eventually we reach and they urge me to get down with one of the other co-passengers. Trusting their counsel, I go along. It is 11 am, on a deserted street somewhere in mangalore. The co - passenger starts walking away. I run behind him and ask him where the station was. I thought he was going to help me. He pointed in one direction. I looked and it was this opening to a long road in front of us. There was not one soul in the street. 

It was so silent that I could hear the rustling of the leaves on the trees. I asked him if he could come along, but he said no and walked off in the other direction. I start walking down this road. Why did I get off the bus? Where in the world am I? I have a train leaving from the Mangalore station in one hour and I am walking down this deserted street in the middle of nowhere. I muster up some courage and keep walking. After the 10 scariest minutes of my life, I see a family walk out of a lane with some luggage in their hands. They start walking in the same direction. I follow them and walk a bit faster to get close to them. I feel safer now. At least I won't die alone. Soon we see some lights upfront and then after a final left turn, see a fluorescent sign that read, 'Mangalore Junction' station. Ah! thank god. I walk in to the ticket counter and inquire details about my train. The ticket counter looks at me in a confused manner. It seems like in his head he is saying, 'Who is this guy? Why is he asking me this question?' He then tells me the worst thing a ticket counter officer can tell a passenger.

'You are at the wrong station!'

What? Where am I? Where should I go now?

It is the next station. You will have to catch an auto rickshaw outside and go to the next station. Hurry up, your train will leave in a while.

I am almost going to cry. But I pick up bags and rush back to the entrance. Some auto rickshaw drivers rush towards me. They all think I am a foreigner (somebody from a state other than karnataka). I tell them I want to go to Mangalore Station closely. Then they direct me towards an auto rickshaw. They seem to be working together really well here. Suddenly I utter something in my native tongue. I don't know why I did it. i was a little intimidated by the attention I was getting. Then they suddenly backed off and I heard them speaking the same language I was speaking. They knew my mother tongue and collectively said,

'Ae nama nae…'

He is ours only. He is from this region only. I smile. Yes, I am. I definitely am. Leave me alone now. Oh! Don't leave me alone. Take me to the next station. I ask them how much will they charge me.

They start with three hundred rupees. They justify it as late night charges. I bargain like a brave warrior. It comes down to one hundred and fifty rupees. I don't have time to bargain more and jump onto one of the rickshaws and we leave. I am sure I am going to miss my train and will be stranded at the station for the whole night. How will I buy a replacement ticket? Will it be available at this time? When will the next train arrive? Where will I stay at the station? I tell myself to shut up and just be calm. Just breathe and do not think too much. We reach the station. I also thought the driver would rob me  in the middle of the road, when he slowed down a bit. But that did not happen. I pay him and run inside the station. I look up at the train schedule. Then I ask a passerby when my train would come and heard the nicest thing a late train traveling passenger could hear.

'You are a little early. The train has been delayed by two hours. You can wait in that cabin over there.'

I breathe a sigh of relief. Why is travel so hard sometimes? The platform seems well lit. So different from the darkness outside. A few passengers are seen walking around the station. The canteen is open. 

What food to take with you on a train journey?
The goods displayed in most railway canteens around India are:-

1) Lays chips or some alternative
2) Pepsi, Fanta and other cold drinks
3) Indian snacks and sweetmeats (moong dal and more)
4) Samosa Packets, Cakes, Veg sandwiches
5) Cadbury Chocolates and a few other alternatives

I buy one of each, for my next long train journey and then walk towards the waiting room. As I enter the waiting room, I am greeted with the stares of twenty people or more seated in a small room, with an attached washroom. Now I know where all the people have gone. I find a seat in one corner. There is a school that seems to be going on a cross country excursion of some sort. There is the old couple. There are a bunch of men. 

There is a young couple with their little child. This seems to be the standard on most train journeys across the country. I wonder how many people travel during the off season. The trains are crowded throughout the year. I managed to get tickets, for every leg of the journey this time. I was lucky. Back packer nugget of wisdom. Don't plan an itinery for every place you vista. But you are really stupid, if you do not have your lodging and transport arrangements from one point to another, sorted for the entire journey. It is good to be spontaneous when you have a place a stay. It is not not good to be spontaneous, when poor planning, leaves you stranded in the middle of a deserted street, in a small town, at 2 am in the night. Two hours later the train arrives. It was a long day. I use my big back pack as a pillow and doze off to the noise of late night train conversations over samosas.


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