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Train Travel in India (with people hanging onto the sides?)

Updated on December 13, 2012

Indian Trains Ancient or Modern??

British Rail left in India

My husband and l have been blessed with many visits to Incredible India. Not to places like Goa (although beautiful) where all the tourists of many nationalities congregate and enjoy holidays.

No, we are fortunate enough to have friends who live in Pune, in the state of Maharashtra, so we stay where the local people are , the real India l always call it. A white face is a novelty and we absolutely love it there.

On the map above of Maharashtra , you can see Mumbai (formerly Bombay) about halfway down on the left hand side. Right on the coast. Pune is almost parallel on the map to the East.

On one of our early visits to our friends in Pune, my husband determined that he wanted to to do some travelling by train, to see more of the country , which of course is very large. My initial reaction to this idea was one of horror, because l´d only seen Indian railways with what looked like extremely hot, overcrowded, ancient trains with people hanging on to the out side for the entire journey.

This of course is absolutely true of the commuter trains taking people to work in the city of Mumbai each day and the same dangerous looking journey back in the evening.

However to my relief, long-distance trains are a bit different.

Even so, some trains look like they have been around sine the British ruled India and built the railways, other trains are so new, l´ve not seen such modern, clean, efficient trains in Britain..

We decided to take an overnight train from Pune to Chennai (formerly Madras)This would entail going diagonally across country as we travelled south. A 22 1/2 (half) hour journey. By going on the train that left Pune at midnight, it meant we could sleep first and then have the whole day on the train to see the changing countryside as we rattled along further and further south-East.

l have to admit l was mortified when l saw our ¨¨1st class¨¨ carriage. It must have been 1st class back in the days of the Raj !!. It seemed so old, needed desperately, some new upholstery no air-conditioning, just a precariously placed electric fan above one corner of the compartment and one dead cockroach, where we were attempting to pull the bed out for the night. My husband quickly disposed , said cockroach and since the good news was the entire carriage was ours(although it would sleep 4. l was NOT prepared to indulge my husbands adventure on an Indian train to the point of sleeping with strangers)

A knock on the door of our carriage revealed a friendly young Indian man with pillows and blankets. We thanked him , locked our carriage door and proceeded to make ourselves comfortable on the long sofa-like seats of the old-fashioned train..

Oh What fun.!!! After the initial shocks (statedabove) l grew to love our own little place with its small wash basin under the window, which when not in use, somehow folded down to a flat surface big enough to put our plates or drinks on.. The menu for breakfast was limited. Our young man Kept saying ´Chi´(tea) Ómelette¨ Omelet. ´Chi¨. We guessed we´d better settle for ómelette´not knowing what we were letting ourselves in for. l imagined an Indian version of scrambled eggs.

Morning came to the sound someone shouting along the corridor. ¨chi¨again...No way was l going to have the Indian tea. l´d found out the hard way that their idea of a cup of tea is to boil milk with a teaspoon of loose tea for each person (and one for the pot, no doubt. This was so, like Britain a hundred years ago.)However boiling milk and adding tea, then numerous spices gives the result of something like a cup of curried hot milk. Ugh! l soon learned to ask for black tea, much safer for me. l was quite proud of the fact that l´d never had Delhi Belly, despite my husband and l being in our late 50s on our 1st visit to this incredible country. l was not going to let a cup of ¨Chi¨spoil my track record ..

Coming back to tracks, our train trundled along past enormous rice fields , where women with large hats were working hard in the sunshine.. Only a few miles further on and our view was of magnificent mountains. There are so many variations of landscape in this ¨chaotic, but it works¨¨ country. There was always something beautiful to look at.

When we finally arrived at Chennai and walked into our room in a 5 star Hotel , the contrast was so great from our ´1st class´railway carriage that l just flopped onto the enormous bed covered in a golden silk, quilt. Much as l really had enjoyed the journey, l am more of a 5 star hotel girl than a caravan or camping type. So this hotel was Heaven.

After a few days exploring Chennai and visiting the long . long, gorgeous beach where the 2006 tsunami had hit (The atmosphere was not a normal seaside feeling. It was sad and very touching when our taxi driver spoke of the day he remembered so well and the number of people who died)

It was time to move on to our next train journey from Chennai ,west to Bangalore.

Man ! oh! man! What a difference a train makes..... This train was more like something from the future It was a gleaming silver colour . Inside our seats were like armchairs, a lady in a brightly coloured sari came quickly to us with coffee (or tea, yes real tea) offered us a choice of morning newspapers in English and didn´t want any money. Apparently that was all included in the train ticket. Within half an hour Breakfast arrived.!!!!(not omelette and chi). Also this train was much faster and we sped along , but still managed to see some lovely sights, especially at every station stop.

 From Bangalore after a couple of days we were wondering what kind of train would benext. The one to take us from Bangalore back up to Pune where our friends would collectus. Poor things, they´d been phoning through the week, worried about us  since we are¨¨not so young, going around India on trains ´doing our own thing´.

It was understandable that they should be concerned . Of course there are dangers (all over the world) but train travel in India was still amazing. Oh! The final train was similar to the 1st one but without our own door to lock, just a curtain.  Great stuff!!!


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  • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

    Dim Flaxenwick 4 years ago from Great Britain

    Thank you for correcting me on "chi".

    I loved India so much . I am hoping to visit again and I will take on board your advice about Mumbai.

    I love the ocean which I think is why I enjoyed Chennai so much.

    Thank you again Ramit.

  • Ramit Mehta profile image

    Ramit Mehta 4 years ago from Mumbai, Maharashtra

    Your account is very true, without any bias. Without any disrespect, as an Indian, I'd like to tell you that we write"chi" as "chai" and pronounce it just as it is written. So the next time you come here, you could order some nice masala "chai" :)

    I would like to derive something from your account - the disparity in India. You will see a stark contrast in the lifestyle and infrastructure, when you compare the metropolitan cities and those still developing and this clearly shows in transport too. In fact, if you ever visit Mumbai and get a chance to travel on the local, you'll see that the quality of the local is far better than it is in the rural areas or smaller cities. The same stands for road transport such as cabs and autos.

    As you have correctly noticed and I've stated, the difference is amazing. It would amaze you to know that 30% of our population accounts for more than 50% of the country's GDP.

    Hope you visit India again, this time Mumbai. Don't forget to drive down Marine Drive at 6 in the evening - the beauty of teh Arabian Sea with the background of the tall skyscrapers is breathtaking :)

  • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

    Dim Flaxenwick 5 years ago from Great Britain

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Namaste.

  • tanveerbadyari profile image

    tanveerbadyari 5 years ago

    very good hub train travel in India is very hectic .

  • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

    Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

    Thank you so much Eidwen and D.A.L. always good to see you on my page.

  • D.A.L. profile image

    Dave 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

    Hi what a fascinating insight of your brave adventure. The over crowded commuter trains are the perception many people have in their mind. Great to share this journey with you.

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

    A great hub and one to bookmark.

    thank you for sharing.

    Take care