India: The Journey to Bilaspur

New Years day we traveled to the state of Chhattisgarh to visit the hospital I have been volunteering for.  The trip there was a typical Indian journey.  The hospital is in Ganiyari, a small village next to Bilaspur, a small city about 2 hours north of Raipur, the capital of the state of Chhattisgarh. Our plan was to fly to Raipur and take a train from there to Bilaspur.
A few hours before our flight, I received a text message telling me that our flight was delayed. Fortunately, we left enough buffer time between our flight arrival and the train that this should not have made a difference.
We started off from home at around 2pm on a rickshaw.  During our ride to the airport, a car pulled up next to our rickshaw and asked how to get somewhere.  Our driver proceeded to provide detailed directions. All this happened as we were going full speed on the highway.
We got to the airport early and, as the time arrived for us to board the plane, the gate still hadn’t opened.  The further delay of the flight by about 30 minutes made us more nervous about catching our train.
When we got off the plane in Raipur, we were stunned by something we were not prepared for and had not seen in four months – rain.
Watching the clock and fully aware that our chances of catching our train were slimming by the minute, we waited anxiously for our luggage. Of course, our bags were the last ones on belt.
We took the half hour taxi to the station and, not surprisingly, missed our train. I went the inquiry window to ensure that the train had already left and the woman there told me in very broken English that I can use the same ticket to get on a train going to Bilaspur that leaves in 15 minutes, but I have to get permission from the TT first, then told me on which platform the TT office is (I still don’t know what TT stands for, but I think it means Ticketmaster).
We went to that platform I was directed to, not really knowing what we were looking for. We started asking people where the TT office is, but the language barrier was quite difficult; although English is widely spoken in India, it is not used as much in poorer regions that see few tourist (the entire state of Chhattisgarh is 2 pages out of 1,200 of Lonely Planet India). It didn’t help matters that as we were running around trying to ask directions, a full marching band randomly walked into the station and started playing.
When finally we found the TT and he explained to us which train to take and wrote on our tickets that we could use them for any train going in that direction. He also explained that the ticket collector on the train would have to give us permission as well. As he was explaining all this to me, Devorah noticed the fire buckets that were hanging in the office. These are red buckets that you might see in a museum or old photos, except these looked as though they were still functional, since they were full of sand and water. I use the term function loosely because I don’t think they could put out a garbage can fire, let alone anything serious.
We got on the train without a problem, but when we got to Bilaspur we ran into another obstacle. Our plan was to call my friend Dan who we were staying with when we got to Bilaspur, but our cell phones had no reception. This was bit of shock since we are using Vodaphone, one of the country’s largest networks. We had to find a pay phone to connect with Dan.
Pay phones in India are just a regular phone in a booth. They are manned by someone (a phone-wallah?) who you pay according to the amount of time you use the phone.  The term for interstate calls here is Standard Trunk Dialing.  All the of the phone booths have the acronym S.T.D. on them, but most Indian’s don’t see what’s funny about that.
When we finally got an S.T.D., I called Dan, but I got an operator message. We were at a loss. We were at a loss – it was getting late, we were in a city we didn’t know and we didn’t have any way to reach our one contact there. And, it was still raining. I called a couple more times, but it was awkward to keep placing the same call in the small booth with the phone-wallah looking at me quizzically. We decided to call Ram, our mutual friend in Bombay and asked him to try to call or text Dan to let him know that wee were at the train station and our phones were not working. As soon as I hung up the phone, it rang and Dan was on the other line. With a sigh of relief and instructions in hand, we hopped in a rickshaw.
At one point our driver stopped for a minute and hopped out to deal with something. The radio was playing the type of song you might hear at an Indian restaurant in the states.  It was dark and muddy. The streets were quiet, save for a lone cow slowly walking down the street beside us.  It was an iconic ending to our 9 hour journey.

1 Comment

Filed under Animals, Transit, Uncategorized

One response to “India: The Journey to Bilaspur

  1. judy

    This is so funny…

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