Tag Archives: how to

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.


How to: buy a ticket on Indian Rail

Despite the size , with more than 10,000 trains running everyday, in a country of 1.4 billion people, it is still quite difficult to get a train ticket. Allocated tickets usually sell out days or even weeks before the date of the journey. Luckily, in order to make it a bit more possible to get a ticket, there are several ways of ensuring your place on a train.


Three ways to buy a ticket

In person – it is possible to go to any railway station and purchase a ticket over the counter from the advance reservation desk. You must fill out a paper form with your personal details (name, age, phone number), as well as the train number and ticket type. This is good because you can pay in cash, however expect to spend a whole afternoon lining up to obtain a ticket: these offices are very crowded, and queues are not strictly followed.

Through an agent – there are hundreds of travel agencies in India who will help you to book train (and bus) tickets, for a commission. Travel agents can get special access to the railways booking facility, and there is a special allocation of tickets provided for them to access.

Online – train tickets can be booked through the IRCTC website, you just need to register your details and obtain a username/password. However you need a functioning Indian mobile number in order to do this, and you can only pay using Indian debit/credit cards.


Three types of tickets

Reserved – reserved tickets give you an allocated seat/berth, and are available (theoretically) up until a few hours before the train departs. However, there is a limited number of these available, because no train can be infinitely long. So often these sell out days or weeks in advance of the travel time.

Mostly when I have tried to book a ticket, I have booked an unconfirmed ticket, which means you are put on a waiting list. When you try to book the ticket it will have something like “CKWL6/WK5”, which means there is a wait list of 5 people before you. This means that when people with allocated seats cancel or change theirs leading up to the journey, your place in the wait list should decrease until eventually (hopefully) your ticket is confirmed and you are allocated a seat. If your ticket isn’t confirmed by the time the train departs, it is possible to get a refund on your ticket up until 24 hours after the train departure time. So it is a bit of a gamble booking a wait listed ticket – although if the gamble doesn’t pay off you won’t lose your money, and you have other options.

Tatkaal – the Tatkaal scheme is a last minute release of tickets at 10am the day before a particular journey. These are released online and can be purchased by yourself or through an agent. These tickets are more expensive than a general release ticket, and there are generally not very many of them released.

Be warned: trying to buy these tickets online is worse than trying to buy festival tickets (think Splendour in the Grass on Moshtix), as there are a easily a few million people trying to access tickets for hundreds of different trains on the same server. So the connection drops out and the process needs to be repeated several times in the hope of buying a ticket.

I spent one hour trying to book a ticket to Bangalore once – I had to repeat the process several times before I managed to pay successfully and obtain a ticket. The only reassuring factor was that if I was feeling this frustrated, then so were a million other people.

However this is your best bet at getting an allocated ticket at short notice for a long journey, so if you’re desperate to buy a train ticket, settle in for a wait online!

Unreserved – these tickets can be purchased on the day of travel, and cost less than 100rs. An unreserved ticket allows you onto the train, and once on the train you wander through the carriages looking for an unoccupied seat. Once you find one, sit down and look like you own that space so that no-one else tries to take it. When the ticket inspector comes by, you can buy a ticket for that particular seat if it is free, and simply pay the difference in fare to the inspector. If that particular seat is not unoccupied for your journey, then the inspector carries a print out of the passenger manifest, and they can look to see if there is another available seat on the train.

If there are no seats available to purchase, there is always an unreserved carriage on every train. Although I’m not game enough to go in there: its usually packed full of (mostly) men, and I think that I would be too much of a novelty to handle. There is also a women’s unserved carriage, but it also usually incredibly crowded. So, depending on how adventurous you are, and how much luggage you have, you can keep wandering the train trying to avoid inspectors, or sit in the unreserved carriages.

These tickets are best for short journeys, as it is less likely that you will find an available seat the longer your journey. Especially not advised if you are hoping to sleep during the journey.




How to: Make Yoghurt

I consume yoghurt (curd) by the kilo in this country. Its fantastic with every meal that contains rice, and I’ve really started to love having curd rice (rice mixed with curd and a little salt) to finish off my meals.

I tried making yoghurt at home in Canberra once, but it is far too cold there and we couldn’t get the cultures to set. Also i think the milk from supermarkets is too pasteurised and so the yoghurt can’t breed and set.

Here, it is incredibly easy to make your own curd, and it tastes fantastic when it is home made – no added sugars or anything. All el naturale.


  1. Boil milk, let it cool
  2. When milk is lukewarm, add 1/2 tsp yogurt
  3. Mix
  4. Leave in a covered container for 2-3 hours
  5. Enjoy!

TIPS: If the milk is too warm, or you add too much yoghurt, then the mixture will set too fast and become sour. If the milk is too cold, or you don’t add enough yoghurt, then the mixture won’t set.

How to: Not get eaten alive by mosquitos

As much as I am a novelty for people in this city, I think I’m more of a novelty for mosquitos. They seem to target me, and I think I get bitten several times a day. While that isn’t as dangerous here as it could be in other places (Dengue cases are quite infrequent, and malaria isn’t present), it still worries me. Also the bites are damned itchy and annoying to deal with.

So heres a few precautions I take to try to prevent from being eaten alive.

