Travelling with train in India can be everything from hell to a very pleasant experience. First let me explain a little about the different classes you can pick for your ride;
The General Class is the cheapest option. With this you does not get a reserved seat, you just buy yourself a place on the train. You are allowed to stay in the sleeper carts.
The Sleeper Class is the secound cheapest option, and the prefered one for those who travel a long distance. In sleeper you get a berth, in every section there are 8 berths, but usually, there are more than 8 people, because the General Class people are allowed in there. In Sleeper people sleep on the floor as well if they haven found an unreserved berth, making it VERY crowded from time to time. Usually, to get a sleeper ticket you have to book far in advance, because these tickets are in high demand.
In Third AC you get one of 8 berths like in sleeper. The difference is that the windows are closed, there is AC and the people from the General class are not allowed in there, which means that it actually is only 8 people per section. Its at least twice the price of sleeper class, but it’s way less crowded, way better service and you get a sheet, a pillow and a blanket. There is a guy coming around taking orders for train food. It’s way better than European train food, but the unexperienced India traveller should probably not eat it within the first month of visiting India :P.
In Second AC there are even less people. I haven’t gone in this class, but the main difference from Third AC is that there are less than 8 berths.
A First Class ticket cost almost as much as a plane ticket. In First Class they even have different carts, that are less bumpy. I think some trains have complimentary wifi and I think your meals are included. The British travelled in these carts during the colonial era, so it’s supposed to be very fancy.
Since our first experience with the train form Dehradun to Mumbai, I am kind of picky with our transportation, so we went with 3d AC from Chennai to Calcutta. We both have quite a good night sleep on the train, although we are sad the whole journey because we miss our Israelis. People sell all kinds of crazy things on the train, it’s quite entertaining. I think we paid some 5000 rupees for our trip from Chennai to Kolkatta, but then again it was the only avaliable train for the week, so we didn’t have much choice. To fly would have cost some 12000 rupees for the both of us. “That must be terrible, sitting on a train for 30 h” you may think, but it’s not so bad, once you’ve settled in with the thought and the reality of it. I had time to write my Auroville post and August read two books I think 😛
The second day on the train, we realize that this train goes all the way to where we actually want to go, into Assam in the North east. So August is trying to buy tickets online from Calcutta to Guwahati for hours, but the internet keeps coming and going which is very frustrating. In the end we never got the tickets, and have to leave the train in Calcutta..
First we try to book a train for the next day at the counter in the station. He says there is nothing he can do for us. So we go looking for a place to sleep. On Booking.com they say everything in Howrah is full that night, and the app tries to send us across Howrah bridge into Calcutta. Thanks to the “Pablo effect”, we are more brave now and just start walking with our backpacks (that somehow seem lighter now after Auroville) and follow the signs saying “Hotel”. In the whole of Sweden there are 10 milion people. I swear to you that there were 10 milion people at Howra station when we arrived. This is a junction with over 30 tracks, connection point to one of the most populated cities in India! In the world even! Getting from one side to the other is like navigating on a very trafficated road, you have to plan your moves not to hit anyone, or to get hit. You do walk in to people, bump in to backpacks and dogs and carts, but there is no point in appologizing, because this happens to everyone all the time..
We find a place called Howrah Hotel, which is a huge hotel in colonial style. They want 950 for a room for the two of us, breakfast included, and that’s ok for us at that time. When I’m inside the hotel, trying to figure things out, August has found a travel agency and he manages to get us train tickets to Guwahati the very next day. The travel agency is a 2m2 room with a guy and a desk and a computer and a chair. Nothing else. Outside there is two jewellers making rings on the street, speaking Bengali in a microphone to attract customers. The man says I should get a ring, “Only 100 rupees!”
“No,” I say, “My skin is white, doesn’t go well with gold!”
“Oh”, he says, “I understand” :P.
Our room is nice, but August is having a migraine, so I am kicked out of the pitch black room, and I go to the Hotel restaurant. It’s great food and even better chai, excellent service and stylish decor, and the prices are more than fair!
