Sleeper Class With A Side of Food Poisoning

I hate that my first post from India is about food poisoning, but it’s sort of consuming me right now, so I don’t think I could really focus on anything else.

I felt the first swirls of discontent in my stomach when we were waiting to board the overnight train from Agra to Varanasi. Fourteen hours of rail travel, sleeper class all the way.

Jared had been feeling off all day, so he climbed straight into his top bunk and prepared a plastic bag, just in case.

Sleeper class India
Bracing for the horror that was to come.

I suspected things were about to get ugly.

I was right.

After an hour of sleep on the rocking train, I heard Jared whispering.

“Lauren,” he said. “Lauren.”

I grunted in response.

“I threw up,” he said, displaying an ominously full plastic bag. “I don’t think anyone heard me.”

“I’ll watch the bags,” I said.

Sleeper class India
Had I known what was coming, I would not have been smiling.

As I waited for him to dispose of the vomit, I realized that I needed to throw up, too.

Jared pulled himself to the top and I frantically pulled my shoes on so I could climb down.

“I didn’t know what to do with it,” he said. “So I threw it out the window.”

“I can’t,” I said, clutching a plastic bag of my own and sprinting down the aisle.

Mildly curious passengers watched me go as I lurched towards the first sink I saw and vomited my heart out.

A kind Indian man showed me how to use the tap so I could dilute the stuff in the sink.

I came back, head hanging, cuffs of my pajama pants inexplicably soaked in urine.

“I threw up,” I said. “There’s pee on my pants and it isn’t mine.”

“I have to throw up again,” Jared said. “Watch my stuff.”

And so it went, tag-team vomiting for the rest of the night.

I’ve never experienced such a wretched train journey. Eventually, my stomach ran out of solids, but that didn’t stop things. We progressed from bile to clear stomach acid. We introduced diarrhea into the mix. We went through all of the plastic bags and all of the emergency toilet paper.

By the fifth trip out of my bunk, I gave up and just vomited in a corner of space between carriages, then tried to cover it up with the cellophane wrapping that covered the toilet paper.

All of this on a furiously swaying train with epileptic seizure-inducing lights on a sleeper car crowded with 72 passengers.

Apologies for the graphic descriptions; I’m not really sure how reading about this might help someone, unless you’ve experienced it yourself and want to commiserate.

That was two nights ago. Yesterday we drew the curtains and slept. Today we went out for two walks and felt like champions.

India. I’m learning that there’s no ‘gradually’ getting used to it.

It sucks you in and spits you out, but if one billion people live in this chaos on a daily basis, I’m sure we can manage three weeks.

Varanasi train station
Waiting for pickup from the Varanasi train station.

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    1. Ugh. I don’t know. It was either a spinach and onion curry at a veg restaurant by the south gate of the Taj Mahal, or a vegetable masala from a fancy-looking restaurant under a hotel near the Agra Fort train station. It’s three days on now and I’ve just graduated from toast to cornflakes. Unfortunately I think curries and I have parted ways.

  1. Uggh! Maybe the only thing worse than getting sick while traveling is doing it on a rocking train! Good luck with the rest of the trip. BTW, I’m told that Delhi Belly has been reduced enormously since bottled water became widely available.

    1. It was hideous. I think I left all of my dignity on that train.
      We’ve been scrupulously sticking to bottled water, which luckily is pretty easy to get. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

  2. Sounds like HELL! Glad you made it through all of that. Hope the rest of your India journey is safe and fun and goes without anymore tag-teaming vomit sessions 🙂 <3

  3. Hi, Lauren!
    Can I give you a comment?(Because, I’m afraid of disturbing you)
    There is a figurative Korean expression, that is,”집 나가면 개고생”. It literally means that when someone goes out for travel, he/she is to take a hardtime(like a stray dog).
    But I’m sure that good travel guarantees something better than hardtime. So, I hope your having fanastic experiences for the rest of your schedule. ^^^

    1. Hi Gerald! Please feel free to leave a comment anytime. That’s a good Korean expression! I hadn’t heard it before. Surprisingly, we are meeting many Korean tourists in India. There was a group of 19 students on our train last night. Feeling much better now, thanks.

  4. Hi Lauren, I had a pretty similar travel experience in India, ironically on the same Agra to Varanasi train route. The only difference was my bodily discharges were not of the oral variety but from the bowel region. It was a really over-crowded train (aren’t they all?) with bodies sleeping on the floor in the aisles which turned any of my numerous frantic trips to the bathroom into something of a obstacle course in the dark. Once or twice I didn’t quite make it to the cubicle in time but anyway that is enough of that.

    Enjoy the rest of your time in India. I had a love-hate impression of the country when I was travelling there but months after I left I began to appreciate my time there more and more.

    1. I 100% sympathize with you,as my bowels were also affected towards the end. My train was miraculously not overcrowded, so you may have had it even worse. Love-hate pretty much sums up my attitude towards India right now, but overall I’m still glad I came. Not quite sure if I’ll ever come back for more, though!

