Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Indian Train

"I should like," I said, "to go to Pondicherry. It's supposedly an old French town, but plonked in the middle of India. Sounds cute."

"Sure," said amiable travelling companion Rick, "I'll book us a train."

Just buying the tickets took three visits to Bombay railway station, walking along a nasty little gutter where people were buying fast food on one side, and defecating on the other.

But we got the tickets in the end. As we left the train station, I walked past a rubbish bin, which someone had tipped coffee grinds into. Then, as I passed it, I realised they weren't coffee grinds.

One thing I soon learned about Bombay - if you're not sure what it is, it's probably human excrement. It's a city where 6 million people don't have access to a toilet at all. Of any kind. Even in the nicer slums, the ratio of people to toilet is 1,500:1.

The train itself was surprisingly nice. A bit like a prison on wheels, only without the showers or sexual tension. Everything apart from the bedding was nailed down, and the beds themselves were made out of the same pallets they use in gay saunas.

I unfolded my bedding. It contained pubic hair and two muddy footprints, probably tracked in from a squat toilet.

We were sharing a tiny cubicle with a snoring businessman and a polite young naval commander, who kept us sane for the next 26 hours.

26 hours is a long time to spend on a train. It was suprisingly lovely - just sitting back and reading, drinking endless cups of coffee.

The best thing of all was discovering a Western Toilet at the end of the carriage, which was strangely reassuring. Although after a few hours, someone did to the toilet what we'd all like to do to K-Fed.

No comments: