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caravanman

India trip report now updated

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Hi Folks,

I was rather unsure about visiting India this year, and only decided to go for it just over a week or so back.

E-visa application went smoothly, although the questions can get a bit wearing by the fourth page. biggrin.gif

I managed to find a cheapish flight to Mumbai with Kuwait airlines, the drawback was a longer wait in Kuwait (don't tempt me...).

Kuwait Airlines were a bit flat compared to the flair of some other middle eastern carriers. I asked the information guy where the "transit lounge" was, but he had no idea. Was easy to find, anyway. Huge bank of phone charging points, none working. Transit Lounge, not one display screen to show departures, and the announcements over the tannoy did not work there either.

They redeemed themselves by allowing this famished old man two omelette breakfasts on the flight to Mumbai, and very tasty too. original.gif

I was akin to the walking wounded by the time we arrived at Mumbai airport, mostly a combination of an early start from home on Wednesday, the late afternoon departure time to Kuwait, and the stopover, so was not looking forward to the visa queues.

Guess what! I was the only person to go to the e-visa section, no queue at all! We touched down at midday, and the arrivals hall was empty, just one e-visa window open, and I had to cough discreetly to wake the immigration guy into full operating mode.

I guess the main direct flights tend to arrive at night, so that was a happy consequence of the longer stopover.

The luggage is x-rayed as you leave the airport, and there is a pre-pay taxi booth immediately to the left as you leave security. I asked there, bloke quoted Rs 790, I said no thanks. There is a second pre-pay booth as you follow the taxi signs, same quote there for A/C car, but Rs 590 for non A/C car, which I accepted.

You pay the guy and get a receipt, which has the allocated taxi number on it, and the zone where it is waiting, and go down one floor to ground level to locate the taxi. Yet another pre-pay booth here!

The fare was to Lamington Road area, I guess it would be a little more if one was heading to Colaba area.

Traffic was pretty bad, and sitting stationary in the hot taxi, it was not long before I regretted my decision not to pay a couple of quid extra for A/C. biggrin.gif

I bought a couple of bottles of water and some powdered milk earlier, and managed a couple of hours sleep this evening, so now all set for several cups of tea and catch up on emails, etc.

Very pleased to be here!

Ed.

Mooching in Mumbai...

26 Oct 2018

Slow start today, several cups of tea needed to get the system going. biggrin.gif

I took a taxi from outside the hotel down to the Gateway of India. Although it was not yet too hot, I asked for the a/c to be on, after yesterdays roasting on the way from the airport. The driver asked if I wanted to go to the airport tomorrow, so I asked him the price, Rs 450 quoted. I am not going, but interesting to compare with the airport taxi prices.

After a quick look around, I walked up to the Mumbai Museum, set in very nice grounds. I had my bag with all my worldly goods in, so decided to come back another time without that, one needs to leave it in a store, but I did not want to risk that today, given the contents.

Interesting visit to Jehangir Art Gallery, I met several of the artists who had work on display. I loved the pictures of Satheesh Kanna, vibrant take on Varanasi.
Also met artist Austin Konchira, a former English teacher, we had a good chat about English language being downgraded nowadays in India. and Adish Jain, who had some astonishingly detailed collages on show. Do "google" these artists for more information.

I took aarosh's advice and went to Sahakari for lunch, had a very tasty dosa. original.gif

Just next door there is an amazing old building which houses a shop selling all sorts of household items and many food items. I hesitate to call it a supermarket, because the building itself is so intriguing. I wonder what it was, originally?

Many of the old buildings show intriguing aspects of their past glory, I love the mix of architectural styles with everything from Gothic, Edwardian and Art Deco to be seen.

A walk through a small part of the "Fort" district and I arrive at VT railway station, as it was called. Very grand design, the booking hall looks like a cathedral more than a train station!

Back to the hotel and that is enough for my first day!

I have posted a few pics on facebook, I am not too sure how to upload them to Indiamike direct, and I am too tired tonight to find out. biggrin.gif

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...1&l=0a3e44a11e

Ed.

Mumbai, Saturday 27th October.

Sleep pattern not quite right yet, so I felt a bit groggy at the start of my second full day in Mumbai. (Duty free still unopened, so can't blame that...) biggrin.gif

Decided to pay a visit to the Mumbai Museum, formerly known as Prince of Wales museum.
I managed to carry all my worldly goods in my pockets today, so felt happy to leave my bag in the storage room. The guard asked if I had left any passport or valuables in the bag, and I told him no, but a half eaten packet of moong dal is there, and I have counted each one. Made him laugh!

