In my chilled hands is a searingly hot, seriously tiny cup of chai. How I wish I’d invested in a thermos that could satisfy my tea needs beyond two mouthfuls. Instead, buying a cup for each hand, I’m immobilised to do anything, except sip.
It’s 1am in Amritsar, and surprisingly it’s also the same time everywhere else in India. I was just informed that this plenty big country, oddly, has only one time zone. Hoping that we’re on the right platform, our 16-strong crew of the Great Circular Indian Railway Challenge draw attention like a clergy of Catholic priests at Mecca.
In a matter of seconds, we are surrounded. Not by the usual touts and beggars (they’re hastily on their way though) but by the average Indian caught unaware by this group of glow-in-the-dark faces. Trying to ‘fit in’ and ‘experience the local culture’, we ambush the closest chai-wallah for another round of the nation’s famously spiced tea.
A ruckus soon erupts as a train rattles into the station. Everyone scrambles to the edge of the platform to get on first, as you have to fight for a seat in sleeper class. I love how safety always comes first here in India.
The train rolls along the platform (a little too fast for the most agile guys to try their luck jumping onboard) only to bypass everyone altogether. Obviously, not our train… to the embarrassment of those pushers at the front. Ha! I don’t like those pushy types.
Indian train stations are notorious for their hidden (or complete lack of) train information. Notorious also for their untimeliness, an hour later we eventually bundle onto the 19225 Bhatinda-Jammu Express. Destination: Udhampur, the northernmost railway station of India. I’m not sure whether to feel scared or excited heading into the disputed Indian/Pakistan state of Jammu and Kashmir.
I find that I’ve been allocated a top bunk… again. It’s good because you can go to sleep whenever you like, but bad because it takes that much more effort to do or get anything once up there, nice and snug.
Cocooned in my silksak, I now regret having had three double rounds of chai. My berth is about to experience a different kind of Indian monsoon if I don’t get out of here quick-smart. But it’s way too much effort even thinking about the process of going to the bathroom: de-cocoon, scramble down, find shoes, find toilet paper etc… and all without noise or light to disrupt anyone else. The state of the train toilets doesn’t particularly make me feel all warm and fuzzy either.
I calm myself by remembering that it’s nothing compared to the worst time I’ve experienced a catastrophic bed-wetting situation. Day 2 climbing Mt Kilimanjaro was wretchedly long and the first day above 2,000 metres, therefore the first day to start taking Diamox, preventative altitude-sickness pills.
The combination of pill side-effects, wilderness camping, paralysing exhaustion and 5 litres of water (throughout the day) made for one very unpleasant night - mainly outside of the tent. What ended up being an hourly routine would start when I was suddenly awoken by the immediate need to release the bursting contents of my bladder.
To my complete embarrassment, sadness and disgrace, I admit that on one occasion I hardly even made it outside of the tent before disaster struck. Horrified, I had a little cry to Todd and then made him swear to never tell a soul.
Now having the luxury of contemplating going to the bathroom or not, I decide to stick out to a more reasonable hour and urgency.
Tea is a big deal in India. With the amount consumed here as well as technology moving rapidly, I wonder if by the year 2050 they’ll link the cause of a high number of bladder problems to chai? Far fetched, I know, but with trying to get my mind off something, comes analysis of the most trivial things.