Travelling around India by train gives one the chance to explore the amazing sights, both outside and within the carriage.
PURCHASING a train ticket in India is an adventure in itself. Of the 25 or so ticket windows in a reservations hall at some train stations, only one is dedicated to tourists. Oh, let’s not forget the elderly, disabled, freedom fighters, group bookings and even ticket cancellations also battling for the same elbow space as foreigners, designated to the same queue. However, for a very small fee, any of the numerous travel agencies scattered about each city and town will assist in booking a train ticket for you, avoiding what can often be an overwhelmingly frustrating experience at the ticket desk.
Crisscrossing the country, the train system in India has been hailed as the lifeline of the nation. Commencing its service 160 years ago in 1853, the first train ran in the subcontinent ran between Bombay and Thane. From these humble beginnings, Indian Railways has grown to become one of the world’s largest railway networks, comprising 115,000 km of track over a route of 65,000 km and 7,500 stations.
Waiting patiently for your train to arrive in India is an experience in itself. People mill about, bidding farewell and greetings, and making last minute purchases from the various vendours on hand. An excited bustle signals a train’s arrival to the station, as people begin jumping on and off from the moving vehicle in a mad clamour before it has ground to a halt. Once the line of carriages is motionless, the big push on board of new passengers often results in a bottleneck of arms and legs struggling against each other.
The trains themselves are a packed jamboree of noise, and life in close quarters. Typically, intercity trains are divide into three classes, each offering their own window into Indian culture. First class sees the upper echelons of society relaxing in air conditioned comfort. In sleeper cars replete with their 72 beds, passengers are scattered about every available space. Sellers fill the air with an orchestra of different cries touting tea, soup, samosas, books – even foot pumps and shoe repairs.An army of beggars shuffle through the carriages, parading various ailments in exchange for a coin or two. Meanwhile, third class sees hard wooden benches on offer, without designated seating, with each carriage filling like a can of sardines in no time.
The scenery on offer is frequently breathtaking, as the train weaves its way through a variety of landscapes. Standing in an open doorway, with the wind in your hair as the sundrenched landscape bathes under the afternoon sun leaves postcard-picture perfect memories.
Indian Railways at a glance
• Indian Railways (IR) started its service 160 years ago on 16 April 1853, running between Bombay and Thane.
• IR employs about 1.55 million people.
• IR is one of the world’s largest railway networks comprising 115,000 km of track over a route of 65,000 km and 7,500 stations.
• IR carries over 24 million passengers & 2.8 million tones of freight every day, with over 14,000 trains.
PHOTOS: ANNA O’SULLIVAN / RUNRAN / HONZA SOUKUP / 2OSE
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