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From heaven to hell: Taking my first train in India

Having stopped the blog posts for four weeks due to server problems, I have accumulated many experiences that I want to tell, like when after a month being in India, I took my first train in this country and the experience was… Well, let’s say I hope it’s not always like that or I will continue taking buses as usual. I had been warned that traveling by train in India I should take the tickets several days in advance or almost always I would find it full and so it had been happening until returning from the north, to go from Delhi to Agra, I decided to take it few days before and try this way to travel. The result: both the best and the worst that could be.

 

    The heaven

I never thought that buying a train ticket online in India would be that that easy. A few days earlier, I had finally been able to activate the Indian SIM card that I had bought so I created an account at IRCTC, the national company to book and purchase train tickets.

I downloaded a smartphone app called ‘Clear Trip’ and in less than a minute I had already bought those tickets. This wonderful app has a simple and intuitive interface and lets you easily search for buses and trains across the country, and if you link the app with your IRCTC account, you can also buy tickets at the same time paying with credit card. And the best comes at the end, because there is no need to print the receipt or make a check in or anything. You go to the station, get on the train and when the ticket collector comes, you show him your passport so he can check that you are the person who purchased the ticket.

Planning the trip with the newly purchased tickets.

 

Moreover the ticket was really cheap since we booked at 2S class (Another day I’ll write a post explaining the different classes for train traveling in India) and it cost us only 100 rupees (1.4 €) per person a journey that covers a distance of 250 kilometers!

Looks easy and nice, doesn’t it? So far yes, but being in India you have to be prepared in case things go wrong from one moment to another, and that’s exactly what happened.

 

    The hell

We had to leave from New Delhi station at half past five in the afternoon, so we had time to wake up late at the house of the friends who were hosting us, have breakfast, and take the metro with time towards the station. The metro is another of those things that surprised me very positively in Delhi, because being one of the most populated cities in the world I expected the metro to be a complete chaos and all the times I had taken it, it had worked as a Swiss watch. Until that day. I do not know if it was because it was Saturday, because there was a breakdown or why exactly, but what a claustrophobic experience being there! There was no space at all for all the people being there. Every time the doors opened people came in pushing massively while those who had already arrived at their destination couldn’t get out. Arriving at our station, New Delhi, there was still a lot more people who wanted to get on the metro, while many also wanted out. The result was shoving, shouting and occasional hitting among the people until we got out how we could and we thought that it was all over, as we had arrived an hour before to the station.

We got inside of the station and started looking for our train, which was the one from Intercity Express company and had assigned the number 14212. Well, as you can imagine it was nowhere. As if it didn’t even exist. We decided to go platform by platform looking for it and after having checked all of them, we found nothing at all. At this time we began to ask ourselves whether the train which we had a couple of tickets for did not exist and we had been ripped off. We knew that in Indians were masters at scamming tourists, but that much?

Our train when finally arrived and we saw the number 14212 written on the wagon.

 

Then we decided to ask for the platform where the trains headed to Agra stopped and we went there and started asking people who were waiting. Nobody knew about our train until we finally came up with someone who had the same ticket than us, bought earlier that day. Only with one difference, the departure time was at 18.15. Total confusion, that got bigger when we kept on asking and found some guys who had just got the tickets of the same train and the departure time was at 19.00. How could the same train have three different departure times?

Seeing it all so unclear we went to ask to the information point, where there were several long long queues. When we asked about our train and the different departure times, they said that it was normal because the train had been getting more and more delayed so they had changed it accordingly. Finally we asked why it didn’t even appear in any of the screens of the next departures and they said that it was also normal, since there appeared only the ones that would depart in the following hour and our train was a little more delayed… something like 3 or 4 hours. Ah okay lady, if it comes only ‘a little delayed’ it’s cool then.

The family sitting in front of us that wanted to take a picture with us :)

 

Assuming that it would take long we decided to buy something in the street stalls and go back to the platform where we waited and waited until at 7.50 PM when the train arrived. ‘Well, in the end has been less than two hours and a half’ we thought innocently, without thinking that it is not the same that the train arrives than it goes… We got into the train and the truth is that for being the lowest class, was quite nice. The seats were padded and with space for three people, but since there was almost nobody there, we could accommodate well. The time was passing, the train didn’t go and we were speaking with the people who were getting in the train. In the end, the train ended up leaving at 10 PM. Again, very innocently we thought ‘Well, since the train had to take took 4 hours and a half, we will reach by the 2.30 AM’ without thinking that one thing is that the train starts and another is the speed that it goes.

Like if it was being pushed, the train spent the first hours to do not even a quarter of the route. It was fucked up because we were tired and we wanted to sleep right there but not knowing the arrival time, if we slept maybe we would wake up in Calcutta… Or still halfway.

 

On the left, the platform of a station seen through the window. On the right, chairs and fans of 2S class. Not bad for 250 kilometers costing a little more than 1 Euro, is it?

 

The people in the train gradually went to sleep until the moment that I was the only awake throughout the whole wagon. It was 3 AM already and we had not even done half of the way, so I decided to set up the alarm a couple of hours later and go to sleep too. So, finally we woke up a little later than 5 AM and at 6 AM we reached Agra, after eight hours trip.

When you think that you have purchased a ticket to reach a place at night and you end up getting there the next day in the morning has its thing, but looking at the bright side, it was perfect: we spent the night in the same train and we arrived exactly when the sun came out to start visiting this new city. In addition, when I explained the situation to an Indian friend of mine, he said, ‘Only eight hours? Jordi, you are in India, it could have arrived two days later and no one would have been that that shocked’. Will have to get used to it.

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