The Indian Railways – riding the Rajdhani Express

Meals on wheels
As astonishingly cheap as the UK’s oudated, badly run rail system is astonishingly expensive, I have to say I was impressed with our Indian Railway experience.
We arrived at Ernakulam junction station in Cochin, to catch the Rajdhani express sleeper train from Kerala overnight to Goa. We were a bit worried as we hadn’t been able to book a ticket online because text confirmation can only go to an Indian phone number and we didn’t have one.
Stylish station taxis

When we got to an actual station selling tickets all the first class ones were gone and there were only third class ones left. You don’t need to be a Maharajah to travel first class on the Rhajdhani express. For a twelve hour overnight journey, a first class ticket costs £12 (about 20 US dollars.) For our third class ticket it set us back the princely sum of £7.50 (about 12 US dollars) so no one was complaining about the price – but what would the train carriage be like?

The Rajdhani express!

We waited on the station for quite a while as the train wasn’t until 10pm and then it was nearly an hour late. Luckily things were starting to cool down by then. I was keeping to the tiled floor after my run in with some vicious red ants outside a café a few nights ago. They ran up my trouser legs and attacked my shins and knees injected their hideous formic acid into me. I didn’t realise the extent of the assault until later when my knees and lower legs started to burn and came up in angry unbearably itchy lumps. First mosquitos now ants.. Anyway I was keeping my feet off the floor on the luggage just in case there were any other surprise attcks

For all your curious and miscellaneous requirements

Lots and lots of people turned up at the station. All kinds and all ages of people arrived. They sat down or, if they felt like it, had a lie down on the floor – all acceptable train waiting behaviour.  At the station, there were some small curious stalls and lots of offices and waiting rooms and counters all doing slightly different things. The Indian railways are organised. No one has bothered doing that one-size-fits-all rationalisation thing here, and so consquently there are still lots of jobs for Indians to do.

Ernakulam station

Lots of trains, lots of people, lots of  train related jobs. The luggage boys, the station master, the ticket man, the waving the train out man. the waving the train in man, all came and went. 

The Pilgrim boys

Pilgrimage travel is big in India, and there was a big ‘boys only’ pilgimage season going on when we were there. Apparently there a few that ladies can join in with, but essentially it’s more a boys thing. It’s like a great big alcohol free stag night but without a wedding. There is one pilgrimage people go on to stand in a very, very long queue to get a small hug from a particularly holy old lady. Cuddle tourism – I approve! We had a delicious take away curry from a small street stall for about £2 (4 Us dollars) – for two people. They are all very environmentally friendly here so you don’t get any paper packets or polystyrene cartons just a banana leaf and no cutlery, so it’s use your fingers or make a scoop from the aforementioned leaf. We used the cases as a table and bingo! Our own pop up restaurant!

Case curry

The Indian railways are one of the biggest employers in the world and everyone who works for them takes their job very seriously and is very proud of the fact.  The Rajdhani express is a premium train and is fully air conditioned. It only stops at major stations and we were and doing the Kerala to Goa stretch. Everyone gets a little bed with two sheets a blanket and a pillow. The distribution of these items is the job of one man on the train who likes to have things in order before the lights go out for the night. We didn’t have berths together (because of our tardy ticket buying behaviour) so we had to wait for the top man on the train – the ticket inspector himself. Finally he turned up, quite young and dashing with Bollywood hair – he was the man with the power on the Rajdhani express. We were relocated and finally installed in our bunks and while I can’t say it was the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had – it certainly wasn’t the worst.

Bed time bunk

Another esteemed employee the next morning appeared with the chai tea and the breakfast tray. We enjoyed our simple repast (we made banana sandwiches) while watching the glorious green landscape of Goa slide by through the window. The train was very full of people. Three deep in the bunks, coming and going at stations but everyone was remarkably civil and got along just fine. I couldn’t help thinking how a train full of Brits would have been a very different experience.

Nothing stationary here..

The Indian railways are owned and operated by the Government of India through the Ministry of Railways and is one of the world’s largest networks comprising of 115,000 km. In 2014-15 the Indian Railways carried 8.397 billion passengers in that year or about 23 million passengers a day. That is a lot of people. Naturally, the idea to build railways in India came from the British in the 18th century and they were nationalised in 1951. The railways here are still pretty impressive, they have carefully preserved their tracks and their rolling stock. We arrived in gorgeous Goa the next morning in one piece and ready for the next part of our Southern Indian adventure. I loved our trip on the Rajdhani express. Somehow I don’t think the Empire was all bad. 

A happy man!