Second Class Rail Travel in India

'Chai Garam', 'Chai Garam' (Hot Tea), Thanda Cold drink (Cool Cold drink) these words bring back memories of train journey in second class compartment of Indian Railways. Train journey in India has always been quite a thrilling affair for me. Right from booking the tickets to catching the train, settling in your allotted berth, the journey itself and finally reaching the destination.

I remember standing in a long line in front of the booking window waiting for my turn to come. This was a time much before ticket booking agents came in to the scene. The constipated  booking clerk chewing Paan who is a master of everyone's fate and the restless crowd standing in the line are just distant memories now.

I have not travelled in an Indian train in almost five years now and miss the constant throb of humanity, the sight sounds and the smells of the railway stations. The clack and clang of turning wheels, the fruit vendors and the cacophony of people hurrying off with their assorted luggage to different destinations.
The snack shops, book shops and people sleeping on the platform awaiting trains for their destination is a common sight on every station.

Added to the noise is constant hum of  someone making unintelligible announcements over the speaker which no one pays attention to.  

Once the train rushes on the platform, the coolies will be the first to jump in to carry the luggage out for the passengers for a fee. You struggle to get inside your Bogie with scores of people pushing you in each every way. You enter the bogie banging your suitcase and dragging your bags in search of your compartment. Finally after locating it you see  that there is no place left to stash your luggage below the lower berth. 

You manage to push and pull other pieces of luggage and squeeze in your suitcase, lock it with a chain to the berth and sit down exhausted even before the journey has started. All through this your nose has not forgotten the buffet of smells hitting your sinuses. If you try to decipher you can smell shit, piss, rotten fruit, sweat, bhajiyas, flowers and incense all thrown together to make a smell which is just so unique to railway stations all over India.

Most times there will be a crying baby in your compartment so you can safely kiss a good night's sleep goodbye. Then you will have a lecherous uncle who will keep his eyes constantly fixed on your face with his mouth slightly ajar. Each time you scan the compartment, he will be sure to be looking at you with a gaze which will make you want to punch his nose. Unfortunately you will have the top Berth and so will he, which will give him the whole night to give you sleazy looks. You're only option is to turn your back and stay put even if the side on which you have slept is numb and dead.

If your companions are Gujaratis then you Lunch time and dinner time are complete tortures since we all know Gujjus carry such amazing food that you will be drooling at their food and looking at the sandwich you have wrapped with total disdain. If you drool sufficiently and give hungry looks the kind people will share their yummy 'Theplas, Farsan and Achar' with  you.

I am always fascinated by the villages and the farms rushing past my window. It always makes me wonder about life of the people who live there. The lush green fields and the farmer pulling a bullock cart gives us a true glimpse of India and that it still resides in our villages. 

As night falls, people start preparing for bed. Shawls and Chaddars (Sheets) are spread on the sticky berth. A bag becomes your pillow. Lights are switched off and the whole train becomes like a peaceful cocoon rocking to the motion of the wheels. You doze in an out of sleep constantly keeping an eye on your luggage.

Morning hails you with a fresh round of smells which you wish you rather forget. You hurry up with your ablutions and are back in your compartment. A chappie selling tea sells you weak tea and you gulp it down to rejuvenate yourself. Another couple of hours and your destination beckons you. Getting down on the platform from the train is equally stressful as it is while entering. Harsh words are heard, there is an urgency to meet your loved ones who have come to pick you up.

At last the train stops, you get down with your luggage. You are not even aware of the smell now....your eyes are searching for your loved ones. You see them and a smile breaks on your face and you start walking towards them.


  1. Ah! now you have gone and made me all nostalgic. :)
    Lovely narration. Brings memories back to life.

  2. what I don't like about train journeys is having to use the loos. Eeks! Just the thought of it makes me gag. That apart, train journeys are fun to curl up and read in the top berth :-)

    and the solution to the lech problem is to take a thin sheet with you and cover yourself from top of head to toe!

  3. :) that was quite a journey... reminded me of my train journeys :)

  4. That exactly what happen when u got off the train ... ur post brought back all the memories of my train journey ... i still do travel by train n love it !!

