Via Rail, Cab, and Rickshaw

Today the rains have returned, and the world is wet for the first time since my arrival. There are deep puddles in the streets, and drivers creep past pedestrians, trying manfully to avoid soaking us. The local cafe is unusually empty for 7:15 in the morning, even though the sun has now shown itself, and begun to dry the soggy world. Even the crows seem reticent to make an appearance, although I can hear a few calling from nearby.

This past few days we have traveled across the Indian countryside by train and cab. The cab ride was four hours in duration, and took us from Bangalore to Mysore, ending in a truly monumental traffic jam. Trains carried us from Chennai to Bangalore (5 hours), and Mysore to Chennai (8 hours). Bangalore is the High Tech capital of India, with a rich arts scene. Mysore is the seat of the King, who resides , part-time, in a magnificent palace.

The view from the train is elevated, more often than not, looking down into the back yard of life in India. We took express trains, which, while very affordable by Western standards, are beyond the reach of many Indians. All along the route people stop and watch the trains pass, often waving, and occasionally take photos from their mobile phones. Many poor families build thatch or adobe houses along the tracks, frequently orienting the open end of the enclosure towards the tracks, for maximum privacy. As a result, train passengers peer directly into the families’ living spaces.

The food on the express trains is abundant and often quite good, occasionally surpassing that served on international flights. Meals are included in the fare, as are water, tea, and snacks. Much of our trips was consumed with eating…..

One distinctive advantage of trains over cabs, aside from avoiding traffic, is the opportunity to see wildlife, especially birds. The trains pass through forest, farmland, chaparral, and rice paddies, providing opportunity to see fowl from many habitats. One of my favorite moments occurred when we passed over a wetland. Below us, perhaps 40 feet, three eagles played together in the air!

The cab ride exposed us to a different world. Instead of viewing poverty, we drove through it. Jennie said she was reminded of Bangladesh. Here one must be careful though, for poverty is very much in the eye of the beholder, and  many persons we Westerners see as destitute see themselves as comfortable, or even well off. Some of them would argue that what we have as material wealth, they have as dense networks of social interaction.

One last form of transportation is motorized rickshaw. I was reminded of this when I set aside writing this post in order to go to a meeting. You guessed it, via rickshaw. I am amazed, at the end of each such ride, that we have arrived at our destination in one piece. So far, so good!

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