I leave the cold airport of Kuala Lumpur behind and fly to Tiruchirapalli, a hot, dusty town in southern India. From the airport, I immediately head to the train station.

After a few hours, my train arrives — a light blue, slightly shabby locomotive called the “Jammu Express.” It is already two hours late. For 800 rupees, I will spend the next two days on it, traveling to New Delhi.

The train passes old ruined buildings, small clay villages, and enormous fields. The wind blows into the car and fills it with the smell of hot ground and dry grass. At the speed of 80 kilometers per hour, our train surges through India — from the bottom up to the top of the mountainous region of Kashmir.

With 37 more hours to go. I start observing my fellow passengers while I sit right under the fan — lucky me.

It’s 9 a.m., but many of my neighbors are still asleep. An old man in an orange robe kindly strokes his beard while sleeping. The employee from the restaurant car couldn’t care less about the slumbering passengers, walking down the car yelling “Tea! Tea! Hot masala tea!”

People begin to wake. Mothers braid their daughters’ hair, while men stretch lazily on bunks without bed covers.

Breakfast time now. The restaurant car employees have been on their feet since 5 a.m., preparing tangy curries in giant pots. They zealously hustle over giant hot pots under the watchful eye of Mahatma Gandhi, who looks at them from a painting on the wall. The employees seem more like parents feeding tired children, charging 50 rupees per serving for rice and curry in a plastic or foil container. As soon as these packages are empty, they are flung out the window — joining the other plastic boxes, bags, bottles, and leftovers, which, to the delight of stray dogs, line the tracks.

After handing over 20 rupees for a tea in a reusable cup, I decide to go on a tour of the other cars.

Each car is the same as mine — no windows, no air conditioners, full of women in beautiful clothing with rings on each toe, surrounded by cute children. I’m frequently stopped by people who want to take a selfie with me — for a light-skinned European girl in one of the general class cars is an unusual sight for Indians. And, although I’m dressed very modestly, I cannot help but notice the interested stares of the Indian men.

As I walk further, I find myself in one of the elite cars. These cars are mostly filled with businessmen and women, wealthy Indians, or tourists with more money to spare. These cars are perfectly clean, calm, and nice, but boring compared to the general class compartments. The conductor clears his throat as if to hint that there’s no place for a girl with sleeper class ticket in this elite car.

Back in my assigned car, I find it easy to fall asleep with the monotonous, constant sound of the chugging iron wheels. My day is divided between napping and chatting with my neighbors. My new friends barely speak English, but we listen to Indian songs and watch music videos together. They even teach me some dance moves to go along with the music.

Darkness falls quickly outside. The passengers in my sleeper class car fall, one-by-one, into a deep sleep.

The next day is the same as the previous. The views outside are filled with colorful shabby houses, lean cows, and people who, without any discomfort, do their morning washing right near the train tracks.

We arrive in Delhi around 11 p.m. and I say goodbye to my new friends with a slight sadness, for, after more than 50 hours on the train together, we have become close.

I take my bag and leave the station, walking toward Main Bazar Street.The city air hits me right in the face with the force of a hot jet.

I think of the train journey, then about the experiences ahead. Hey, Delhi! Will we be friends?

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Irynka Hromotska
Irynka Hromotska is a freelance photographer originally from Ukraine. For almost two years she’s been on the road traveling through more than 30 countries while working on independent documentary photo projects. Her everyday work is based on learning about human experience in the different parts of the world. Her main interests include environmental issues and women's rights.