Train Time– Shimla to Kalka to Delhi Railway Story

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10.20am: The passengers in C6 had changed places over the course of the journey. Some had ended up there by mistake, swapping carriages to keep a family together.

Six hours of relentless heat against the tin carriages had taken their toll. Shoes were off, discarded under seats.

Passengers slept.

Strange thoughts erupted in the mind: where do birds go to die? Higher thoughts were embezzled to sign posts.

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The bin was full of old water bottles, crisp packets, and squashed cardboard chai cups.

Half the cabin were asleep, crumpled and missing the spectacular scenery and curvature of the valley as the train weaved its way slowly from Shimla to Kalka.

The few who were awake stared out of windows interrupted by occasional slamming of the compartment door, as it moved between its hinges and the lock.

A young bride and groom had taken up residence sprawled across a berth of seats, dozing companionably anchored by the other. The soft jangle of her bracelets travelled with the train.

A lone businessman drank a diet Pepsi and unwrapped chapatti’s from home.

Passengers slept.

At Summerhill station, ferns hung over the tracks, bark dinosaur old touched the train’s shoulders, daisies sprouted near the wheels. Children hunted, hoping for a four leafed clover in the thicket.

A western tourist slept upside down, his legs tucked into the window frame, extended backwards in surrender.

His friend sat with earplugs staring blankly at the trees creeping by, the damp of the tunnel walls, and square ness of the window frame.

 At Jutogh, passengers mused: can tin rust in the heat?

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Six clanking fire tins, a farm girl clutching a pug under one arm and a baby goat under the other. 1989 scrawled across the outer station wall, the significance different to the Berlin Wall falling in a European mindset.

Nearing Tara Devi, a man with a newborn ran with his bag to get on the train. Her eyes were rimmed with Kohl liner. Buckets of cucumber were sold at Shogi near an orange temple.

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At Cathleeghot, the train passed its first road. By Kandaghat, all passengers were brave enough to realise they wouldn’t miss the train as it pulled away with infinitesimal slowness. They fetched water, tea and a cling film wrapper with hot masala vegetables, onions and peppers in. 20 rupees for savoury, 7 for tea.

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In Solon, the man with the baby filled his bottle at the tap.  There was no food there. Barog was chai, chai, chai…

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4.30pm: For C6 travellers, there was nowhere to shield from the sun. It skirted through each window side glazing faces, warming.

Kumarhattidagshai was the last town before the slums of Kalka.  Passengers woke from sleep..Kashmir 195

5.30pm: Kalka-Delhi

Arrival at Kalka brought no release, but another train. Ice cream, huge yellow poppadum’s in laundry baskets dragged through the aisles of the express.

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Omelette’s arrived and cutlets were drenched in tomato sauce, double wrapped in white bread with a liberal spinkling of pepper. Freshly sliced tomatoes and an edge of onion were mixed into chaat with a sprinkle of spice and juiced lemon quarts. 

Men played cards and held beadies, crowded around the tourist’s I pad. The fans churned hot air around the carriages; seats meant for six held nine.

11pm: One man read a bible and sat staring at the Delhi sky, shifting through the slatted windows. Charcoal and tinder streamed inside from village cooking on rail sides. The train gurgled in its tracks, waved to others moving through Punjab towards the mega city.

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