Why borrowed slippers, eunuchs and video cameras make for an interesting train ride in India

George Winters said, “If God had really intended men to fly, he’d make it easier to get to the airport”, which is why we decided to take the train from Goa to Udipi on a recent trip to India.

Fire extinguishers at the Canacona station in Goa (©MRandin)

Fire extinguishers at the Canacona station in Goa

Udipi is only a four and half hour train journey south of Goa. Taking a plane would have meant first landing at Mangalore airport and then an hour’s car ride to Udipi. Moreover I’ve always been wary of landing at the Mangalore airport as its main runway ends in a cliff; a fact which piqued my husband’s interest. My husband Michel (who is Swiss and will be referred to as M. from here on in) has an extremely low aversion to risk, unfortunately for me. Thankfully, he liked the idea of a train trip even more.

Udipi, located on the south west coast of India, is also my dad’s hometown and M. and I were heading there to visit family.

On the train we parked ourselves and our backpacks next to two families who we thought were travelling together. As M. and I found out later, the only thing they had in common was the train schedule that day.

This really wouldn’t have been newsworthy except that together they talked, laughed and shared food (and other things… keep reading) with an easy familiarity, that it was difficult to believe they’d only just met.

In fact, only a few hours before, the gentleman sitting next to us had borrowed a pair of men’s slippers from the other family as his had slid too far under the seat and he was desperate for the loo!

"Mister, if I smile will you promise to stop annoying me for the rest of the ride?" (©MRandin)

"If I smile will you stop annoying me for the rest of the ride?"

And to think that I have trouble sharing my ice cream with M. some days.

We were soon included in their food circle. And then incredibly even people from the back of the compartment started passing us some of their snacks, particularly for M. to try.

We’d been told many times by people in Goa not to accept things to eat from people on the train. “They put drugs in the food and then steal your stuff” they told us. M. and I decided it was best to follow the “Que serra, serra” approach that day. Tempting though it was we did, however, politely refuse their offers to buy us tea. I wasn’t going to be that adventurous with the water, even if it was hot.

Took them a while to smile in unison, but we got there in the end! (©MRandin)

Took them a while to smile in unison, but we got there in the end!

And then a eunuch descended upon us and people on the train emptied their pockets for money and gave it to him/her. The eunuch didn’t even have to ask. All s/he did was to clap (more a sickening clack of the palms) and people forked over money without a word.

Apparently, eunuchs have black magic powers and can hex you. I’m so glad I didn’t know this. I’m quite superstitious and would have probably made M. hand over all our holiday money. (I’m sure we were once hexed by a gypsy woman in the UK. Three days of bad luck followed us, including a bus accident. So forgive my paranoia, readers).

For the second time on our Indian trip M. and his camera were the tourist attraction. The father of the family sitting next to us kept repeating “Murudeshwar!” and “camera ready!” His son who spoke some English was too excited to explain anything to me. They all kept looking out of the window, tapping M. on the shoulder encouraging him to keep the camera ready for the picture. Poor M. kept taking pictures of random buildings. When the statue did come into view, he almost missed it. Thank god for long range zooms.

The statue of Lord Shiva (123 feet high) as seen from the train. (©MRandin)

The statue of Lord Shiva (123 feet high) as seen from the train.

Just before we were to get off in Udipi the train picked up more passengers than it could handle. M. decided took whip out the video camera and the crowd gave us a show to remember! My M. may just have a promising future as a Bollywood film maker…

When he got off the train, the young boy sitting next to M. looked for me as he got down onto the platform and then gave me a million dollar smile and we waved goodbye.

Want proof that you get a lot for your money in India?  Together we paid less than 5 dollars for a four and a half hour train ride.

Train rides in Europe are never this cheap or entertaining…

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all photos ©MRandin

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