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November 14, 2012
Everyone I asked assured me that the Indian Railroads would be a cultural experience I would not want to miss if I was looking for good slice of life in India. Last night pastor Prasoon drove Murray and me through the endless Diwali celebrations so we could take an overnight train to Uttar Pradesh. It had been a good day; a fun one. We got off to a slow start, hanging around the guest house for a couple of hours, before I was asked what I would like for lunch. I went with McDonald’s. It’s not that I particularly like McDonald’s, but that I was curious to know what their menu would look like in a nation where cows are sacred (to Hindus) and pork forbidden (to Muslims).
It turns out they have pretty much all the same chicken items as in North America, but none of the beef or pork. In their place are vegetarian dishes like the McEgg Burger (egg and mayo on a bun) or McSpicy Paneer. I decided to try the Chicken Maharaja Mac—a rough chicken equivalent to the Big Mac. It was not delicious. On the plus side, the Oreo McFlurry was every bit as good as the North American one and the fries were just as they should be. The McDonald’s was in a mall and I was surprised to see that security checked the trunk of the car before we drove into the parking garage and that a security guard passed over each of us with a metal detector wand as we walked into the mall (albeit rather halfheartedly). New Delhi reflects some fear of terrorism, presumably based upon Muslim on Hindu violence.
In the afternoon we drove to the church building to spend some time with the college and career group of Delhi Bible Fellowship’s south congregation. It was Diwali, the year’s major Hindu celebration, which meant that all the schools and most of the businesses in the city had been shut down. We ended up talking about how to know and do the will of God and from there how to grow in spiritual discernment. It is a great group of young people, most of whom are Indians, but some of whom are from elsewhere in the world. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them over several days. They were kind enough to send me on my way with a pretty amazing t-shirt.
There were still several hours before the train left so I asked to see something in New Delhi that was beautiful, something that was genuinely New Delhi. The city is so sprawling and so blanketed in fog that real beauty is hard to come by. We soon found ourselves at Qutub Minar, a monument that is something like 800 years old.
And then it was time to take the train. The New Delhi train station was, in a word, unbelievable. Our hosts knew we were in for a shock and I could see their grins growing wider as we got close. The station was huge and packed to its farthest corners with massive crowds of people. Everyone was being funnelled to a single line with an airport-style scanner for the suitcases and a metal detector (which, for some reason, was unmanned) for the people. It was full-out warfare in that line, with people shoving and pushing to get ahead, though I’m not sure why. Our hosts explained that Indian people are always in a rush to get into or out of the train. The platform was densely packed, there were dogs wandering around, and there was an awful lot of spitting going on. The bathrooms were abhorrent. What amazed me what was how busy the station was on Diwali, a day when traffic was necessarily far lower than average. I can’t imagine what it would be like at full capacity.
Thankfully the overnight train ride was quite a good experience. Indian trains are a world unto themselves. A train that travels between New Delhi and a big city in Uttar Pradesh might have 20 or more cars divided into several different classes. Class 1 AC is the most expensive and offers either a couple or an individual a small cabin all their own. The AC indicates that they also get air conditioning. Next up is 2 AC, where two people are bunked one on top of the other in little compartments of four beds, each of which is curtained off from the rest of the train. Then there is 3 AC, which has three people stacked up, and after that sleeper class, which has three people stacked up but without the air conditioning. Last of all is the general class which is almost impossibly crowded, has no bunks and has no air conditioning; if I understand it correctly, they will just fit as many people in there as can fit, and then add a few more for good measure. We went with 2 AC and found the experience quite comfortable, except that I am just north of six feet tall and the bed couldn’t have been more than, say, five foot eight. It was a tight squeeze, but I feel right asleep and had no conscious thoughts until almost 7 hours later when the train was nearing its destination.
I woke up in Uttar Pradesh, the nation’s most populated state. I have heard of the Lord’s work here and am looking forward to seeing it up close. I will be staying with a friend who lives in the area. We will first be spending time with a group of local pastors and church leaders and then going to visit some local charitable work. It sounds like a busy day and I’ll be sure to tell you about it tomorrow.