Posts Tagged ‘train journey’

Why I travel by train in India

October 13, 2017

Why I travel by train rather than by flight.
1. I have to reach the station only half an hour before the train, not two or three hours ahead of departure.
2. The railway station is 15 km away as opposed to the airport’s 45 km. (which mandates a journey of its own).
3. I don’t have horrible luggage restrictions which mean I cannot take an extra pair of socks.
4. I don’t have to screen my luggage (well, except in Old Delhi Station).
5.I don’t have to stand in long security check queues.
6. I don’t need to have my sunscreen lotion and (yes, once) safety pins thrown away.
7. I can pack home food and lots of water for the journey.
8. I get a lot of free time on the train.
9. I have enough time to both strike up conversations with fellow passengers as well as commune with myself.
10. The view from the window is as spectucular as the one from the air.
Oh, and
11. I get a senior citizen’s discount!

I can also add to this, that train travel is definitely more “green” than air travel…and that food on the train is mediumly priced junkola as opposed to exorbitantly priced junkola at airports and on flights.

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The problems of travelling by Indian Railways

December 19, 2013

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Steam locomotive on display at Guwahati Station, 011213

The Indian Railways 

has is one of the largest railway networks in the world. (Click on the link above to get facts and figures.)

Given its size and unwieldiness, it’s a remarkable organization. The trains are on time for the most part, and earlier delays (up to 24 hours, sometimes!) have been nearly eliminated. When Lalu Prasad Yadav was the Railway Minister, he won laurels for “revamping” the Railways. (The ultimate recognition….it’s a case-study at Harvard.)

But alas…the revamping seems to have brought out the vamp in the organization, and the passenger trains, it seems to me, seem to have a lot of problems. I am listing them, as I see them, here….I do appreciate many things about the railways,but these are outstanding minuses that cannot be wished away.

Awful online booking website.

The IRCTC website 

continues to be one of the least user-friendly websites I have ever used. It’s amazing that to date, on this site, I cannot book return tickets, and have to book each journey separately. It’s so difficult to use that I totally avoid options like break of journey. Very often, it ,can take hours to book one’s tickets on the site, and this enables bad practices like the using of agents and touts to get one’s tickets booked.

Booking dates:

The Railways recently brought back the 60-days-in-advance rule for booking journeys (it used to be 90 days), and this is obviously essential, given the kind of corruption and underhand practices that sometimes marks the booking of rail tickets. It also results in people who are planning ahead, booking the tickets on the date that the booking opens, and sitting on the bookings until they decide whether or not they will travel, or travel by that train. This means that many genuine travellers get only RAC (Reservation Against Cancellation) or WL (Waiting List) tickets, and do not know until much later if their tickets will get confirmed…and they get very uncomfortable side berths, about which I will write more, later.

Passengers still cannot choose their berths, or seats on day trains. Senior citizens can request lower berths, but other passengers must be content with what they get. Lights may not work, nor fans; the attendant is usually nowhere to be found, and it’s impossible to exchange one’s berth after allocation.

Maintenance of bogies and railway tracks:

The maintenance of the passenger bogies leaves much to be desired. I am still regularly able to see mice and rats in the bogies. All the bogies of the Bangalore-Guwahati Express, which I took on the 19th of November, were dirty and old, and a terrible place in which to spend 3 nights and 2 days, on a 3000 km journey. Even the newer bogies are, unfortunately, of very bad design, with heavy, unwieldy doors, a lack of electrical outlets for many passengers (except the random lucky ones).

The spaces between bogies are rapidly becoming a litter-deposit area, and railway employees think nothing of throwing all the trash out on to the tracks. I am unable to see a responsible method of disposing trash on the many journeys that I make.

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(You can see the amount of trash on the tracks. Ahmedabad-Bangalore, 161213)

Air-conditioners in upper-class bogies may freeze the passengers, or let them swelter in an ill-ventilated space. To get the attendant to do something about the problem is tough, given their general invisibility (see below).

The windows, sealed in air-conditioned upper-class bogies, are usually very dirty, and on the Bangalore-Guwahati train, was impossible to see out of, creating a feeling of claustrophobia. On the journey from Ahmedabad to Bangalore, the window was dirty throughout the first day, and was cleaned at Hubli, at 7pm on the 2nd day. I have never otherwise seen the windows being cleaned during journeys. The lower class bogies have open windows, where the glass or steel shutters might be stuck, or come crashing down suddenly…and open windows expose the passengers to the filthy smell from the railway tracks.

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Sealed windows on the air-conditioned bogies

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My window on the Bangalore-Guwahati journey, 201113. (A/c 2-Tier coach)

Maintenance of toilets

The toilets, even on upper-class bogies, are an abomination. They still open directly on to the railway tracks. They are dirty, often without water, and the flushes just do not work properly, due to terribly bad design.

Attendants

Upper class bogies are supposed to have attendants in, well, attendance. But usually, they are nowhere to be found, after they hand out the bedding at the start of the journey and it’s impossible to get anything repaired or rectified.

