As I’d picked up my bike early into my Indian wanders, I’d yet to travel in India by train. A couple posts back, I described the anarchy that is an Indian railway crossing. In Patna, I learned crossings have NOTHING on another process involving railways: obtaining a ticket.
Many Indian trains are booked weeks in advance. But for many routes the railways set a couple tickets aside as specific last minute buys; there are tickets designated only for foreigners, tickets set to be sold only 2 days before the journey. . .Pete and I were hoping to take advantage of this opportunity.
Unfortunately, so, it seemed, was the rest of Patna. Hours before the gate opened a ‘line’ was already forming. There wasn’t shoving, or any violence within the group, but there wasn’t much space to breath, either. Which was causing a problem: I was starting to feel dizzy. Real dizzy. Worryingly dizzy. I have only the vaguest memories of much of the rest of that morning: A screech of metal as someone who had climbed up via the window managed to BEND the gate inwards, allowing them to hop in 20 seconds before everyone else managed to pour through into the unmarked line-ups. . .Managing to obtain a couple tickets in the lowest tier of available cabin cars. . .Following like a zombie behind Pete as we began the process of arranging our bikes to be shipped on the next train after us. . . Sitting down whenever possible, constantly weighing how likely it was I was about to faint or vomit.
The train journey to follow would be one of the most uncomfortable and, frankly, one of the most frightening days of my life. Having lived through occasional toothaches, infrequent migraines and less infrequent body modifications meant I was more familiar than I’d care to be with states of pain you can do nothing to alleviate. But I had never, through any of those experiences, actually feared for my life. 3 hours into a 10 hour ride I was starting to have very serious worries about how much fluid a person could rapidly lose before vital things started shutting down. By the time we reached destination I was so weak that Pete needed to hire someone to carry my bags from the train to the taxi that was taking us to the nearest government hospital. By the time I was admitted to the women’s isolation ward I was mildly delirious with fever, and in so much pain that any thought outside of ‘please, fuck, no more’ wasn’t really possible. I was first burning up, then freezing. There were convulsions. Fatigue. Weakness.
It was a day or two later (I literally lost track of the passage of time) that I joined Pete at the hotel he’d checked into (the poor bastard had spent the first night sleeping on a bench in the hospital’s hallway. At some point, apparently, someone had sat on him). I still wasn’t fully over the delirium and, somewhere between fever dreams and sobbing into my pillow, I realized I was no longer enjoying myself. I needed to go home.
A lot of fuckery followed that realization – there was the issue of selling the bikes (if we even could), arranging a flight home, finding out if my insurance would even cover it (it would). . .there was also depression. A lot of it. No matter what precedes it, your mind tends to hold onto your last memories of a place most strongly – was this the impression of India I wanted to take home with me? With apologies to anyone who calls it home, Patna’s a bit of a hole, and just wasn’t what I wanted to keep as my final memory of India.
After discussing it with Pete, we decided to complete the journey we’d started and hit one more location – Darjeeling. But there was still the matter of getting there – only a couple days prior I had all but passed out upon climbing on my bike.
I should note, at least briefly, how off balance I was feeling by this point. I wouldn’t know it until I was out of India and healthy again, but my Malaria meds had been playing havoc with my system and, as a result, my emotions were already going haywire. Throw into that equation that I was convinced the sickness was my fault for not taking more care, and was now feeling like a burden on Pete’s travels. . .and I was feeling pretty damn low indeed.
More afraid of another day in a hotel room, alone with my fever dreams and self-pity, than I was of the dangers of riding while sick, I stubbornly insisted I was feeling much better and up for the drive. Pete, having already spent one night sick with worry in a hospital hallway, felt otherwise. We compromised by hiring a jeep (for approximately $16 CAD dollars) to follow us with our luggage. If I felt weak, I was to stop, abandon the bike, and take the jeep the remainder of the way.
This proved to be a good decision. More on that next post. First, the story of one of my favourite images from India:
While Pete and I were preparing to leave Siliguri, I spotted this child playing outside the hotel. It’s difficult to tell from the photo, but that’s a simple frayed rope he’s sitting on. The glee on his face as he swung over the pile of garbage below spurred me to consider my own miserable mental state at the time. In that instant I was finding it pretty challenging to muster a smile, let alone anything resembling gratitude for my situation. But that kid’s joy reminded me that happiness is often an internal choice as opposed to a result of external forces. He may not have had shoes, a proper swing or his two front teeth, but he had enough to be happy.
I may have been angry with myself and nervous for the ride ahead but I had a bike on which to make that ride. I may have been upset to be ill in India but I was in India to begin with. I may even have been scared for my own health but I had possibilities for dealing with that as well – leaving India wasn’t a particularly desirable course of action but it was an option I had available to me. Some of the things I had were shit, but I still had more than most.
I also had a camera with which to take this photo, and to make of it a reminder: At any given moment we have the choice of where to set our focus: on the things we are lacking and the things that have gone wrong, or on the luck we have had and the fortunes we are blessed with. Which one we choose to dwell on forms the perspective that will colour our days – our outlook, our experiences and our interactions with others during our short time on this planet.
Following that thought I shook my head, clearing my mind of cobwebs and my face of the perpetual frown it had adopted the past several days, and made an internal offering of thanks for the luck I’d been fortunate enough to experience in my lifetime. After a quick, silent request to whatever deity or nameless force might be listening to please continue that good fortune, at least for a little while longer, I pulled on my helmet and readied myself for the hard ride ahead.
*This post is about travels that took place in Patna and Siliguri, India between April 15 and 19 of 2012.
*The full photo sets from India can be viewed over Flickr here, or on the Facebooks where you’ll find me as Krys C Wanders.