The 10 Commandments of Train Travel in India

The 10 Commandments of Train Travel in India

When it comes to train journeys, I like to believe I’ve experienced it all. From three-day long constipation sprees to UTIs from using the Indian railway bathrooms; being left on the train while my dad got down for a smoke, to boarding a moving one and of course falling sick from having the platform pav bhaji—it has been a series of unfortunate events. If you’re wondering, this was a result of my dad’s immense love for us and his postings to the most inconvenient places as a result of being in the Army.
Naturally, when all of this railway drama finally stopped around senior year, I was elated. I never once missed trains, ever. In fact, unless one is travelling by the Maharaja Express, I fail to understand how anyone can find a train journey more comfortable and interesting than a flight.

HOWEVER…

Last weekend I was forced to take a train to Dehradun after almost a decade of blissful rail-free existence. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t elated at the thought of it, but having heard so much in the news about revamping of the railways, I wasn’t completely averse to the idea either.

Boy, was I wrong! The toilets smelled exactly the same as 10 years ago (despite being bio). I came face-to-face with my nemesis—the cockroach; I saw a man wipe his hands on the seat after coming out of the loo; the noise of a child’s inconsolable wailing accompanied us till the very end; and a woman threw my bag down on the floor to make space for her own luggage. It was, for the lack of a better word, an interesting journey.

This, however, shouldn’t deter you from braving the odds and taking a leap of faith. Whether you’re a tourist, a regular commuter, or just a curious soul looking for insight into the Indian life, taking the train here is an experience that cannot be described in words. But when you do choose to make this journey, these commandments will be your holy grail.

  1. Thou shalt not be disgusted by anything that comes your way
    And I mean ANYTHING. Be prepared to deal with poop, puke, urine, unfamiliar smells, mysterious stains on the seats, blankets and windows, cockroaches and other unheard of pests. If you are able to make it through all of this with a straight face, you should be awarded the Padma Bhushan.
  2. Thou shalt run to reserve space for your luggage before anyone else can
    Unlike flights, trains have no bar on the amount of luggage you can carry. Some people take this quite literally. Two girls travelling from Doon to Delhi this time around were carrying 10 fucking bags. They took up one side of the luggage carrier in the coach completely. As a result, a lady, who I had the unfortunate experience of being seated next to, threw down some of my luggage to accommodate her bag.
  3. Thou shalt not fall into the toilet
    Like Abish Mathew says “If you can successfuly take a shit in the Indian Railway bathroom, you can shit through an earthquake”. I’ve had my fair share of bad train toilet experiences, some of which are too graphic to write here, but in all my 25 years of existence, I have never once taken a dump on the train. I have immense respect and disgust for those who have (If you are reading this, maybe you should do a class on techniques to not fall into the commode while doing it).
  4. Honour thy TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner)
    This guy can get you through anything. Literally. He’s your messiah on that moving piece of hell. Befriend him, suck up to him, marry him if you have to, because whether or not you will have a trouble-free train journey, depends entirely on him. And, whatever you do, don’t ever make the mistake of pissing him off.
  5. Thou shalt not care about the quality of food being served 
    This one’s a no brainer. If you’re making the conscious decision of taking a train to anywhere, then you’re already aware of what you’re getting yourself into (thanks to this post). Don’t expect five star (read as half-star) service or quality. Carry antibiotics and de-worming tablets along and pop a pill after every meal. If you’re too dabangg, you can skip that too and later deal with the consequences when you reach your destination.
  6. Thou shalt at all times carry a sanitizer
    Washing your hands in the toilet is completely useless. You’re making them filthier, considering that thousands have touched the tap before you and many with poopy/uriny hands (did I just put you off train toilets forever?). In times of crisis like these, the trusted sanitizer is your only friend.
  7. Thou shalt get up and take random walks just to check your balance
    Because they’re so long, train journeys are invariably extremely boring, no matter how many books, TV shows and magazines you carry along. After a while, all you dream about doing is getting up and stretching your limbs. Do it. Take a walk, stare at people and block their way. It’s the only fun you’re gonna have anyways.
  8. Thou shalt curse annoying co-passengers and then write a blog about them
    This is probably one of the best ways to get solace and revenge on all the assholes who make your journey hell. If you’re in for some fun, carry along a voodoo doll and pretend to stick pins in it everytime someone does something to annoy you. Make sure they see what you’re up to. It’ll freak them out like nothing else.
  9. Burn all your clothes after returning
    After sitting on seats stained with god knows what for over six hours, I just couldn’t imagine wearing those clothes again. Besides, they had also been inside the train toilet. You need not burn all of them (I was exaggerating obviously), but definitely disinfect them and yourself with bleach. It’ll just remove the top layer of your skin and it’ll be like you never even touched anything at all.
  10. Thou shalt choose a plane, even if there’s the slightest possibility
    Please, please, please. Do the sightseeing when you get to your destination. Book in advance, plead with your office travel department, pay from your own pocket if you have to, but choose a plane if you can. It’ll save you the nightmare and preserve your energy for things you actually want to do, like binge watching Two Broke Girls.

Do you have any tips or anecdotes to share about your train journeys? Has it always been smooth or was the ride bumpy like mine? What’s the most annoying thing you’ve faced? Please share your experiences in the comments and maybe we can have a blog post on funny train journeys 😀 

Hope you enjoyed the read.
Love,
A.


Cover photo by Belur Ashok under Flickr Creative Common License