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Matt & Mercaders - The World Tour

TRAVEL NOTES - The Joy of Sleeper Trains (Part 2)

INDIA | Friday, 10 October 2008 | Views [851] | Comments [2]

I like travelling by train and Indian Rail is no exception. I'm sat on one now and I've just seen 4 kids washing themselves in a river jumping and waving manically at the sight of us. You see some amazing stuff. However, after the comparative luxury of our european sleeper (see The Joy of Sleeper Trains) Indian sleepers make you want to dettol yourself - inside and out.

Before I talk through the odds and sods of our experiences on Indian Rail I should say that we were warned, by at least 2 trustworthy individuals, the only way to travel in this country is in 1st Class. We've been on 8 significant train journey's (nine hours or more) and this is our breakdown:

1st Class – 2 times

2nd Class – 3

3rd Class – 2

4th Class – 1...

So we've only got ourselves to blame. That and the fact that trains book up so early in advance that we'd find a waiting list of 40 people for seats on trains we had to get on. The difference in classes comes down to three things; 1) number of people in your carriage 2) cleanliness (what would be the point in cleaning the whole train?) and 3) privacy.

Our time in 4th class – or sleeper as it is known – was particularly gruesome. For most of that journey the long suffering Chloe bore the expression of someone who had just swallowed a worm. Incidentally, before I forget, and perhaps providing some sort of context, we met this couple and the bloke told me how his girlfriend had instructed him not to go to sleep and watch to his girlfriend throughout the night. That was in 2nd class.

The actual sleeping part of the journeys has its drawbacks. Some people just go flat out from the start of the journey to the end regardless of time of day. Some opportunists will take a free bed so when you get on – normally in the early hours of the morning – there is some random fella in your bed. And in your fresh sheets too. Nice. When I do get a bed its normally 6 inches too short so my legs stick through the curtain (no walls outside of 1st) that separates our cabin and the corridor. Most people fail to spot my protruding leg so during the night people are regularly attempting to walk through it. Comfy. Its an experience no doubt about it.

The tea and coffee wallah's are my favourite part of the journey. They're great and generally in good spirits. They scurry around, back and forth, every 2 minutes offering their small cups of deliciously sweetened caffeine goodness. It goes a bit like this. You hear “chai, chai, chai” or “corrfee, corrfee, corrfee” in the distance. By the time they have reached your seat you've heard the chant 20-30 times. Given the regularity of their visits this is the soundtrack to your journey. When they get to you have two choices. One – ignore completely (easiest); two – take a cup at 7p a go; three – politely pass up the brew (error). Any interaction, verbal or non-verbal, is a sign of interest. Their chant takes on an extra dimension.

Wallah: Chai, chai, chai... CHAI?

Me: No thank-you

Wallah: CHAI?

Me: No

Wallah: No Chai?

Me: No

Wallah: Chai?

We've taken on a lot of Indian food on the trains too. Risky but delicious. We met a young Indian lady on one train and she said she never touched the stuff. Made her friend very ill. Here's us, detolling every surface we come into contact with, bottled water everywhere, not touching around our mouths (random tip from an Italian travelling veteran) and here we are scoffing food an Indian wouldn't touch. No guts, no glory my friend.

After finishing one small banquet of Indian train food I took a considerable amount of empty waste packets to the bin in the corridor. I couldn't find it so I asked the ticket conductor. He pointed to a small gap in between two carriages through which I could see daylight and the tracks below. When I appeared reluctant he snatched it and dropped it through the gap. And that's how its done in India.

One final recollection for you in keeping with the theme of unusual Indian behaviour...

On one journey I took a walk to the exit doors to check out the stunning views (many cabin windows have such bad condensation or are so heavily tinted that you cant see a thing) and I saw in the distance what appeared to be a man squat on the side of the tracks. I think you know what he was doing. I thought to myself, silly place to go, what with the trains likely to pass. As we got closer to the squatting man I noticed he was carefully observing folks like me hanging out of the doors. He spotted someone he knew and began waving and smiling vigorously. Whilst he was squat there. Right in the middle of his business.

As I said, stunning views.




A great tale. Do they serve pints of Tea?

  sam moore Oct 16, 2008 9:05 PM


Sweet Lord Blants, nothing less than 1st class a/c for me. I salute you. Loving the blog. More please.

  Steph Oct 29, 2008 3:17 AM

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