The Not-So Good
Is Economy Class in an Indian train as bad as it sounds?
I’ll start by saying it wasn’t actually my intention to discover what an econo class ticket in india entailed. I had had enough of long, cramped and very uncomfortable journeys in West Africa a few months earlier and being that India is so cheap, there wasn’t really a need to go through all that again. But I didn’t get my shit together in time to buy an advance sleeper ticket.
So when I arrived at the station in Goa headed for Mumbai, an hour before the train was due to leave, all that was available was economy. At the extremely shallow price of 200 rupees ($3US) I bought the ticket with the insight that I could in fact upgrade the ticket once I was physically on the train.
Sure, Why not. I figured it wouldn’t be an issue. As soon I found an employee on the train I’d upgrade to a sleeper for around 800 rupees ($12US). I moved down the platform to the sleeper car waiting area figuring it’s be best to be in the car that I wanted to buy a ticket for. I asked a man if this was the area to wait for sleeper cars. He asked to see my ticket and chuckled. This is for general seating. I explained I was aware but was going to upgrade. He gave me the head nod as if to tell me my chances were highly unlikely.
“You’re best bet is hopping from bed to bed until people poke you and tell you to move.” He said.
That was not very reassuring. Too late now though. Train was approaching the station. I entered an empty cart. Literally only one other person on it. I knew this wasn’t going to be the case for the entire trip but it gave me a bit of hope.
The train went on for about 90 minutes making about 4 stops. People came into the car but no one was claiming my seat. I started to think I wasn’t actually going to have to move.
As the chai tea and samosa slingers ran up and down the cars trying to sell their goods I was keeping an eye out for a ticket inspector to let him know I’d like to upgrade. They never came by.
At around the 2.5 hour mark on the train I was awoken via a finger in my gut. I turned over to find find an entire family wanting all 6 beds in my cabin. I got up, grabbed my bags, and moved two cabins down to another completely empty section. This luxury didn’t last as long this time. Maybe 45 minutes until another shake on the belly (they love tummy rubs in this country). I moved over to one of the single beds. At this point I knew it wasn’t going to last for long.
Finally a ticket inspector was coming down the isle. Showing him my ticket I informed him I’d like to upgrade.
“No”. Was his simple response.
Uhhh… I was a bit shocked. I’d like to upgrade to a sleeper please.
“No sleepers. The waiting list is already huge”. He replied.
Great. That was pretty crap news. Whatever, I can probably just run around to free beds all night I thought. Nearly as soon as the ticket guy left a lady kicked me out of my current chair. (no poke involved this time)
I decided to go search for greener pastures. I walked through about 5 or 6 cars until I found a car that was mostly empty. It had been about 4 hours since I boarded the train now and the time was around 11:30pm. I grabbed an empty bed and fell asleep pretty quickly until I was woken up by…. you guessed it, a pat on the stomach. This time it was a ticket inspector.
I went through the motions with this guys too.
Where’s your ticket?
This says general seating.
I know, I’d like to upgrade.
It seems as though the waiting list had become even longer, as he told me that there was essentially no chance of an upgrade and I’d need to go to where I was assigned to sit. I offered to pay for any class but he wasn’t budging.
I was getting sick of this game of musical beds so I grabbed my stuff and made my way down the dozen or so cars, to what travellers have endearingly named, ‘the sardine cans’.
It was just after midnight at this point. I arrived to find the car brightly lit and bodies and luggage in every corner of my sight. I shifted past people sprawled on benches and piled on the floor. I made it three quarters of the way down the first car before I found a completely empty spot on the ground beside the left door. On the right there was a man cuddled up in a ball on the floor. I decided from the look of the rest of the car, it wasn’t going to get better than this. I wedged my backpack against the door and sat on the floor leaning against my bag. This way good for 20 minutes until my ass went numb. Improvising I took my sarong out of my bag and folded it to make a pillow for my butt. I put my bag on more of a lean, popped a sleeping pill and actually had a decent sleep for an hour. Things progressively got worse though, the man on the other side of the isle didn’t mind putting his feet on me, people would knock my legs as they walked past, my ass lost all feeling.
I decided to lay my sarong out as a sheet and lay on the grated aluminium floor. This was no what I was expecting my first train experience in India to be like.
All night the train would stop every 15-30 minutes to let passenger off and new ones on. Starting around 4am I would be woken up (with the belly shake) and asked to move so people could get out the door I had perched my bag against. This was the worst part of the whole trip because they would wake me up well before they actually had to get off the train and I’d have to stand up so they could get out the door. This continued for 3-4 hours until arriving in Mumbai at 6am, where I was ecstatic to exit the train myself.
So, other than the fact that I probably set a personal record paying only $3 to travel 700km, I would NEVER take a 12 hour overnight economy train in India again. You’ve been warned and I’ve been taught. That said, travel by train is something everyone should experience in India. There are many affordable and comfortable classes to choose from on most train journeys. Just make sure you book in advance.