Losing Toes in an Indian Train
This Saga, though not true to the true meaning of the word is about the story I have told many times, yet never written down, so here it goes! Maybe a bit of a read, but relax and enjoy the ride :-).
It was nearly December 2006. Together with my study team I was traveling in India. Incredible India, I wrote more about it in other blog posts, yet, this travel was incredible too.
We wanted to get a firmer understanding of life in a country so far away from the social bubble we were coming from. Most of us had a big culture shock. We all came from rich European countries. Some of us have traveled as a ‘tourist’ but never had anyone flown from Copenhagen, Denmark, to arrive in the middle of the night in New Delhi to take the earliest bus, while it still was dark, to Behror, Rajasthan, having to go to the first random toilet which happened to be a clogged one, filled with poo and toilet paper seemed not to be available within the country’s border.
Besides those kinds of first experience a whole array of other, in our cultural biased views, experiences we had too as many things seemed very, uhm… different. Some were making an impact, such as women in some villages not being able to ‘do their business’ in the bushes (as they didn’t have a toilet) when the sun was up was one of them. Then the more funny ones as well, how to be able to eat THAT spicy locally prepared food when one is used to only mayonnaise, salt and pepper???
The first week or so were filled with a roller-coaster of questions, experiences, amazements, shocks, and disbelief. Yet, we wanted more! and riding by train from New Delhi all the way to Kerala, to have investigations south, to ride, in my case, to Varanasi again was an amazing experience on its own! We just had the normal sleeper, not the luxury aircon class.
The Indian trains, the class we were in, were having benches aside, then the aisle, then opposite facing benches that had place for 4. The backseat was a bed at night so 6 could sleep in a kind of cabin. Trains are long, drive various speeds and the horn never is turned off. Well, at breaks it is off actually. Windows? Nah.. Iron bars yes, and when it is fresh, just turn some plexiglass up and done. Doors? Widely open and that’s the where my “silly moment” came.
The ride from Kerala to Varanasi were 2 nights, squeezed on such a bed we moved on. During day we strolled a bit back and forth to, once in a while sit in the open door. Legs on the first step, not too far out as you never know what can come. At some point my buttocks were sleeping and I had to stretch my legs. We were driving through forests and nothing in sight. No villages, no platforms, so to me it seemed to be safe to stick my legs completely out of the train. Wow, that was nice! Getting some blood again in the buttocks. I put my feet on the first step again and with my chest on my knees I was sitting and day dreaming about whatever. We were passing a production forest and wood was all over. Then at some point out of nowhere a tiny platform, that tiny so only the driver could get out of the train, and whooossshhh!!
All the skin of all my toes cut off, nicely sliced on the top and blood was coming out.
I remember sitting there, mesmerizing, thinking, surprised and daunting it only were my toes. What had happened if my legs were out of the train and then the platform came? I did not think about that thought for one second more. I was sitting and watching more blood coming. “Hmmm… “, I thought, “hmmm, in a train, on a dirty floor, one big bacteria, people, no running water, not really first aid and still one night to go. Hmmm… I cannot get off the train either as we have to be there at a certain time… Hmmm… what can I possibly do now?” All this took in reality maybe like 20 seconds or so, but it felt like an hour blank staring at my bleeding toes (did I see bone?).
I stood up, walked, well, “walked” back to my seat. The others from my class, we were traveling with 4, looked shocked! OMG! Daniel, what happened?! Are you bloody mad??? To me it seemed their shock were bigger than mine! Luckily when I travel I do have a first aid kit with me, be it a small one. My tows were bleeding, so, I thought, the chance that something goes in only is smaller whilst bleeding. And…. there I was, in a moving train, wiggling side to side, and when my toes went left, my hands went right and my hands went right my toes went left and somewhere in the middle I managed to change the red for white bandage. How I exactly did that, no clue!
Of course, in India, the personal space between people is like 1 cm, which in Europe is about an arm length. Normally that is okay, but a white guy, with bleeding toes, 3 shocked other whities, trying to do something about it in probably one of the most ridiculous ways, equals, attention. A lot of it, people coming close, begging children (at a most welcome stop) wanting to touch my feet. Well, sorry people, I didn’t only lose my skin, but at that moment my nerves too…
The challenge was to have new skin back on my toes within a week or 2. Next stop, after Varanasi and Lucknow, were the outer Himalayas, or Dharamshala. There it was -12 at night, and mountains, and hiking, and nature, and no way flip-flops were sufficient. Actually, in the time between also not as all the dirt and dust should not be in my toes. Which did happen and every day I was brushing out infections in a soap bath with a toothbrush, every day another toe it seemed. Feet in a bucket of water, soap, soap and soap, toothbrush ready, biting on the teeth and scrubbing all puss out. Yummy!!
Sometimes I just had to stay inside with my feet simply not touching anything counting black spots on cheap crappy worn out room’s ceiling fans. Gosh I was bored, and grumpy, and v.e.r.y. impatience for my toes to heal.
Luckily I was most blessed to have healed my toes just in time as when we stepped out of the last train, I could put on my hiking shoes and I felt never better.