Thursday, February 25, 2010

Aboard the Indian Railway

To my utter disappointment (and Kevin’s delight), by the time we figured out how to buy train tickets online to Jaipur, the only class left was Sleeper– typically the last and cheapest option for foreign travelers. However, to look on the bright side, at least it wasn’t Second Class: “how India’s poorest people travel…the concept of overcrowding really is taken to a new level..not recommended for long distance train travel in India”. 

Sleeper Class is described as “quite crowded, fairly grubby and basic”, while three classes up, 1AC (prices comparable to flying) is “spacious, carpeted, and lockable..with washbasin..all necessary bedding is provided”. Air conditioning was not so much a concern (it gets surprisingly cold at night), as was privacy, cleanliness, and safety. 

Privacy went out the window right away, as we boarded the appropriate car and found our assigned ”berth” (bed) numbers– situated across from each other, with one middle and one lower berth below each, along with two more horizontally near our feet, for a total of eight berths per compartment. 

Looking down from the top "berth"

Cleanliness was as expected; the stained vinyl beds were similar to those of the sleeper bus we’d taken a week earlier (our sleep sheets have been coming in handy more often now) and the ceiling fans were coated with a sheet of dust. 

Enjoying the ride from Udaipur to Jaipur

As for safety concerns, when reserving online I had purposely selected the top berth after reading a post on A traveller had recounted his train experience in India where he witnessed the middle berth falling on the bottom, injuring a 7 year-old  (he also noted there was no First Aid kit on board to treat the head wound). I’m sure this isn’t a common occurence, but we’ve been told more than once to “be safe!” so I wasn’t taking any chances.

I was still a little nervous, as I’d made the mistake of recently reading Q&A (the basis for Slumdog Millionaire), where the author talks of common-place train robberies in India (fictional, yes, but enough to make me think twice). As it turns out, though, I actually felt better sleeping among the locals than in the higher-class tourist cars, which, I told myself, thieves were more likely to target. 

After settling in we were able to drift off and sleep surprisingly well. I was even able to laugh at the situation and how funny we looked curled up with our bags, a couple feet from the ceiling, surrounded by non-English speaking locals. So, if you were expecting some dire tale of our overnight adventure, sorry to disappoint. But, it’s still early… 

Kevin "spooning" with his backpack


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