Making Tracks Out of Kolkata

KOLKATA, India — It was time.

Howrah Junction hummed with activity. At top, Victoria Memorial Hall.

As much as I enjoyed the myriad tchotchkes and remnants of grandeur that held together the Fairlawn Hotel, I was eager to make my way inland from Kolkata. I’d decided to head west to Bodhgaya, a holy destination for Buddhist pilgrims, on an overnight train.


Another noisy cab ride, this time across the Hooghly River, left me at the 19th century Howrah Junction railroad station. Built in 1864, the red-brick structure stood like a fortress on the river’s western bank and buzzed at 10 p.m. like New York’s Grand Central Station does at rush hour.

No wonder: Its 23 platforms handle trains than any other station in India.

Buying a ticket here was a multi-step process I had to learn quickly to catch the overnight train.

Sweets are tough to resist. (Photographs by Bruno J. Navarro)

After tracking down a railway employee to ask what train would take me to Gaya, I stood on another line to purchase a ticket that was more of a promise that I’d get a spot on a sleeping car.


The ticket seller explained that before the train’s scheduled departure time, the dot-matrix computer print-outs of all the passengers and their railcar assignments would be posted on one of the platform-side bulletin boards.

Nervous about this roundabout process, I didn’t want to stray too far from the boards — until I saw a snack counter on one end of the cavernous terminal and found a few familiar sweets.

It wasted just enough time.

My name printed and posted on the passenger list, I was now a legitimate traveler. Climbing aboard the train, I found my sleeping compartment. There was no door on the four-bed sleeping quarters, which meant I would use my backpack as a pillow.

Ready to be whisked away from Kolkata and toward what else might await, I hopped up on my spartan top bunk and settled in for the night.



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