Indian Trains – Sleepies and Scoffing


Sunday 24 November, 2013 by Uncle Spike

In the first post Indian Trains –Timetables & Travellers, we came across the timetables, the tickets, the noise, the people – in fact some of the main elements of train travel in India. However, that is not all, not by a long shot. And so I continue my ramble through my memory banks…

So yes, that brings us to ‘night travel’. If you are, or were, brave enough to travel at nights at anything less than First Class, then well sorry, you will not sleep, for that is written in stone by the Indian Railways bylaws I am sure. Meanwhile there is First Class – and THAT is one of the best and funniest experiences you’ll come across in travelling. The beds are everywhere.

images (3)

When it comes to ‘night night’ times, the railways staff go into hyperdrive. First of all there is the assembly of what can only be described as a dormitory out what appeared to be a normal ‘sitting’ carriage – all within a matter of minutes! Obviously the base seat becomes one bed, and then there will be one that drops down from the wall, but that is just 70cm (27”) above the base bed. But of course that leaves a few spare centimetres/inches between the second bed and the roof of the train – so sure, why not, they go and stick another wall mounted bed in that space too. With the slight build of most of the Indian population, it kind of makes sense too I guess, but I dare anyone to sleep in peace on their first time in the ‘middle tier’ of a triple bunk on an Indian overnight train. It’s definitely one of those ‘I won’t forget this’ sort of life/travel experiences.

Each bed gets ‘made up’ perfectly, with pillows, blankets and even double crisp white sheets. I was pleasantly surprised in fact, but India is always, always full of surprises. Each bunk has its own wall light too, how cool is that. Mine even worked once. Chai service continues all night too, but now served to you in your bed! Ok, so you might have to fight for sleeping space with the odd cockroach or three, but apart from that, I’ve travelled worse I guess.

images (1)Other favourable and less favourable aspects of Indian train travel can include the lavatorial experience. That one’s firmly in the ‘less favourable’ category. For the sake of your mental health, I won’t go into details on that one (shudder). In the ‘favourable’ camp though, you have the opportunity to wander along, carriage after carriage to see, what, well that every other carriage is just like the one you left before, all packed, colourful, fragrant and incessantly noisy. But it’s gotta be done – just take your ticket with you, coz you’ll never re-find your seat or even recognise it when you get back there; the human landscape will no doubt have changed beyond all recognition in the 45 minutes it took you to negotiate your way up and down the corridors.

Feeding, now, well, that is altogether a unique experience to be had on your Indian Railways journey. Of course, your friendly chai Walla will have looked after your liquid intake needs, and more often than not, either he, or an accomplice who follows close behind him at all times, will have provided every snack to be found on the planet that could ever possibly be stuffed onto a narrow trolley being pushed and pulled along the aisles.

imagesBut that is not what I mean about Indian trains and eating. For when the train stops at a station, and there are a LOT of stations, or in fact when the train slows down to a mere walking pace, which also happens a LOT, then like ants on sticky cake your kid drops in the park, the food sellers will pounce, offering all kinds of spicy home-cooked delights as well as sugar-laden goodies – in fact, anything edible that can be made, sold, and more importantly, stuffed through the small opening in a train window. All very much part and parcel of the Indian train travel experience. When your train finally pulls into a station of any considerable size, i.e. more than 1 platform, you can be assured to find all sorts of goings on, right there on each and every platform. There will be sellers of crisps, snacks, cigarettes, bottles of water, and cans of drink, even chai and more. But it’s the hot food stalls that amazed me. Some family will have set up a large vat of oil, heated by a small propane tank and they are busy cooking up what are undeniably some the best samosas you’ll ever across, all for just a few Rupees for a large bag full. So the trick is to jump off the train, fight your way through the window-based sellers, through the thick pack of everyday folk waiting to board your train, or just, err, waiting there for no apparent reason, and to grab yourself a bag of freshly cooked samosas before retracing your way back on board. At least you have enough sustenance clutched in your hand, should it take more than 25 minutes to re-find and reoccupy your allotted seat once again.

Indian train travel – it’s an experience all of its own, unparalleled in travel to my mind. Can’t wait till the next time… but that might be a few years away sadly.

27 thoughts on “Indian Trains – Sleepies and Scoffing

  1. dayphoto says:

    Our neighbor down the way is married to a man from India…they both talk about the travels on the train and it is JUST like you wrote. She said she has also flown into to the city alone and taken a taxi several times, which she spent hiding on the floor until she got to her in-laws place.

    It would be an adventure of a lifetime for someone like me.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. sb2711 says:

    Could totally relate to it! In fact, even I did a train journey post which you can see here, if interested –

    Even I agree word to word on the post, especially the lavatorial issue!!! 😦


  3. swamiyesudas says:

    Having felt tired since morning, after reading Yours, now I am feeling Good!

    …Liked these lines; ‘Mine even worked once,’ about Your ‘lamp’ by the bed, and ‘the thick pack of everyday folk waiting to board your train, or just, err, waiting there for no apparent reason,’ etc.

    Turkish salaries or not, I, being an Indian, have not yet travelled by 1st class, (except when my father was alive and We had a ‘Pass’). But did not know that it had 3 tier!


  4. Haahah! You bet!
    And I agree its near impossible to sleep on the middle bed, but it is surprisingly easy for Indians who travel regularly by train!
    Hats off for this post. This one’s spot on!
    I am going to reblog it soon 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. geemolina says:

    This sounds fun!!! The sellers are also common here in the Philippines during bus rides. They sell munchies, egg, chicharron (are you familiar with it? ) and some good refreshments! 😀 😀


  6. Wow, I really can’t imagine public transportation like this. I’ve seen it through photography and documentaries about different parts of the world. But wow, I definitely couldn’t handle it!


  7. skytash says:

    Did Mrs Spike travel with you in India? I ask because a women’s carriage on a local train is also an interesting journey and not one I expect you will have been able to experience.


  8. ninagrandiose says:

    You didn’t mention (I don’t think) that it is essential that you chain down your belongings to your seat, especially while you’re out feasting on the platforms or in the Western Style toilet. Great piece.


    • Uncle Spike says:

      Thanks Nina. We travelled as a bunch so never had an issue with security… just a few pickpockets in Jaipur one year. Glad you enjoyed the piece – I always enjoy writing my travel posts. Thanks for visiting my humble blog.


  9. As we remember it too. However, climbing down from the top bunk, trying not to wake others, putting on walking boots and jacket (sports suit on already!), staggering along the length of a couple of carriages, arriving at the unfriendly toilet hoping it was empty, just in time. Delhi belly (x 3) on an Indian sleeper train!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good story but it can’t be any worse than the UK East Coast Main Line!


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