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Happiness is Moving Slowly: Train Ride from Trivandrum to Hyderabad, Part1

October 9, 2008

| Image by Photos by Uli Loskot

I take a local bus from the Ashram back to Trivandrum where my train leaves from for Hyderabad the next morning. Every hotel in my price category seems to be booked up and I end up staying in a dingy, cheap joint in a dark alley with a friendly attendant. I notice only single men this place, which worries me a bit at first. Later I find out that many men come from far to work in Trivandrum and occupy all the cheap hotels during weekdays.

The next morning I am ripped out of my dreams by loud banging on the door. I asked my neighbor the night before to knock on my door at 6:00am. And so he does.

Since the train station isn’t far from my hotel I decide to walk there. The city is just getting up. Outside the train station big pots of chai tea are steaming in the soft, golden morning light. I get one, because you can’t start the day in India without chai. When I get to the platform I am surprised not to find a huge crowd already waiting, pushing to get on the train. The train just sits there, lonely, almost sleepy, and I have plenty of time to look for my seat in the right wagon of the Sabari Express. The journey from Trivandrum to Hyderabad, which takes over eighteen hours and costs four hundred Indian Rupees (around eight US Dollars) in the sleeper class, will bring me about half way to Kolkata.

Riding trains in India is an adventure on its own. Unfortunately more and more travelers these days prefer to cover longer distances by airplane and miss out on the train experience. Kingfisher, which has been known for its beer produced in Goa, now also operates a budget airline company with connections all over the subcontinent.

When the train slowly leaves the station I am thinking about the story a lady in the ashram had just told me a couple of days before. That she was on a train from Tamil Nadu to Kerala, which derailed in the middle of the night. She was woken up standing, her wagon had dipped sideways. Om Namah Shivaja! Maybe this is would not be the train adventure most people seek out for, including me.

Every time I have been on a train in India I have made interesting friends and have been taken care of by people sitting around me. It’s no different this time. One of my fellow train passengers is a friendly bachelor named Karthik Kumar. He works for the Ekal Vidyalya Foundation of India, which helps to set up single teacher schools, health education, village development and empowerment education in rural areas all over the country. He is on his way home to Hyderabad after attending a conference in Kerala. I also share the open compartment with two Indian ladies, Beema and Maimunbeevi, who turn out to be betel nut addicts. Their mouths are stained orange from chewing and spitting the dark orange juice out the glassless train window all day long. The betel is not really a nut, but the seed of the Areca palm, a palm tree growing in most tropical countries. Usually a few slices of the dried nut are wrapped in a Betel leaf along with lime and may include clove, cardamom and other spices etc. for extra flavoring. Betel nuts are chewed with betel leaf for their effects as a mild stimulant. Since the two women don’t speak English and I don’t speak their language I can’t find out much about them, but we manage to communicate anyway with lots of body gestures. I also make friends with a young modern couple from Kerala sitting across the aisle from me. They are on their way back to work in Hyderabad. Many people from Kerala go to Hyderabad for work. These two work in the high tech industry and have to leave their young daughter behind with their family.

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