Why I Jumped onto a Moving Indian Train
While living in India during the summer of 2009, I took some time to marvel at the Himalayas in MCleod Ganj, a little Buddhist town. Clinging to the mountainsides, it is tucked away from most links to the outside world. It is a very peaceful town, and its remoteness provides a kind of serenity that is hard to find in most other parts of hectic India–that is, until my Indian train adventure.
I wanted to stay in this beautiful place forever…but, one day, I realized my funds had dwindled to a worrying level. I had a flight back to NYC from Delhi, India in three days, and needed at least one full day to get to Delhi.
The guesthouse in MCleod Ganj had booked me a driver to bring me out of my little idyllic town at 9 PM to the Pathankot train station (2.5 hours away) for my 1 AM sleeper train to Delhi. I napped in the car, and wobbled in and out of consciousness throughout the drive.
Why, I wondered, was I not in one of those functioning cars, driving away?
I woke up feeling the car slowing down and making noises – those clanking sounds of a dying engine. The driver got out of the car, opened the hood, and prodded away at the car parts. I looked around and realized that we were in the middle of nowhere. The town was rural, and the main street was empty. I saw a sign for a town I didn’t know some hundred kilometers away, and no signs for Pathankot. I called the guesthouse in a slight panic, wondering where I was and how I was going to make my train. It was 11:45 PM. The manager sounded distressed on the phone when he said to me, “Yeah, you’re not near Pathankot…”
Then, slowly, men started coming out towards us, looking at the car, and talking with each other. More and more men became a crowd, and even a few Indian officers came over to look at the stranded American girl and driver. Strangely, no one seemed too interested in trying to get the car started; they were all enjoying each other’s conversations too much. I started to panic more. In my non-existent Hindi, I shouted words like “Pathankot” (the station I needed) and “ehck” (one, when my train was leaving) while motioning that I had to go. “Acha, acha” was the response they gave, simply telling me to relax. No problem.
Why I Jumped onto a Moving Train in India.
Thirty minutes passed, and it was 12:15 AM. By this time, there are other cars parked nearby, hoping to see what was going on. All of them were tourist cars. Why, I wondered, was I not in one of those functioning cars, driving away? The men all conversed as I looked around to soak in what was, or rather was not, happening. I became more urgent in my motions, and finally someone called my driver to get me to my train. After some confusing argument I did not understand, and me bribing another driver with more money, I was speeding down the road, barely missing cows and dogs and other cyclists.
As it so happens, we were 30km from the train station, a 40-minute drive. I had 25 minutes.
At 12:55 AM, the cabby stopped at a blockade in the road. The train blocks were down. He looked at me apologetically and said, “You will not make your train. This is your train…” A big sleeper train steadily passed us, to the very nearby station. I got out of the car and began to swear profusely in the quiet darkness. I am not much of a swearer, but it was the only thing I could do.
I prepared my bags so that I could run onto the tracks and grab hold of the train before it left me behind. The driver said it wasn’t a good idea, so I looked at him and said “You’re getting me to that train.”
I prepared my bags so that I could run onto the tracks and grab hold of the train before it left me behind.
The blocks went up, and the cab slid through to the train station as the train was holding there. I threw some money at the cabby, and ran to the train draped in bags, yelling, “Delhi?!” As the train started blaring its horns and moving, I threw myself into an open car door.
The controller there looked at me and asked, “You are Kimberly?” Of course I was.
Serendipitously, the car into which I threw myself was where my seat was. I was grateful to know that, after that all, I’d successfully make it home.
Why I Jumped onto a Moving Train in India photo by Unsplash.