And so begins my first train experience in India.
For some reason I agreed to accompany 3 friends on a 54 hour train journey from Cochin in Kerala all the way to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. I was surprised there was a direct train that goes all the way actually! We travelled in relative luxury – AC2 which is a step below first class. Let’s just be clear, when I say ‘relative luxury’ I mean relative to the lower classes of train travel or other budget travel options in India, not relative to any western trains or to flying. AC means you are in an air-conditioned, sealed compartment with slightly increased security. “2” means there are 2 tiers of beds which are set in compartments of 4, separated from the aisle by a curtain. This was perfect for our group of 4 people. It cost us about 1/3 what it would have been to fly.
The night before we were due to leave we purchased a bunch of snacks, water, some play dough and the board game monopoly – travel version of course. Train stations and train travel in India can be quite intimidating if you don’t know what to expect. It was a good thing that one of the girls in our group had travelled on trains a few times before so she lead the way. After boarding the train, we made ourselves comfortable. You don’t really need to take any drinks or snacks onto the train because there are constantly people walking down the aisle selling almost anything you could ask for. I enjoyed more than my fair share of Chai tea that’s for sure. In AC2 someone will come and take your orders for breakfast lunch and dinner a few hours in advance. Pretty much the only time you would need to leave you berth is to go to the toilet or go for a walk along the train.
We spent our time playing monopoly, listening to music, reading, watching movies on a laptop or befriending other people sitting around us. We also spent a good afternoon making animals out of play dough and then writing a story featuring them. This may not be up everyone’s sleeve but it was the perfect distraction for our little crew. Probably my favourite thing about train travel in India is going to one of the open doors and looking out down the side of the train as the countryside speeds past. It’s exhilarating. I actually think it’s almost my favourite thing about India. The train ride seemed to be over in no time and I was honestly a little disappointed to be getting off because we were having such a good time.
I would probably get pretty bored on a 54 hour train journey by myself but I am sure anything up to 24 hours would be no problem. My longest to date is 17 hours. Since the 54 hour train ride, I have mostly travelled in sleeper class, which is almost the cheapest class with a seat reservation. It is generally the class that most Indian’s use for longer journeys. It’s not as comfortable as AC2 but it almost is. The biggest difference is the cleanliness. From a security point of view, your biggest concern should be luggage theft. There is a metal loop under the seat that you can lock you bag onto, which I always utilise. I always carry my own lock for just such an occasion and recommend everyone else does the same. Indian’s on the train will often have 1 bag which they use as a pillow.