Cara Parish-Goa beaches

Indian Trains and Toilets; Vodkatrain’s Holy Cow Journey Part 1

Another one of the great entries for ‘Best Written Piece’ in our Vodkatrain Traveller Awards. This account of our Holy Cow journey is written by Cara Parish and you can read more about her Holy Cow journey on her eye opening blog Letters to 1978.

Indian Trains and Toilets; Vodkatrain Holy Cow Journey by Cara Parish

Cara Parish-Agra and the Taj

Cara Parish- In Agra at the Taj

You know that feeling when your not too sure if it’s you that smells or the guy next to you. Well, chances are…it’s you, the guy next to you and an additional je ne sais quoi. Welcome to backpacking through India!

We (and I use “we” because I am travelling with a group of 6 lovely people on a Vodkatrain tour of India) started in Kolkata, and took an overnight train to Varanasi. I could barely sleep on the train I was so excited, which seems to be a common theme to my nights here; excited from the day passed and even more so about the days yet to come.

Cara Parish-worship in varanasi

Cara Parish-Worship in varanasi

In classic Cara style, I booked this tour last minute, which means my train tickets aren’t sat with the rest of the group. And as you can imagine, this didn’t bother me at all. I saw it as a chance to meet to new people as we chugged through the Indian countryside. And meet new people I did! Suggested itineraries of where I should go have all been scribbled down as the train jiggled along. New Hindi words to learn were added to my vocab list (and repeated many times much to the carriage amusement) and new ways of drinking chai and eating Indian cakes have been enjoyed. Homemade Sohan Papri = delicious!

Taj Mahal - Cara Parish

Cara Parish – Taj Mahal

In my opinion these overnight trains are the best way to travel around India. They can take you such long distances without you even realizing. They’ve whizzed us from Kolkata – Varanasi – Agra – Jaipur – Udaipur – Jodpurh – Bikaneer, and oh the list goes on (although as I post this blog I am currently in the Himalayas and here we travel by bus or steam train).

Cara Parish-Sacred worship on the ganges

Cara Parish-Sacred worship on the ganges

The trains are long in length with many carriages. The carriages are all divided by class, starting with the Second Class Sleeper carriage which sleeps a lot of sweaty people like sardines in a tin. Then there are different classes of AC carriages: 3 Tier AC Sleeper Class with a three tier bunk bed style system, followed by a 2 Tier Sleeper Class and finally the Private Sleeper rooms. We have always been travelling in the 2 or 3 Tier AC carriages, which are just fantastic. They give you clean sheets, pillow and blanket, and little pockets on the wall for you to put your things in. So when we first jump on board we settle and nestle into our home for the night. Backpacks are tied up below the seats, we lay out our bed sheets, put our goodies in the little wall pockets and settle in for a night of playing cards, making new friends, catching up on diary writing and sleep.

Cara Parish-Goa beaches

Cara Parish-Goa beaches

“Chai, chai, coffee coffee, samosas samosas, veg dinner, non veg dinner, panne bottle water, mango juice” – We are never short of refreshments which are offered up and down the trains. Nor are we deprived of facilities, not only are Indian Style toilets offered but Western Style toilets are also offered. What more could a passenger need!? Basically the Indian option is a squat toilet, and my personal preference. Balancing over a hole in the floor whilst negotiating your foot placement to avoid splash and also keeping steady, half trying to hold on whilst the train jumps around and half trying not to touch ANYTHING is far easier on the Indian Style than the Western. The Western toilet, it being the seat and bowl we are all used to, just gives you more obstacles to avoid. A little advice for all you potential Indian train travelers ;-) .

Cara Parish-In our tier bunks on the train

Cara Parish – In our bunks on the train

Whilst you are away in the land of nod, your train travels hundreds of miles to your next destination. Bloody brilliant! We tend to arrive a little delirious as we usual get in around 6 or 7 AM, however the cows that I see chilling on the platform or sitting in waiting room are actually real. And what I now know to be just the standard view of a day in India. No day in India is complete without cows EVERYWHERE! Sacred as they are, they ain’t moving anywhere unless they fancy it.

Our Honcho - Cara Parish

Cara Parish – Our Honcho

So I sign this post of with jealously of cows. The nature of this brilliant tour means are are always on the move and although I am loving every second of being in the foot hills of the Himalayas we have to move on as we begin our descent heading south through India. I am very aware that this post seems to just discuss trains and toilets so the next time I get a chance to write (or get woken up at 6am by monkeys jumping on my roof) I will update you on all the amazing places we are visiting!

Cara Parish-In Kerala

Cara Parish – In Kerala