In Madurai at our hotel there was a very energetic “tour agent” who seemed to appear every time we appeared. He wanted to arrange whatever we wanted him to arrange – which, to his disappointment, was nothing. Eli and I planned to book our own train ticket. We knew we would have a challenging time decoding the mysterious and impenetrable math of the Indian train schedules. We knew we might stand in line a long time only to get to the front of the line and be told “it is not possible – come back in 3 days – no problem!” Knowing these things weakened my resolve......gradually the energetic entrepreneurship of our hotel tour-agent-guy got the better of me and I decided “oh well....let him do it – it's what he's good at”. I told him what we needed – train tickets in a “2-Tier”sleeper car, on an Express to Chennai. He got right on it. I was pretty sure that the only “Express” to Chennai left late in the evening, (Express means that the train only makes 2 or 3 stops. “Passenger” means the train stops at every possible station and is consequently a lot longer in transit). He sat down to book a ticket electronically, glowered at his computer, cursed in Tamil and then smiled at me and told me we could leave the next day at 6 pm. I asked him,”Is that Express? I thought the schedule said the only express leaves at 10:30 pm?” To this he replied, in rapid fire fashion, “Yes, Express, no problem...you leave at 6 pm...no problem....pay me 1040 Rupees....no problem”. So we shelled out our rupees and he went forward with the booking.
A little while later he tracked us down and asked us to pay 500 Rupees more for a mistake the train station had made – not his mistake, he said – of confirming his on-line request for 4 rather than 2 train tickets. Nervy guy! I had to admire him! He requested 4 tickets, made it be the train station's fault and asked us to pay for it! I think I could use a lesson in this art of being able to tell myself the story I want to believe and then sticking to my story!
If you know Eli, you will know how kind his heart is. He didn't want the tour-agent-guy to “eat it” but all the same he stood firm and said, “We don't want to pay for that. Sorry! Sorry!”
We got on board at 6 pm without a hitch and found our seats. We were as it turns out, booked on “3 tier sleeper class.” This means that we each had a shelf with about 2 .5 feet of head clearance and 6 feet of length. On that shelf we were to stash our backpacks and our supine body for the night. That was alright although at some points during the night I had to talk myself back away from the edge of claustrophobia. I would say “Karen, you are free to get out of this cupboard any time you want....you are even free to scream if you want. So chill”. Karen chilled.
As we settled in we were completely and openly stared at. “Internationals” do not ride this class much. I thought I would find it pretty unnerving if the staring continued as I was going to sleep, but as it turned out, sleep was not an issue since I didn't do it. There were two things that made sleep not an option. First of all, we were not on an Express but on a Passenger” train which stopped with a great deal of noise and clanging, quite frequently, for the next 11 hours. Second thing was that we are well acclimated to the heat now and so when the temperature dropped to probably 70 degrees, it was FREEZING cold. I wrapped my upper body in my yoga mat like a burrito. That lead to more staring, let me tell you.
The night was alright – in fact, it was remarkable. We were awake for a journey through the Indian landscape with a full moon overhead. I know that if we had gotten what we asked for – 2 tier sleeper and express, we would have had a much more insulated experience. We didn't get what we asked for, but we got what we needed. Seems like our ambitious travel-agent-guy was in cahoots with the “venerable sequencing goddess” after all.