Mumbai, Maharashtra & Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
CST has a really nice waiting room with departure and arrival screens, chai and chaat sellers, and various toilet apparatus facilities, close to platform 17 where my train was to depart from, so I waited there for an hour and watched the going ons in the station.
There were many Indian families sitting on shawls and other pieces of fabric on the floor, spread out and eating various food stuffs, some brought and some bought. It was like there were 4000 different picnics going on while the PA system announced train departure and arrivals in Hindi and a very heavy accented English.
People over here travel with anything on the train. The luggage that people were carrying just baffled my mind. I saw a guy with an old 30 inch CRT TV wrapped in a tea towel as luggage, another guy was carrying a satellite dish. One woman had a full sized semi trailer truck tire that she just rolled to her train. It’s really astounding.
Since this was the originating station for the Punjab Mail, I could board early and get settled for the 26 hour train trip. I went to the AC tier 2 car #A1 berth 32 and started to stow my things when a stout man in a sweater vest and tie looked at me and asked if I was sure I was in the right place. I showed him my ticket, and then he showed me his. They were the same except for the name and the PNR number.
He brought me to the outside of the train to where the passenger reservation confirmation list was pasted to the train, and his name appeared on the sheet and not mine.
The conductor and a very grumpy man with a shiny sub-machine gun came by and looked at our tickets and told me to grab my stuff and go with them.
I was confused and a little frightened at this point as I see signs warning about counterfeit tickets and fines and jail times for those who are caught with them. We walk back to the counter where a heated discussion among three men and the army dude takes place, with pointing at the train, then at me, then at the ticket. One of them enters some stuff into a computer, and the conductor says “Come with me!”
We go to a large bulletin board that is labeled in Hindi with reams and reams of printout attached to it. On one of the boards, on a very very small sign, in English, it says Reservation Confirmation Charts. The conductor goes to one of the charts, and in a Colniel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes gesture, points to a chart and says “UPGRADE!”
There, in a dot matrix printout, among a thousand lines of devanagari, is two words in english. John Bent.
It seems that the upgrade option on an Indian Rail ticket is nothing like an extended warranty. I had been upgraded to AC1 which is the highest class, and was booked in chamber C.
The conductor walked me back to the train and the AC1 car.
A sleeper class car, the class that the majority of Indian people travel on, takes about two hundred people a car. An AC tier 2 takes about 50 in comfortable little berths in one car (which is how I traveled from Chennai to Puducherry). An AC1 car takes ten. Two chambers of four for families, and one chamber for two for singles.
Chamber C was the chamber for two and it was amazing. A full plush couch that could easily seat 4 people but was reserved for two that folded down into a twin size bed and another twin size bed folded out of the wall. a full set of switches that turned on 8 different lighting combinations including a night light and private reading lights for the beds, a closet, adjustable air conditioning and ceiling fans, bells to call the porters, menus for the food car (because this ticket included 3 meals), full sets of clean linen with blankets and three pillows each, plugs for laptops and phone chargers, a closing and locking door, and even an indicator when the WC and IC were occupied, and those bathrooms were only for the 10 spaces on this car.
I settled in as the conductor adjusted my ticket and the waiter took my order for dinner. At the next stop, a gentleman from Dubai came and took the top bunk. We talked about travels in India, and when my dinner of veg bryanni came, he shared some home made naan that his mother had made in Mumbai, which was delicious.
By the time we finished eating, it was dark out and there was very little to see out the windows, so we turned down the beds and went to sleep watching the twinkling lights and fires of the India night go by.
I woke up at 5 in the morning and said goodbye to Dubai Guy as he was getting off at Bhopal, and for the next 18 hours I had the chamber all to myself. In fact for the last 6 hours of the ride, I had the entire car to myself.
The wallahs started walking the halls at about that time and there was chai, coffee, omelettes, vegetable cutlets, bread with butter and dosa available for breakfast and one guy even had cheese. Naturally I had one of everything… Except the chai. I had three of those. I think I’m very popular with the wallah crowd, because all they have to do is call out a food item and I salivate. I’m like Pavlov’s Canuck.
In fact, if anybody wants to make money when I get back to Winnipeg, you could just follow me around saying “chai, chai, chai, chai” and pouring me small cups of tea. I’m not sure where you will be able to change the 5 rupee coins, but you’re sure to get a lot of them.
The rest of the day was spent staring out of the window watching north central India go by.
I arrived in Agra the next night and went to my hotel to get some rest so I could see some building the next morning at sunrise.