New friends.

We get to the train station an hour early (at 9:40 pm) only to find out that our train has been delayed by fog for 3 hours. If we’d had wifi or 3G access we could have found out beforehand but we didn’t and it was too late to go back to the restaurant because everything essentially closes at 10pm.

So we decided to wait the few hours at the station because we had nowhere else to go.

A delayed flight has nothing on an Indian train station delay. Not only because airports (any and all) are much cleaner, have amenities of some sort like seats and bathrooms that work and aren’t covered in garbage and shit and hundreds of people sleeping on the ground everywhere but because in our experience Indian men stare and get unreasonably close to non Indian women/tourists.

Words cannot describe how uncomfortable that wait was for the first 3 hours. Kris sacrificed her sleep sack so we didn’t have to sit on the floor and we crowded around our luggage and each other and waited.

The first hour was torturous, people kicked garbage at us as they walked by–not purposely there was no malicious intent–but because it seems to be acceptable to spit and throw trash everywhere people just kick it around. The people sitting behind us had a baby and they threw his dirty diaper on the ground in/between us and it ended up in my back.

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Kris at 11:30 pm–unhappy about the delay.

Men and boys crowded uncomfortably close to see what we were doing or ask us questions when all we wanted to do was be left alone. I know it’s a cultural thing but it’s very uncomfortable and disconcerting to women traveling by themselves. It seems there is no harm intended but it is a daily occurrence and quite uncomfortable and I am still trying to process how to understand it (is it cultural machismo? Is it a form of intimidation? Is it sexism? Is it because we’re foreigners? I don’t have an answer but it sucks). In order to take our minds off of what was happening around us we watched a movie on my phone which kind of made matters worse. We had headphones on and a splitter and the phone in-between us as we were sitting so a huge group of guys started used it as an excuse to crowd around us to see what we were watching even though they couldn’t hear or see anything.

Kris finally asked them to go away because two of them kicked her as they were shuffling for a better standing position behind her back and when they wouldn’t leave she flipped out and yelled at them and they finally left. That didn’t really solve the larger problem though.

The movie ended and much to our chagrin the train was delayed yet again. This time until 5 am–Kris went to find someone official to see if the train was going to be cancelled or if we were just going to have to keep waiting. And she brought back with her a Swiss backpacker who was waiting for the same train so we invited him to share a seat on her sleep-sack and we passed the time chatting about where we’d been and what we’ve done.

Yuka (not sure about spelling) has been traveling for a month and has 3 more months to cover the rest of Asia. He actually has the same schedule we do and is on the next train from Khajuraho to Varnassi on the 25th with us. He has spent most of his time in Rajasthan and he went to the camel market I had originally wanted to try and spend time at but we decided it was too out of the way–so he showed us videos and pictures he took. During this time we also met TK, a Korean guy who was very shy but was waiting for the same train and eventually we found was also on the same train from Khajuraho to Varanasi as well. As we started amassing a group of obvious tourists like a magnet we found more folks and set up a little camp. With guys around us most of the Indian men left us alone which was really nice. We then met Erik from the Netherlands and a cute couple from Iceland whose names I don’t think we ever exchanged. But we all kept waiting.

Every time the arrival time would be within 10 minutes and I’d get super excited to finally be on the road we’d get a delay notice. It was somewhat heartbreaking but I have to tell you commiserating with other tourists and sharing both our ‘India sucks’ and ‘India is awesome’ stories (which is mostly just an affectation of commiserating–you talk about the bad and then follow up with all the cool shit you’ve done and seen) it was a much, much better experience. We arrived at the train station at 9:40 pm after a full day of travel and sightseeing and didn’t get on the train to Khajuraho until 8:30am completely exhausted and it would have been horrifying and miserable if it weren’t for our new friends. We had a laugh that at 6 am they hosed down the platform and scraped all the garbage off onto the tracks and by 8:30am after the morning rush of trains it was disgusting again.

So despite an exhausting and traumatizing train delay we had a wonderful time hanging out with our new friends–we made an agreement that our next train ride (Khajuraho to Varanasi) we’d bring the beer and they’d all bring different kinds of prepackaged food and we’d make it a party so even if the train was delayed again we would have an even better time.

So again, it’s pretty fantastic that what could have been a horrible experience actually became somewhat fun because we made new friends.

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TK, Kris, Yuka and Erik at 6:15 am when the platform was essentially empty and spotless–we wanted a reminder of what they had the potential to look like. 🙂

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