Chennai Railroads are serious transportation in the giant expanse of India. The trains are old, but reliable. The amenities are not bare, but nonexistent, many of which are filled by hawkers jumping on from station to station selling tea, coffee, chai, samosas, hot tins of food, heaping buckets of food, purses, knickknacks, and pens, giant pens twice the normal length.
Our journey from Bengaluru to Chennai started at 3pm, scheduled to arrive in Chennai six hours later at 9pm. We pulled off within minutes of the schedule and creeped out of the station until we were well out of the city. This made it easier for the runners with their bags and sometimes whole families to lope across the track and jump on the train through one or the other of the open doors. They could then stand with others until their destination or be asked off and try again on the next train. Their predicament was not totally different from later boarders who might have bought a ticket where the station master assigned a seat without knowing or perhaps caring that someone had already purchased the seat and had been occupying it down the line for hours. This happened frequently and enlivened the trip for some.
The fares are cheap. Much cheaper than buses for example. Less than $10 for our trip from what I could figure, and the trains carry a load. The benches face each other and each hold three people on each side. None of this armrest nonsense either. So that’s twelve per row. There were 29 cars in our train. Conservatively there were 20 rows per car. Could there really have been a 7000 person capacity on that train? Surely there were some cars not filled fully or my math is wrong? Let’s just knock 2000 people off the train and call it 5000. That’s still a lot of people riding the rails to Chennai with us.
The windows are open. There are bars though not respected. Many of my seatmates were frustrated that they were unable to open the bars on my window seat for example, thinking it would convenience me more. There was a drawing that instructed the means for opening the bars in an emergency, but that was not seen as relevant. When the train was up to full power we had a good breeze. There were multiple fans coming from the ceiling along with the fluorescent lights, but I was unsure how many fans were functional.
The scenery was amazing. The contrast from one eight million person city to another four and a half million person city was largely one of complete and total rural villages and scenes fixed in time for centuries. Two oxen were plowing one field along the way with a man driving them from behind. Numerous goat and sheepherders stood unmoved by the passing train as they watched their flocks. We watched a funeral and much else. There were small towns and there were mud brick thatched roof houses a plenty. Some low rise, rocky rises made me think of the US West though seeing them tower over coconut trees was hard to reconcile.
It all worked remarkably well. Everyone seemed to understand the drill and settle into it. The biggest excitement other than duplicate seating was a young man’s lost mobile phone that brought a half dozen outside the train for a look around the tracks for a purpose that escaped me, and was unsuccessful as expected.
We jumped out at Chennai into a bustling, black, humid night none the worse for wear and better for the experience.
It is two for Tuesday, thanks to Kabf.
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s Unfair Weather Friend
Alabama Shakes’ Future People