  • Wear long clothes as much as possible. This isn’t too difficult, because my salwar kameez covers me from elbow to ankle, however my ankles are exposed and often get targeted. And of an evening I like to wear something cooler and with a bit more freedom (either a typical Indian house dress, also known as a maxi, or a cotton dress I brought from home). But covering up as much as possible is the best way to prevent mosquito bites.
  • Apply insect repellant to exposed skin. Again, this is not a fool proof method because I’m absent minded and often forget to apply the lotion, but it is very effective. My repellant of choice here is Odomos, which doesn’t contain loads of chemicals designed to kill or knock down the mosquitos. Instead, it masks your body odour, meaning that mosquitos can’t find you. You’re basically the Invisible Man when you have Odomos on.
  • Put mosquito netting onto windows. This stops mosquitos from coming into your house and hiding out in dark corners, waiting for a chance to strike. Unfortunately this does not seem to be a norm in the rented houses I have seen here, but I’m making it a point to put it on all my windows so that I can keep them open for some air circulation, and not have swarms of mosquitos invite themselves inside around 6pm for dinner.
  • A mosquito net over your bed. I have one tucked into each side of my mattress, with no gaps for mosquitos to sneak into while I am sleeping. This brings the most peace of mind, because i know that there are no mosquitos in my vicinity, and I can’t hear any of them buzzing around my head while I am trying to sleep. However the occasional one does get inside somehow (I think they sneak in with me as I get under the net… Sneaky buggers). Plus its pretty cool sleeping under a mosquito net.
  • Invest in some electronic mosquito repellant vaporisers. These are reasonably cheap here, and plug into the power socket. They have a little tube of mosquito repellant which is vaporised. From what I can gather they are reasonably safe, and I haven’t noticed any odour coming from mine. Its much less obtrusive than the traditional mosquito coils. I have one in every room of the house, and they come on whenever I have power. However, I think they are most effective in rooms which are shut up (windows and doors), so I’m not sure of the effectiveness of the one in my bedroom, because all my windows are open. Doesn’t hurt to have one though.
  • Light up a mosquito coil. Sometimes when I am feeling particularly besieged, I light a mosquito coil. The smoke repels mosquitos, but it stinks and I am really not comfortable with breathing it in for an extended period of time.
  • Squish them. If I see a mosquito buzzing around, I begin in a single minded mission to hunt it down and squish it between my hands, on the wall, window or whatever surface I can. I know this isn’t really responsible or effective but it brings me a great deal of joy. Especially when I’ve just woken up of a morning to see that there is one inside my mosquito net. And extra satisfaction comes when I get one inside my net only to see that it has left a red stain after I squished it. Karma for biting me while I was sleeping and defenceless.
  • Don’t go outside after dark. Night time belongs to the mosquitos. Don’t enter their territory unless you have to, and even then make sure you are adequately prepared by adopting as many of the above measures as is humanly (and socially) possible.
  • Burn a wax match. Apparently if you burn a wax match (boxes of which are available for 1 INR), and wave it around the room, the smoke from the match will make the mosquitos drowsy and slower. Thus easier to track down and squish. I haven’t tested this out yet but I’m sure the day is coming when I lose my mind and try it.

If you have any suggestions on other ways to prevent mosquitos, please, let me know. I will try anything. Anything. ANYTHING.

How to: stay cool without electricity

Given the unreliable (read: scarce) nature of the electricity in this city, I have had to reinvent many things that I previously took for granted. One such thing is staying cool in a city that records 35 degree celsius averages: in winter.

So here are a few suggestions for how to stay cool in a hot climate without requiring electricity:

  • Regular cold showers. Luckily, this one is quite easy, because I don’t have a functioning hot water geyser, so all my showers are cold.
  • An earthen pot full of water. Directions for use: firstly, obtain an earthen pot, one with a wide base and a narrower neck/top. Secondly, wash said pot well in order to get rid of dirt and grime. Thirdly, fill with water and place a metal plate over the top of the pot. This will ensure that you have a constant supply of cool water to drink (provided you remember to fill it up when it gets empty).
  • Ice cubes. Yes, I am aware that this option cheats a little bit because it requires electricity at some point during the process, but provided you keep your freezer shut they will stay frozen for many hours, and can be used at times of extreme desperation.
  • Humidifier. Now, this isn’t your typical electrified humidifier. This is a bona fide, state of the art, cutting edge technology solution. Steps for use: obtain a container/vessel. Fill with water. Place in the corner of your room, and the water will evaporate, creating artificial humidity (which is more comfortable than dry heat, and less exhausting). This is fully customisable based on your interior decorating: if you’re a minimalist, you can use a nice polished steel container. If art deco is more your thing, feel free to obtain the most hideously bright container you can.
  • Sleep naked. Just make sure your curtains/windows are closed.
  • Wet blanket. Usually a negative thing that you don’t want at a party, this can be your new best friend on a hot summer night. Instead of inviting around your most socially awkward friend, try wetting a towel and putting it on your neck and shoulders. Just remember that it soon heats up and you will have to reapply water. Also, not the best option to take to bed at night: it fools you into thinking that you need to go to the bathroom almost constantly.