Indian Trains –Timetables & Travellers

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Saturday 16 November, 2013 by Uncle Spike

indir (1)There is something about the railways that is an absolute must when travelling in India. Criss-crossing almost the entire sub-continent, the Indian Railways are like no other on earth. Built mostly during the British occupation, it might be considered the one positive action that really benefited the country in the long term. Whatever your views on the political history, it’s gotta be said that travelling by train, from anywhere, to anywhere in India is an experience that will leave you thoroughly enriched; albeit probably also knackered, enraged by cabin-fever and ever so desperate to see a decent bathroom/lavatory once more in your short life.

According to Wikipedia:  “It is one of the world’s largest railway networks comprising 115,000 km (71,000 mi) of track over a route of 65,000 km (40,000 mi) and 7,500 stations. As of December 2012, it transported over 25 million passengers daily (over 9 billion on an annual basis).”

images (4)Dating back to the time of the maharaja’s and the height of the colonial British Empire, the bureaucracy of the historical past is still very much alive and well within Indian Railways. Buying a ticket can be hilarious at the best of times. For starters, there is the national timetable, which would probably dwarf the entire operation manual for NASAs Space Shuttle programme if both were printed off in full and pilled up next to each other on the kitchen table. It’s massive and trying to fathom out what by route, on which train and at what time you could travel from point A to point B (via points C, D, E and F no doubt) is a herculean task in itself. Thankfully, the small army of desk jockeys that are still employed in the railway offices and travel centres seem less perturbed by such tasks than was I. Often I have found that, with sleeves half rolled, sporting a pair of Ghandi’s specs, and a quizzical laid back smile slapped across a well-seasoned face, the average ticketing clerk can sort out the average traveller with their eyes half shut.

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That’s the theoretical part over with, but please, please don’t fall into the trap of believing for one moment that: a) the timetable will be followed exactly as stated, or even vaguely for that matter; b) that your understanding of the multi-layered and multi-faceted classes of travel tickets on offer will ever match what you had envisaged; and c) that the 30 short minutes you generously allowed for your all-important ‘change’ would be ‘ample’ – no, that should be doubled or tripled for your next adventure.

So let’s assume you have a plan, a ticket, and that the train you want is in fact going in the right direction at, or near enough at the time stated on the all-important item clutched in your sweaty palm – your very own Indian Railways ticket.

downloadThe next trick is to find your seat, that is assuming you even managed to find the right carriage on the correct train, when faced with somewhere like Allahabad Junction railway station, with its 11 platforms. Thankfully, another wonder of the army of railway workers are on hand, the train conductors or ticket chaps. They are usually, in my experience, very jolly types who seem to revel in the daily challenges of stuffing as much human cargo aboard their given carriage(s) as geometrically possible. Ok, so there may be 5 people and 2 goats already occupying your ‘allocated seat’, but a few head shakes and choice words from the conductor, and a smile and a “Namaste” from you, the forlorn-looking western tourist or backpacker is normally sufficient to free up your chair/recliner/bed in next to no time.

Settled in for the ride you may be, but don’t expect to be gazing out of the window, watching the fields of rural Andhra Pradesh or the hills of Rajasthan to pass by as you relax in the peace and quiet, curled up with your very own weathered copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. No, you can get that image right out of your head this minute. Travelling on an Indian train is never, should never, and probably will never be even a smidgeon close to that image. Nope, train travel in India is one long assault on the senses, just like every other moment you spend in that most wonderful of countries.

images (7)For starters, there will be untold masses of people endlessly walking up and down the narrow corridor or central aisle. Funny thing is, it’s a rarity to see the same person ‘coming back’ again a while later. Do they drop off onto the tracks one by one, like in some B-rate horror movie or something; curious. And then there are your companion travellers, of which there will be enough to fill the average baseball stadium twice over, and that’s just in your train carriage. If you thought the city roadways of India were a tad ‘busy’, then travelling by one of the middle-lower classes on an average Indian Railways train can be ‘enlightening’ to say the least. But that being the case, what a delight you’ll find in the whole experience.

There will be parents with a hoard of kids and babes in arms, possibly a box of chickens or even a small goat. Then there will be a few young members of the Indian army en route to their base or travelling back home on leave. More often than not, there will be teenagers who will come over and spontaneously quiz you on your ever-so-lacking knowledge on the law on the land; cricket. My advice, give up before you start; you will NEVER beat an Indian youth on that subject, ever.

