Indian railway stations and a very long walk

Having just completed our penultimate overnight sleeper train – this one took 15 hours, from 4pm to 7am, to take us 733kms to Badami – I thought you might enjoy seeing a little bit of Madurai railway station, some trains and then laugh at our long walk.

To explain the long walk: when you book a train you know exactly which carriage and which seat is yours, it’s possible to view online stuff to see exactly where your carriage is likely to be, in this case we knew we would be carriage 4 of 23. So we positioned ourselves accordingly, using the signs on the station to get to where the fourth carriage should stop. BUT, our train was going in the opposite direction so we were positioned where carriage 19 of 23 would stop. Cue, a little stroll, carrying 18kgs, 500 metres up the platform.

Panic! Almost missing the train to Kochi, and sleeper class confusion

Panic at the station

We had all the time in the world, then in a flash we had none.
The little detour to look into the Pothy’s sari and salwar emporium, the walk back to the railway station and the retrieval of our luggage from the cloakroom all took far longer than we expected.
We had 20 minutes to catch the train.
We were located on platform one, the announcer told us we needed platform 4.
The crossing bridge was a hundred metres but felt somewhat more when you’re carrying between 13kg and 18kg on your back/front. But its weight quadrupled when we hit the stairs upwards.
On the bridge over all the platform we reached the stairs for platform 4, and saw the sign which told us our train – number 12624 was on platform 3, which was down a different staircase.
Down the stairs to platform 3 and I look on the numbers on the side of the train: it’s not ours!
The western traveller told me platfom 3’s train was definitely going to Chennai, as 12624 should be after Kochi. “But” she continuted “if the numbers on the train don’t match your numbers, it won’t be your train” confirming what I already knew.
I ran along the platform still carrying my gear, the numbers on the train didn’t change: this was not our train.
Running back, and up the stairs which felt like ten times higher than they actually were, we were back at the top of platform 4.
Down the stairs again and one carriage along I saw 12624 on the train.
Thank God.
A quick check of the watch and we’ve got 15 minutes, but we’ve got no water and we’ve got to get to our carriage, 18 carriages further on.
I try walking fast but the girls are getting left behind, I try stopping at the kiosk whilst I’m ahead to get water but I’m in a queue of 5 and I’ll never get served in time, stuff it, we’ll have to hope there’s a water seller on the train – there wasn’t.
Reaching our carriage with minutes to spare, we get to our seats and someone is already sitting in them; they move when we state which seats are ours.

And relax.

Sleeper Class capacity: is there one?

There’s meant to be 6 people on the two benches, we’ve got 7 on ours and two on the fixed beds above, someone’s not got a ticket. Looking across at the side berths and rather than two people, there’s three. Another one joins our seats, now’s there 13 occupying the space for 8.
It’s okay I thought, the rather officious Train Ticket Examiner won’t put up with this, he’ll chuck the rogues all out.
The TTE turned up and examined some of the tickets, didn’t bother with others. I counted 4 who had no tickets, he did nothing.
I showed him our tickets and passport, he looked glum, with an accusing look he asked me “which seat?” Looking behind at the number 12, I turned back to him, “12!” holding back the “der” which would have got me thrown off the train at the next station.
So the only ones who got any crap off the TTE were the people who booked their tickets the earliest, us.

Water, water, give me water

Two hours in the heat and we’re in need of some water.
The chai sellers on the train didn’t cut it for us, we needed a couple of bottles.
Jane hatched a plan: at the next station she’d get off, get some water and get back on. Simple.
With 100 rupees she got off.
The train was due to stop for two minutes.
Two minutes later the train pulled away, one further minute and there’s no sign of her and we’re starting to panic once more.
It occurs to me she’s got 100 rupees, we’re two hours from Kochi, she doesn’t know the address of the property, she has no identification. I could imagine the news report.
Then she appears.
Thank God.
Water.
Jane.
Relax.

 

 
And here’s a little video:

Photos: Sleeper class isn’t so bad

In all the train trips we’ve ever done, none have been in Sleeper Class, which is the first class down from carriages with air-con. Sleeper class is a slightly misleading term as it’s perfectly fine for using solely for day time travel which is what we did.

It wasn’t actually possible to book from Kanyakumari to Trivandrum as the distance is short at around 100km, so I had to book up to Kochi, which at 310km is three times the distance. Total cost for the trip up to Kochi was £9 for all three. NINE!

Let’s let the photos do the talking…

Obligatory selfie, each carrying 9-13 kilos on our backs and 3-5 on our fronts:
ready for our sleeper class experience

We were in carriage S10, i.e. the 10th Sleeper Class carriage, it was the 12th out of 23 carriages, so it was a long walk in the searing heat along the platform:
a long walk

There’s no air-con in Sleeper Class but the lack of windows means there is air con.
through the open window

enjoying the real air con via the open windows

As well as the open windows there’s lots of fans:
insider sleeper class

Amy and Kev doing the standard let’s-look-through-the-open-door-as-we’re-hurtling-along thing:
hanging on tight

Kev, going one stage further
hanging out in/of sleeper class

Fun photo of the day: I like this term
differently abled, I like that

Video: 750km overnight train from Chennai to Kanyakumari

Last night we slept on a train, well, kind of sleep, kind of didn’t. It was our first train of this trip and the longest one to boot, 750kms, taking 13 hours to go from Chennai to Kanyakumari, which is India’s southern most tip.

It was good fun, we all love the trains.

We used 2AC class which has air conditioning and usually cubicles of 4 berths, 2 below, 2 on top, with a curtain between the cubicle and the walkway, plus it has lines of side berths, 1 up, 1 down. This time though we had the only coupe – 2 berths one about the other and one lower side berth.

train-mazing bookings

For those who’ve travelled on UK railways it’s hard to comprehend just how massive, busy and booked up trains in India get. Not only do trains get booked up way in advance but they also have people who book when all seats are sold out and they join a Wait List, hoping that enough cancellations will happen so that the purchaser can travel, and these waitlists have dozens of people on them.

The posher classes are often fully booked in advance, and this on trains with often 21 carriages, taking 60 odd people per carriage, which can run for 3 solid days. You can even book 120 days in advance of the date of travel, something I’ve been making full use of as I plan our journey around.

Booking is easy these days: research trains on erail.in, create an IRCTC account on irctc.co.in, book a train, pay using an international debit/credit card, print a ticket, eventually get on the train, show ticket to the inspector et voila.
Now there’s an app you can use, showing all your previous bookings and cutting out the need to print a ticket at all.

But it’s gone one stage further now…
You can pre-purchase your food.

No longer must you get on a train and hope there’s something being sold on the train you’ll feel happy eating, no, now you can pre-order for delivery to your seat when the train arrives at certain stations. There’s a great choice too, from Indian food (Southern and Northern), to Burgers, to Chicken, to Pizza.

I just couldn’t resist doing this and ordered a full meal of Indian dishes for three to be delivered to my seat where I’ll pay cash on delivery. It came to less than a tenner.

First you enter your PNR reservation number, from this they know your train, your carriage, your seat number and pretty much exactly where on the platform the door to your carriage will line up.

Then pick the station you want the food delivered at and which vendor:

Then pick what you want – it’s all pretty cheap:

Finish off the order, board your train, wait for your food to be delivered, pay the delivery guy, and eat.