Expectations were flying high when we arrived at Hazrat Nizzamuddin Train Station, one of the many in New Delhi… We had heard and read so much about Indian trains! Everybody will be after you, pushing their ware on you – food, drinks, porter service; they are crowded, filthy…
None of it became reality, at least not on our first trip. And yes, we admit, we never travelled third class: people staring through irons bars from dark crowded compartments looked too dire to give it a try…
Once on board, it felt strange to lie down on a sleeper. Wasn’t it only a three-hour ride to Agra? A lengthy chat with a young Delhi man revealed that most people were travelling 36 hours south. Besides, those beds could be turned into chairs. Although not overcrowded, because all passengers have an assigned seat, there is little space. The luggage ends up in your “bed” and the alley is very narrow. Young men selling tea and lunches in aluminum boxes (all freshly made in the train kitchen) crisscross the cars causing quite some traffic.
Garbage disposal is barbaric though. There are very few litter boxes on the train, so everything has to move outside. In third class it is simply thrown through the bars, in the AC parts of the train this becomes trickier, but passengers are creative. They cram the litter through the gaps where the cars connect. Needless to describe what the tracks and the area around look like! The tracks in stations can be particularly bad. On top of the usual trash, the sign “Don’t use the toilets while the train stops in the station” is kindly ignored. Add animal droppings and the tracks become an attraction for millions of buzzing flies.
India’s train system is cheap and well organized. Seats are in high demand. An excellent online booking system allows you to choose your seat and category from abroad. One simple rule: the higher the class you want to book, the further in advance you have to do it! The few First Class compartments (altogether 10 places per train) are mostly gone up to 3 or 4 months in advance. The other AC places are not that easy to get: advance booking is not only recommended but absolutely mandatory. We figure no reservation is needed for third Class, but this section is hopelessly overcrowded. We never saw tourists using them… Actually, there were altogether only few tourists travelling by rail.
Also worth mentioning, schedules are taken seriously. Train might even be ahead of schedule! What can be confusing is to find your car once those extremely long trains pull in the station, especially if you do not understand how the letters written on the outside of the train correspond with the class you booked (6 different classes, 3 with AC, 3 without). Electric plugs are everywhere in the trains, at least in the AC part of them, allowing passengers to charge their mobiles or computers.
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