The usual thing with prices, Rs.500 for foreigners, much less for Indian folk. I think this is fair enough.

One is allowed to carry bottled water into the museum, which was a blessing as it was a pretty hot day, and the museum is mostly not air conditioned.

I liked the stone sculptures the best, such skill in carving, and such ancient items. I felt a ray of hope for humanity to think that we had been making such amazingly artistic objects for so long, maybe we can survive the current mess we seem to be creating of the environment we inhabit...

The bronze, brass and other metal castings were very interesting too, as well as the pottery. I liked seeing the pottery from the earliest periods particularly.

Several galleries are given over to displaying the collections of the Tata families. While these are undoubtedly valuable, they seem rather out of place in an Indian museum, featuring European "old masters" paintings and Japanese items. I understand that museums can collect objects from across the world, not least the British, often at gunpoint... I guess I was just selfishly hoping for more Indian stuff. biggrin.gif

Time for lunch, and where else but back to the Sahakari, just nearby the museum. Rather busier today than yesterday, someone said they thought there was a partial holiday yesterday, so less folk about?

Seated straight away, and joined by an interesting local guy who was on his lunch break, and so he was fretting about getting served quickly, only a half hour for lunch! I saw several people eating a thali type meal, so just pointed to that instead of scanning the menu today. Very tasty again.

I had a walk in the Colaba area, crowded and touristy on a Saturday, and rather too hot to walk far.

Taxi back to the hotel, going along the seafront this time, rather than through the city. One gets a fine view of all the tower blocks along the shoreline!

Just had dinner at my hotel, now time for a cup of tea, or two...

Ed

More Mooching on Sunday 28th Oct.

Had another nice walk around today.

Having only just realized, thanks to arrosh, that my train departs from Mumbai Central, which I have never used before, I thought I would check it out in preparation for leaving tomorrow.

By coincidence, my hotel is only a few minutes away from Central... I guess the taxi driver tomorrow won't be too pleased. biggrin.gif

Much smaller than CSTM, but has trains and stuff, so that should be all ok.

I refer you to the Noel Coward song: "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun"...

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Mumbai is much quieter on a Sunday, I watched several hundred cricketers slogging it out on the "Oval" maidan.

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One can see India loves cricket!

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I liked the buildings on the other side of the road, rather faded art deco styling

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No prizes for guessing where I had lunch today...

It took two attempts to get cash from a bank ATM, but I can now pay my hotel bill tomorrow. biggrin.gif

Ed.

Delhi. Tuesday 30th October.

I arrived in Delhi this morning, after an overnight train journey from Mumbai. It feels a lot cooler here, but only by comparison to Mumbai, it is not exactly chilly. biggrin.gif

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Waiting to board the Rajdhani at Mumbai Central. The trolley is delivering dinners for the journey.

We get a free bottle of water per passenger too!

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This is what the inside of my 2A/C (second class air conditioned) coach looks like.
To the right hand side there are two berths one above the other which lie in the direction of travel, the lower seat also converts to a bed, and to the left there are 4 berths across the coach, two lower and two above. The right hand side berths have individual curtains to close, the ones with 4 together just have large floor to ceiling curtains to close off the corridor, but all 4 berths are open to each other. Clean packaged sheets and a towel are provided for each passenger.

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On Rajdhani trains meals are included. First up is a bottle of water, then a snack of samosa, and a few biscuit or popcorn type items with a cup of tea. One gets a "tea kit", which contains a tea bag, sugar and powdered milk. The attendant brings a flask of hot water and a paper cup. A coffee kit is also available. original.gif

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I chose the "veg" option for my main meal, which consisted of rice, chapatti, dal, a paneer (cheese) curry, and some curd. There was a pudding dish and a dry vegetable dish which I did not try. I enjoyed the meal very much.

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Sadly the train trip was slightly spoilt for me by having a very "entitled" couple opposite, who harassed the train staff with complaints and seemed not to be aware that there were other people on the train at all! What type of moron decides to watch a video on their phone at full volume at 4am? Anyway, you get the picture. biggrin.gif

A repeat of the "tea kit" and a couple of digestive biscuits arrive around 6.30am, and the main breakfast, in my case an omelette, at about 7.15am.

The train toilets were fine, (tourists always seem to want to know...) and I found these two notices quite amusing...

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Not sure what constitutes an emergency, possibly a stubborn "floater"? biggrin.gif

I did not get much sleep on the train, so have just been relaxing at the hotel today, it is noticeably cooler here today.

