Third Tier A/C, it sounded slightly different, but I expected similar to my previous experiences on Indian Railways. Rock up, get your bunk, wobble your head at your compartment travellers (a little less wobble for the other passengers and their curious gawping, you don’t want to get too friendly too early and you certainly don’t want to share bunk space). Cling on to the surface, try and get comfortable. Take it in turns to hang out the open door. Try again to get comfortable. Press your face up against the window rails for a view if you can’t get near the door. Regret never ever having been to Pilates in preparation for this type of carry-on. Try once again to get comfortable.

As soon as we entered Coach B-2 for the De-Mille-esque journey ahead of us, everything looked the same, but different. The carriages from the outside looked as I remembered them, a sort of sky blue and darker blue appearance that once upon a time Coventry City may have used for their home kit, with a tinge of yellow that they probably wouldn’t. The bunks with their gloomily unwelcoming chains, the fans set at rakish angles (Hello Michael!).

Then it struck me.
Tinted windows. Sheets? Pillows? Blankets? Sockets.
And yer actual A/C Unit.
This wasn’t exactly how I remembered it.

How naive. I presumed A/C meant doors and windows open 24/7, dust on demand, get your fresh air when you can. I’d lost something in translation, or, as is often here, application of the translation.
A kindly Merchant Seaman, on his way back to ship for another voyage (and we thought Mumbai- Kolkata by train was a bit of a wrench) to wherever work next took him, corrected me on my assumption. Explaining that Third Tier A/C meant a modicum of comfort we bunkered down for the 34 hours journey ahead of us.

Smart arse me, feeling over qualified (knob) through my extensive (knob) adventures of this wonderful country, I took it upon myself to explain to my fellow travellers exactly (knob) what would happen on these over night excursions. Turns out I got things a bit wrong. What James and Vicky (an absolutely delightful couple who I’d spent the last day or so with) did get was two nights of reasonable sleep and enough A/C to hoodwink a Polar Bear into putting another layer on. And reasonable food for a very reasonable price. They got somewhere to plug in the IPad to watch Borat (thanks James) and somewhere to stoically, and relatively untroubled, finish the latest Marion Keyes novel (kudos Vicky). They also got to play I Spy (see below).

What they didn’t get was the thrill of hanging on outside a train while it powers through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, through Jharakand and on into West Bengal and the exhilarating sights, sounds and smells this experience allows. The wailing eunuchs, the cherubic tat salesmen, the suspicious looking vendors all will have to wait for another day.

Like buying a ticket for an Iron Maiden concert and getting Crowded House instead. Tedium rather than tangible, India through a tinted window rather than the in your face, roller coaster thriller a joyride in Sleeper Class* provides.
Out of my brain alright. Through boredom sadly.

*All these years thinking A/C and Sleeper were the same thing. That’s another great thing about India, just when you think you’ve got the place sussed, it turns round and bites you on the arse.

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