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Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The story of how I found my first Ladies Special carriage

Impressions of India: 8

I’m currently travelling for 3 months in India, through Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan, with a pretty hot and hectic schedule of boutique hotel reviews. The galleries below are my online photojournalist diary of scenes caught, people met and things found along the way. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did and am still.

Please do take a moment to log and/or e-mail me your reactions and comments? Given the slow upload speed, each post takes around 3 hours straight to get online (not counting image-selection and -editing time), and knowing that lots of you are reading and enjoying it will add great fuel to my fire!

It came about through a big, but serendipitous, orienteering mistake. And this is the family who led me astray, though it was my own fault for not carrying an India guide book yet and only asking one set of locals. After several shyly-exchanged smiles and their agreeing to be photographed, I asked them ‘Are you going to Trivandrum?’ to which they answered ‘Yes, we are going to Trivandrum.’ ‘Great, do you mind if I stick with you then? I find the Indian train system confusing.’

With many more shy but intrigued smiles, they seemed to agree to this and told me it wasn’t the next train to arrive on the platform but the one after. The ticket-booth lady’s version of departure time for Trivandrum came and went, but I just thought it was late and I was having fun photographing this sweet family – 2 sisters with their husbands and one son/daughter each.
They do this strange thing in Kerala, I’ve seen it a number of times. They dye their baby girls’ eyebrows in, and often quite clumsily as seen below. Only the girls though, not the boys.
The screeching of the trains’ brakes as they arrive can indeed be deafening,
and a ray of early evening sunlight (it was around 5.30pm), picked out the one snoozing commuter in the frame.
Finally, I and the sweet family all got on the train together, though ended up in different sections of the carriage according to where there were still seats.  The toes you can see on the left belong to a man who was so deeply asleep that he kept threatening to fall off his bunk onto the family below and, after a few dangling-limbed scares, communal steps were taken to wake him up and prevent this.
We stopped here, beside this political-convention-with-fireworks, for at least half an hour. I’ve no idea why. Did the driver want to listen and watch?
And this, below, is the beautiful wife of the kind man who ended up rectifying my mistake. We’d been happily bouncing along together for an hour, and I’d taken just one or two shots of his wife, telling her that I found her very lovely (which was making all of them laugh), when her husband asked me: ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Trivandrum’, I said, confidently. ‘Oh no, this train doesn’t go to Trivandrum.’ ‘Ah, where does it go then?’ ‘To Chennai.’ ‘And what time do we get to Chennai? (as I had no idea where that was) ‘7 o’clock tomorrow morning.’ Wrong train, in a completely different direction to the one I wanted to go. 

I couldn’t resist going into the next section to say to my first family ‘This train is going to Chennai!’ to which they responded happily, ‘Yes, Chennai, Chennai.’ I can only imagine they thought I was asking if they or the train were coming from Trivandrum rather than going to.
But my kind rescuer told me where to get off (‘not this station, next one’) and even the scheduled time of the next train (8.30pm, which meant a good hour-long platform wait) from there back to Varkala and then on to Trivandrum.

So I duly dismounted, found the right opposite platform, settled down to wait, and promptly met and was befriended by the lovely Gita, a ‘teacher of teachers’, below.  She also took out her laptop and started surfing the internet - on the station platform, which a) introduced the exciting prospect of my getting a similar mobile broadband stick and b) made me feel secure enough to take out my own laptop in public and do some useful work too.
Then the platform announcer told us all that the 8.30pm train was delayed by an hour and a half and everyone resigned themselves to the further wait.
Finally it arrived and Gita led me into my first ladies-only carriage where we shared a seat.
Gita’s English was excellent, so we were able to chat freely, though she was clearly tired too and I knew why when she told me she was doing a daily 3hrs-each-way commute!
 Several of the other ladies were clearly very tired too,
and, 5 hours after I left Varkala on my first train, we stopped there again, which was a moment worth commemorating.
Things were very peaceful and mellow in the ladies carriage, a mother cradling her son’s head as he slept on her shoulder, this beautiful girl dozing and dreaming and using her mobile, a graceful old lady combing her hair, the lady opposite stretched out sleeping.

So, even though a journey which should have taken half an hour ended up taking 5 and a half, and I finally got to Trivandrum at 11.30pm,  I had to be glad of my mistake or most/all of the pictures in this post would never have happened. Nor would I have met Gita, nor got hold of my wonderful mobile broadband stick anywhere near as soon!
Posts still to come: 

Life and death in Trivandrum's big outdoor market

The seductive sea-sunsets of Kovalam
Varkala's grin-inspiring temple festival
A smelly train, 2 squeaky-clean planes and a comfy sleeper bus from Varkala, Kerala to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
One musical, 1 contemporary, 1 suddenly-abandonned, and 2 living Stone Age-style thatched mud-hut villages in the Thar Desert
Magical carved-sandstone Jaisalmer Fort


  1. I loved this story! Reminded me of the phrase, wherever we go there we are! And the importance of enjoying the journey as well as the destination.

  2. Gareth I Davies said...

    Hello Cathy, love the latest pictures! Train journey in particular, now your cooking. Moving in close on your subjects, and the results are engaging & beautiful in the sense of a captured twilight of a distant world. Definately a step change in confidence with the camera & story telling. More of the same in digging deeper with the human struggle. Seeing technology in use is of particular interest to me ( woman with laptop ) a gateway to empowerment, if it is indeed the case. Looking forward to witnesing further intimate encounters. X

  3. Julia Craig-McFeely said...

    Wow! I've just been looking at your pictures, and they're stunning.

  4. Sarah O'Keefe said...

    Your blog is beautiful, I can see you are really getting into your stride with the photos too, the tea plantations and train shots are stunning.

    I am particularly taken with the way you interact with the people you meet, that is your charm, you genuinely connect with everyone and capture their spirit.

  5. Dragan Matjevic said...

    It's punchy and transportive!

  6. Gavin Griffiths said...

    Amazing to see all your wonderful shots of India. It's been such a long time since I was there and always wanted to go back. I am inspired by your pictures. Thanks again for the lovely vision!!

  7. Jenny Evans said...

    Love the photos. Really evocative.