Transport in India

I posted recently about crazy warnings in the roads. They are there because people drive crazy. Especially in the cities, the traffic is in all directions; mixing cars, trucks (although less in day time), buses, auto rickshaw (“tuk-tuk”), bicycle rickshaw, carriages driven by horse or mostly cow/buffalo, bicycle and motorbikes, etc, not to forget the cows going freely around in any narrow street! Every vehicle use his horn to come over, people are not patient, and do know about turning lights (here horn again). The whole is very loud. This noisy traffic is probably the single thing I really dislike here in India, even if I criticized Egypt for the same horn craziness. I really worry about the general health in India: they would all get deaf from that and maybe get as well lung cancer because of the pollution.

On the pollution side, things got however better, especially in Delhi where all auto rickshaw and buses are driven by compressed gas instead of gasoline. When you are in such tuk tuk (open on the side) you however get the dust and smells from the dirty streets. It is often better to get a local bus, if you can find them! In Srinagar and Jammu, I was lucky to find buses going in the proper directions. Old and crowded, but so cheap (~7 Rs ~ 0.10€)! In Delhi, you have plenty of good buses as we know in Europe with AC (air conditioned), the tricky part is to know which line (bus number) to take, so you ask many times… In Amritsar and Varanasi, I did not find any bus, so I was most of the time walking or taking a rickshaw.

I suppose more and more people are on the roads, but a still very popular transportation is by train! The Indian railways have the longest network world wide, and it seems most of the trains are always full. I haven’t seen yet people on the roof however, it is normally strictly forbidden and I suspect them to be more careful about that than it used to be!

Train ticket booking in quite an adventure and first need to be very patient. You have 2 steps: first ask for an enquiry paper form where you write your itinerary with the precise train number. You have to ensure you can get a place in this train so you ask for the availability in the enquiry guy. Since people usually book months in advance, your train might be already full! The second step is to buy your ticket, giving your enquiry form to the guy at the office who will finally print out the ticket. Their system seems to be from another age (DOS environment) where the guy has to type every detail! They write down also the passport and visa number in the enquiry form.

The Indian system reserve some quota for foreigner, and in the big cities, you are usually have to use the foreign office which is much nicer than the crazy queue for the locals. In Delhi and Varanasi for instance, the office has AC and you are sitting waiting peacefully for your turn. As I was waiting for an hour to get my ticket, I booked many tickets in advance, but I changed my plan in between, so I had to cancel some tickets and bought new one in the next cities. For the leg Khajuraho-Agra, I actually stopped in Orcha close to Jhansi, half way between Khajurhao and Agra. In the small Orchha station, I tried to cancel my whole ticket and get only the Jhansi-Agra part on the same train, but it was not possible because they had no money in their desk! So I kept the same ticket!

In the sleeper class, the tourists get usually places close by so that you are never mixed with Indians. The funny part is that you might see the same tourists in 2 consecutive legs: I had the same neighbors (from South Korea) in my trains Delhi-Varanasi and Varanasi-Khajuraho; or in the same train, these 2 ladies from Japan I met first sharing a tuk tuk from Sarnath to Varanasi!

In Amritsar, I was in the normal queue while booking and the tourist quotas were already over. But I got a ticket with tatkal, a small over charge to get a ticket within the next 24hours. Otherwise, you get a ticket on a waiting list! For this tatkal ticket, I had to give a copy of my passport and visa…

The train tickets are still cheap, especially in sleeper class (~3 to 5€ for a 12 hours journey in a night train without AC!) The comfort is quite basic, but lying on a leather bed is nicer than sitting for hours. You have at least 5 classes in the train: 1st to 3rd AC, sleeper, and general class. The four first requires reservation and are all berths (sleeper car); the lower ones are convertible as seats.  As the name says, 1st to 3rd AC classes have air conditioned while ‘sleeper’ has only fan. As in sleeper, the 3rd AC contains 3 tiers bunks (3 in height); the 2nd and 1st have only 2 in. The first class gets closed cabin.  You can read more on http://www.seat61.com/India.htm#classes. The bed might be slightly better in AC classes, but I would say it is not very worth the price ratio: if sleeper = 1, 3rd AC = 2.5, 2nd AC = 4, 1st = 6; means a 1st class ticket cost 6 times the sleeper ticket. But as in Europe, the higher classes are more for the quietness than only the comfort! Then you have the famous overcrowded general class, where the ticket is probably half the sleeper one or less. I’ve seen people going through the window to get a seat!

The crazy use of horns unfortunately applies as well for trains; your night train might be almost continuously blowing his horn, because many people keep crossing the railways everywhere and without light!

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