Most of the railway stations I saw in India were chaotic and crowded, people sleeping on every available bench, droning tinny announcements over the loudspeakers, porters and shoeshine boys swarming around tourists. Earlier in the day I'd taken this picture, I'd been in a queue at Jaipur Junction, getting a ticket for this very train at 4 AM.
Other passengers in the queue overheard my request. "Nawalgarh?" they asked. "Why Nawalgarh?"
I wasn't sure how to answer. Surely they'd come to expect that Western tourists were going to the tourist hotspots--Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Agra. I didn't have any compelling reason to give them; I'd seen some scenes in a Bollywood movie of a beautiful Nawalgarh courtyard, read a few lines in the travel guide, and figured it would be a good excursion.
When I boarded the train, I wasn't sure I was on the right one. No ticket-taker came through the car and when I asked the teenage boys in the next seat whether this train went to Nawalgarh, they stared at me blankly.
I was a little afraid. The tourist-filled areas of India can be tricky to navigate, but as long as you're on the tourist grid, you can trust that someone in every railway station will be ready to take you to your hotel, prepared to help you find the sights that tourists want to see. Yet all the trepidation I felt was deepened by the realization that India goes so much further than this. While I was leaving the main tourist grid, I was still in a place that was listed in the Lonely Planet guide, still in a place that had hotels I could find on the Web, still not too far from the civilized safety of the world. On the map of India there are thousands of places that aren't listed on the travel guides, large cities even, where a tourist would be asked, "Why here?"
So I had to take a picture of my train as it was about to pull away from an empty train station, leaving me alone there, ready to discover the furthest from home I've ever been.
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