I should have known better than to look up the directions from my home to the Delhi Sarai Rohilla train station on Google Maps and pay any attention to the time estimate. Especially my first time taking a 10-hour overnight train journey by myself in India. I can barely believe I made it.
The whole scene was straight out of a bollywood movie except for the small detail that a man who loved me was not on the train, and I was not chasing after it to declare my newfound reciprocal love for him.
Otherwise everything was business as usual: taking a taxi through the night, almost running over people and animals, cutting close corners with cycle rickshaws and Tata trucks. The taxi driver having to stop the car at a huge intersection and run through four lanes of traffic while the car was parked at a green light to ask a chaiwalla at a roadside stand directions to the station. Getting to the train station literally one minute before the train was scheduled to depart, and running through the station yelling, “Rakasthan ka tren kahan hai??” (where is the train to Rajasthan) to anyone who looked like they would know. Getting only weird looks in response. Running to a random unmarked platform just as the last people were getting on the train, and stepping onto the train exactly two seconds before it started to move. The conductor looking through a long list of names in Hindi that was printed on one of those old printers with the paper with tear-off strips with holes on the edges. Looking over the conductor’s shoulder, trying desperately to see if I could spot रीना somewhere on the list as the train slowly gained speed, exhilarated to have made it on board, but hoping that somehow, tomorrow morning, I would actually be in Jodhpur.
Somehow, in the entire length of the train (I didn’t have time to look when I got on, but it seemed incredibly long — definitely more than 20 cars, if not way more) I managed to get on only one car away from where I needed to be. The conductor found my name and took me right to my berth, which turned out to be really cozy. I immediately realized why people enjoy train travel in India so much. I can’t really even describe it, but I looked out the window as we passed by the occasional little house with people sitting out on the back porch with a cold drink, watching the train go by… and thought about how all these tiny, consecutive, individual glimpses of India couldn’t be seen any other way. Little windows into different worlds.
I think India will make a traveler out of me. Before coming here, I had certainly gone on trips to various interesting places, but admittedly, if left to my own devices, I’m a creature of habit. I’m the type of person who likes to eat the same thing at the same restaurant every time I go out, to find a few places I love and then keep frequenting those places until the people who work there know me, the type who will think not twice but ten times before going somewhere out of the ordinary when the thing I know will easily suffice.
But these past few months I feel myself beginning to shed that layer – the small amount of adventurousness it takes to open up a different world filled with incredible things is worth the momentary awkwardness of dropping my guard, taking a leap and just seeing how it goes. As I’m sure I’ve said before, there is not a day that goes by where I don’t stop at least once and think, “Wait a minute, am I really here and doing this right now?” Am I really in a rickshaw on a four lane highway with a desk on my lap driving past an industrial waste plant on one side and a pasture with cows on the other? Am I really watching a huge effigy blow up in the middle of the street as it falls towards me? Am I really watching my roommate being hand fed a gobi paratha by the owner of a tiny roadside restaurant in a back alley of Chandni Chowk? Was I really just close enough to reach out and touch one of the greatest Hindustani singers of all time?
As I laid on the lower berth of a 2AC train car as it made its way slowly through rural Rajasthan in the middle of the night, thinking of all the times I’ve read fiction novels about these very same journeys, I felt two things: first was the now familiar feeling of I can’t believe I’m actually here, doing this thing right now, and the other was, well… after two months of thinking this exact thing every day… adventurousness is starting to feel more like part of my personality than a welcome crazy anomaly in an otherwise carefully-manicured life.