In my post about crossing the border, I said we intended to get the train from Gorakpur to Varanasi. As I left it we were on a bus heading for the train station driving through villages and jasmine fields. Four hours later we arrived at the train station.
In the ticket hall there were hundreds of people sleeping on the floor with about 10 windows lining each end of the room. After much walking around asking many important looking people, we were eventually assured there were no trains until four in the morning and we might as well get a bus as we’d be there sooner.
This has been the story of India. People talk about the trains being amazing and whilst they have beds (or cushioned benches to you and me) they are not always worth the time and effort it takes to book them.
So far we’ve got on nine trains and spent approximately 6 hours booking them. Maybe more. A few days ago we booked all the trains for the rest of the trip using something called the tourist quota. We were told to confirm the seat numbers at the corresponding stations, none of which had even heard of the tourist quota… apparently! This meant we were well and truly stuck on the waiting list. We ended up sharing a seat from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur – very uncomfortable. Adventurous and romantic (?) as it was, we decided to cancel our remaining train.
Quick tips for train travel in India:
If you want to get the trains in India book ahead, especially during festive seasons (in India that’s all year round) – we’ve got caught up in pre-Divali traffic amongst other festivals. Otherwise use the bus. They aren’t that much less comfortable and you can usually walk up to one and get on. No waiting in queues at stations or arriving at the destination at 3am.
Book through your guesthouse and pay the commission. It’s about £1.50 per ticket and well worth the time you’ll save.
We’ve found there’s no difference between 2AC and 3AC. Sleeper was pretty similar too but without pillows and blankets… and aircon, of course.
If you are a boy/group of boys go sleeper. You probably won’t miss the pillow and it’s a good temperature at night. For girls (with or without a ‘husband’), you may want to travel in the higher classes as it reduces the amount of stares and threatening behaviour.
Don’t leave any ticket office without a seat number, or very specific written instructions.
My ultimate top tip would be to book a tour/driver, unless you’ve got many many months and don’t mind being stranded in one place for a while. You’ll see all the same things without wasting hours of your trip booking tickets.
As for us, we’ve had some great times on India’s trains, we’ve met locals who’ve taken us under their wing, families who’ve spent the journey laughing at our pronunciations of place names and fellow travellers to share tales with. We’ve taken our last Indian Rail expedition however, and next we’ll be flying high… let’s see what you’ve got Indian Air.