India has the third biggest railway system in the world, and transports the second largest amount of passengers in the world using those trains. Everyday, the equivalent of the population of Canada gets on a train in India. There is an amazing website explaining the train system here.
Chennai has two major train stations: the Egmore Train station that services Tamil Nadu and destinations south, and Central Train station that services everywhere else. My next stop, Puducherri (or Pondicherry) gets train service from Egmore everyday (although if you want to travel in any class higher than sleeper, you have to go on Wednesdays only).
Train number 12898, or the Bbs Pdy express, boarded at 9:20 from the Egmore Train station. The Bbs Pdy express has sleeper, AC3 and AC2 cars on it, so I paid the $7 for the AC2 ticket and waited on platform 5 for the train to arrive.
The AC2 car was an economy of space. 4 person compartments on one side, and 2 person compartments on the other, separated from the narrow hallway by a curtain. Every five or ten minutes, a guy would walk down the hallway calling out to the passengers. “Chai, chai, chai” or “Coffee, coffee, coffee” or “Chaat, chaat, chaat” or “American style cream and onion Lays potato chips, American style cream and onion Lays potato chips”.
I stop the chai wallah and ask for one. He holds the small paper cup low, and pours the chai from high, not spilling a drop while the train moves.
“Five rupee please” (10¢)
“All I have is a 500”
“Then you need to drink 100 chai”
Over here, the ATMs give out 500 and 1000 rupee notes (on the rare occasion, 100 rupee notes). Due to the exorbitant service charges back home on credit cards and debit cards (About $10 a transaction) you tend to take out larger amounts of cash at a time. So you end up with a wad of 500 rupee bills in a country that tends to run off of 10 rupee bills. Because of this, you relish the chances to use the large bills, and tend to hoard the smaller bills in case you need them.
Up to this point, I’ve only seen rural India from the air, so I was eager to see the countryside. It took awhile to escape the sprawl that is Chennai, but once the train emerged from the city, the views were great. (The windows on the train have a pebbled texture to them so these pictures look kind of like a funhouse mirror).
After drinking the 100 chai teas, my bladder needed to be emptied, so I wandered down the corridor to find the latrine. There are two types, the western type or EWC that is a normal toilet, and an Indian type or IWC that is two grippy places to put your feet and a hole in the floor that you squat over. On the trains, both the EWC and the IWC just empty right onto the tracks, so while you’re sitting or squatting, you can feel a breeze from the train as it moves 75 km/h.
Arriving in Puducherry, I grabbed my luggage and exited the station to the wails of “Auto” and “Taxi” from the mass of drivers waiting for the train. I grab a car to the hotel for 300 rupee, and didn’t realize that the hotel was only 6 blocks away (easiest six bucks that driver ever made).
I checked in, and went to the small but well appointed room. Then I opened the curtains, stepped out on the balcony, and took in the view.
Puducherry proper is a big oval with the beach going down one side, and the west boulevard going down he other. It’s bisected by a canal that separates the “French quarter” and the Indian shopping section. Everything is within walking distance, which is nice, and there is a plethora of good restaurants and stores. After taking a walk down the 2km beach front, I had dinner at a great little spot called Surguru and filled up on some great curries and rice.
Another walk down the beach and off to sleep to the sounds of the surf hitting the rocks.