One small tip, if you are looking for the pre-pay taxi or auto booth at New Delhi train station, there are some brand new ones being constructed, but meanwhile go to the office near the exit to the taxi car park.

Ed.

Delhi. Weds 31st October

I always have quite mixed feelings when I see the date 31st October... For many years I ran a shop which hired out and sold all manner of party costumes, in the UK this is known as a "fancy dress shop".
Halloween was the start of our busy season, and I was usually exhausted and very glad to shut the doors after the last witch, wizard or ghost had left the shop. biggrin.gif

Feel quite relaxed this year, not a spook in sight in Delhi. I slept well last night, and after several cups of tea I ventured out this morning for a look around. My hotel is in Paharganj, a crowded area of side streets, small shops and stalls, quite close to New Delhi train station.

Walking down the Main Bazaar road, I found an area with lots of fruit stalls, and indeed much else for sale.

market-scene.jpg

I am the Egg Man...

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I spotted several stalls selling these strange "fruits", not at all sure what they are?

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Lots of people buying long sugar canes with the leaves still attached, funny to see these being carried by passenger in a cycle rickshaw. I assume they are something to celebrate Diwali, rather than to consume.

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Walking on I came to Connaught Place, and ran into the usual touts of course. No problem, but I felt sorry for one or two tourists who seemed to think having a polite chat with touts was the way to get rid of them. biggrin.gif

A mock up of an American car, advertising "Detroit" shop... and a selfi opportunity for me. biggrin.gif

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I wanted to exchange some currency, which I did, not a great rate though, damn Brexit!

Quite a "smoggy" atmosphere today, not great for sightseeing.

Thanks to all for the recommended places to eat!

Ed.

Thursday 1/11/2018 Delhi.

I slept pretty well again, a softer mattress than many in Indian hotel rooms!
Several cups of tea, and I decided to have a little explore of the Chandni Chowk area today.

I made my way onto D.B. Gupta road and used the overpass to walk towards Ajmeri gate.

I am used to seeing traffic jams in India, but it was a new experience to look down on them!

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A strange experience while walking on the overpass, I noticed an auto with several guys in stopped behind me. I walked on and they seemed to be keeping pace with me, always a little behind. I turned and took an obvious photo of them, and they drove off. Odd indeed.

Keep Left? Bullox...

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Sadly, there is not much made of the Ajmeri gate itself.

ajmeri.jpg

This area is very busy with dozens of small shops and workshops, most are concerned with metalworking. Many similar places stocking coils of wire, metal rods in different sizes and profiles, sheet metal, and of course tools of all shapes and sizes too. I liked seeing the tools and raw materials, the area is a real "boys playground"!

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The most noticeable thing is the hum and buzz of commerce, small or large, everywhere seemed to be doing brisk business, with at least one person always head down, busy writing out a chitty or two!

As one progresses along the street, the businesses change, now we have door furniture, hinges, bolts, fasteners, knockers.

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This is a key maker's kit, he shapes by hand with files and a lifetime of experience...

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Now again it is plumbing goods, sinks, and multi coloured plastic piping. If you want colourful pipes, this fellow is your man!

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Paper goods up next, wedding stationery, cards, wrapping paper, all is here!

I soon see the large mosque, Jama Masjid appear, and head towards it. There are several full size coaches near the entrance, and a steady stream of western tourists from them, as well as other independent tourists like myself. The coaches block the traffic, which adds to the general chaos in the area.

Folk are charged Rs300 to carry their phones into the mosque, there is no storage offered. The gatekeeper today was most unpleasant, searching everyone's pockets! Nice little earner for someone, methinks. biggrin.gif

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Me? nah I didn't bother going inside, felt the aggressive gatekeeper spoiled the mood for me.

A further walk through the small back lanes and I came across a "fancy dress walla" sign! (My former business was a fancy dress shop...)

Lots of little shops selling all sorts of interesting items.

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Then onto the main Chandni Chowk road that runs up as far as the Red Fort.

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Busy with pedestrians all seeking a shopping bargain, as well as folk looking for a quick snack or two.

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A Sikh Gurdwara is located here too.

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Ed.

Chennai. Sunday 4/11/2018

I left Delhi on Friday from H.Nizamuddin train station. Auto from near my hotel, the cost was Rs.200. Traffic was quite heavy, but I was feeling relaxed, plenty of time in hand.

The usual skirmishes with the porters, bloke wanted Rs.300 to carry my case to the train! I guess some people must pay it...?

