At every Indian railway station there are groups of licensed luggage carriers called “coolies.” They are easy to spot because of their bright red shirt uniform. If you do need to take a coolie’s help, make sure you decide on a price first. Also, always remember to bargain on the price a coolie quotes.
The Indian railway has its own canteen that makes and sells food on the trains. But, as soon as a train stops at a station, there will be a bevy of vendors bringing their food and drinks trying to sell you some snacks. Although they look delicious, it’s best to avoid most of them. Diarrhea is never a happy occurrence, especially if it occurs on Indian railways.
This inevitably leads to lavatories. The Indian railway toilets are not gender specific and are usually left unwashed for an entire day or two. There’s usually an “Indian style” toilet and a “Western” one. The Indian style has a flat toilet on the floor and one needs to squat to use it. The Western one, of course, is a simple commode. But, balancing yourself on a train that’s furiously rocking back and forth is a challenge.
Indian railway is much slower than trains in other countries, especially compared to Europe and Japan. Due to the kind of construction the railway’s main line has, the trains cannot pick up great speed even if there’s no traffic. In such case, having a way to entertain yourself will be life-saving. A book is probably the best option, because it doesn’t run on batteries.
People on trains generally don’t do much apart from eating, talking, and sleeping. So, if you’re a reader, you might face trouble keeping the lights on after 9 p.m., while others are on their way to fixing beds and snoring. So, carrying a battery-operated portable night lamp is a good idea. That way, you won’t disturb anyone while continuing whatever you were doing.
Remember what we said about Indian railway lavatories? Well, the trains in general are not super clean. On a long journey on a train in India, it is best to carry soap and some sort of disinfectant. Fortunately, those are available at every platform. So, even if you forget or run out, you can get bars or paper soaps that work just great.
The Indian railway could make you realize what living in a hostel would feel like, except this one is a narrow, chugging hostel with strangers around. Apart from the sinks inside the lavatories there are two more on either side of each truck that almost 70 people share. So, in the morning, you will see everyone scurrying to reach the sink to brush their teeth. Word of advice: either go early in the morning at 6 a.m., or later after 10 p.m.
Sleeping in a truck with about 70 people is a daunting idea. But, once you brave through that in your head, snores and cries can ruin your peaceful sleep in the rocking train. Someone just a couple of feet away could be snoozing rather loudly, or a toddler could burst into tears for reasons only the child knows. In such a helpless situation, ear plugs will be of great benefit.
While traveling on Indian railway you are bound to cross the countryside with endless green fields, and catch a moving peek at India’s hinterland. Carrying a camera to capture the beautiful landscape would be a nice idea.
Indians are a curious and friendly community. So, even if you are minding your own business don’t expect others to do so. Don’t be startled or confused if and when someone strikes up a conversation with you. It usually starts with exchanging information about each other’s destination. In no time, you will be sharing food and stories with them. By the end of your trip, you could have made a friend for life!
For the ones who rely on their phones quite heavily, carrying a power back-up is absolutely necessary. Although there are charging points in trains, you might need to wait for quite a while before your turn comes to use the power point.