Hola folks! Today is an unusual post in the sense that it talks about women setting down the injunction to Reclaim Space and How. Meet my two heroines – Preeta Pradhan and Sehba Imam – 50 something women who set out on a Kashmir to Kanyakumari sojourn in one of our erstwhile Indian train. Mind you this was no easy journey as they spent about 70 hours in the train.
Preeta can be best described as a Natural Living and Transitional Life Coach, Yoga Teacher, Solo Traveler, and Global Conscious Citizen.
Sehba is an independent writing and editing professional, based out of Delhi, NCR.
For me the shocking part was the Indian Railways for this is going to be too many hours spent in an Indian train which to my mind is all about filthy loos, noisy co-passengers and messy trains with bad food. Now you know why I have labelled them Heroines 😉
Read on what the two ladies encountered on this 70 hours journey in the train and be prepared to have some of your train myths be busted; I know mine have.
The two hit upon this brilliant idea when they were researching their next work project which might involve a train. So they decided to experience the journey before announcing the project. After zeroing in on the train Himsagar Express which starts from Katra in J&K and ends at Kanyakumari, the two decided to be absolutely purist about their idea. So instead of boarding this train from New Delhi, they travelled by another train to Jammu and then caught this one at about midnight from Jammu station. After all the journey was slated to be Kashmir to Kanyakumari – one tip of India to the other.
“Foremost planning was to leave nakhras at home and pack a lot of adventurous spirit in our bags for the train journey ahead!” – Sehba.
One of the biggest preparation they did for the train journey was to leave all pre-conceived notions of discomfort at home. Everyone is aware of how intrusive co-passengers get in the train; the filth and muck that accumulates and not to mention the hygiene of the toilets which is shared by a plethora of people. Undeterred, my two heroines decided to carry toilet paper and a plastic mug to combat loo ills. Other than that their backpacks were light. Essentials like books, Kindles, phone chargers, basic toiletries and a few change of clothes is all that they packed.
Did you know that the Himsagar express is the second longest run in the Indian trains?
This train had only an AC Three tier and our heroines decided to brave it without any compunction. The train covered a total distance of approximately 3700 Kms, with the destined stops in between. They were lucky to have the compartment almost all to themselves as the train emptied a lot after Gwalior.
“We had a ‘saara jahan humara kind of feel’ using one berth for our afternoon siesta and another for full night’s sleep.” – Sehba.
Since they wanted to experience the train food and taste the delicacies offered by the station hawkers, they didn’t pack food at all. But here is where they got their first disappointment. Every station seemed to have cleaned up the live cooking stalls and the only food available was pre-packed fare. Though the packing was clean and the food tasted good, the fun of eating piping hot pakoras, poor-subzi and other such variants was missing. The packed food stuck to the local flavours and ranged from North Indian delicacies of poori/sabzi, veg pullav or biryani and samosa/breadpakora and down south it was Vada, Idli and Dosa.
Though they initially carried water bottles from home, they had to depend on buying bottled water in some places. But some of the stations now have a water station from where you could refill drinking water. Hows that for progress?
While on the way back, their co-passengers seemed to have packed enough to feed a battalion while our heroines scrounged around for hawkers for food, fruits, etc. Perplexed, the south Indian family would offer them their own dabba to eat from, which the two would decline as they were seeking palate thrills of the local variety. Finally they could restrain themselves no more and pressed a box of lemon rice on the two women who discovered how delish and fresh it was. Their only regret- they hadn’t accepted the offer earlier 😉
The biggest surprise in the offing turned out to be the dry toilets!!! Though there was a bit of a smell but nothing intolerable; our heroines have made a note to themselves to carry incense sticks the next time around 🙂 Another amazing bit was the clean soap dispensers with liquid solutions and TOILET PAPER – yes my friends we have progressed finally- toilet paper in the train loos which no one thought to steal. Wait! there is more – Water jets to clean your behind in the loo!!! Now I am in shock; what about you?
What happened to the mug they carried so thoughtfully – you might well ask!
“Sehba used it to wash her near-bald head at a station – not because her hair needed a wash, but because she wanted to experience dunking her head under a railway tap and washing her head 🙂 ” – Preeta.
The train platforms were another huge surprise. No longer were they the filth littered, disorderly, crowded spaces of the past. Instead there is a level of basic cleanliness, neatness and overall orderliness which is a delight to see. The two were unanimous is saying that the stations down South seemed more orderly, unrushed and tidy as comapred to the ones in the North.
Same opinion for the passenger behaviour; they both felt less self-conscious of having breasts and the need to cover them from prying eyes all the time or to keep adjusting their clothes to a “decent” level by the second day on the train as it was hurtling towards the southern part of India.
They did experience some intrusive behaviour from co-passengers, unruly children and even folks listening to loud music sans any headphones. But our heroines took everything in their stride and handled the situation with calm affability that served them well in the long run.
“Carry some scotch tape for children who are cute to begin with and then wouldn’t stop talking. If scotch tape sounds too harsh – carry stick jaw candy. ;-)” – Sehba.
They both didn’t meet with any overt prejudices or judgement from fellow travellers though some were fascinated by single women travelling on their own. On family and friends front, they got lots of awe and good wishes for their adventure.
“Aam junta looked at us with envy and some mirth maybe. Some were extremely curious. According to Sehba one gent was starstruck by our ‘independence’ maybe.” – Preeta.
Overall the two displayed a sense of confidence and calmness that perhaps deterred unruly behaviour from anyone. They decode that most of the sexist behaviour is about power play; so instead of being fazed by it, give it back. If someone stares, look them back in the eye. Politely tell the person that their spreading of limbs is causing discomfort and it would be nice if they don’t touch any part of ours with theirs 😉
“Calm confidence is more powerful than anger and every time I have tried these simple and straightforward requests – the power equation has changed so dramatically that it becomes difficult to hide my laughter!” – Sehba.
Well on that note we bid our heroines adieu with heartfelt thanks for not just sharing this adventure with us but also taking on something like this to reclaim space in this Mad Max world of testosterone loaded mentalities that claim that Men are born strong because women are born weak and need men to take care of them. Bah Humbug to all such Scrooges and I hope you enjoyed this womanly tale-telling of a 70 hours in a train journey.
I would love to hear your views on this and share your solo/women only travel trip memories with me.
Read this wonderful guestpost by Ishieta about her foray into the solo travel world and how she survived it.