  5. Hi Lauren, i came across your blog checking out the sleeper class trains in India, i must admit i had a good chuckle at your expense. our son, daughter and her boyfriend have just embarked on a journey from Vadodara to Agra, then Jaisalmer and back to Vadodara. We recently moved to Vadodara, Gujarat from Melbourne, Australia and i must say i had mixed emotions watching my children disappear as their train left the station. funny, it used to freak me out when they caught the trains in Melbourne, which now seems like Pleasantville. I’m really hoping that while their viewing of the Taj Mahal will be as memorable as your own, their train journeys will be a little less eventful. Keep enjoying!

    1. No worries, we are laughing about it now too! I hope your kids get through Agra without any trouble. You’re very brave to have moved to India – three weeks has been tough, I can’t imagine living here! There are a lot of things to love about India, but it’s certainly challenging.

    1. Laugh it up, fuzzball.
      No, seriously, it was funny later but SO GROSS at the time. The pants were stretchy so when they soaked up the anonymous urine, they just sagged even lower and dragged under my shoes.
      I changed them under the blanket in my bunk and had them washed in Varanasi.

  6. Love this post, but oh my gosh – that sounds SO horrific! I recently cancelled my plans to go to India and I’m a little bit glad I did now 😉

    1. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy…I’m glad I went to India, but if I had to do it again, I’m not sure I would. Good luck with your trip, I’ve been reading your blog!

  7. Bleargh! Reminds me of when I went to Turkey and was projectile vomiting for 24 hours…the Pepsi coloured barf all over the hotel lobby was the best. It then proceeded into week-long diarrhoea – not fun on planes, trains, or buses.

    Anyhow, I’m glad you guys survived the dreaded Delhi Belly – I wonder if it’ll claim me next year?! Any ideas what caused it?

    1. That sounds hideous! I’m sure the hotel loved it, too. I heard that something like 70% of people get it in India…though that could be a totally made-up statistic. I’m positive we both got it in Agra. They say it’s one of the worst cities in India for food poisoning. Something to do with the polluted river Yamuna and how its water is used for cooking & washing up. So maybe stick to packaged food while you’re in Agra. I hope you get away unscathed – It took Jared several months to fully recover. He even spent 3 days on a drip in hospital once we got back to Korea!

  8. Hi Lauren,

    I’ve found your blog while looking for people talking about Delhi Belly , as most of people either don’t talk about it, selling this idyllic idea of India. I really appreciate not only the honesty, but also the frank way you described the situation. (but must admit I laugh on the “not my pee” part 😁).
    The thing is, I’m reunion all my courage to face India, almost as a challenge.

    Having a weak stomach, even some “ok” food may affect me. So far nothing comparable to what happened to you guys. Just a little issue in Vietnam, but in a room just for myself and even had a doctor few hours later.

    Believe it or not, I’m not discouraged, just curious to know which train class you were travelling. I already take so much care about what to eat and drink that sometimes I prefer not eating or playing safe with some crackers rather than vomiting. Yeah, I’m that coward 😉

    Yet, I keep travelling and been in Myanmar and being just fine is kind of “prep-India” (at least in Yangon).

    Thank you once again and keep posting no matter how “gross” it might be 😀

    Any other tips for a first timer traveller to India?

    Greetings from Rio de Janeiro!

    1. Hi Adriana, glad you found me! I still shudder when I remember that experience on the train. I think it ranks as one of my all-time worst travel experiences but it’s funny in the re-telling.

      We were traveling sleeper class which overall was a positive experience. Great way to meet people and I usually managed to get enough sleep (when I wasn’t dealing with food poisoning!). I would definitely not consider you a coward for being careful with what you eat, because being sick is a terrible feeling. In saying that, I have been pretty lucky and only been sick a handful of times (India, Bolivia + Peru). India was challenging and exhausting, but I’m glad I went. I can see why people are fascinated with the country and keep going back, though I don’t think I’ll be back for a while. When we do, it will be to check out the south.

      Good luck with your trip!!

  9. This sounds like a terrible experience! Worst I had was the flu travelling back on a 40 hour journey from Australia and that was awful couldn’t imagine it being sick though :(. I am going to India in December and trying to do it as cheap as possible! I have a whole month to make it from Delhi down to Kochi… Some people have been telling me not to do sleeper class and get 2AC or 1AC. How did you find sleeper class? I will be on my own so will need to lock my bags up etc. Do you always recommend the top bunk? Thanks

    1. Being sick while traveling is the worst, especially on public transport!

      I found sleeper class a good way to travel. We met so many people that way, most of whom were quite surprised that we weren’t on the other classes. We did have top bunks most of the time, which was a personal preference of mine, and slept with our bags under our heads. From memory I’m not sure if there is a facility to lock up your bags in sleeper. You could always give it a go for one journey and if it’s not for you then go with 1AC or 2AC, though if you want to book in advance that could be difficult. Good luck!

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