    Wonderful writing ... enjouyed it very much :)

  5. Every Indian journey is special in its own way isnt it!!!

    Your blog is wonderful...I loved it

  6. Quite a journey. Took me down the memory lane. As kids, the train journeys were fun but not now. I dread them actually. :P

  7. Wow! your wonderful narration drew loads of scenes before my eyes.

    Traveling is fun and when you have so many adventurous things happening every now & then,travel can be quite a memorable experience :D :D

  8. Miss the train and everything you mentioned and more ....thanks for a wonderful post !!

  9. You made me all nostalgic again. Havent travelled by train for such a long time now

  10. Wonderful memories. It's these simple moments that mean so much when we are older. Although I've never sat in a train that passes villages but I will think the same like you if I did, wondering about the people who live there.

  11. Ah! The great Indian rail journey! with all its shortcomings , the Indian rail journey has a very vibrant human element in it, that makes it a memorable one :)

    Let me see if I chuck chuck a indian railway post in coming days :)you gave me ideas! :D

  12. beautifully done!
    the romance of train journeys in india!

  13. Ah how we miss the simple pleasures of life ..imagine the vibrancy of a train compartment, the chatter , the songs, the food the chaos...and compare it to your average flight...the only time it wakes up is when there is a turbulence or if it is crashing.

    #trainphilosophy - ' boss sab ek hi train mein hai...bas fark itna hai ki koi S1 mein aur koi S3 mein...lekin jaana ek hi jagah hai sabko !

  14. Could picture the train journey..the sights, the smells, the sounds..

    And you are so right about Gujarati co-passengers. I had my first thepla waiting for my connecting flight at Vienna.

  15. excellent post...despite all the stress it's a wonder why we find it so rewarding !

  16. "If you drool sufficiently and give hungry looks the kind people will share their yummy 'Theplas, Farsan and Achar' with you."
    ROTFL..Amazing picture you painted..Loved every word of it...

  17. WoW! What a journey! I mostly prefer train journeys over flight for all the reasons mentioned. If you find good people in your compartment, it becomes all the way more carefree and enjoyable!


  18. I did this every year while growing up. Delhi to Kolkata by train and soaked up the amazing experience. The chai, the vendors, the passengers,the wait for the loved one at the platform... Train journeys were part of our childhood. Planes simply do not have that romantic feel.

  19. Wow. This sounds so exiting. I have always wanted to be in such a train journey. Its these memories that hold so important to us later on.
    Lovely post!:)

  20. It is very commendable for you to remember and recollect all these memorable experiences sitting right up there in UK!

    Very well described... Hats off, LP!

  21. WOWOW very nicely you have portrayed the vibe of travelling on a train.. I remember summer vacations goign to calcutta , Kalka mail.. three days Travle time chandigarh to howrah and BOY we loved it ..

    I have some very nice experiences , I had ncc so we traveleld a lot for camps all over india .. and when you are 30-40 together .. travle is FUNNNN time...

    Excellent loved reading it ...

  22. Ohh come on are being vertly harsh..After is all the gratest cultural sensitization one could ever be thrown too :P ...

    The uncle scene was mast :)

    But window seat is one thing i am crazy about anyhow!!

  23. That was a wonderful read LP! Brought back memories of years of train travel! It used to be yearly routine for us, during the summer hols :) And when I was in college, all I used to do was get on the top most berth, and snuggle with a book - loved it! I used to skip meals though - could never eat much during train travel.

  24. Thats was a wonderful post.As a child, I used to love traveling in trains and sleeping on the top berth. I would buy all the fashion/filmi mags at the station and then spent the rest of the trip reading, buying snacks from very station the train stopped and looking out at the scenery:-) Travelled again two years back and the experience was not soo pleasant..I just could not handle the bathrooms:( but my kids had fun!!

  25. wonderful narration!!!enjoyed every bit of it!!!you are so right about the uncle giving sleazy looks!!!during my last trip to India,when i traveled by train i was up the whole night with my eyes fixed on my baby worrying if one of those tiny cockroaches might get into his ears in the dark!!!phew!!!also had to deal with major train delays and had to sleep in the platform one whole night coz they just wouldn't tell us when the train would come!!!just kept extending the delay by 1 hr.....until morning!!!

