The New Delhi station was swarming with people and stray dogs, and the smell of sewage was pervasive. I assumed the stench emanated from the bathroom (perhaps an overflowing latrine?) – until I watched a man suspend his son over the tracks and followed the stream to the rails below. Yep, there was shit on the tracks. Lots of it.

At the Agra station, we would watch a mother dangle her toddler, Michael Jackson style, over the tracks. Despite the mother’s attempts at courtesy, the kid missed, and though she lovingly wiped his butt clean with her bare hand, she left the toddler-sized turd behind. That was the station at which we bought kiddie cups of ice cream just for an excuse to sit in the relative safety of the cafe’s chairs.

Subsequent exploration of Indian train lavatories revealed signs stating, “Please avoid using the toilet at stations.” Such a request is understandable considering said “toilet” is simply a squat basin emptying directly onto the tracks. (If you must go in transit, always bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer into the bathroom with you. And roll up your pant legs and secure your pockets before you squat.)

But the station master fails to provide the passengers waiting on the platform with such a sign, and many freely relieve themselves by suspending rear ends over the tracks or, for more precise target practice, by jumping down onto the rails to do their business among the rats. Sometimes, the suspending folks miss.

So I don’t recommend sitting on the platforms, and there are very few benches.  They come in handy when attempting to dodge roaches or the attendant with the hose whose job it is to spray the human and dog shit off the platform and onto the tracks.

Imagine my surprise when I located an unoccupied bench just under the stairwell at the New Delhi station, where we would catch a train to Agra. We had just managed to dodge the zombie-like teen trailing us up and down the platforms, and I desperately needed to sit.

“Why is this bench empty?” I asked Him. “Does everyone know something we don’t?” (I actually said these exact words. I remember them quite vividly because of what happened next).

We looked left and we looked right, scrutinizing the piles of bedraggled families camped out on the platform floor. Why would they sit there when this perfectly good bench was available? We should have looked up. Instead, we sat.

A traveling salesman approached us, jingled an impressive collection of zipper pulls under my nose. No, I did not need a new zipper pull. Or a new luggage lock. Or a chain. He finally left.

I was in the process of changing my videocamera battery so as to film the backside of a man whizzing on the electrified rail, when a glob of wetness struck the battery pack and splattered upward onto my hand. It was green and oily. It was pigeon shit.

I stared up in disbelief, my mouth agape as I sought out the offending bird. He was perched on a rafter under the stairs. I suddenly realized I should clamp my lips shut – and move.

The battery and my hand were cleaned, and we spent the remainder of the wait nervously shuffling up and down the platform in search of the unmarked position where car “B” might stop. We could not afford to miss this exit from New Delhi.

Blessedly, the train arrived on time, and we located the correct car and the correct bunks. I avoided the train toilet for as long as I could. When I did go, however, you can bet that train was nowhere near a station. It was rumbling and clattering through a countryside I saw pass across the small porcelain hole at my feet.