Travelling by trains in India is not for the faint hearted, including the Indians themselves! Right from booking tickets, fighting crowds at the railway station, keeping an eye on your luggage to boarding the right train, locating your seats and finally getting to your destination on time, can be a real challenge for anyone not used to the Indian Railways.
Indian railways is one of the world’s largest rail networks, connecting cities, towns and villages across the length and breadth of the country. Given the fantastic connectivity and the fact that trains are way more cheaper when compared to flights, the majority of Indians choose to travel by trains. This, added to the fact that India’s population is enormous and ever increasing, is the reason for over crowding on trains and the lack of availability of tickets on most trains at all times!
I started taking trains from a very young age and became a frequent traveller when I moved to Delhi for my higher studies. At age 16, I was undertaking the 24-hour journey from Delhi to my hometown in the east, atleast 3 times a year! The result was, I came to love trains and perfected the art of comfortable travel in not-so-perfect conditions.
So this year, when K and I went back to India for our annual holiday, we decided to take the train to my folks instead of flying. We settled on the Rajdhani Express, one of the fastest trains that connects New Delhi to other major cities. These trains are fully air conditioned and passengers are served complimentary meals (lunch, dinner, breakfast, tea), depending on the duration of their journey. Travellers on the Rajdhani can choose to travel in any one of the three classes – AC First Class with 2-berth and 4-berth lockable bedrooms, AC 2-tier with open berths (bays of 4 berths + 2 berths on the other side of the corridor) with curtains for privacy, and AC 3-tier (bays of 6 berths + 2 berths on the side).
Despite having taken the train all over the country, K and I has never actually travelled first class so this time we decided to spoil ourselves. As soon as our dates were decided, I booked our tickets two-months in advance – booking opens 60 days in advance from the date of travel and can be easily made through the government website http://www.irctc.co.in.
The seat allotment for first class is not done till the very end so we did not know whether we would get a 2-berth coupe or a 4-berth one. On the day of travel, we were both super excited and made our way to the New Delhi Railway Station well in advance of our train’s departure. We definitely did not want to miss this train!
Our train was going to cover a distance of 1300 kms in approximately 15 hours, stopping in only five stations along the way (we were travelling from Delhi to Asansol).
The train chugged into the platform 30 mins prior to departure and we made our way to the first class wagon. It was right in the front of the train, next to the engine. We had been allotted a 4-berth coupe. Our other travelling companions were a old lady and a guy who spent most of his time in another coupe and came back only to sleep. The berths were much wider than those of the other classes and the doors with curtains provided extra privacy. The linen provided was the same as in other classes – two sheets, a hand towel, a blanket and a pillow.
As soon as the train left Delhi, we were handed a rose each by the attendants. There were quite a few – one who took orders for our food (dinner and breakfast), another who served us and a third who cleaned the coupes and the toilets.
An hour or so into the journey, we were served refreshments. This consisted of tea/coffee, a veg sandwich, a samosa, a packet of salted cashews, another packet of savouries and soan cake (Indian sweet). Dinner service began around 7pm. Vegetable soup was served first, followed by the main dinner. The options available to us were Indian veg or non veg (egg or chicken) or continental veg or non veg. I chose the Indian non veg while K settled on the continental non veg. My food consisted of a bowl of dal (lentils), veggies (cauliflower and potatoes), chicken curry, rotis, rice and yogurt. K’s included some pasta in white sauce, boiled peas and veggies, a piece of roast chicken and noodles which were red/pink in colour!
I quite enjoyed my Indian meal but the same can’t be said for K’s food! So I benevolently shared some of my rice and curry with him. The mains were followed by dessert which was choice of vanilla or butterscotch ice cream. The end of dinner also signalled the end of the day on the train and slowly people started turning in for the night. For me, this entailed the treaded trip to the toliets. Now one thing we all hate on Indian trains, is the sad state of the loos. They are horrific. So most people only use them when absolutely necessary. Bravely I headed to one of the three loos in our wagon. Surprisingly and thankfully, it was clean. Railways had also been thoughtful enough to provide toilet paper and seat covers for its first class passengers! A BIG plus for Rajdhani, yeayy!
The next morning we had to be up bright and early as we were going disembark in Asansol, which is about 2.5 hours before Kolkata and the train arrives there at 7:30am. So I woke up at 6am when the morning tea was being served. What was really sweet of the attendant was that he had packed our breakfast in a takeaway since we wouldn’t have time to have it on the train!
Exactly at 7:30am, the train roared into the station and was off again after a stoppage of 2 mins. This was ample enough for us to hop off and make our way to my family waiting outside.