Traveller's Tale: caught in cattle class

Marion Grammer recalls a cattle-class rail journey in India.

It was 2.30am and our train had finally pulled in to Jodhpur Station. We scurried along the platform trying to find our names on the flimsy paper manifests secured to the outside of each carriage.

Time was running out. We plunged into the darkened passageway of the carriage, avoiding overhanging feet. When we found our designated bunks they were mercifully unoccupied and after prayers of thanks to the many Indian deities, we finally fell asleep as the train rattled across the Thar Desert to Jaisalmer.

Fast forward. Again, we are on a station platform, this time heading back to Jodhpur for our connection to Udaipur. It is past midnight and my husband mutters darkly about this being the last time he'll leave the itinerary to me. Our train is berthed but the interior is dark and empty, its doors locked.

We have plenty of time to check the passenger lists. We find our names and park ourselves outside the train door.

A cow materialises at the far end of the platform and makes its way towards us. Its pelvic bones are starkly delineated by its withered shanks. A slight breeze ruffles one of the passenger lists as the cow ambles by. It stops, stares at the manifest then flicks out a long pink tongue and rips the list from its moorings. After a short, meditative chew, it moves on.

The cow has acquired a taste for the ingredients and rips off and eats the next five lists. A harried station clerk notices and shoos it away. It moves off with a contemptuous flick of its tail. At a pile of garbage further along the track, the cow stops and starts to pull at some buried plastic.

In the distance, fireworks crackle and occasionally a rose blooms in the sky. It is the festival of Divali. Only in India. We'll be back.

Each published writer of Traveller's Tale will win a Lonely Planet travel book. Send a 500-word story to travellerguide@fairfax.com.au with your address, guidebook choice and "tale" in the subject field.

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