A recipe for disaster: taking the train from Delhi to Mumbai

1 mutton bhuna
1 23-hour train journey from Delhi to Mumbai
1000s of Indian fare-dodgers


1. Book your train ticket from Delhi to Mumbai as late as possible. This way you will only be able to arrange for a seat on the slow train, enabling you to prolong your journey for a further six hours. You'll want a berth in sleeper class, allowing you to share your carriage with as many locals as possible, and ensuring that when the unthinkable happens, the services at your disposal to deal with the situation are disappointingly inadequate. Try and pick a train that departs from Amritsar, as said services will already have been 'in use' for some time when you board at Delhi.

2. Before your train leaves at half-past four, make sure you get a good lunch inside you, as finding safe and nutritious meals on the Indian rail network can be tricky. Consider a tasty, medium-hot mutton bhuna from one of the small, steamy and sonorous joints in Paharganj, the backpacker area just west of New Delhi Railway Station. Feel free to shop around, but ideally you want a dish that has probably been cooked several days previously in dubious surroundings. This could be the case at pretty much any establishment.

3. As your train leaves the station and rumbles through the endless and ever-changing suburbs of Delhi, take in the view from your window while getting to know a nice Indian family that are sharing the area with you. You'll need them.

4. If everything is going to plan, your stomach should start cramping and making odd noises not long after the bunks are pulled down and everyone settles in for the night at about nine o'clock. Although the lights are going off around you, you should probably use this opportunity to make the first of many dread-filled walks to the revolting squat toilet at the end of the carriage.

5. Now to add some real Indian flavour into your recipe. As the sweats begin to take over and your toilet trips become ever-more frequent with ejections at both ends, look on aghast as an unfathomable number of locals ascend the steps onto the train and cram themselves into every possible space up and down the carriage. This includes the toilet, your fortress of solitude, which now has a small family staring up at you wide-eyed as you open the door trying desperately not to de-clench.

6. It may be two in the morning, but if in doubt, go. Although your stomach cramps are reducing you to tears, it will be a hell of a lot worse if you stay in your bed; with the number of people now sharing your carriage, the journey to the cubicle is at least four times longer than it was before. When you return to your bunk to find three men with identical moustaches sat on your sleeping bag, don't fret, just hurl yourself into the corner and then kick them until you have enough space to lie down.

7. As a beautiful, cloudless dawn emerges over western India, feel relieved as the army of invaders eventually departs, and allows you to stretch out on the bed you've paid for (when your stomach will allow). Even though you think there can't be anything more left inside you to expel, you're wrong. If you're lucky, someone will be along soon selling bottled water to replace the supply you used up four hours ago. Try to get some rest.

8. Nearly twenty-four hours after leaving Delhi you should be ready to stagger off the train in Mumbai as a delirious, shaking, exhausted wreck, assisted by the deeply-concerned family that you have been sharing your experience with. They should be able to help you up the stairs and find a taxi that will get you to the closest hotel as quickly as possible. Your wallet disappeared from your bag at some point during the night, but luckily you've got some American Dollars hidden in your backpack that your driver is more than happy to accept at a frightening exchange rate.

You're done! All you've lost along the way are your money and bank cards, your dignity and a lot of body weight. But in exchange you have a story, a lesson on eating mutton curries before long train journeys, and a huge debt of gratitude to an Indian family whose names you'll never know and whom you'll never see again.

D Rowland

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