The Hindi/Urdu word for “journey” or “travel” is pronounced “suffer”, and my Urdu teacher likes to joke “Indian suffer is English suffer.” By this standard, I feel like I can officially say that I’ve traveled in true Indian fashion by sharing a seat, about two and a half feet wide and six feet long, for twelve hours (each way) on an overnight train. For some reason the Indian railway sells more tickets than it has seats on the train, leaving those who don’t get reserved seats to fight for a place to sit or sleep. Since it’s the week after Holi, lots of people were traveling and the train was full to the brim. As someone who falls under the “tourist quota”, I didn’t have a problem getting a seat, but my Indian sister was number 200 on the waitlist for a seat. The aisles were clogged with people; three were sleeping on the floor of our berth alone. At one point I smelled smoke, and thinking we were at a stop I opened my eyes only to find a lit cigarette dangling precariously above my head. I also had to tell a man who had chosen to sit next to me as I scrunched in to a ball to attempt to sleep in my three-foot long space, “Uh, can you go somewhere else?” Needless to say, this was most unpleasant train journey I have had so far.
My travel companion and the destination made everything worth it, though, because I got to spend two days sight-seeing in New Delhi with my oldest host sister, who is one of the sweetest people I know. (I should really write about my host family sometime; they are such an important part of my life here and deserve a post all to themselves!) Though she had done a little bit of traveling before this trip, she had never been on a trip without her family, so going to Delhi was a particularly exciting deal for her. Her mom was pretty nervous about us going, and I feel very flattered that she trusted me enough to let me steal her daughter for the weekend. The trip went off without any problems, and we had a lot of fun touring Delhi with the girl who lived with my host family when she studied abroad in Varanasi a few years ago and now studies in Delhi. For someone like me, who has lived away from home three times now (once in Turkey, once in Madison, and now in India) it’s hard for me to imagine not being so independent or free, so I was happy to make this trip with my host sister, since she wanted so much to travel “on her own.” I think it was a weekend we’ll both remember for a very long time.