Crammed in an overcrowded train in India, Intrepid traveller Kevin Whitely explains how a new photographic toy turned a tense situation into a very special real life experience…
“In the fall of 2001 I began a 14-day trip with Intrepid in India. A few days into the trip we travelled on an overnight train to Agra, where the next day we would visit the Taj Mahal.
After dinner we were all sitting together in one of our group’s compartments, when I happened to look out the window. We had arrived in a small village and there were hundreds of local people on the platform waiting for the train. “I wonder where they’re going?”, I mused as we pulled to a stop.
A few seconds later I found out, as all these people began piling on to the train. They came in our car and completely took it over. They jumped into our beds and refused to move. I heard a local man explain that they were all protesters. This made me a little nervous. This was right after 9-11 and I was afraid that their protesting would be against the USA and that they may want to take it out on me.
The tension in the room was really thick. There was no way of lying down because all the bunks were full of people. I just squeezed in between two people on one of the bunks. Nobody spoke.
A little while later I noticed that an elderly local man was trying to talk to Eva, a Danish woman in our group. He had her Lonely Planet book and was telling her something about one of its pictures. He didn’t speak Danish or English, so she couldn’t understand him, but you could see he was trying to be friendly.
Digital cameras had only recently become available and Eva had one of the first that I had ever seen. I suddenly got an idea. I asked her if she could use her camera to take the man’s picture and then show it to him. At first she was reluctant, but after reassuring her that it would be alright she slowly removed the camera from her bag.
She first showed it to the man and then she leaned back to take his photo. A few people jumped because of the sudden flash. But then the magic began. She turned the camera around and showed the man the picture. He was amazed! I’m not sure if he had ever seen his picture before. I then told her to show the picture to the others. They were really curious by this time and couldn’t wait to see. Now they were all amazed! And now they all wanted their pictures taken. Soon everyone was forming little groups and smiling for the camera. A lot of people were laughing. Everyone was having a good time.
Before anyone knew it the tension in the room completely went away. Slowly the people in our bunks got out and we were able to get our beds back. Most of us by this time were willing to double up as much as we could, so as many people as possible could be comfortable.
I found out later that they were farmers that were going to demonstrate for better pensions and their protest had nothing to do with the US.
A little while later, as I tried to get some sleep, I thought about some friends back home who couldn’t understand why I would go to a place like India, especially at a time like that. They had wanted to know why I didn’t want to go to someplace “normal” like the Bahamas.
I just laid there in the dark with this big smile on my face. Yes, it was a little tense for a while, but considering how nice it had all worked out there wasn’t a place in the world I’d rather be!”
* photo by Jennifer Broomhall – Intrepid Photography Competition