A couple of students chatted to me as I waited on the pedestrian overbridge, I find it best not to descend to the platform too early, in case of platform alterations.

delhi-station.jpg

I was initially disappointed to have a side berth allocated, but as the berth above mine was not taken, I was able to leave the seats folded down in "bed mode" for the whole trip. Actually it was quite nice to be able to draw the curtains across and have a doze at any time I liked!

The catering staff on this train are from the "meals on wheels" franchise, and the food offerings were similar to their other trains... sort of adequate, but to be honest, the content is a bit thin, compared to other catering franchises.

We left on time, and I was surprised to note just how many "derelict" factory type buildings were visible at several places. I don't know if India has also suffered perhaps from changing manufacturing practices, but given the way that resources seem to be recycled well in India, it seems odd to see so many empty and decaying buildings.

I slept well on the train, and was surprised to be woken from a deep sleep by the arrival of "early morning tea" at 6.30am.

Water purification booths sprang up at several stations, but many have closed due to bottled water being sold.

water-machine.jpg

A full day of watching the passing scenery, lots of crops growing, I think rice and cotton amongst others. I got down from the train at a couple of stations, we stopped for 10 or 15 minutes a few times. Small herds of animals being minded by youngsters, goats and water buffalo, cows. Monkeys playing about on some station roofs.

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With the 9pm arrival time into Chennai, I was unsure if we would be given an evening meal, but a dinner tray arrived at about 7pm. Something new for me, some sort of lentil spheres in a sauce, plus the usual rice, chapattis, dal, and some curd.

One thing about this train was the absence of any vendors coming through, so no chai, crisps, snacks, were offered. Food is included in the fare on Rajdhani trains, and we did get a couple of 1 litre water bottles, and some set tea and snacks on trays from the catering folk, all included.

My coach was second from the rear of the train, it felt quite a long walk past the twenty or so coaches to reach the station exit! One blessing, no stairs here, so no porter wrangles either.
Pre pay auto to my hotel is Rs.99, I think he made that fare up... biggrin.gif

I had booked an hotel in Chennai that I was content with previously, but this time they were having a few issues that I was not happy with, so after one night there, I transferred to New Woodlands Hotel, just nearby. Feel chuffed with my room now, it even has a small balcony.
I went to a nearby shop for a few essentials: Wait Rose. I guess if we have dozens of restaurants called Taj Mahal, they can pinch a few supermarket names biggrin.gif

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I have arranged to meet up with Nick tomorrow, so looking forward to that!

Ed.

Chennai. 5/11/18. A Bigger Bang.

Tonight is Guy Fawkes night in the UK, and the start of Diwali celebrations in Chennai, both involve fireworks and loud explosions!

A slow start to my day, nice breakfast of tea, and then more tea, eventually felt awake. original.gif

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I bought some washing powder yesterday from "Wait Rose", so started on my dhobi walla tasks this morning, washing out a couple of shirts and trousers. Despite the claims on the "Tide" brand packaging, it did not remove all the food stains from my shirt fronts. Task today, buy myself a "bib". biggrin.gif

I have used hotel laundry services in the past, and received back clothing which has been flayed into threadbare rags. Albeit without any food stains!

I like Mark Twain's memories of India, where he describes women trying to break rocks along the rivers by hitting them with wet clothing.

Nick-H arrives at lunchtime and after a chat to catch up since last year, we adjourn to the hotel restaurant for some food. A nice meal in a busy environment.

We had thought to visit a busy shopping area called Parrys, just to have a wander around, similar to my last visit.

Knowing my liking of train travel, Nick suggests we try the local suburban train line instead of an auto.

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I think we were both amazed to be charged only Rs.5 each, that is 5 pence, for our tickets. Nick generously offered to pay... biggrin.gif

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Travelling in mid afternoon, we found the train to be fine, I enjoyed standing near the open doors as we whizzed along. I can imagine it being a bit less fun in the busy crush hours!

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Alighting at Chennai Beach station, we had a look around the streets nearby. Pumps and Bearings seemed popular products on display in this area. wink1.gif

This chap very keen to be photographed!

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Perhaps being the start of Diwali, we noticed many of the small shops and businesses had closed early, although Nick was able to buy a couple of light bulbs that he needed, as well as drooling over some heavy machinery that he coveted, but has no space for.

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As with most Indian cities, lots of interesting buildings, at least to my mind, if one raises ones eyes above the ground floor level.

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Old Armenian church, you never know what you may find in the side streets.

