It was around four and a half hour train ride from Shanghai to Taizhou, and while on it I remembered my last train ride in India, which wasn’t a long time ago, some two months back when I went to Mumbai to attend a business exhibition. Personally speaking I prefer traveling by train more than an airplane or by bus. But if it is a short distance of some 4-5 hours, then I like driving there.
Anyways if you are an average Bharatiya, then at any point of time in your life, you must have had the pleasure of traveling by a train. Trains, thanks to our brutal and greedy rulers for over 200 hundred years the British, are actually the cheapest way to travel across India. I won’t say most comfortable, because if you look for comfort then it is not cheapest anymore, but still given other modes, in comparative terms it is one of the cheapest and most comfortable available option, especially if you have an overnight journey.
The process begins with booking of tickets; unlike old days, when you had to go to ticket booking centre (which were and are very few) and wait in long queues to get the tickets, thanks to the railway booking website, www.irctc.co.in now you can book one while sitting at home. If you have not booked yours atleast two months in advance then chances are you won’t get one; unless either you have some contact to get your ticket confirmed under various special quotas; or you are lucky enough to get one under tatkal booking. But booking a ticket under tatkal through IRCTC is no easy task either. Afteral it is an Indian site, and that too in which government activity is involved, so at time of tatkal booking it is bound to crash. You can try to be a smart ass, and go to the booking centre, but then in order to get one, you should reach atleast 2 hours before the booking starts and that will be around 6 in the morning.
On the D-day the ordeal begins as soon as you reach the railway station. First of all you got to know on which platform your train would be boarding from. The best people to ask are the potters, the one wearing red shirts. They have been there for so long that not even the enquiry beats them; not because they have more information than the enquiry, but because they are more approachable and willing for customer care than actual customer care.
Once at the platform you need to check in which coach you have your booking. If you know the coach and seat number then things are little easier for you. But if you happen to be the unaware types, then start looking for the reservation charts and in the charts your name.
Now the thing is, the moment charts are pasted on the train coach, they gets torn. It seems there are hired professionals to tear the charts as soon as they are put. People on the station are waiting for the charts to be put, so that they can tear them off. Am not sure if they want to take the charts with them or what. Perhaps they are the angry ones who do not get reservation, so they tear the charts; if I don’t get a seat, then no one would! But in any case the charts will be missing.
However once you know your coach and seat number, then start boarding the train, maneuvering your way through all the luggage lying around. Indian rail only charge you for your ticket and not for the luggage you carry, and we Indians don’t let any opportunity to be missed especially when it is for free, so everyone is carrying luggage as if they are permanently moving. People feel it is their responsibility to fill the complete train with luggage, so they have the right to carry everything they possibly can. Stuff which they will never use in day-to-day life, they will carry with them; they might need it. From essential clothes to non-essential utilities; from old magazines to cricket bats; from food items to gas stoves, if it is portable then it is available on the train.
The next ordeal is finding a good place to keep your luggage. You have to keep it near you, someplace in front of your eyes, to keep a watch on it because if you will not, then blink and you will definitely miss your luggage. And if you are traveling by Shatabadi, or any other chair car for that matter, then finding this suitable place becomes even difficult.
Anyways, whatever the reason may be, but train rides are always fun. Despite of all the difficulties, you end up with a smile on your face. No matter how old you are, you feel excited about going on a train. All the new people you get to meet, knowing them in those few hours, playing cards, chit chatting and sharing a meal with them; sometimes forming bonds which last forever. There is something about those overcrowded trains, a feeling you can’t explain in words. Feeling which is more often than not, is even nostalgic. There are few things that are worth all the while, and riding in Indian rail, is definitely one of them.