Her parents were Christian missionaries who had just accepted an assignment in India; in a land dominated by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and the occasional Jain. Their destination was Assam, a remote part of India. Assam is just on the other side of Bangladesh in the northern most corner of India.
While her parents' village was in Garo Hills of Assam, she would take a train to her school on the other side of the country in one of the 'Hill Towns' of the Himalayas called Mussoorie. Her school was a boarding school up on a crest (you can see the it, right) with a beautiful view of the Himalayan peaks from the campus. It took 3 days, by train, to get to school from her village in the Garo Hills. She rode in an open box car train consisting of wooden benches where people sat in rows. .... wow .... seriously? How do you sleep? But then that would explain why she was good with the 'first class' sleeper train we took up to visit her school. Trains in India are a world of their own.
Throughout the night there was the occasional pull at the door of our sleeper compartment (I should mention that the door was a steel plated one that slid open with a lock-in-place bar handle). Thus the air quotes around 'first class.' Our compartment was similar to the one shown (below, right).
The pulling at the door would turn to a yank, then an aggressive rocking rattle with what I assume to be swearing in Hindi. The pounding would begin in earnest after that (I should also mention that you cannot see through the door, so we could not see who was there or if they had finally given up).
We bought all 4 tickets so we could sleep in peace without worry. However since it was a compartment that slept 4 and there were only 3 of us, the train conductor was working some cash on the side and re-selling our 4th bed ... over, and over. It seemed that at each stop a new suspect would get on and the pounding would begin anew.
Another important piece to this story is that the this 'first class' train was also a mail train, which is why it stopped at every friken town from Delhi to Dehradun (our destination). And why the pounding continued throughout the entire night.
One more reason to be thankful while in India is for my Mother-In-Law who had done all this before. Remember the train ride she took regularly to school, through the foothills of the Himalayas ..well it must have taught her a trick or two about how to ride a train in India. And so as it goes with most women, I had 'to go' in the middle of the night. I get up, swing open the door and try to close it. However, I can't and notice my Mother-In-Law is standing behind me blocking the door closure. I think, well ok she's gotta go too. She turns sharply to my husband and says "lock it behind us and don't let anyone else in." Right, forgot about all that.
She follows me down the corridor and as I go into the bathroom compartment, once again I can't get the door closed behind me. There she is again "um thanks, I think I got this" I say. She gives me that look only a mother can do ... that look of pity and knowing all in one and says "you'll need my help." Once inside I quickly see the problem. There is only a hole in the floor, aka a Turkish Toilet (left). Note, I decided to use a picture of a new, uninstalled toilet as there just is no need to show one that has been in use, particularly one from a train in India.
Now the interesting part of this kind of toilet is that it is on a train, and so the it opens to the bottom of the train with the train tracks quickly flashing below as I look down. Oh lord - really? My Mother-In-Law kicks into action and demonstrates for me that I must brace myself against one wall while holding on to a bar on the other side and watch where I put my feet (the raised bumps are for traction). I am supposed to do all this while managing to get my pants down. Good God - really? Let's hear it for 'first class.'
We finally roll into to Dehradun and I get my first Indian Chai - street style. Now I have to say the Chai you get at Starbucks is nice if you like liquefied pumpkin pie. But real Chai doesn't taste like that.
They steep the tea on the burner with the sugar added, then cool it with the addition of milk. Finally they draw the tea (pouring it back and forth between pots) to both mix and froth it. You just can't find it here in the states.
We find a taxi and head up to the Mussoorie along the switchback roads that make up the foothills of the Himalayas. Our 45-min, white-knuckle drive land us along the main road of Mussoorie, which is lined with a sort of half outside and half inside market bizarre. These markets are prevalent throughout India, and it is where I find my bronze Shiva. The one I use for my profile picture. See my following blog My Shiva.