by Jamie King
Indian railway networks are some of the largest in the world, with certain areas of track running for over 71,000 miles through 7,500 stations. As of December 2012, Indian railways carried over 25 million people every day, and nearly 9 billion on an annual basis. Most of these passengers were travelling from the suburbs to the cities; however, many of the trains that run on these tracks also carry freight – some 3 million tons daily.
Introduced in 1853, the first Indian passenger train ran from Bombay (Mumbai) to Thane, but these days the rail networks in India are able to take people across much larger distances. Although the thought of being stuck on a long haul train can be quite alarming, we have a number of tips to ensure your journey is as hassle-free and enjoyable as possible.
If you’re a reader, it’s advisable to bring a book on your railway journey across India. Not only will you have lots of time on your hands, but it will also keep you distracted from the terrible sanitary conditions. Music is also advisable, however due to the large amount of thieves that look to profit from clueless tourists on these trains, keeping your iPod out of sight is advisable.
If you’re a talker however, and you like to socialise, then an Indian railway journey will keep you entertained for hours. Not only will there be hundreds of commuters that are usually up for a chat with budding tourists, but this will be your chance to find out everything you can about your journey and India itself. Furthermore, take some time out to experience the passing landscape – you never know when you’ll get the opportunity to see it again.
Meals are usually providedon Indian railways, its best to bring your own food if you have special requirements – or if you’re a fussy eater. The meals served are less than awe-inspiring to say the least, and if you’re a westerner, it’s highly unlikely you’ll fancy anything on the menu anyway. If you do want to try some bites from the menu however, a member from the catering team will come and serve you in your seat.
Indian trains can be extremely busy at times, but when there is some space, food and drink vendors will try and make their way through the carriage. Most purchases require small change, so make sure your pockets are full because the vendors won’t take notes.
Sleeper trains are very popular in India. Due to the vast distances they travel, backpackers and tourists alike can get on at one side of the country and wake up in another! However, bear in mind that you’ll be sharing the train with Indian locals, and they like to hit the hay pretty early. It’s advisable to take a pair of ear plugs with you too, seeing as the law of averages will most likely leave you in listening distance of a snorer.
Traveling on Indian trains is one of the great travel experiences of the world.