Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Journey that Scarred us for Life

Find our Triund adventures here
Around this time last year, Gowri and I, still reeling from our Triund adventure, decided to pack our bags again. Archana had gone back to Chennai, so the two of us decided to travel to Rishikesh over the weekend. We planned to take a train to Haridwar and then a bus to Rishikesh. We didn't make it there. But that journey, which ended as quickly as it began, scarred us for life.

Our special train to Haridwar was from Delhi station. After a 45 minute delay, the still empty train, made its way to Shahdara, the next station. Within seconds, our reserved 72-seater coach was invaded by a saffron-clad humanity. If I’m allowed to say so, the train was ‘overflowing’ with people - they stood at the doors, hung precariously outside with their hands tightly wound around the window bars and squeezed into the smelly toilets. Every seat had a minimum or three travelers and Gowri’s lower berth was also invaded. Some huddled at her feet and others found space at the edge of her seat.

Saffron clad travelers
I had the upper berth and through an aggressive shouting match I was able to hold off people from climbing in with me. I knew that the law was on my side. My seat was reserved, and I had no plans of undertaking an overnight journey squashed between ticket-less travelers. The railway police failed to maintain order and more people tried to get in. As the train couldn't move we were still in Shahdara.

I shut my eyes to block the image, but couldn't do much about the din of the crammed space. Shouted slogans, loud conversations, prayers and somewhere at a distance, the words of the raunchy song, ‘Munni Badnam Hui’. A hand phone on speaker. The collective breath of over 300 odd people, packed like sardines into a single compartment, intensified. I also couldn't block the feeling that they were all eyeing my berth, waiting for me to drop guard. Time barely crawled and I held my breath. 

And then, with an inertia that threw us off guard, the train moved. A late evening breeze made its way through the tightly packed coach. I dared to breathe again. I looked towards my friend - she who hates crammed spaces and crowds, an agoraphobic. Her face didn't reveal much, but she sat still, her gaze fixed on something, and I knew she was struggling to keep her composure. It was past 11.30pm and the train pulled into Ghaziabad station. I shouted, “Gowri, Erangidalama?” Shall we get off? The relief on her face answered that question.

Walking with the Kavads  
I still don’t know how we managed to get off that train, but we did. The empty Ghaziabad station posed our next challenge. How do we get back home at this late hour? Whom do we call? Are taxis safe,? After all Ghaziabad ranks high on the crime-rate map. We decided against the taxis and made a few calls to friends and family, and then waited. Passerbys looked at us suspiciously - two disheveled women seated underneath a florescent bulb on the top step leading down to a platform, in the middle of the night. We didn't paint a pretty picture, but we pretended to not care. That night we lived our worst nightmare. 

But we did learn an important travel lesson. It is not always about 'where to go', 'what to do' or 'how to get there', but also about the socio-political, cultural and climatic diversity of the region in question. And that it is just not advisable to travel sleeper class on North Indian trains. 

As I write this post, the ‘Kavadiyas’ are once again on the roads, heading to the annual Kavad Mela at Haridwar. Dressed in yellow or saffron, with a red bandanna on their head and a coloured ‘kavad’ balanced on their shoulders, millions of devotees will make their way to Haridwar. If you want to know more about this, check here. In the light of recent events at Bodh Gaya and Uttarakhand, security will be a key concern this year. Garhwal Deputy Inspector-General of Police has issued a statement that sale or consumption of liquor is prohibited as is blaring music or overcrowding in vehicles. 

Even then, unless it is an emergency plan your trip to the hills after the mela. (Photographs for reference only. Copyright: Google Images)

What awaited us in Haridwar


  1. Tell me about!! Nightmare is not the word... very well written Mia

  2. Only AC trains for us.. or maybe buses. and more research.. but then we keep doing what we do. travel.

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