I almost forgot to add that last bit but then realized this post would hardly make any sense without the mention of the country. I’m not quite sure if trains of other nations require survival skills.
The struggle with Indian railways starts from irctc.co.in. Where the session keeps logging out every five minutes, where the waiting list looks like complicated math problems and one is almost sure to be never allotted the berth they set as preferred.
Yet, trains. Those who love these chugging machines really don’t see the point of flights unless a meeting must be attended at 11 a.m. tomorrow morning.
However, from fleeting conversations with folks from here and there I realize the agenda of the train is a staunch one. More like India’s stance on Beef. Those who love it and those who won’t go anywhere near it. No matter what you do, no matter how much you convince someone, if they don’t see it then they won’t see it.
So well, I won’t try to convince you. Instead, I’ll turn to the blessed folks who don’t need any convincing and were just born to love the locomotive.
Why Train Journeys Are Awesome
It’s like life but shorter and more bearable. Plus in this case, reaching the destination isn’t a teary affair and you are somewhat relieved to get off.
Your co-passengers are more accommodating and even try to be friendly because it’s all short term. Yes, there might be occasional spillage and unintentional kicking away of slippers but there will also be sharing of food, exchange of top bunk for window seat (yay!) and interesting tea time stories.
And also this quote from V.S. Naipaul’s Bend In The River which really stuck with me,
“The airplane is faster than the heart. You arrive quickly and you leave quickly… You stop grieving for the past. You see that the past is something in your mind alone, that it doesn’t exist in real life. You trample on the past, you crush it. In the beginning it is like trampling on a garden. In the end you are just walking on ground.”
Somehow, trains with their long uncertain holdovers at anonymous stations seem more innocent.
So how do you make the most of a train journey when you are travelling on budget and have gone sleeper class?
Here’s what you do:
1. Stock Up On Water: Sleeper classes are very erratic about water supply. There will be that one half an hour slot when seven hawkers will scream “thanda Paani” (cold water) and irritate the hell out of you but the rest of the day you’ll miss them more than your mother. So just buy as much as you need when you have the chance. It’s a good idea to stay hydrated.
2. Food: Indian railways almost always comes up with bland food which desperately needs more salt. It’s better to pick up meals from stations as that’ll be both tastier and cheaper. Avoid fried food and junk. NEVER save up gulab jamuns or other syrup based sweets as it will inevitably spill and you won’t like that. Also, stock up on munchies because at times there won’t be any station and the train caterers would have either run out of food or would be serving dry rice with boiled eggs and call it ‘egg biriyani’. Whatever you do don’t give yourself an upset stomach.
3. Washroom Tips: Trains will have messed up restrooms. Period. Initially it’ll be all good but after half a day’s journey, it’s more advisable to venture further to find cleaner loos. If it’s chi cha ledar situation everywhere then just tell one of the pantry guys to send the cleaner around. However, mostly it’s not so bad. Keep a towel and soap and you shall be good.
4. Don’t hog the seat: Yes you can lie down and spread out on your bunk in the middle of the day to make sure no one else sits near you or on the seat that’s been allotted to you. But that’s just mean. India is a crowded country and it won’t harm you if you make space for others to sit. When you really need to spread out you can always ask your co-passengers to move. No one’s going to say no.
5. Network: For better information, better seat, food etc. Talking to people around you will help you stay in the loop. If you are unhappy with your seat, ask the TT if anything else might be available. Also, if you are friendly with your co-passengers they will look after your luggage without you single-handedly having to worry about theft.
6. Charge: Most of the plug points don’t work. Those that do are coveted and folks from the next bogey have probably lined up their phones. Keep a power back-up if you can.
7. Entertainment: Stock up on films and music. Carry a book. Look out of the window and sleep a lot.
8. Forget about privacy. This is an extended picnic with strangers. If you are a quiet person you might want to get away and keep to yourself. Try smiling and nodding occasionally. Pick the top berth. And if it gets too noisy then you can always take a walk to the door to catch some fresh air.
9. Wear Loose Clothes: It’s going to be a long journey and you would like to be comfortable
10. There’s going to be a shower at the end of this: Remember. And just stop worrying about that fancy concept of hygiene. People lived just fine before you even learnt to spell that word.