Trains in India
Indian Railways is the world's largest employer - with over a million workers and billions of passenger journeys every year, you won't ever lack company.
Despite its ongoing modernisation IR stilll retains the feel of a proper railway - this is what BR was like in the 1950's. Here there are still bookstalls on the platform, ladies and gentleman's waiting rooms and a station buffet where you can drink tea or limca and watch the the world go by while you wait for your train.
A quiet moment between trains
To travellers used to trains in the UK and Europe, train travel in India can seem a little daunting at first but it's without doubt the best way to see the country and meet people. The railways in India still retain a romance that has been lost in the west. Waiting in a warm breeze in the small hours for the Rajdhani Express or the Brahmaputra Mail to an exotic destination half a thousand miles away is an experience far removed from day to day life.
If you're travelling any distance, 2AC (second class air conditioned) is recommended, this is fairly clean by Indian standards* and consists mainly of 4 berth cabins which offer a degree of privacy but are not lockable. They have a small table and bunks which hinge down for use at night. Food is available on long trips - someone will take your order and a freshly prepared curry will be brought to your berth an hour or so later. I can vouch for the veggie curries as excellent!
* Drifting off to sleep on the lower berth of an AC2 sleeper en route from Delhi to Varanasi, I watched with great interest as a cockroach hoovered up the crumbs from the Naan bread we had enjoyed earlier. No sooner had it finished than it was jumped on and eaten by a mouse that had been hiding behind my rucksack...
Permanent way dept at work - As this is India, the guys on the platform could all be official supervisors!
The gauge is wider than the European and American standard at 5' 6" - it looks just a little strange to British eyes. The wide network of metre and narrow gauge lines that existed in India up to the end of the last century has now all but vanished.
Inside a non air conditioned second class carriage.
Compared to Britain, the trains are bigger all round, the wider gauge making for bigger carriages or "bogies" and as the train is still unrivalled for long distance trips, there are generally a lot more of them, 14 coach trains are not uncommon on an express or mail service. The wooden seats and barred windows are typical of Indian railways non - airconditioned stock although some non a/c stock does have vinyl seats. Second class isn't so bad when the train is moving but it does get a bit warm if the train stops in the sun for too long. It can get crowded too as it's much cheaper than AC2.
I met a guy who had made a long distance trip in non ac second and found his carriage to be so packed that when the elderly hindu man sitting next to him died in mid journey, it wasn't noticed for some time as the body could not slump to either side. At the next station, the corpse was tied up in a sheet and laid on the floor of the compartment untill journeys end some hours later.
Pictures of Goa, India
The woman in seat 57! The man in seat 61 has more practical advice for the budding Indian rail traveller
Don't miss the Strategic Steam Reserve