Stealing a Train 1

“Shit…I do not have a valid ticket for this train” – my thoughts as I looked up at the sheets hanging up on the wall of the Amritsar Train Station. I had bought a ticket but was still number 3 on the waitlist for the way back: 9 hours to Delhi. It was 10pm and I knew I had to be in my 8am class the following morning. As the train started the move I made up my mind and jumped onto the very first luxury car. One way or another I would make it back to Delhi that night.

I found the first empty bunk and sat down on it. Ten minutes later no one had come by to kick me out and so I threw my bag under my head and went to sleep. They wouldn’t wake me up to check my ticket right? Wrong. An hour and a half later the Ticket Checker came by and told me that I was in the wrong class (my ticket said 3rd AC and I was in 1st AC). “Oh sorry sir, my mistake”. I move two cars down and settled down in the 2nd AC room on another conveniently empty bunk. 30 minutes later the same guy woke me up again and had the same story: “Mr. Harmsen you are supposed to be in 3rd AC”.

When he found me sleeping in 3rd AC an hour later he was slightly more furious and told me get off the train. It turns out he had finally cross-referenced my name with his list rather than just looking at my ticket. Acting confused and foreign did not help me very much because all the beds would actually be filled up by the next couple stops and even if I bribed him it would not accomplish anything. I took my bag, decided that my time in the luxury train cars was over and stepped off the train in a random city somewhere between Amritsar and Delhi.

Now I had a couple choices:

1)      Take a hotel for the night and look for another train leaving the next day

2)      Find a random expensive taxi ride back to Delhi (~6 hours)

3)      Not go back to Delhi and just start a new life wherever this new place was I had just arrived

I decided to walk down the platform and jump back onto the train in the sleeper class. I was still going to reach my 8am class on time – no matter what!

The sleeper class was very unorganized, had lots of people (definitely more than the number of bunks), and was a different world than the cars I just left behind. Somehow I found an empty bunk and curled up again – who knows how much more sleep I would be able to get that night. At around 1am I was woken up by the Ticket Checker, to my relief not the same one as before. He mentioned that I was in the wrong bunk, had an invalid ticket and was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time. As everyone’s eyes were on this white guy getting in trouble there must have been 20 Indians or so sneaking behind the TC to avoid meeting my same fate.

This time, playing the foreigner card worked out beautifully, as it was my “first time” using the train and I actually had purchased a ticket weeks prior. He told me that I would be able to stay on this bunk until 3:30am at which point I would get kicked out by the guy who had reserved that bunk. YES! At least I would be within 3.5 hours of Delhi at that point, meaning it would be much easier and cheaper to get home from there. And I was still on track to make it for my class!

A large, India man came onto the train at 3:30am and kindly told me move. I obliged and looked for a new, hopefully final, spot to park myself. Strangely, at this point in the train ride most of the bunks had 2 or 3 people on them, leading me to believe that there were more people on the train than tickets. This late at night / early in the morning you just don’t care anymore and so ultimately I decided to lay myself on the ground between two bunks, my bag for a pillow and my mosquito net for warmth. It was a GREAT sleep!

I woke up at 6:30am to the sunrise, talked to some friendly Indians around me and somehow managed to miss the New Delhi station where I intended to get off. This was OK however because the next Delhi stop 10 minutes down the line was actually closer to IITD. There I hopped off the train, found an autorickshaw for a reasonable price and somehow made it back to the campus by 7:58am. I was in my seat, in class by 8:05!

Some random train station along the way…

Also, the Wagah Border ceremony in Amritsar was amazing. We had second row seats to a ceremony at the India-Pakistan border in which pompous dress, drill and conduct created a very charged and exciting atmosphere for fans on both sides of the border! It was a lot of fun and it was very interesting to see the patriotism and feelings of nationhood that were displayed.

Standing in front of the Pakistan-India border. On the other side of that orange fence is Pakistan!

The Golden Temple of the Sikh faith is so far the most spiritual place that I have ever visited in my life. Sitting at the edge of the water for an hour at night allowed for such peaceful meditation. The knowledge that there are so many people around is comforting, the breeze and smell of the water calming and the continuous chanting played over the sound system is quite enchanting.

Had to cover our heads to enter the Gurudwara

It is also one of the most charitable places of worship I have seen and they never ask outright for donations as has happened so often with other religions places I have visited. This particular Gurudwara (Sikh temple) feeds 50-60,000 people every day on donations and volunteer work. And the food was great!

Photo credit to my roommate, Jerry, who went to Amritsar & the Golden Temple a week later


  1. Nights are really cold now and the fact that the walls do not have insulation makes this really apparent
  2. It doesn’t take too much effort to convince 6 Indian girls to join you on a weekend trip which is a 9-hour train-trip away

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One thought on “Stealing a Train

  • Philip E

    That is a pretty impressive commute to school! When I was called out for selectively interpreting some of the rules in India I tried speaking nothing but french in reply… it generally worked quite well. : )