The Overnight Train from New Delhi to Jaisalmer
Here we go! The beginning of our Intrepid Rajasthan Adventure Tour! I felt an overwhelming appreciation for our Intrepid guide, Abhi (ah-bee), as he lead our group to the train platform. The train station was a frenzy of activity and people from all walks of life. Backpackers, young professionals, beggars, college kids, families, and older couples ducked, weaved, darted, and settled into the pace of the crowd. Up and down escalators, through overpasses to finally claim our space on the concrete platform next to the evil-smelling public toilets.
The British-built train network is one of the few benefits of India’s British rule from 1858 to1947. Everyone rides the trains and sleeper trains require booking sometimes weeks or months ahead of time. Our 18 hour – 781 km – overnight journey from Delhi to the desert city of Jaisalmer just east of the Pakistan border in western Rajasthan is a popular route.
We are on high alert and scoping out the scene. I was not sure what to expect but was mentally preparing myself for the 18-hour journey. Was it going to be a nice box or smelly hot box? I wasn’t sure because our guide had taken care of purchasing the train tickets and seat arrangements for our group of 12. There are eight sleeping berths to a pod, three on each side, and two at the end on the other side of the common walkway. We arrived nearly 1.5 hours early to the train station. Our early arrival stemmed from the last Intrepid Group that left the hotel 2 hours before the train departure only to miss the train. The Delhi grid-lock was to blame. So we departed our hotel 3 hours prior to our 5:30 pm train departure and arrived early. We were feeling fortunate. We did not want to miss the train. Getting out of Delhi was something we were all looking forward to.
The train cars rolling in and out of the station are dingy and worn with people hanging on doors and peering out of windows. I did know that we were in a sleeper car. I wondered how the sleeper cars are cleaned prior to new passengers. There were a few small snack shacks on the platform that sold water, sodas, chips, peanuts, newspapers, and magazines. We bought some water and peanuts.
As time passed, I noticed the monitors announcing the trains and on which platforms. I also became aware of announcements in Hindi over a barely audible loudspeaker. Just minutes before our departure, Abhi said that our train moved to a different platform. That very moment, I was, again, thankful for our guide Abhi, Intrepid, and my decision to be part of a tour. In all of the chaos, I would have NEVER been able to navigate the train station, platform, but especially become aware of a last-minute platform change.
We boarded the train with pod instructions from Abhi. I was pleasantly surprised at the tidy air conditioned pod. The middle sleeping berths were collapsed so that three people could sit on each side of the pod. The top and bottom berths are stationary. There was a clean sheet and small pillow in a brown paper bag and a thick dark blue wool blanket. A small square table seperates the lower berths and a horizontal rectangular window with curtain is above the table. We were each assigned a berth and a place to sit on the lower berth when not sleeping. The six berths in the pod were taken by Jeff, myself and people in our group. The end berths were assigned to two Indian men.
The pods around us had Indian families with small children, single Indian men and a few European travelers. It was loud with chatter and children screeching, but not invasive or uncomfortable. I was comforted to know that women and children were near by and that our guide was sleeping in our pod.
We stored our luggage under the lower berth. For security, we looped a bike chain and lock through the luggage handles. It was a bit overkill and in retrospect, I would go with a much more compact luggage cable & lock. It was a recommendation from the Intrepid group as there have been thefts at night while people are sleeping.
We settled in, and the train started to move. There were many stops on our way out of Delhi. The scenery didn’t change for nearly an hour. The noise had leveled out, and the air was getting a bit moist and warm. It was almost 6 pm when we decided to eat the Biryani we brought with us for dinner.
Around dark, we decided to get ready for bed and settle into our little spaces. I was on a middle berth. There is no ladder, so with grace, I creatively hoist myself up from the other berths. Ha,yeah,not! We are all laughing hysterically . In my berth, I find a convenient little cup holder and light. I laid out the supplied sheet, my sleeping bag liner, and can’t-travel-without compressible pillow with the pillow provided beneath and read for an hour or so before I tucked in the night.
The bathroom situation on the train was the most challenging aspect for me. There are two bathrooms located at the end of the car: one squat, one western. I went for the western style but heard the squat was cleaner. The western style was pretty dreadful. I didn’t want to touch anything, but I had to hold on to something as the train rocked back and forth. My bowels were on lockdown, so no worry there. Hand sanitizer and wipes are a must! I delayed going to the toilet as much as possible.
Around midnight, I wake up freezing. The A/C is blasting. In that moment, I am incredibly grateful for that thick wool blanket.
The motion of the train is relaxing, and earplugs drowned out most of the noise. Despite being woke up in the middle of the night by two men talking on their phone (what?), the A/C, babies crying, and the train stopping for various reasons, I slept pretty well.
I woke up with the sun, but just laid in my berth until the first train stop when the “chai man” came through the trainer yelling “chai, chai” over and over. Mmm, chai sounded great. The others in my pod started moving and talking. With dread, I could no longer deny the toilet. To my surprise, as I was entering the nasty toilet from the night before, a friendly Indian man directed me to the toilet in the next train car, and it was not as dreadful. It’s the little things, right?
We still had a good three or four hours left on the train before getting Jaisalmer. There was a lot of chatter about how everyone slept, breakfast snacks, chai tea in plastic espresso cups, and walking in between pods and train cars. You could stand on the steps between the cars and watch India go by.
I see a desert landscape with small villages. It looks like eastern Colorado with few trees and large shrubs. Men on motorcycles, cars, and kids on bikes waiting for the train to pass. The rivers are full of plastic, tires, and general litter. The train rolls into a honey-colored sandstone Jaisalmer train station, we have arrived.
Behind the Scenes
I am thankful that riding the train was part of this experience. It wasn’t luxury by any means, but it wasn’t awful either. It was interesting and a bonding experience for our Intrepid group. The camel trek is tonight! We have two more train rides, vans, and public buses schedule for this adventure.
Enjoy the Climb!
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