Four Indian Train Journeys – from Mysore in the South to Gonda in the North
At some point (probably while cycling next to a loud, over-crowded bus), Dmitry made a vow never to take a bus in India. He kept that vow, but we did take a number of very comfortable train journeys. India is huge, and the rail system is remarkable, carrying more than 13 million passengers each day. In addition to our train rides to Kanyakumari and Ooty, we also took trains from Mysore to Mumbai, Mumbai to New Delhi, New Delhi to Lucknow, and Lucknow to Gonda. The trains weren’t always perfectly on time or sparkly clean, but they were reliable and safe and a great way to get around the country. As ever, we used Seat61 as a practical guide on how to book trains and the difference between train classes.
1. Mysore to Mumbai
After a McPaneer dinner in Mysore, I spent the entire 26-hour journey to Mumbai in the fetal position on the train, hoping that my stomach cramps were not the harbinger of something more sinister. (They were, but the illness thankfully held off until I was safely checked into our hotel in Mumbai).
Dmitry, on the other hand, had quite a nice journey. We were the only occupants of our four-berth compartment for more than half of the ride, so he had plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the passing countryside. That view included the morning “poop show” – men and boys who lack toilet facilities using the train tracks and fields near them. (Women and girls must do this when it is still dark, as we never saw any ladies taking part.)
2. Mumbai to New Delhi
After our nearly-disastrous mix-up regarding Mumbai train stations, we were tired, sweaty, hungry when our train to New Delhi departed. Fortunately, the Rajdahni Express includes meals, water, and tea. We immediately received a snack, a bottle of water each, and a mango juice box for mixing with rum (that’s the intended use, right?).
We only had a three hour “layover” in New Delhi before our train to Lucknow, and I read a bunch of Tripadvisor reviews of the New Delhi train station hoping for suggestions of places where we could hang out. After reading a few reviews on what a scary place the New Delhi Station is, full of pickpockets and lying touts, I put on my safety whistle (or as we like to call it, a monkey whistle) before stepping off the train that . This was absolutely unnecessary – the New Delhi train station was perfectly fine, full of nice people just waiting for trains. On the bright side, the reviews alerted me to the existence of the “executive lounge” – a quiet spot to sit with ac, free soft drinks, clean bathrooms, and wifi. Less than $3 each to wait for our train there instead of the crowded platform – an amazing deal.
3. New Delhi to Lucknow
We splurged for “First Class” on our last long journey – a 9 hour daytime trip from New Delhi to Lucknow. The First Class carriage was immediately adjacent to the General Boarding carriage. I think that General Boarding means that as many people as want buy a ticket and hope they can all squeeze onto the car – at least, that is how it looked as I waited with half our bags on the platform and watched a scrum of people trying to enter the narrow train door, the passengers at the back of the pack passing enormous bags (and a child’s bike) over the heads of the people in front of them to secure places for their luggage. I didn’t take a picture, and words can’t do it justice.
You can imagine my guilt (and relief) when I found our seats – a completely private room with two enormous benches, a closet, and a door to shut out the rest of the train. In keeping with our splurge, we had used a service that delivered lunch from a local restaurant directly to our seats on the train. Sitting on my gigantic seat, in my enormous and empty compartment, I could imagine how crowded the people must be one car away, and I felt more like the 1% than I ever have in my life. That didn’t stop me from having more mango juice box cocktails though. And a nap.
4. Lucknow to Gonda
Our final train journey, from Lucknow to Gonda, was a quick four-hour leg – but the train itself was on a 31-hour journey, and it smelled like it. We kept joking that India wanted to get rid of us, so it was giving us all the worst: the worst weather, the worst smells, the worst interactions. This train was definitely the worst smells.