TLDR: Travelling by train in India is excellent.
First of all, as a woman, you can feel safe on an Indian train. Most of the time, trains are fully booked, so it is quite hard to imagine that really dangerous situations might occur unseen by others. However, be sensible with fellow travellers. I know what I am speaking of, but don’t worry. Nothing more than a slightly weird situation occured, and I was in good company to protect me, in case thngs would have gone really bad.
See a woman smoke is one thing that may offend Indians. It is forbidden anyway to smoke on Indian trains as well as in stations, both of which are, like most of India, strictly nonsmoking. But there’s always a hack. For instance, you can get off the train in small stations, but not on the platform side, but the other side. Or when the train stops on open track to wait for another train to pass.
Don’t worry that you might miss the train: it first toot-toots clearly, and then starts rolling very slowly, so that you can jump on. Just watch what the others are doing. Jumping-on is really easy, even I could do that. To be cautious, just stand next to the entrance and hold on to the bars.
You can also try standing or sitting in the open door when the train is running. Just respect, in case other passengers complain …
Speaking of train doors: A list with passenger names, gender, age, and ID (or, in our case, visa) number is attached to every waggon and stays there for the whole journey, or until it falls of by itself.
This is very helpful to make sure that you are booked on the train you are about to enter … And privacy is deprecated, anyway, isn’t it?
Streetdogs, though, are experts in privacy. First of all, it is very hard to tell one from another, they all seem to belong to one big family, all over India. And secondly, they simply don’t care about the world around them. This one, for example, was fast asleep beneath this desk at Vadodara Station, where we were going to fill in the train ticket application form.
And so I did, stepped up to the desk, the filling-in taking about ten minutes, stepped back from the desk again and went “Oh, yes, the dog …”. It had stayed there without moving an inch, only a few centimetres away from my legs.
This was our home for 37 hours on the ride from Bengaluru to Vadodara.
We had the lower berths and thus the window seats. The windows in indian trains are barred, so if you are rather the paranoid kind of person, try to get your seats in an emergency window compartment, where the bars can be removed And don’t make a fool of yourself by collecting rubbish in a plastic bag in order to put it in some bin later. Everything is being thrown out of the window by everyone, anytime, and people will encourage you to do so, too. We gave in on the second train ride from Vadodara to Jodphur …
What you will get for free on an Indian train are marvellous views of impressive landscapes, colourful sunsets and sunrises, slow passages through villages and cities, many friendly fellow travellers – and most likely plenty to eat, such as homecooked food by someone’s grandma. And tthere are chai and food vendors walking up and downd the aisles at all times, and in stations you can get something from the stalls on the platform. When jumping back on the starting train, though, make sure to stay away from persons with cups of steaming hot tea in their hands. Others might jump on behind and push them, and you might have tea all over. You can get burned badly, I can tell you …
On some trains, you will find a plug to charge your mobile right between the windows next to your seats. Will also work perfectly for camera batteries.
On other trains, the chargers are located at both ends of a waggon.
And then there are these excellent crocheted bottle holders, and equally crocheted bigger pouches, maybee for books and magazines, next to each berth, and also a more solid pocket we thought might be indended for sandals. But what do we know … probably they are simply fits-all-sizes mobile pouches, too.
At night, I slept surprisingly well. The berths are long and flat and comfortable, and the sounds – the wheels clicketing along the tracks, the frequent hoot-hoot, and, in stations, the choir of the chai and food wallahs, reminded me of a mix of The Orb and Phillip Glass. Ambient at its best. However, you should’t bee too sensitive … in case you are, bring enough sheets or go AC First Class. We chose the “simply ignore” option and felt ever so comfortable, so well fed and well entertained on the two Indian trains we took so far. Looking very much forward to the third one, taking us from Jodhpur to Jaipur. Sadly, this one only will only take 5 hours.