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The colours will dazzle and enthral your eyes. Of course that is nothing new as anyone who has been in India for more than 37 minutes will attest to, but with it all so, ‘in your face’ on a packed train, it’s quite something else. But it’s the never-ending noise that sticks with you, slapped permanently onto the inner lining of your memory for the next decade at least. Often the trains are not the quietest sure, but the inter-carriage doors opening and shutting every 3 seconds can be almost as hypnotic as the clackety-clack of the train’s heavy wheels on the steel tracks.

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You will hear talking; you will hear laughter, and crying and phone calls by the gigabyte, and you’ll be asked for “Chai” (tea) around every 11th minute of your entire journey by the friendly chai Wallah who patrols the corridors 24×7 plying his trade. Now don’t be fooled into thinking “Hey, sure I’ll have a Chai over here!”, thinking you won’t be asked next time, you will. In fact, you’ll be treated like a regular and probably passed a cup without even being asked on his next ‘pass’ 11 minutes later. To be fair, it does slow down at night… well, maybe just to every 23 minutes or so.

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34 thoughts on “Indian Trains –Timetables & Travellers

  1. swamiyesudas says:

    My Dear Spike, Am ‘Relaxing’ with Your site/blog. Am finding this one Hilarious! But things have improved here, about 3%! Haha. 🙂

    Like

  2. […] Indian Trains –Timetables & Travellers […]

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  3. Wow! No one describe our railway system better that this. I loved the fact that the post is so honest! Frankly, I rarely travel by trains (you can guess why). I am sure you enjoyed it but I bet you’ll give up on Indian trains soon enough! lol 😉
    I specially loved the part about the tickets.
    Lovely post. Now I’m heading over to read the next post that’s in continuation.
    See you there!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Funny. Haven’t been to Indian yet but when I do go I guess I’ll have to decide if I want a ‘transpo’ experience.

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  5. I’m from India, presently in UK, and I know for a fact that I’m going to put the entire blame on you for making me feel nostalgic. 😛 I actually did some time travel as I read through your posts. Apt description. I’m glad you enjoyed your trip to the country.. 🙂

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    • Uncle Spike says:

      That’s the best accolade I can ask for, when a native of a country likes a write-up – thank you so much 🙂

      I have been to India 4 times and loved every trip. Hope to go again one day, but Turkish salaries dont help on that front, hey ho.

      As for the UK, I had many good ‘Indian’ times there too… I lived in Yorkshire for 10 years, mainly working alongside Indian IT guys and gals, and joined their social circles – great days. Still in touch with many of them 😀

      Like

  6. brickthomas says:

    Great story and insight. Thanks!

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  7. I have heard so many stories about the Indian railways, but what you wrote up there was the best possible description of what one feels. 🙂

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  8. […] the first post Indian Trains –Timetables & Travellers, we came across the timetables, the tickets, the noise, the people – in fact some of the main […]

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  9. […] Indian Trains –Timetables & Travellers. […]

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  10. Ooh, yes, we can’t go to India without getting on a train (I say “we” but actually I think that’s just me in our household). It’s an essential part of the experience in my mind, and an overnight journey is best!

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  11. timecollage says:

    What a great story, I love the way you wrote this! Made me laugh so hard at this point: “Settled in for the ride you may be […],” as it all goes downhill from here. I think it’s great that you had this experience, but it doesn’t sound like something I’d want to do 😀

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  12. Jim says:

    Do you realise the first photo you used isn’t an Indian train but Australian? It is the Indian Pacific which runs from one side of Australia to the other, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

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  13. skytash says:

    I loved the chai-wallahs on the trains in India – thanks for bringing back the memories. I travelled 2-tier AC from Siliguri to Delhi once, technically 4 people in each curtained off section. On waking up on my top bunk in the morning, I looked down to see a family of 12 all eating breakfast. I had no idea where they had come from and why they were all in the area of the carriage my friend and I had 2 of the 4 allocated seats. They invited me to join them and it was a very jolly breakfast indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. ballerina95 says:

    Wow, you did get around a lot! European trains are fine but I wouldn’t dare try the Indian trains.

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  15. Our Indian sleeper train journeys were booked. We were surprised to see a list of booked names on a sheet of paper taped to the side of each train we used.

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