Bedrolls and towels

Bedding (provided free in the upper class bogies) can often be damp from washing, torn, and frayed. Towels are supposed to be provided, too, but are usually not given. Sometimes, pestering the attendant, when he appears with the bedding, works.

Food

The food on the railways is under contract, and this is increasingly result in in a combination of awful food and beverages, and overcharging in the most blatant way. I just wrote a blogpost about the recent increase in food rates

here 

Food is a major issue on long journeys. Good food is just not available. I explored the internet sites of a few caterers, but they want a minimum order of Rs.1500 and are not interested in individual passenger orders. So passengers are still at the mercy of the contract vendors.

Lack of information about the running of the train

The lack of the attendant also means that most passengers do not get any information about whether the train is running on time, or not. Even trains which have display boards only have meaningless messages and advertisements running on the LED display, and no useful information about the next station or how long the train is doing to stop there. In the middle of the night, passengers do not even know which station the train has halted at. My train back from Ahmedabad (AII-Mysore Exp, no. 16209) was due in Bangalore at 3.15am…and I kept awake all night for fear of falling asleep and missing the station. And when there are multiple stations in a single city (eg, Krishna Raja Puram, Bangalore East, Cantonment, and City on the train mentioned above), one has to constantly go to the door, risking one’s luggage, to find out where one is.

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Shanties along the railway tracks, Guwahati-Bangalore, 031213.

Waiting list confirmations and side-berth issues

The side berths on the bogies are charged at the same rate as the regular berths, but are far less comfortable, and can often result in great difficulty for the passengers, as they are in the high-traffic area, and cannot get out of the way. The side berths are much shorter, and are allotted to passengers who have been confirmed after being on the waiting list. This is very unfair to passengers who have paid the same as those who are occupying the more comfortable berths. Sometimes senior citizens on the waiting list are allotted upper berths, and have great difficulty climbing up to sleep, especially if they have to visit the toilet once or twice at night.

Safety issues:

Theft of luggage and mobile phones seems to be very common on long-distance trains, and there is absolutely no way one can report theft, unless one is prepared to pull the chain and make everyone wait. My 82-year-old fellow passenger and I had our mobiles stolen in broad daylight when returning from Guwahati, and on the journey from Ahmedabad to Bangalore, another passenger had his mobile stolen. Most passengers just curse their luck and are helpless, as they discover the loss later, there is no attendant to complain to, and the Railway Police never make their appearance on the train.

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Travelling Ticket Examiner on train, 031213, Guwahati to Bangalore

Vendors:

An incredible array of vendors seem to frequent the aisles at all times on long journeys, and it is difficult to accept that their presence does not have the endorsement of the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) or the attendant. Some of these vendors could also be opportunistic thieves.

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One of the many vendors on the trains, Guwahati-Bangalore, 211113

So…while the railways are very useful (and I must express deep appreciation for the fact that senior citizens get 40% off the train charges if male, and 50% if female…a discrimination I have never been able to figure out), it takes a lot of stamina and resolve to spend a couple of days on a train, and make the journey with Indian Railways. I do…and I think of myself as an intrepid traveller.

Biodegradable containers on a very long train journey

December 4, 2013

I was away in the foothills of the Himalaya, very far away (the journey from Bangalore to Guwahati alone was 2992 km, and passed through 8 states…Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam!) and came back with such a variety of experiences.

Just wanted to mention, in today’s world of plastic bags and cups, the biodegradable containers that are still being used in many places, that I saw on the train.

One is what is called, in Bengali, “bhAnd” (or matkA in Hindi)…the earthen cup that can be thrown on the tracks, or out of the window, or anywhere, because the mud will disintegrate again:

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This one contained “mishti doi” (sweet yogurt), one of the specialities of Bengal.

It was covered by a bit of newspaper and a rubber band:

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This was, after ages, a typical “bhAndEr chA” (tea-in-a-mud-pot)…it has a taste all its own:

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As you can see, it goes well with the cryptic crossword (that’s from The Telegraph).

When the “JhAlmoodiwAlA” came by, I asked for some,

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I got it in this “tongA”, which is Bengali for this kind of paper container:

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It’s better than an ordinary folded paper bag, as when it opens out, it has some width, and sits well on a countertop:

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The third container I liked very much was the “dOnA” (called donnai in Tamizh, and dOnA in Kannada, too), which is made of a certain type of leaf;they are stitched together, very expertly, and shaped into bowl-shapes:

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Can you see the way the stick has been expertly used to “stitch” the leaves in place?

How I wish these traditional, “eco-friendly” (to use a hackneyed term) and full-of-character containers continue to be used, and are NOT replaced by Ghastly Plastic….

Train of thought…

November 14, 2013

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A train pulls in (I can’t say, “steams in”, any more!) One journey is over…and another, soon to begin. For a brief while, many unconnected people will share a small space together…some of them will strike up conversations, others will remain blissfully unaware of how may others are travelling with them.

