(adapted from eyewitness venoms as scrawled by erin in the middle of the night)
Despite its slick neon signage, Jodhpur train station is (as sages before us have written in great detail) a federation of abject homelessness (presumed), generously strewn litter (observed) and a range of infestation that spans flies to cows (avoided). It is difficult to identify bodies who are passengers awaiting their trains and those who call the station their home. Both groups recline on short blankets, some in fetal position, while feral dogs comb the fractions of space between encampments.
The train class to our destination peaks at 3rd AC, six bunks per berth. That there aren’t rats on this train is a marvel of surely accidental proportion. It is hot, smells vaguely of snowtubes and features the charming sanitary conditions of an outer-borough hospital. It becomes immediate clear how luxurious air travel is. Air India (despite its reputation as a glorified city bus) is a palanquin compared to the very best class of rail conveyance to Jaisalmer.
Those in the lower class cars are contained behind bars in a form of steerage - this to keep non-passengers out. However, from the look of the caged glassless windows - extended arms billowing out of crevasses - this level of security seems exaggerated.
In 3rd AC, you are confined to prostration by the lack of headroom. The tattered curtain of privacy is torn open by some voyeur or lost wanderer every 5 minutes. You ward off the siren call of sleep, exacerbated by the rumble of the rails as a moral imperative to protect your belongings, though from my experience - no attempt was made.
Promptly one hour into this charade the baby next to us begins to choke on a masala of phlegm and breast milk. In fact, everyone around us sounds quite unwell. The blanket distribution and ticket examination isn’t concluded until we have completed nearly a quarter of our 6hr journey. Why anyone is still standing, or worse, walking around defies reasonable justification. It’s nearly 2AM. I watch in muted panic as what looks like a bedbug crawls along the curtain rod on the opposite berth. The terror of New York - the curse worse than an STD - and yet I do nothing but watch. After all, it’s over there (for now).
Around 2:30AM, my throat begins to chafe with the now-familiar fragrance of snowtubes plus a hint of illicit cigarette. The loud station agent tears through all of our curtains, yelling at suspicious parties in Hindi. At 3:45AM, a man breaks into our camp and bunks above me. The disruption wakes phlegm baby who shrills in protest; and I hear a groan from the new tenant of the upper deck. I celebrate a brief moment of schadefreude at the man who changed seats as we are now more than halfway to our destination.
It is true that I cannot cope with my circadian rhythm suspended “until further notice.” Sam was able to catch a fleeting doze toward the end but I rustle him to the front of the car when I feel the train slow. We must vacate! Farewell “sexy” India.
(a review of the government-run deluxe bus service is undoubtedly forthcoming…)