In India, ‘riding the rails’ is an experience in itself! Everyone rides the train & the rail network goes almost everywhere, almost most of the time.
We have learned quickly that tickets need to be reserved well in advance, trying to book on-line is an exercise in futility & figuring out what car you should be in is well, just plain interesting.
For reference sake there are 7 classes of trains to choose, from 1AC first class with private, locking compartments to Unreserved with no AC, wooden seats & lots of people. Each category is based on cost & comfort level. We chose 2AC, a 2-tiered compartment with air conditioning & soft seats that fold down for napping. Most people choose this category as it is quite comfortable for long distance travel, also 1AC tickets are limited & hard to come by. After spending hours trying to book our e-ticket to Hampi we finally gave up & went to a travel agent. Success, reservation made!
Lesson #1 – book your ticket early at a travel agency.
We arrived early for our 7:30 a.m. departure. Today is Bob’s birthday, the air is crisp & the station is packed with travellers. After checking with several people where our platform is located we position ourselves at the designated spot, anxiously awaiting the train arrival. The train arrives, we look for our compartment but there are no visible markings on the train that is about 30-cars long. There are people all over the place making a beeline to board. You guessed it, we are at the wrong end of the train platform. Let the games begin!
Lesson #2 – don’t believe everything you are told.
We start jogging up the platform, dodging people, looking for our compartment. The train starts moving, we shout at each other “jump in”. We crammed ourselves into what is probably the lowest class section thinking we could just use the walk-through doors to get to our assigned compartment/seats. No luck again! Apparently the doors are locked between the different compartment classes. The good news is we aren’t the only ones in this dilemma & were told the train would stop shortly down the way & we could hit the platform again to find our right car & seats, with a time far or of about 2-minutes.
Lesson #3 – don’t panic.
We finally find our seats, give a huge sigh of relief, purchase our chai (tea) & settle in for the 7-hour trip. Bob suddenly realizes how old he is.😜 Yes, this is a big milestone for him in the game of life.
Lesson #4 – things usually work out in the end.
The other thing to mention is that some transport routes operate only on certain days, so if you don’t do advance itinerary planning you are stranded in a place a day or two longer than originally planned. Since long-term planning is not one of our stronger strengths & we have a ‘general’ trip plan, we tend to organize things on the go.
Lesson #5 – itinerary planning is essential on India!
Oh yes, one more thing –
Lesson #6 – develop a nurses’ bladder 😅