Surviving an Indian sleeper train: 19-hour delay and being touched while I slept
The absolute creep bag.
TAKEN HOME BY A TINDER DATE
It was a Tuesday afternoon in Delhi and the sun pierced brightly through the haze of the polluted sky. I sat alone on an ugly balcony at a reasonably trendy bar, in an area of Delhi I sensed was organised by hipster Indians. As I sipped nervously on my £4 double Bombay Saphire and tonic, I awaited the arrival of the tall and handsome American I had matched on Tinder the night before.
Not that my voyage in search of cultural experiences has ever been about sharing ideas on bumping uglies, but at that point the the closest thing I’d even had chemistry with was a goat in a coat. And besides, apps like Tinder and Couch Surfing have proved very helpful in finding local and spontaneous experiences. So when I matched with David and his totally-my-type-features, I figured I’d get some sort of blog post out of it whether we got along or not.
We sat at the bar for about two hours with the alcohol going straight to my head because I hadn’t touched the stuff in weeks. He was from San Francisco and had a strong liberal, new age, yoga scent. We chatted about a range of topics including but not limited to creative strategy, spirituality, the American prison system and Uber. And I guess it’s safe to say everything went well because next thing I know he is assertively pushing me up against a wall and planting a wet one on me. I thought he had just come home with me to help me get my bags and take me to the train station.
True to form I was totally awkward about the whole situation, coyly rejecting further advances with half-hearted apologies and explaining in all seriousness that I had to hurry because I had a train to catch.
I had decided to take an 8.30pm overnight Indian sleeper train from Delhi to Varanasi. I could have just paid an extra £10 and flown but the Indian Rail system sounded like incredible blog material. Crowded cabins, potential thieves, food you’re advised not to eat, absolutely no certainty that your train will even show up… Just to name a few delights. So you can imagine how excited I was when I was standing alone on a busy platform realising that my train was delayed until the wee hours of 2.50am. NAWT.
Delhi is cold at this time of year, and no place for a girl to be alone at night at any time of the year. So the discomfort really brewed as I stood out the front of the station on the phone to David – the Tinder date I’d known for a few hours – asking if he would come back and save me from the hungry swarm of young men surrounding me.
I literally had about eight guys around me asking if I wanted a hotel, an auto rickshaw, a date; where was I from? What was my name?
It was the eyes that really got to me, the fascinated eyes looking down at the floppy fish out of water. I stood my ground though, I said ‘no thanks, I have a friend coming’, and I chewed my gum and looked at my watch, pretending to be really relaxed and not scared. It seemed to work and they dwindled away, and eventually, half an hour later, my ride had battled back through the hectic traffic to collect me.
David was staying in a lovely posh guesthouse in a part of town that would destroy my budget within a few weeks, and David had the nice housekeeper make us fresh chai upon arrival. But David also had a migraine by this stage, so after I washed all the dirty train station off myself, he invited me into his bed to massage his temples.This would usually have been a bit much for me at this stage, so I’m not sure if it was the gin or the sense that it really was the least I could do for him considering the circumstances, but I got in there and gave a generous serve of head massage.
Eventually my fingers fatigued, and after some failed attempts at getting fresh from him, I nuzzled into his unfamiliar biceps and fell asleep until 1am – at which point I got back up and missioned back to the train station only to discover that the idiot train was now delayed until 8am.
THE SECOND DELAY AND THE INDIANS WHO HATED ME
WHY THE F%#! DIDN’T I CHECK THE TRAIN’S STATUS ONLINE FIRST?? Is what I still am still aggressively asking myself over a week later.
I arrived at the stupid train terminal and had to wait on the freezing cold floor of the stinky train station for five dumbass hours in a sea of Indians who absolutely hated me.
It was 3am and anyone who wasn’t sleeping under a well-thought-through blanket was glaring at me. I would smile at people when I made eye contact, but they wouldn’t smile back. Which would have been okay if they at least looked away. But no. We looked deep into each others’ eyes, me smiling like a ninny muggin and them continuing to glare at me like I’d stepped on a puppy.
The women were particularly bad. One woman watched as I smiled at a staring toddler who flipped out and started crying, seeking refuge behind his parents’ legs. This woman thought it was so funny that she woke up her own child, pointing and laughing at me. I guess she asked if he thought I was a big foreign freakazoid too, but the kid was so out of it he just rolled back down to sleep. Me 1, bitch 0.
After much displeasure and a bit of harassment by a guy who kept merging closer to me and asking where my husband was, 8am eventually rolled around and I found myself lying on a bed in first class with a mouthful of the only food I had on me – Wine Gums, the perfect breakfast.
I finally felt at peace… briefly.
THE 19-HOUR TRAIN RIDE AND THE CREEP WHO TOUCHED MY BUM
Bang. Crash. Enter my next problem for the following 19 hours.
The guy smelled like he last washed in 1996, he was some sort of attendee who worked on the train because he wore a badge and put the sheets on my bed. He barely spoke English, which is why it took so long for me to figure out he was saying that he would come back at 11am and drink some of the wine he spotted amongst my belongings. Ugh.
I half agreed to it just so he would get out, and finally I got to sleep for a few hours.
I’d booked a first class cabin because it was the only thing available and was only around £20. I’d previously read about the different classes and a lot of people had said that solo girls generally feel safer in second or third class because there are lots of people around as opposed to getting stuck alone in a private cabin with a dirtbag.
I didn’t actually think that would happen to me.
He came back around 1pm and I don’t know if he had finished his shift on the train or something but he took the bed opposite me. What followed was hours of gross stares, annoying attempts at talking to me and lots of hints at the wine. He even went and got himself a cup. Eventually I just poured him a cup of wine, rolled over and pretended to nap until he left again.
I woke up boiling hot and didn’t want to take my coat off because it would attract his attention. Every time I moved his eyes darted over to me. And the experience gets worse.
I don’t know if he saw the wine and thought I was some sort of party gal looking for a good time, but that night when I woke up around 2am he was at the end of my bed.
For some reason there was now an old lady sleeping in his bed and he had migrated over to me instead of taking the bunk above. He was lying on my feet which really aggravated me, but with less than an hour before I got off the train I thought I would just ignore it because I thought he was sleeping anyway. But then I felt this light scrape across my backside. I froze. I thought it was surely an accident. But then it happened again. And then again. After the third time I kicked my legs furiously pretending I was dreaming I was a race horse.
He turned the light on and we both pretended nothing had happened. I didn’t say anything because I couldn’t really be sure that it wasn’t an accident. But why the hell was he on my bed? Yuck.
I never actually felt threatened by him, because I like to think I can hold my own with men like that. It’s better to look at them as weak so they don’t look at you as weak and vulnerable.
So my advice, if you are travelling on Indian trains alone as a girl, don’t bother with first class. It’s not worth the risk of being made to feel uncomfortable for hours and hours. It’s okay to be a wimp here. And for the price you pay, it’s usually worth just getting a flight anyway.
The next train I took was third class, much better. Except for the snoring which really ground my gears.