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Cattle class
Bundi (India), October 17th 2007

There are different classes available on Indian trains. From the air conditioned first class, to the unreserved ordinary second class, and everything in between. The ordinary second class is often called the ‘cattle class’ by foreigners, because it seems to be comparable with the transport of cattle. We decided to take the unreserved ordinary second class for our two hour train journey from Sawai Madhopur to Kota (Rajasthan). Just to see how it is,

We arrive at the railway station only ten minutes before the train leaves, because the auto rickshaw driver picked us up to late from the hotel. Because we did not buy the tickets yet, we have some minor stress. Fortunately, there is a special queue for women, which is very short in comparison to the other ‘male’ queues. Ivonne keeps her position in the queue like experienced Indian women, knowing how to fence of the Indian women that want to jump the queue. We pay in total an amount of 38 Rupees for two tickets (which is approximately Euro 0.70). Subsequently, we run to the platform and when we arrive there, it seems that the train is delayed. We take a place on the platform between the local people. It is notable to see that only the poor people are taking the ordinary second class. There are no foreigners on this platform, and also the richer Indian people avoid this class. A better alternative is the reserved second class for which you can reserve a comfortable seat and in which people are not allowed to stand. The price for this much better class is 120 Rupees for two persons (a little bit more than Euro 2.20). So, the cattle class is mostly used by people who can not afford a better class, or who are travelling to/from a railway station that is only served by ordinary second class.

A jam packed train carriage in where a sales man tries to sell his merchandise

Within a couple of minutes after we arrived on the platform, we are annoyed by a beggar. The young boy of approximately eight years old is asking for money. After he kissed my shoes several times, he starts to touch us and our luggage. That is the moment we have to intervene. After we slapped him on the hand, he recoils and disappears in the crowds. The next moment an older man approaches us, with a hat on his head. Between his hat and his forehead he is having a cotton bud, a tooth pick and a pair of tweezers. Soon we know what service he offers. He is an ear cleaner! Ivonne and I look at each other in disbelieve. It can’t be true that you can make a living by cleaning people’s ears. In India, it is. He offers his service to me, but fortunately my ears are clean enough.

Soon after, the train arrives on the platform. And like we feared, people are hanging outside the train because it is jam packed. Fortunately, Sawai Madhopur is a busy town; so many people leave the train. However, at least the same amount of people wants to board the train. Before the train really stops, the battle starts. It is a battle between the people that want to leave the train, and the people that want to board the train (like us). The location of the battle is the small door of the carriage. Of course, we do not have a chance in this battle because of our big backpacks. The result is easy to predict. We end up with a bad standing place on the balcony of the carriage, close to the toilets. The good news is that we managed to get on the train. The moment that the train departs, the situation is the same as when the train arrived on the platform. The train is chock and chock-full!

The place that we conquered is a bad place. We are overwhelmed by the penetrating stench of the urine, especially when one of the doors to the toilets is opened. Besides that, all people that have to use the toilet, need to pass us. Despite the fact that the carriage is jam packed, the older people try to find a sitting place on the ground. They just go down to the floor, decreasing the space for the people who are standing. One old woman found her sitting place between the two toilets. It is heartbreaking to see that the old lady has to travel on this dingy floor in the almost unbearable stink of urine. The toilets by the way, are just a flat floor with a grid in it. We learned in a very short period that you have to be as hard as a rock to travel cattle class in India. One moment of inattention and your bad standing place is conquered by somebody else, leaving you with even a worse place. There is also no respect for the old people. They have to fight for there place like everybody else. Making your seat available for somebody in need, is unheard of in India.

People are literally hanging with their legs outside the train
Despite the fact that the carriage is jam packed, some people still find their way through the crowds. Especially the sales men with all their merchandise (huge baskets with apples, peanuts, etc) are impressive. The children are not so experienced yet. When they need to go to the toilet, they are lifted up and transported over the crowds to the toilet (crowd surfing). When they arrive at the toilet, a complete stranger takes the child to the toilet to do his/her need. Afterwards, the child is transported to back to the parents in the way it came.

The journey is not so bad till approximately halfway. At that moment the train stops because one of the two railway tracks is blocked. Our local train has the least priority (in comparison to the express trains), which ultimately results in a delay of two hours and fifteen minutes. The journey of only two hours became a journey of more than four hours. The time that the train is standing still is really uncomfortable. The temperature rises above forty degrees Celsius because the wind that we got from the moving train is gone. Besides that, the urine stink is more penetrating and the people start to sweat. Also children start crying because the heat is also for them unbearable. Besides that, we are once in a while overwhelmed by a heavy gas smell. The train stopped at a small classification yard, near a huge number of chemical cargo carriages. Probably one of those carriages is leaking. Fortunately, some people leave the train to stretch their legs on the railway track. This gives us the opportunity to move our feet a little bit and to hunt for a better place.

After more than an hour, the horn of the trains announces that the train is going to depart again. The people that were standing on the railway track spurt back to the train. After we are jam packed like sardines in a can again, the train starts moving. During the remaining ride to Kota, the train never exceeds the speed of 20 kilometres per hour. We are now really looking forward to the end of this journey. Four hours and fifteen minutes after we left Sawai Madhopur, we finally arrive in Kota. A long and tiring journey! We end the day in style with a nice and cold bottle of Kingfisher beer in our hotel. We deserve it. For the matter of fact, for the price of one bottle of beer (100 Rupees), you can by five tickets for the cattle class from Sawi Madhopur to Kota. However, a bottle of beer is more rewarding.

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