The Mahahandara Express – The Train from Yesterday, Tomorrow | Tristan Aitchison

There are many life lessons to be learnt. That is why perhaps we travel and seek adventure. My most recent life lesson learnt is to never choose an Indian train because you like the sound of its name. 

I was backpacking India for the third time and I'd spent around ten days in the Indian holy city of Varanasi. India is of course infamous for rendering Western traveller digestive systems incapacitated and Varanasi is a particular hotspot for this intestinal takeover. And naturally, I succumbed to a what I would find out later was a particularly nasty gut guzzling parasite when I was admitted to a hospital in Darjeeling.  

After two days bed bound in my purple and green guest house room, which during my worst feverish hallucinations felt that I was trapped in The Hulk's underwear, I faced the outside world. 

Varanasi is a cornucopia of colour, noise, smells, people and spiritualism. A unique place on earth that pre my confinement in The Hulk's crotch was mesmerising, but after turned my stomach at every turn or as we say in Scotland 'gave me the boke'. 

I decided that I should leave in search of somewhere cooler, quieter and that didn’t smell of shit. I chose Darjeeling and set about booking my train. There were a few trains that would take me cross country to this remote tea growing town bordering China and Nepal in the foothill of the Himalayas. Unfortunately, The Darjeeling Limited of Wes Anderson fame is fictional so I chose The Mahahandara Express, on account of its soothing and mystical title. A rookie romanticist mistake. 

After a two hour hot and dusty rickshaw journey to the station at Mughal Sarai, the fourth busiest railway junction in India in fact, weighed down with my backpack, camera bag and sphincter on amber alert I checked the board. The Mahahandara Express was twelve hours late. The fourth busiest railway junction in India was not the fourth cleanest or most comfortable so I decided to blow my £10 a day budget and check into one of two hotels in the city that would accept foreigners and return to the station in eleven hours. 

Eleven hours later and The Mahahandara Express was now thirteen hours late. I found space on a bench put my bags at my feet and waited.  I made friends with a family of what I like to think were oversized mice and an Indian Borat who said I was 'Wonderful beautiful handsome so pretty your personality your dress your hat your posture your personality your hat your talking I love it I love it' over and over. His pink scarf gave much away. He was in the military although outside the UK you never can tell.  

After twenty three and a half hours, and much forced hilarity, I boarded the onomatopoeic train abound for another twenty three hours to the Himalayas, finally arriving a full day late and only sharing my suppressed f*cked offness with a persistent beggar whom I'm sure was impersonating Mariella Frostrup. 

Recounting my travel adventure on The Mahahandara Express to locals in Darjeeling each had the same reaction; they sucked air through their front teeth like a British plumber before he tells you its more than just your stopcock that needs replacing. If a train is persistently a day late, meaning it actually runs one full day late and can never catch up on itself because once it finally arrives at its terminus it turns around and heads back to Delhi a day late, why not just lose a day and catch up on  the timetable instead of advertising a train that will always be a day late. 

So the life lesson and morale of this tale is before booking a train in India check its history at and make sure you have more than one dose of Imodium. 


Tristan Aitchison is a filmmaker and photographer from the Scottish Highlands. He is currently in post production of his début feature documentary “Sidney & Friends” which shows what it is like grow up and live as an intersex or transgender person in Kenya. You can connect with him on Twitter