Most memories fade over time. Some, however, stay with us strong and clear, letting us remember moments as if they’re happening right now. One of those memories is my sleepless night on a train in India:
After traveling in the Rajasthan area for several weeks, all that was left between me and my flight to Singapore was an overnight journey by train from Pushkar to Delhi. It sounded easy enough: the train was scheduled to leave in the late evening and arrive in Delhi in the early morning hours, thus leaving plenty of time to spend in the city before my late-night flight.
In hindsight, I should’ve known that the night ahead was one to remember.

The first sign that the train ride would be more interesting than expected was during our travel group’s “bunk bed lottery” when I triumphantly drew the single bed in a six-man compartment with no other members of my group nearby. While my local tour guide seemed worried by the fact that he would have to leave me by myself (to be fair, the newspaper articles about female travelers in India were quite alarming at that time), I did my best to stay positive. After all, I was traveling solo and would be splitting from the group upon our arrival in Delhi anyway.

Generally speaking, you always hope for a bunk bed near the bottom since you can stow your backpack right under your bed, so it’s out of the way but still close by. While it turned out that I had indeed gotten a bottom bunk, the success was short-lived: Once I found my compartment, I realized that there was already someone sleeping in my assigned bed.
The guy had decided that he preferred the bottom to the top bunk – can’t really blame him. We tried to communicate with each other at first but he didn’t speak my language and I didn’t speak his – let’s just say, we had a bumpy start to our friendship. Also, seeing that my compartment housed five middle-aged men and me, I didn’t mind too much that I could “escape” to the top bunk.

After hauling my backpacks up onto my bed – I was not going to leave them out of my sight – I tried to get comfortable for the journey. Our tour guide came over several times to check on me, asking whether I was really okay. If I wasn’t worried before, he sure didn’t make me feel any safer. But he meant well, so I assured him that everything was peachy (it wasn’t).

Once settled, I soon learned just how uncomfortable the next couple hours would be. First, I barely had any space to lie down with my bags crammed into one end of the bunk bed. Next, my music died because apparently I’m terrible at properly charging things. Then, I couldn’t find my motion sickness pills – only five minutes into the journey and I was already dizzy. Then, after deciding that a snack would help to lift my spirits, I couldn’t find my cereal bars in my backpack. While trying to quietly open my bag, the guy across from me started to give me the evil eye because I was being too loud for his liking. Since it was a night train, I figured he was in the right and I tried to be even more quiet. Clearly I was failing since he started to cough pointedly shortly after. Long story short, I stopped rummaging through my bags, laid down and waited to fall asleep.

Obviously that wasn’t going to happen.

I was dizzy, hungry, and had no music. Also, it was getting increasingly hot in the compartment. You would think with a fan on the ceiling and a window near the bottom, it would be fine – wrong. The window was closed and the fan was so weak that any air movement went right past me and only really hit the guys in the middle bunks.
What does any normal person do in a situation like that? That’s right, I started reaching out with my hand to fan some of the air towards my bed. Again, my neighbor did not agree with my actions and went back to insistently clearing his throat. Not wanting to aggregate him any further, I reluctantly stopped my attempts at making the hot air move. I didn’t know it was possible to wave too loudly.

After trying (and failing) to find a comfortable position and contemplating my life choices for several hours in the pressing silence (and heat) of the train, my fellow passengers started to get up. I wanted to get even with my neighbor and gave them dirty looks for being loud – unsatisfyingly, they simply ignored me. I suppose the novelty of having a western female traveler in their compartment had already worn off.

Next, after learning from a train conductor that we would get into Delhi much earlier than scheduled, my tired brain attempted to go into overdrive: Did my group know? Would I recognize the Delhi stop? Was I chosen by fate to be my group’s hero that keeps us from missing our stop?
Now clearly on a very important mission, I left my compartment and tried finding the rest of my travel group. Aaaaaand failed.
While I was already out and about, the rest of the train was still sleeping behind closed curtains – after shortly contemplating whether or not peeking behind curtains was socially acceptable (it’s not), I admitted defeat and creeped back to my compartment. I’m a terrible hero.
Luckily – and very anticlimacticly – our tour guide had already been informed and collected everyone well before our arrival to Delhi. Needless to say, while I was ready to fall asleep standing, everyone else in the group was well rested.

Thankfully, a friend let me crash in her hotel room before I had to head out to the airport. Thanks to her I could somewhat catch up on my sleep before my overnight flight to Singapore. Spoiler alert: I again failed spectacularly at sleeping – but that’s another story.

Have you ever traveled by (night) train in India or are planning to do so in the near future? What has been your experience? Did you enjoy the food on the trains? Tip: don’t question where it comes from.

PS: That was the last time my music died on me. Lesson learned!