Nevermind the tigers: Part 1

Todd and chaos on the train to Sawai Madhopur, India
Chaos on the train to Ranthambore, India | Photo by Lauren Girardin

When you travel through a well-trod area like Rajasthan, India, you sometimes feel like you’re on a route that follows a checklist of the top things to see and do. Jaipur’s Monkey Temple? Check. Udaipur’s Octopussy-made famous lake? Check.

Since it’s on the checklist and not out of the way, Todd and I head to Rathambore National Park to see its famous tigers. We’re in Rajasthan – it’s what you do. Despite taking two safaris, we saw no tigers. Instead, it was the getting in and getting out of Ranthambore that were the wild experiences.

Standing in the aisle on the train to Sawai Madhopur, India
Standing in the aisle on the train to Sawai Madhopur, India | Photo by Todd Berman

We haven’t booked our train tickets in advance because the ride from Bundi to Sawai Madhopur – the town adjacent to the park – is brief, just two hours and you’re there. With what we think are valid tickets in hand, Todd and I hop on one of the regular sleeper class cars only to find every seat filled, our tickets useless, and the train suddenly in motion. The conductors are not helpful, they just shrug and squeeze by. We’re getting dirty looks from families who have settled into their sleeper bunks, ready for the long overnight ride through to Delhi. We’re stuck standing in the narrow aisle, in the way of every chai wallah, soda wallah, chapati wallah, policeman, conductor, and passenger needing to use the bathroom.

After a half hour, despite our lack of Hindi and everyone else’s lack of English, someone realizes that we’re only on board through Rathambore. A family squishes closer on their bunks and insists on sharing their seats with us, relieved that we won’t be in the way all night.

Hare Krishna chaos on the train to Sawai Madhopur, India
Hare Krishna chaos on the train to Sawai Madhopur | Photo by Todd Berman

It’s then that the Hare Krishna band walks into our car.

Suddenly, we’re rocking. The train rocks, as trains do, from side to side. A baby swaddled in a makeshift hammock strung from the upper bunks rocks back and forth, swinging wildly between my face and Todd’s. The Hare Krishna band is rocking out – everyone in our train car sings along with the repetitive lyrics, which are amplified by a portable speaker, distorted and buzzy from being turned to up to 11. There’s a tambourine and drums. Hands clapping. The music is loud. The colors are loud. The train is loud. The people are loud. Loud. Loud. Loud.

Amidst all this noise, Todd and I sit quietly with giant smiles on our faces. This is what we came here for. This is what we love about India, these unbridled, unexpected moments that sweep you up – whether you’re ready for them or not.