Culture Opinion, 07/08/2016

A Tiny Train to Bhuj

KhO aims to offer a Kharkivite perspective not just on the city and region of Kharkiv, but also on the wider world. Here, we hear the thoughts of a Kharkiv architect as she travels by railway across northwestern India.  


I find it very convenient to travel by railway in India, despite the potential complaint that the sleeping places are too dusty. Traveling from the north to the south of India in winter requires carrying a warm blanket or a sleeping bag – because here, you won’t be given such things on some classes of the train. This is a contrast to the Ukrainian railways, where you get a sleeping set and blanket as part of your ticket price.

A fellow passenger once told me that what he finds great about the Indian railways is that, because of the huge number of classes, anyone can afford to travel on them. You can sit in a tiny carriage with many many many people, you can lounge in a wagon with elegant old shutters, you can sleep in the cool of air-conditioning. In any case, you’ll get from one city to another.

This time I travelled from Udaipur to Ahmedabad in a small train of six or seven wagons. Strangely, this was a train where no-one was selling anything. I began to feel that I missed those guys, with their cries of “pani, bees rupees!” (“water, 20 rupees”).

In Ahmedabad I spent four hours at the ladies’ waiting hall before my next train to Bhuj. In this free time I got a shower in a clean public toilet – a bucket shower, where the water falls everywhere in the cubicle. In this way, the place gets cleaned naturally as it’s used. This was my second public shower – for a traveler with a long distance to cover, these are a very – very – useful facility. A few months back I was introduced to paper soap, which has become an incredibly important part of my train-going pocket-contents. It’s easy to use and your hands are always clean. If there’s no water on the train you can always pour a bit of drinking water over your hands, and voila!

In the waiting hall I got myself a seat and, after reading about Gandhi’s trip to England, I fell asleep. I think he struggled much more with sailing in a ship than I did sleeping in a sitting position over my backpack that morning. I woke up exactly on time for breakfast. Here, this was a perfect morning omelet, with chili and onions, wrapped in a toast – served on the platform directly from the pan. Good morning, India!

At that time I didn’t know that my route to Bhuj, the long road to the far west of India with its salty soil and windmills, would remind me of the movie Dead Man. Gandhiji – ‘ji’ at the end of a name is a sign of respect in India – sailed to South Africa, back to India, back to South Africa, and then again back to India, where he established an Ashram in Ahmedabad and mediated in a dispute about the consumption of cows’ milk – but I was still just here, on a tiny train to Bhuj.

I went all this way, to the far west, to learn about mud architecture. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to visit the Hunnarshala Foundation, a centre of knowledge on textiles. And then – the journey back…


Copyright © Vasilisa Shchogoleva


Vasylysa Shchoholeva is a co-organizer of Ukrainian Puzzle, a series of seminars that aims to widen understanding of the development of cities in Ukraine. This text is an edited version of one that originally appeared on her blog.

Illustrations by the author