Everything went so smoothly over the first month here in India until about 30 minutes ago. A combination of the heat, the heavy hot kathi roll in my stomach, and the sight of my train coach flying toward the other end of the platform conspired to put me on my intended train’s doppelganger, headed in the opposite direction of my destination.
It surprised me that I made such a simple mistake. What with the familiar north-south corridor between Bhadohi and Mirzapur and the ever-present Ganges, I thought I had myself oriented. Until I got onto the Kashi Vishwanath Express headed east for Varanasi instead of west for Lucknow.
Why did I choose to climb into the luggage car? Was that really the best place to ask about the location of the AC car? And if I really only wanted to ask one question, wouldn’t it have been better to confirm the destination?
When I asked about the AC car, a luggage man in an orange reflector vest pointed toward the back of the train. I made a run for it, and when the whistle blew, I jumped into the closest door, a random sleeper car. I remember seeing the time on the digital station clock just before jumping in the door: 2:25. A full, clear 12 minutes before the scheduled departure listed on my ticket, but somehow this slipped by.
It was lucky to have picked not only that sleeper car, but also a seat with two guys who spoke enough English to inform me that the train was bound for Varanasi. But not to worry: In two hours it would reverse course and head back to Lucknow.
Even more clutch, when the train I held a ticket for and the train I was riding stopped next to each other in some forsaken railroad wilderness, the guys urged me to put away my camera, hurry, and switch trains. Zipping my bag, whipping on the frame pack, and shaking hands like a politician, I ran to the door, down the steps (so much farther without a platform), across two sets of tracks (I think I looked both ways), and to the door of an AC car. Locked.
Devoted maybe five seconds to banging on it with a flat palm, then ran alongside the train, loafers having trouble with the fist-sized stones underfoot. Next car sleeper class, also locked. Found the door at the car’s far end locked as well. Started putting together contingency plans in case either train started moving. Which door on the Varanasi-bound could I get back to? Any?
The next car had an open door — phew — and a woman with a basket of carrots about to make the ascent. I decided I’d rather be rude than left on the tracks, so I gave a “Hey–” and cut in front. What? I doubt she had a ticket.
This time I entered the car asking “Lucknow? Lucknow?” like I’m the one selling snacks. A few nods confirmed the destination, so I plopped down and chugged all of the water in my bottle.
That problem sorted out, it was time to start playing catch-up internally.
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