Several agencies swing into action; the train is cleaned, the engine maintenance done, the catering supplies unloaded and loaded, connections between the carriages checked, and so the long list goes…before the announcement that this train is about to go out, once again, ferrying its load from one city to another….

Meetings happen, partings happen. Someone said that a station is one place where emotions can still be seen in the raw. Happiness, sadness, or even loss as someone discovers a missing wallet, mobile phone, or even luggage….

Trains and stations are bustling places…train travel is still magical to me.

The Wabash Railroad, Wildwood, Mo, 040813

August 5, 2013

We heard about the

The

Wabash Railroad

and decided that we’d go for the ride on Sunday.

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We found that it was a tiny railroad, with engines built to scale:

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Here’s a video of a t rain leaving:

DS cycled up and back, a matter of about 60 miles! This left a seat free in the car for our friend Karthik O.

Here’s the family:

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Here’s the yard:

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This notice on the water tower was hilarious…”not for human consumption”…but apparently, the trainmaster is not considered human!

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We went chugging past the limestone bluffs of the area:

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The tracks crisscrossed many walking and cycling trails. I loved this tandem bike with a provision for a young child!

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Here’s another locomotive, built to scale:

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There were lots of volunteers to man the railroad, here’s one being the guardsman:

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We were thrilled that the train ran through Mohan, Missouri!

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A filming crew was at work, and our train ride took a long time as we were held up.

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Mother and daughter whiled away the time:

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Here’s the video!

It’s not a loop, so the train had to go to the end point, have the engine de-coupled and reconnected, and then we were brought back:

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Here’s a ticket:

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Here’s a ticket-holder:

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The woodland was lovely:

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At the departure point, engines use the turntable:

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Here are the rules:

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FB album

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What does a birthday mean?

October 23, 2006

When one is 52, what does a birthday mean?

In the family I grew up in, we didn’t have birthday parties and such. On the date that the Hindu star fell (my star is Uttaraphalguni, or Uttaram in Tamizh), one might be taken to the temple by parents, and a set of new clothes might be bought…that’s it!

The family I married into is also not much into celebrating birthdays, though of course the nephews and nieces have the Chucky Cheese type outings nowadays!

But I am feeling tremendously happy today…because….

Friends kept dropping in yesterday, even past midnight, to wish me. (This resulted in something I will talk about anon.)

I felt loved and happy.

The train journey from Bangalore to Chennai was full of amazing bird-sightings. Three different varieties of DRONGOS, two types of KINGFISHERS, a SHIKRA, RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS, and several CORMORANTS made sure my eyes were stuck to the window most of the time.

I called my daughter because we were laughing about the way she had filled up the powerpoint presentation for the company, pending our putting in the technical stuff. “The CEO of SEP is KM, who is a person noted for brushing his teeth everyday, and does not beat up his workers more than twice a week.”

Chennai today has lovely, cloudy, cool, rainy weather which I LOVE.

A dear friend who was very sleepy when I called him the first time suddenly woke up and called back and wished me. Good morning A!

When we got out of the auto near the guest house where we are staying, I saw an Indian cork tree with its beautiful flowers spread in a heady-smelling carpet on the road and pavement. I gathered together a lot of flowers and the scent in our room is so wonderful…the best things in life are, really, free….

…Oh, and the incident…the last of our friends to visit yesterday had a little daughter who took such a mighty fancy to us that she was not willing to leave unless we left with her; so past midnight, we had to take a drive with them (they came back to ring our doorbell as she was crying!) and finally managed to convince her that we would visit soon…KM was feeling feverish and was tossing and turning, and I came awake at 3.45 am and decided to snooze a bit more…when we both woke up, it was 6.10 am and the train was at 6.30 am!!

So we took the Honda City, and drove,not to the City Station from which the train (Lalbagh Express) departs, but to the Cantonment Station where it reaches 15 minutes later. We called another dear friend (oh, yes, we are plentifully supplied with them, that’s another reason I am happy!) and asked him to pick up the car from the station, which is walking distance from his home. We made it quite comfortably on to the train, too! Within minutes of our going into the station, he called that he had taken charge of the car (we had of course left it open but didn’t advertise the fact!) We went to sleep, relieved, after the train started, and woke up smiling at each other, that two rattle-brained people had managed yet again!

I must actually post pictures of this wonderful little station for my non-Indian friends. It is a relic from the British past, as of now has TWO platforms, and is SO very beautiful in its architecture and its setting..the Chennai/Bangalore railway line passes through the city streets and many of us have the option of taking the train at either City, Cantonment, or Krishnarajapuram, God bless Bangalore!

I often joke with my last-minute-to-the-airport husband that he also needs a Cantonment airport…

And, this evening, we are attending a “Sangeet”(Music) session to do with the wedding of our friends’ son. It is also the brides’ birthday today; and our friends’ son in law is also an excellent singer and we expect a LOT of great singing today. What a LOVELY way to spend a birthday!

So…with all the the scrapes and the sightings and the sangeet, and the simple sweetness of the affection I get from everyone…it’s been a great birthday so far!

Happy co-birthday, udhay!