I love to travel by Train!
Since I was a child, I enjoyed traveling by Train. The train journey in India had that aura, the smell and growing up in India, I was used to the not so clean toilets and the smell of the coal (at that time all trains were coal driven). The hot tea in earthen mug was a treat to the senses.
I have returned after many years and this time my daughter who is 12 and my wife ( who is from Australia) are with me. My nostalgic memories and the reality of Indian trains today are some what not aligned. The trains have improved a bit as they seem to be running almost on time. The stations are relatively clean (except the tracks) and there is a sense of organized chaos. But for 30 years, it seems that the railways have made very little progress is terms of technology of carriage building or facilities. The trains are quite shabby and not close to any developed country standards. Yet the enjoyment of train travel still remains (The earthen cups have been replaced by paper cups).
We traveled from Chennai in the south to Kanyakumari at the tip of India. Then to Trivendrum, followed by Allepy and Kochi. After that, we hopped to Goa and then to Mumbai.
Our next destination -Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Delhi. From Delhi we took the train to my parents place in Haldwani (Kathgowdam) on the foothills of the Himalayas. Later, returned to Delhi before flying for Spain.
Indian Railways has improved a lot, I mean a lot. The trains now run almost on time. The Train Stations (except perhaps some of the platforms of Old Delhi Train Station) are relatively clean with Clean drinking water provided free of charge, proper seating and electronic time-tables. Yet it is quite formidable task to book trains with the Railway site (I have provided the link above).
If traveling by Indian Railways, it is advisable to book 2nd class AC reserved sleeper. The AC is not very well regulated, so you may find some compartments,trains a bit colder. However, they provide blankets, sheets and a pillow that are relatively clean and laundered . You can carry your own sheet and a thin woolen shawl to insulate below and above you.
As a foreign tourist, you will have a reserved quota of seats. But that can be done once you land in India. You can on the other hand buy a Train pass from Overseas. The travel pass is sold by Travel agents who add their commission on top and can also book the trains for you for a commission. Indian Railways, for some reasons, do NOT take international credit cards except American Express. Therefore, we used the travel site CLEARTRIP. It was very convenient and for a small fee you can book on line all your trips. In addition you can print your e-tickets and if you loose any, the site has your record. Convenient!
To read more about train travel, I suggest you go to SEAT61. The site provides fantastic train travel information and usually is up-to-date, better than any official train site.
I will post some pictures of the train ride…..soon (access to internet is a bit of a hassle though every where wi-fi is free-I made an error of not carrying my own laptop-how sad!)
As promised here are some pictures of the trains and pictures from trains-