How to: travel short distances on Indian rail

The Indian railways is a complex system of ticketing, trains and stations. It is the most popular way to travel, and in a country of 1.4 billion people it requires a fair bit of advance planning to secure a ticket. However it is possible to travel without much warning, and this is especially possible when travelling short distances of a few hours.

So here’s a few handy hints for travelling shot distances with Indian rail, that I’ve learnt during my adventures.

  • Buy an unreserved ticket. See my other entry on train ticketing here for details of this. Short journeys are easier to find empty seats for the duration of them, and the difference between fares will not be great. Also theres a chance the inspector won’t come past, and you get away with a 60rs journey.
  • Carry as little luggage as possible, in order to move easily on the train. This makes it easier to find a seat if you have an unreserved ticket, and also means you do not have to worry too much when you need to go to the bathroom.
  • Find a seat on an air conditioned coach, or a window seat if possible, it will make the journey more comfortable to have some air flow in often crowded train carriages.
  • Carry a magazine or newspaper with you. Even if you don’t particularly feel like reading this, it serves as a useful distraction when the inevitable questions start coming from the weird Indian man next to you. Innocent but persistent questions such as “Where are you going? What is your country? Where are you staying? Why are you in India? Can I have your mobile number?”, can be stopped by feigning interest in a magazine article or newspaper. The saving grace of uncomfortably friendly people is that they are too polite to interrupt you.
  • Don’t fall asleep. Because it is a short journey you will probably miss your stop if you fall asleep. Don’t try to justify a short nap, no matter how hot it is, or how sleepy you are after your train biryani: if you miss your stop, then it will be a nightmare trying to get back, the distances are too great.
  • Always, always carry water with you. While there are countless chai-wallahs and vada-wallahs and yes, occasionally a man selling water by the bottle, you don’t want to be caught out going between two stations without anyone plying their food or drink items. Especially when it is hot and dusty.

Today I decided to travel from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, to Thrissur (Trichy), Kerala, by train to stay with a good friend of mine and his wife. This friend also happens to be my former boss and the reason why I was able to come to this country to work in Coimbatore. I travelled very comfortably by train despite only deciding on the journey two hours in advance. I bought an unreserved ticket for 60rs, found an empty seat and didn’t see a ticket inspector – which means I didn’t have to upgrade my ticket. Successful day.

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