  26. Anju : Thanks :)

    Chinkurli: I used to do just that...and as for the loo...ughhh I skipped the description purposely :P

    Shilpa: Thanks :)

    Sharmila: I am glad you like my post :)

    Shahid: aww that is sweet...thanks a ton :)

    Shilpa: hehe maybe I am nostalgic since I have not travelled in an Indian train in quite some time :P

    CB: Yep...travelling is fun...I especially love travelling by car more as it gives you a lot of flexibility.

    LEB: Thanks dear :)

    Ritu: Ditto...maybe that is the reason I want to...and once I do probably this romance will wither away :)

    Rose: Oh you must make a visit to India and travel in an Indian will never ever forget the experience :)

    LR: I am glad I could inspire you ;)

  27. Deepak: Thanks :)

    Gyan: You have put it aptly..the vibrancy is what makes it so thrilling :)

    Purba: Gujjus are everywhere...if u are ever hungry you can always fine one with yummy food :)

    Pan: I think it is because we love the vibrant atmosphere in the train...

    Bullseye: Thanks and welcome to my blog :) I am glad I could make you roll on the floor :P

    Karan: I agree, plane journeys are so antispetic..

  28. Aparna: Yes...most times people on the plane are snobbish so you have to be on your best behaviour :)

    Mr. Stupid: You should visit India...if you want to experience the thrill of a journey :)

    Parth: Thanks dear :)

    Bikramjit: I am glad you like my post :) welcome to my blog...

    Nish: Harsh? really? I thought I wrote all this quite fondly :P

    Smitha: Reading is such a pleasure in a one to disturb you :)

    Sonali: Yes the loo's have always been a problem...that is a major deterrent for most of us..

    MQ: One uncleji is always there in every compartment...ghar mein maa behen nahi hai kya..feel like asking this question to them :P

  29. I haven't been much of a train traveller, unless you are talking about the local train variety. Have done a lot of that in Mumbai. But my craziest train journey was perhaps from Talegaon to Mumbai in the second class ladies compartment squashed between too many women with hardly place for one foot. Had to board that train as I was to report for work directly after I got off that train. Stood all the way from Talegaon to Kalyan - that's over 2 hours of squashed existence.

  30. Thats a nice nostalgic post my dear :)

    As a kid I used to enjoy train journey's so much that I used to crave for them. I always associated these journeys with eating! Be it the subzi puri or chane ki daal I used to hog!!

    Now to most of the time is spent reading :)

  31. Hey Lazy....this was defn one of ure better pieces. I loved the flow of language and the way u have captured the various rigours of train travel in India. keep it up!

  32. Haven't we all experienced train travel in India in all its glory? Lovely your narration, brings back fond memories and makes me wanna experience it again and again!

  33. ......and what about the splash of water from some one washing his hand entering from the window on your face?

  34. Train travel was so part of growing up. I just love it.

  35. So nice...and,believe me,second class train travel is pretty much the same...except for the terror factor..sigh!
    Nice memories...and,let me ask'were you a timetable reader',too? I used to memorize the next 5 stations,each time...and,crane my neck to see the station's board...incidentaly,Dehradun Express was my favourite-coz it took 24 hrs to reach Delhi from,I'd run away from it..and,rather not travel than go by a slow train.hahaha.

  36. Sorry to break the magic here but I hated train journeys... specially dirty compartments, nightmarish loos, cockroaches, bedbugs, fighting over seats, endless waits for reservations, wooden pooris...didn't feel the romance and am happy that flights have become affordable. I want the second class trains of Switzerland.

    Ironically this post came in a week where a terrible plane tragedy followed by a terrible train tragedy happened in India. Prayers for those involved

  37. That was a wonderful post. Train journeys are always fascinating for one reason or the other. And second class travel has its own charms as i had mentioned in my post on train journeys.

    Do read it and give me your feedback:)

  38. amazing blog..i can totally relate wid it....staring uncle and the comparision abt food that others hav brougt in wid them was gr8.


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