Taking Trains in India
Upon commencing this article I originally planned to entitle it “101 top tips for travel in India.” Then I realised that not only was that title about as catchy as a psychotic eel drenched in butter (the title I eventually decided to run with being clearly far superior), but if I dedicated the next year of my life to dreaming up useful advice I’d probably only make it to about twenty three. And that’s pushing it for my pint-sized, Welsh-grown, brain.
So in a bid to spare you from the despair of having to scroll through a spectacularly choice spread of golden nuggets such as, “Don’t forget to take socks,” or, “Take some wipes to remove the splashback on your ankles, thus saving what nanoscopic threads of dignity remain in your life, caused by endless stream of half digested dal that you will inevitably fire down a squathole onto the train tracks for the enjoyment of birds and dogs,”
I have one piece of advice that screams out above any other when catching trains in India and it is a simple one.
Book your ticket in advance. No, really. Book your ticket in advance. No. Don’t just read this and then nonchalantly waltz into the kitchen and make a cup of tea, or whatever it is you do when you’re reading online magazines, and forget. Heed my words. Pre-book the goddamn ticket. Listen to the voice of experience.
Of course you can choose to ignore my friendly offering. That’s what I did, initially. In all fairness it can sometimes be difficult to pre-empt exactly what you plan to do and where you intend to go, particularly if you are a person of a scatty persuasion like myself. Plans change as you hear about thrilling new activities, and meet new and exciting people to accompany, so pre-booking can be problematic as India is not exactly famed for its capacity to give refunds.
Whilst that is undoubtedly a solid point (I should know, I made it), it is still no excuse for collectively planning a few days in advance. Ask the person running your guesthouse to arrange travel for you, or go on the web and do it yourself. Here’s the website: http://www.indianrail.gov.in
Look! Problem solved!
Why am I being so steely in my resolve about this issue? Well because I have done the last minute dash to General Class on three occasions now. Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to be damned when it comes to trains, which means you will be too if there’s any justice in this world.
“But what could possibly be so bad about General Class? Stop being a snob!” I hear you cry.
There is nothing bad about General Class if being packaged into a space no bigger than a shoebox constructed entirely out of bacteria and hepatitis, that’s also situated adjacent to the toilets so stinks of the stale piss of a million pilgrims, is your thing.
Even worse, in India there is usually water in the taps of the toilets so that travelers can blow a vat full of fluorescent diarrhea down the hole and then theoretically wash their hands whilst still in the cubicle. Except if you’re me. If you’re me and therefore you (justice will prevail!), the taps are broken on each and every journey. Therefore you will be forced to endure person after person washing what looks like crunchy peanut butter off their hands in the spare sink. You know, the one round the corner from the toilets a.k.a. directly above the space that you naively shoehorned yourself into.
Now I’m not a cleaning freak, far from it. I have socks that are crunchier than the average zillion year old Natural History Museum exhibition. I have even been known to leave old coffee cups sporting three different colours of mold on top to fester in my room just to see which one ‘wins’ (in my experience it is usually the orange one). Poo belonging to strangers however, poo impersonating peanut butter I hasten to add, mere centimeters from my head is where I draw the line. Except I didn’t draw the line, I elongated it by ignoring my own advice a further two times.
On the upside, eight hours under the sink of poo-doom will grant you ample time to re-evaluate your life and how it came to the point of fecal misery on three separate occasions. Or you may be rescued by a good Samaritan who spots you quietly weeping and kindly provides you with another shoebox away from the place of chilling degradation.
Finally, in times of utter desperation, perhaps the best tactic would be to stuff yourself with the most knarly looking street food you can find on the platform (I recommend anything made from meat, or anything that has been left out on show all day) and wait for the ensuing Delhi-Belly to take hold over the course of your 36-hour journey. That way, at least you get to be the one doing the peanut butter washing over the head of some other crying idiot, and the constant backwards and forwards to the hole means you no longer require a seat or sleep. The choice is yours.