Our time in Mysore is nearly over and I can feel the knot in my stomach tightening like a coiled python. I know it’s coming, the one ‘real experience’ I have not been looking forward to on our trip, the dreaded overnight train! We visit a local family for our ‘last supper’, a simple meal of baby aubergine curry, vegetable and chicken biryani, onion raita and chapati. For desert we have apple and banana custard and gulab jamun, a deep fried ball made from khoya, dipped in rose flavoured sugared syrup. The whole family is involved. The head of the household and grandfather proudly tells us his secret recipe for biryani. His daughter has made the aubergine curry and his granddaughter (who is 6) serves us our desserts and makes mischief in the background while we eat. After saying our thanks and goodbyes and an exchange of recipes, we are on our way to the train station.
Our train starts in Mysore and the 28 carriages are patiently waiting for us when we arrive. Our guide, Aathi tells us that this should be a ‘comfortable trip’ ( I think he means in comparison to others) as the train terminates in Chennai around 7.30am, where we get off. So, there will be no scrambling off the train in the middle of the night in the allocated 40 seconds that many of the stops allow. There are 5 of our group sleeping in one compartment (triple bunks on each side), however we have an Indian ‘friend’, Johnson. He politely introduces himself and seems a little bewildered to be surrounded by so many white faces. After the introductions and after some initial chat we get our bunks ready to settle down for the night. I visit the toilet on the train early and then switch my bladder to ‘camel mode’, determined to make that my only trip on the 9-and-a-half-hour journey! The bunks are rock hard, however the sheets which have been pressed and neatly tucked into large brown envelopes, look freshly laundered. There’s no privacy to change into our PJ’s, so we sleep in our clothes and there’s no way I’m brushing my teeth in that toilet! I’m glad that I’m not on the top bunk as it’s quite a scramble to get up and a long way to fall, if there were to be an emergency stop during the night. I’m in the middle bunk which is the back of the lower seat swung up and suspended by a chain from the roof. As I lay down on my bunk the train is rocking and there are frequent hoots, however somehow with the help of ear plugs, I manage to fall asleep but wake every hour with the pressure building in my skin from the granite bunks. And then before I know it, the early morning light is seeping through the grubby windows and everyone is stirring; travelling families, those heading off to work and a few bedraggled tourists. We arrive at Chennai train station, which is packed with people, quickly grab a tiny cup of sweet chai and we are back on our minibus which is heading to Mamallapuram. I made it! I smile, the knot in my stomach has gone, but the pressure in my bladder is building… only 45 minutes to go to a half decent toilet!