Train Trauma

Dogs on the track

Article deadlines, sketchy Wi-Fi and endless sightseeing have meant I’ve been MIA for the past week–sorry guys!

I can’t deny that India has been rough for me. My troubles began with a weeklong stomach bug, and since then my nerves have taken on a panicky sense of unease that I just can’t shake. Eating street food, brushing my teeth in the tap, watching rats dart through massive piles of trash, dirty children begging, a dog with an exposed skull–there are things I’ve seen here that are now seared into my memory.

Here’s a confession; my main problem with India lies in the fact that I am a germophobe. Dirty bathrooms, touching money and my backpack lying on filthy floors are all major stressors, and ones that some people (including poor Steve) may not understand. But, in my mind they are major hurdles to my enjoyment of India, aka the dirtiest place on the planet.

On a decidedly un-chic note, perhaps the most uncomfortable aspect of our journey thus far has been the three overnight train trips I’ve endured. The heat and crowds were the least of my worries compared with the dirt and grime that I could feel crawling on my skin the moment I climbed aboard.

India train berth

If you’ve ever ridden an overnight train in India, you know the drill. Two or three bunks are stacked atop each other, but during the day, everyone sits together on the lower bunk–my bunk. I could only cringe inwardly as I saw the filthy soles of my neighbor’s feet resting leisurely on the same mattress I would place my head only hours later.

The aisles most certainly have never been cleaned with anything remotely resembling bleach and run with spilled chai and crumbs from the last meal. The walls are dark with unidentified smears. But the aspect of Indian train travel that sets my heart racing and my eyes watering in fear is the toilet. Never before have I seen bathrooms more vile, with stagnant puddles on the floor and not-so-mysterious brown goo wiped haphazardly on the walls like some sort of vile mural. All I could think about was that the muck from the floor was getting on the bottom of everyone’s shoes, which was getting tracked into the train cars, where people then walked barefoot and put their feet on my mattress. To a germophobe, this is cause for extreme panic.

The aisle

Steve acted as my human Xanax, talking me through the fear and trying to help me realize it won’t kill me. “Its just dirt, you can wash it off,” he would calmly say. But my mind is relentless and I’ve watched way too many Dateline specials. I drank no water for the rest of that and subsequent journeys, my only liquid being a cocktail of gin and Mountain Dew to keep me sane–desperate times you know.

My bar

I realize that this post may have undertones of elitism or of being a closed minded westerner. I disagree. India is the 33rd country I’ve visited, and my count most certainly includes some other dirty runner’s up. I’m not making any judgments, I’m just a traveling germophobe and I’ve simply never felt this dirty in my entire life, despite the baby wipe and hand sanitizer arsenal I constantly lug around in my bag.

Sorry India–I can usually hack it, but you are just so filthy and trash strewn that I don’t think we can be friends.

Note: Want to read about our travels through Varanasi and Agra? Check out Steve’s posts on these two unique places. (My take? Varanasi may be holy, but it’s the grimiest city I’ve ever seen.) I’m off to a weeklong yoga and meditation Ashram tomorrow in the Himalayan foothills, but upon my refreshed and replenished release next week, I’ll get caught up on blogs like rafting the Ganges, an Indian bathroom extravaganza (with pictures), how I became a freelance writer (thanks to Kar for requesting the idea), a guide on where to eat and drink in Yao Noi, Thailand and of course, an Ashram recap.

Namaste, everyone!

11 responses to “Train Trauma

  1. You don’t have to be a germaphobe to freak out in unsanitary conditions such as you have been experiencing. I think you are extremely brave and adventurous. Enjoy the nest refreshing week!

  2. India… Pretty much everything said about the place is true. My father has lived there for the last 10 years or so and it holds a special place in my heart but I totally empathize with everything you went through here.
    On my first trip to India I took a sleeper bus to Goa. My bus and a truck going the opposite way got a little friendly and the truck’s side mirror crashed through my window all along the length of my bunk, directly above whee I was laying. Had I been sitting up I would have had to change my name to Ichabod. No one came to see if I was okay and I was left to brush the glass off of the bench / bed I was sleeping on and do the rest of the trip with a binder over my face to block the wind as the bus was full.

    Still there are so many clean and peaceful places in India. I focussed on these little oases to keep me sane and calm… I wish you an oasis soon. They’re there and they allow the magic and majesty of India to land more powerfully than the death and the shit.

    • Wow, Nik! Your experience sounds a lot more traumatizing than a dirty bathroom. But you’re right, I think India has so many layers to it, both good and bad. I just emerged from a week at a beautiful ashram in the mountains on the banks of the Ganges, and I feel so relaxed and centered that I may be able to handle another train ride after all! 🙂 Hope you’re doing well!

  3. From one germophobe to another – I agree with Robinsmelody that you are incredibly brave. I honestly don’t know if I would be able to hang. This post literally made me cringe and get the goosebumps, just thinking of the filth you’re enduring! Traveling around Southeast Asia and living in Korea has definitely helped me with my germophobe-ness but I’m not sure if I’d be able to stomach that train ride!

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