If you are just about to go for a long-haul journey across India and if you feel like travelling on a safe and efficient way, then the train is definitely the best option for you to take into account. Is not that in the bus you will not be having a good journey, but, you see, Indian Pullman love speed and there’s always the context implied here: cars, cows, bad roads and lots of speed breakers. So, train is going to be the hassle-free way of reaching your next destination, of moving from point A to point B.
The best and safer way of booking the train ticket is showing up in an agency and buying directly with the agent, but you can also do it online, as long as you have an Indian sim card or someone who can provide you with his/her Indian phone number. The confirmation of the ticket will be sent to that number, and if there is a delay or other information you should know, that’s the number they will be reaching.
Have in mind that India is a huge country, over-populated and that there are some itineraries that only take place once or twice a week, meaning that you should try to buy your ticket a little bit in advance. I know how annoying it is when we just feel like don’t having a solid plan, but in a reality like this, if we don’t make decisions and move onto those decisions, than we will get trapped into the incapacity of moving from the place. It happened to me that I didn’t have a sleeper bed on the 36 hours train I was trying to book, and the departure day was actually 5 days ahead of the day I saw the agent, and so I was said to buy the tatkal or emergency ticket, with 24 hours in advance. In my case, I was very lucky because in the same afternoon I had the confirmation ticket in my hand. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always better to try, especially because they refund the money if your ticket is not confirmed.
Another thing to keep in mind is that we are this new wave of sensation seeking travellers, and being in the atmosphere of the train is being plunged into the Indian reality, not to mention the astonishing views that one can contemplate from the window.
Let me now provide you with some useful information that you should consider when travelling Indian railways government trains.
1. Try to pick an upper bed at the sleeper class
Imagine to lay on the bed where everyone choose to seat during the non-sleeping hours or where everyone that pass will be staring at you from up to down and where your belongings will never be that much safe? This will not happen once you ask for the upper bed, because you are much on your own privacy, hidden from the curious wanderers and able to save your bags in a much safer way. So, make sure you always ask for an upper bed, within the sleeper class. The only harm of it is that you don’t have a window at the level of the bed, but you can always go down and see the views from the lower beds.
2. Be provided with warmth and cold clothes
Even if you are sleeping in a non AC class, you’d better believe me that in the night time you will be cold for sure. The train doors opened plus the set of 3 fans pointing onto your face will be enough to make you feel super uncomfortable with cold. So, make sure you bring a blanket and wear socks during the night. If you have a mattress or something fluffy to put between you and the ‘bed’, it’s perfect. In the moment I am writing this, I feel like I am lying down on the rocks, so I will just use my yoga mattress to make it softer.
Don’t forget to bring light clothes for the day time. The heat can be very extreme and the fans don’t do that much, but it’s all good, we are adaptable people, just don’t forget to have airy clothes on you and lots of water to get hydrated and to spatter.
3. Bring food, toilet paper and other toiletries with you
As long as you don’t mind to be eating 3 meals a day based on junky, oily, fatty food, you don’t need to worry about this aspect, but if you miss somehow a fresh slice of pineapple, some crackers to go with the chai or even some raw vegetables that you can cut and prepare on a bowl, please make sure you bring it all with you, because this is the kind of journey where you will be stopping for short periods of time, where the local vendors get in the train with the recipients of different junk food (samosa, pakora, bhajji,pattice) but also water, soda, coffee and chai.
If you couldn’t leave behind the habit of cleaning yourself with toilet paper, then don’t forget to carry it with you, as well as the hygienic basics, at least soap to be washing hands and face and teeth brusher plus tooth paste. Nevertheless, there are some stops along the way where you will find these pikes of stuff selling some toiletries and hygienic items.
4. Make sure you have little money change
One chai is 10 rupias, a water is going to be 20 rupias and two big samosas will cost you 30 rupias maximum, so don’t forget to change your big notes somehow, because the guy carrying the pots of Chai in a rush to fill your little cup is not going to be pleased with a 500 rupias note. I know it’s not your fault, sometimes we forget about these little details, but we just want to make sure that we play safe and that we take the best out of our experiences, in a positive way, right?
5. Earplugs or mp3 can be important
Indians can be two extremes of the same reality. If they are sleeping (and especially after eating), they are extremely quiet and serene for hours. But if they are awaken and fuelled with the contextual conversations, oh my God, you will feel like you are in a coop. They scream, talk fast, get very enthusiastic, laugh continuously with everything and keep having a tone of voice that look like they are bargaining at a public auction. This is all positive, I can tell you, since they are always in a good mood, smiling or laughing, and never finding motives to get angry or upset. Their mind’s content doesn’t take them to those negative moods, like on our western societies, where everything is a good starting point to complain or grump.
Nevertheless, if you get distracted very easily or have a gentle sleep, then make sure you have some earplugs with you or, even better, an ipod or mp3 with the selections of music you like the most so that you can chill out and get inspired at the same time. But don’t forget to open yourself to the context you are delved into – you are in India!
6. If you like to be on your own, bring a book, but don’t forget to interact with local people
Reading, entering an author’s mind, absorbing other ideas, visions and concepts is always good, no matter the place or the situation we are. Especially in big journeys like these, be it on bus, train, boat or plane, it’s always a great opportunity to read. So, don’t forget to bring one or more books with you, especially if you picked one subject related to the country you are at the moment. It will make you dig deeper and awaken the curiosity for knowing more about its reality. I am right now reading J. Max Muller “India – what can it teach us?” that is a good reflection on this East Asia country and what it represents to the world, «urging the westerners to come out of their superior colonial mindset and admire and adopt the multi-dimensional efficacy that is inherent in India».
Apart from this, we should never forget the best book is the one of our lives, the best story, the best novel, the best documentary is the one contemplated in the sum of moments that take place just by living this awesome life, because we open ourselves to the world, to the people and to the situations. So, leave the bed and go down to the actual story of your present moment in India.
7. Bring a belly belt to keep your belongings on you
You are on an Indian public transport, you are foreigner and probably white, you carry your life with you and if you see yourself loosing it, that can be dictating the end of your freedom, so, in order to avoid these situations, the best is to make sure you always keep your important belongings on you: passport, money, visa credit card, flights, should be inside a safety belly belt, that you carry 24/7, no matter where you go.
8. Don’t forget an impermeable backpack cover
Don’t forget that you will probably have no room to put your backpack but under the seats below, so it’s important that you protect it with a backpack rain cover. Sometimes there are kids messing on the train or even the water that comes from the toilette can be spread out on the floor, (try to be away of toilette, though), so, play clean and safe. That’s super light to carry and super easy to compact after using.
I hope that these tips were somehow useful for you. And, of course, if you have any information to be added here, please share. Let’s be better together.