Next day we have breakfast at the hotel, and walk into Calcutta. We are heading for the Victoria Memorial, which accoring to Google Maps is supposed to lie in the middle of a park. Its not really a park but just a flat surface with grass on it, perfect for football or cricket. There are a few goat herds there as well and a small band of horses running around. It’s so strange that all this somehow seem normal to me now 😛
At the memorial, they want 500 rupees from us to enter just because we are foreigners so we decide not to, and pay 20 rupees to enter the park. I HATE this discrimination that we, as foreigners (i.e white people) , are charged differently than indians or people who just look indian. I can understand it if a shop keeper wants a few rupees extra from me, because the general conception is that we are white so we are rich… But here it’s institutionalized, which takes it to a whole different level. In Sweden this is illegal. just imagine if this would happen in Sweden or in other countries in Europe? Not cool.
Some people want selfies with us and we get an Uber to go back into some sort of center to try to find wifi. That seems to be a lost cause. We walk around for two hours or so before we give up and get some delicious street food! Restaurants and cafés are redundant in Calcutta, because there are sooo many people selling fruit salads, thali, poori, curries of different sorts, idli, dosas, chai, cakes, sweets, chapati, pakoras…. anything you could possibly want, except wifi. So we get chai first to kill the worst of the hunger, that has made me hangry, then we find a guy who makes a fruitsalad with chiko, apple, papaya, pineapple and some other fruit I don’t know the name of. He wants 20 rupees for all that! Then we find a guy who makes an egg sandwich for 30 rupees with a double egg. Then we get more chai! We do manage to find a phone doctor who managed to start my phone. The doctor gives my battery 30 days to live. That’s enough to write to Swapna at least and apologize for not seeing her in Chennai 😦
The flower industry must be huge in India. We walked through a long market street where people were selling all sorts of flowers, mostly marigold, for people to decorate their idols with, doorways and themselves. There are bags filled with flowers, and it even smells kinda nice, drowning out the smell of urine, sewer and rotting trash.
We get home around 3:30 PM, our train leaves at 5:30 so we are good on time, we think. We go to get some dinner at 4:30, but it takes them 25 min to make two dosas because of the odd time we chose to have dinner. So we rush to the station. Our train pulls up just as we enter. The train must be 2 km long. We walk for like 10 min and only get to half the train!
Our neighbors are three priests going to Assam for work. We have some fun with them, laughing at all the crazy stuff people try to sell on trains! It’s like a whole market! This one older, really short guy who is selling snacks, walking about with a huge kind of cocoon shaped snack holder going “T i, ti time Pa pa pass” 😛 We laugh so we start crying. He even gives us a bunch of samples, because I think he enjoys how much we enjoy him.
This one guy gets on the train in the middle of the night. For some reason he feels like he has to wake up August to ask what seat August has even though its written on the wall… It’s difficult on a train like this, because all three people on one side needs the same schedule, because if you sleep in the middle or at the bottom you cannot sit before you have folded the middle seat, and the one at the bottom has woken up so you are able to fold in that middle seat… luckily for us, those priests who occupied the three seats opposite to us were very kind and let August share the seat with them.
We arrived four hours late in Guwahati. The first thing we notice coming out of the train is that here are a lot of military at the station. This is the North east, an area with different tribes, different cultures and languages, factors that can make any area boil with liberty fighters and all the terror that comes with it. I will tell you more about this in the next post. The mosquitos are huge and the air is bad in Guwahati, but it feels alot cleaner than any other Indian city I have been to. Less plastic.
We stay at Cozy Living Homestay. Its so clean when we enter the guest house I feel like I have to wash my dirty feet. The guy who runs the homestay tells us where to eat, and where to go to get onward with our travel the very next day. We don’t have time to stay in Guwahati, and also, it’s a big city, which is something we are not at all interested in.
In the next post we will tell you about our stay in the state of Meghalaya in the North east. If you haven’t already, there is a posibility to sign up with email so that you will get an update via mail when we upload a new post 🙂 No spam, because we upload so rarely 😛 Scroll down to the end of the page, there you have the option.
Lots of Love
August & Linnea