Saturday, 23 January 2010

My first sleeper train in India


I’d not been looking forward to my first sleeper train ride having heard many horror stories but it was actually perfectly civilized.
I was in Tier 2A A/C which was as close to first class I could get given the fact that I’d booked only the day before. I’d asked for a lower berth but there hadn’t been any left so I was on the top of three bunks…pretty high for someone who doesn’t like heights! Unlike sleeper trains in Europe, you aren’t locked away in individual compartments; instead, the beds are in blocks that run straight from the main corridor. This means that people are always walking by, making it feel much safer. From where I sat I could hear the familiar drone of two American accents so I knew all would be well!

I got chatting to a couple of older gentlemen who were in my block. Again, it was perfectly civilised and they helped to check my ticket to make sure I was in the section. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, I sat and read for a while and it was soon time to climb unglamorously up to my top bunk. Here I got comfy in the sheets and blankets provided and nodded off for a few hours.

The
following morning at 6am I arrived at Ernakulum – the bustling city centre of Kochi. Kochi is made up of a number of islands, one of which was Fort Kochi where I was headed. After cramming my oversized rucksack into an under-sized rickshaw we weresoon off at full pelt to Fort Kochi. At 6am the city was quiet, bar the odd elephant that we passed along the way. It wasn’t long before I saw caught sight of the Indian ocean and the fishy scents that hung in the air. Crossing a couple of bridges, we soon arrived at Prem’s homestay – the equivalent of a bed and breakfast except the breakfast is usually an extra cost.

Prem and his wife Cynthia were both adorable and couldn’t do enough to help me out. Despite arriving earlier than planned (I was going to get a boat to the island instead) I was shown to my room and offered breakfast. The room was spotless and a real pleasure after my stay at the grimy, dismal Guru Hotel in Trichy.Prem offered to arrange tours for me so I booked the 7-hour backwater cruise on a houseboat and canoe and pondered on the possibility of a Ayurvedic massage.

An
early morning wander into town and, even after only a couple of days, it was a relief to find a few little luxuries dotted about the place. There was a beautiful little café called Teapot that served simple food, loads of different teas and great banana lassis. It also had the added bonus of a spotless toilet. The streets were quiet and chilled, and the whole area felt clean and cared for. There were also heaps of other backpackers, which in itself isn’t great, but sometimes, especially on your own, is called for.

My wander took me to the small fish market and the traditional Chinese fishing nets – large fishing nets that stand up on poles and take 4 people to manoeuvre. The stalls here were full of fish, crayfish, giant prawns and one of the biggest sea basses I’ve ever seen. A handful of hopeful looking cats wandered about waiting longingly with big eyes for scraps and locals sat around chatting and bartering. Overall I felt very at home and very relaxed in Fort Kochi and it was a million miles from what i'd expected of India.

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