Choo Choo Through India: The Amusing and Terrifying Truth About The Indian Railway System

IMG_3749The Indian railway system may be one the most efficient, frustrating, economical friendly, and appalling forms of transportation in the world. Clearly, it is a love and hate relationship.

For all the novices out there who have heard horror stories about the trains ranging from the sexual harassment to random attacks, it really is not that bad. My experiences on the train have been more amusing than life threatening, the first time I was on the train, I was in the same compartment with five other men. In most situations that would be terrifying, but in this case, they were all incredibly curious and kept offering me food. I think the fact that there was a black girl, with wild curly hair on the train was just too much for them.

My most recent experience that happened was probably the most baffling and ‘laughing because I don’t want to cry’ time on the train.

For starters I prefer to book my trains on-line and simply pay with my card, it is efficient and somewhat faster than going all the way to the train station and trying to convey my starting and ending point to an operator via broken down English and various hand signals.

So my journey was a rather simple one to make, Chennai to Hyderabad, an easy overnight journey of 14 hours from south to central India. Little did I know of the ludicrous journey that was set before me.

To begin with when my friends and I arrived at the station we were followed by porters that offered to carry our bags, despite our many, ‘no’s, and ‘leave me alone please’, their persistence was never-ending and they walked with us all down to the platform.

Going back to my methods of booking, I usually receive a confirmation of my ticket on my phone which is sufficient from both me and the train conductor. However this time around, the ticket made absolutely no sense. So my first move was to find a conductor to help decode the symbols I had received. Now this ‘gentleman’ became a lasting accompany for the remainder of the trip. I would presume that he was in his mid to late 50’s and had probably been working at the station all his life. He was wearing a very basic uniform of white pants and a dark blue jacket that didn’t seem to receive much attention, and his hair, oh his hair! He had a Donald Trump hair do, but instead of the hair being pushed forward, it was slicked backwards, and well there was a lot less hair. However there seemed to be one stubborn strand of white hair that looked as though it would fly off his head and soar down the tracks, which made it impossible to take the man seriously.

When I came to him with my complaint he simply surveyed my friends and I for several seconds and with speed of an injured turtle took my phone. Now I usually take a screenshot of my ticket so I always have it accessible, and that means that the ticket is in my photos folder. After studying my ticket he then went on to go through all my pictures quite leisurely, and I had to gingerly take away my phone away.

He then oh so casually informed us that our train tickets had not been confirmed and that the train was full.

Now there we were, seven very tired, very sweaty and not to mention hungry girls, standing in the heart of Chennai all desperately wanting to get home. However it seemed that about three of us had our tickets confirmed while the other four were kept on the waiting list.

So we all boarded the train in hopes that there might be some overlooked seats available and if not then we would stuff ourselves on the same berth and if we were really desperate, then curl up next a nice Indian grandma. Unsure about how we would survive the next 14 hours of the journey, looking for empty seats or temporarily available seats we began our journey.

Now the problem was that before we actually started our journey we would stop at many smaller stations picking up more and more people. So you can imagine our delight at finding empty seats, only to later realize that they were booked and that we were once again, seat-less. This went on for about two hours, until we finally settled ourselves in a few seats that seemed available, but I firmly refused to get my hopes us.

It was then that the world’s most helpful conductor made another appearance and decided to sit with us, because we obviously had so much space. He then went on to tell us that all the passengers showed up which meant that there were no available seats, the words we were dying to hear.

Thankfully we had managed to find three empty berths despite the encouraging news we received from our friend, we then went on to ask people if the seats that they were sitting on were occupied. Surprisingly many of them were unavailable and we found that we had two more seats! Not wanting to push our luck to much we decided to stay seated and have dinner. Now dinner consisted of biryani and chapatti with aloo curry, and this being provided by the expert chefs from the Indian Railway Catering service. So hoping and praying that none of us would get any Delhi belly, we quickly devoured our dinner, only to discover that we were still hungry after.

After this, two of my friends went in search of any missing berths, and thankfully they found two seats in the next compartment. By midnight we were all settled in for bed, all of us eager to fall asleep and erase the past six hours that had become etched into our memories.

I can’t explain my joy when we stopped at the Hyderabad Deccan Railway station, I don’t believe I have ever in my life been so happy to be in Hyderabad.

Despite this disaster of an experience, I still love travelling by train in India, sitting by an open window and speeding by rice plantations, or clear sparkling lakes, there is no better way to experience India and lose yourself in the beauty of it all.

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