The Great Circular Indian Railway Challenge – Day 4

By Lloyd C | Updated February 23rd, 2011

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Bzzzzzz! Up I was at 4am. Okay, there was no alarm, but my internal body clock buzzed after I fell asleep at 7pm the night before. These trains really don’t help with jetlag, but the plus side is that I woke up nice and early to chat with the early-rising locals and train conductors.

As they puffed on¬†cigarettes, the¬†locomotive¬†puffed on fuel, and I puffed on a chilled mixture of diesel and nicotine. Doesn’t sound too¬†pleasant, but this is India, and while my fellow train-mates snoozed away, I was getting my own unique taste of this wild, wild country.

We hopped off the train at Makhu, caught a pre-arranged bus to Amritsar, booked a couple of hotel rooms for the day to stow our bags, and headed off in search of adventure.

India-Pakistan Border Crossing

We grabbed a bite at a local eatery; impossibly cheap as always, and even more delicious than the last. We then boarded the bus on our way to the India-Pakistan border crossing ceremony in Wagah.

It’s really quite a¬†spectacle: the guards are close to 7ft tall, the renowned goose-stepping march is as theatrical as it is aggressive, and the cheering and jeering from the Pakistani side is even more intense.

Sick. Boo!

Against most advice, I’ve eaten all the street food under the sun. But, I’ve been pretty obsessive about¬†hygiene, regularly using hand sanitizer to kill any nasty stuff that’s made contact. Being sick in a hotel is one thing, but on this trip, it would be much more inconvenient (and painful).

I’m very happy to say, touch wood, that so far, my digestive tract has been rock solid. Woohoo! But unfortunately, that darn air conditioning in the AC carriages has taken it’s toll. It started with a sore throat, but has peaked as a good ol’ Western-style common cold. Boo! Anyway, feeling a bit better now; trying to fight it with hot curry, an assortment of drugs, and much warmer clothes than needed.

What I Love About India

I was thinking about this on the train this morning: what has made India so unique and enjoyable thus far.

  • Vegetarian food is the norm. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great steak. In fact, my uncle Arnold cooks one of the meanest steaks on the planet (a big draw card for returning to Canada). But I only crave one of those a month and otherwise prefer to eat veg. It’s not for any other reason that I just prefer the taste of good veg food. Therefore, apart from my one-great-steak-per-month quota, India is heaven.
  • People are more than happy to give you photos without asking for money. In fact, we were just at a barber shop and because we took photos, he wanted to give us free service. Yes, free shaves all round for taking photos of him. Of course we paid him handsomely, but the locals watching outside thought we were robbing the shop when he chased after us trying to give back the money.
  • People like to talk! Hope aboard any train, look at a local, smile, say hello, and there you have instant¬†conversation. It’s that simple. If you tried that in Australia, and most places, you’d likely receive the cold shoulder. But people here love to talk, and coincidentally, so do I.
  • The service is great and people go out of their way to help. There’s not much else to say about this, but it’s a welcomed change from ‘other’ places. There are some exceptions, and not just small exceptions, but exceptions right at the other end of the scale. I’ll explain in a later post, but so far we’ve mostly had very friendly service.
  • Everything is cheap!

Life is Good when Prices are Good

All prices in USD/AUD/CAD (they’re all about the same right now).

  • Shave at a barber = $0.40
  • Bunch of bananas = $0.50
  • Full lunch (curry, rice, roti, etc) = $1.00
  • Beer = not sure yet, but will grab one when the time is right
  • Train itinerary around entire country = 12,000km = $190
  • Bottle of water = $0.20
  • Cup of milk-based chai = $0.10
  • Mobile SIM card = $1
  • 1GB of mobile data per month = $10

For those who don’t know, Lauren generally handles our cash and I do our budgetting, accounting, taxes, etc. But for this trip, I asked for some pocket money because we’re regularly apart. When she gave me 200 rupees I thought, ‘Woohoo, I’m rich!’

After 3 days, I was down to my last 10 rupees, which I used for two cups of chai. Then I pondered, ‘How could I posible have gone through 200 in 3 days!? That sounds like way too much.’ After a quick calculation in my head, I worked out she only gave me $4.50. I bought meals, snacks, lots of chai, and all sorts of goodies for three days for only $4.50. Of course she paid for some meals, but wow, India is cheap, especially outside of Mumbai.

Next Train

After the Wagah border crossing ceremony, a visit to the Golden Temple (which I missed due to my cold), and a walk around the city of Amritsar, we headed off to the train station to catch a train to Jammu Tawi. It was at 1am, and technically day 5, but here are the details.

  • Train: Bhatinda-Jammu Express
  • Depart: Amritsar @ 01:10 on 22-Feb-11
  • Destination: Jammu Tawi @ 06:15 on 22-Feb-11 (estimated)
  • Distance: 206 km, over 5 hours

After this short overnight train, we hopped aboard a local unreserved train to Udhampur, India’s Northernmost railway station, and objective number 2 for the GCIRC.

  • Train: Delhi-Jammu Mail
  • Depart: Jammu Tawi @ 10:10 on 22-Feb-11
  • Destination: Udhampur @ 11:40 on 22-Feb-11 (estimated)
  • Distance: 54 km, over 1.5 hours

I’ll try to post photos in our next post – the Globetrooper Team