Quite a hot and slightly humid afternoon, we were both happy to take an auto back to the hotel, rather than walk back to the train station. Nick used his mobile to drum up an Ola auto and it soon arrived.

Nice to be able to switch on the a/c when we got back, both feeling a bit over heated. A final chat, and Nick drove home, I hope the traffic was not too heavy...

Quite a good view of the evening fireworks from my hotel balcony, no trouble hearing the loud bangs, either. biggrin.gif

Thanks again for meeting up, Nick. Next time you visit the UK, please feel welcome to come to Nottingham, there must be one or two machinery or tool shops there to visit too!

Ed.

Chennai. 7/11/18

Yesterday I made at least two faux pas...

I walked to the Kapaleswar Temple, only to find it closed. There were one or two other western tourists looking a bit disappointed too, so I wasn't the only numpty in town. I probably should have remembered that they close in the afternoons, (between 12.30 and 4pm) but it slipped my mind, like so much else these days...

Lots of spent bangers and crackers lying by the roadside, they seem to contain a lot of old newspaper which remains after they explode.

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As I walked back, an auto pulled up and a guy said that as it was Diwali, they were giving out gifts of food, from a take away and delivery service... "would I do them the honour of accepting some food"? I didn't really want to take it, but it seemed churlish to refuse a gift, so I took it. He then said it is "mutton biriyani", so after they had gone, I gave it to an old woman who was sat begging... I hope she was not vegetarian...

Second error was a visit to "Wait Rose" again. I was feeling a bit hot and bothered by now, so after grabbing a few bottles of water and a few snacks I got stuck behind some slow people at the checkout. I thought I had paid with a Rs. 500 note, but the cashier said it was a Rs.200, and gave me change accordingly. I think in retrospect that I probably was mistaken, although at the time I put up a strong argument in my favour. I made do with my change from Rs.200, needless to say I won't be welcome in that store again. biggrin.gif

The 6th of November seems to have been the main night for the fireworks in this area, lots of attractive rockets, as well as the car alarm activating bangs and blasts!

I tried again at the Kapaleswar Temple today, and had better luck. I remembered that last year, I had to pay a small fee to go in. This year there was a huge queue at the ticket office. I eventually got to the front and offered my Rs.50 and the bloke looked surprised. Apparently this was a special queue for attending one of the Hindu puja ceremonies. Bloke said nothing to pay today to just walk around.

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Very busy with lots of folk carrying baskets and plates of offerings, a huge queue in one place...

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Several cows are kept within the temple, and many of the temple statues are of cows. They seem well fed, with folk bringing them fodder also.

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A late lunch back at the hotel, and a relaxing afternoon.

I have to check out at noon tomorrow, but my train does not leave 'till 9pm, so I hope I can find somewhere air conditioned to while away the afternoon and early evening. biggrin.gif

Next stop, Bikaner, Rajasthan!

Ed.

Bikaner Bound... 11/11/2018

Bikaner Bound… 11/11/2018

I solved the issue of where to spend my afternoon in comfort, by means of a later check out from the hotel. They let me stay ‘till 6pm, albeit after paying extra.

Very odd auto driver outside the hotel. I negotiated a reasonable fare to go to the Chennai Central station, and we set off. We had only gone a few hundred meters when he shouts across to another auto driver and asks the way! Asking the way took place at least another 10 times before we got there. I am guessing Central Station ought to be a fairly well known spot to most drivers? Maybe it was his first day on the job… biggrin.gif

Still early for my train, I located the A/C lounge at the station. One pays to use it, I think it was Rs30 for the first hour, and then Rs20 for subsequent hours, per person. The lounge was “ok”, it was a lot cooler inside than out, but there were many flies enjoying the cool environment too.

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A large group of eastern folk were already there when I arrived, they seemed to have made friends with an Indian guy and his family. Lots of bananas and other food dishes being offered by the Indian family. I got the impression that the locals were maybe tour guides or hotel owners, they had no luggage, and left after numerous photos were taken by both sides.

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I wandered out onto the platform area, and soon saw my train being shunted in. My lower berth was another side one, I am quite happy with this allocation nowadays. Nobody on the upper bunk, so I secured my luggage and made up my bed. A surprise offer of “veg biriyani” at 10pm for Rs60 was accepted, although I was not very hungry. I had already bought bananas and biscuits just in case, at the station. I don’t think the “trade descriptions act” applies in India, I think my meal was better described as “rice biriyani”, given the tiny amount of veg. biggrin.gif

Soon fell asleep, only to be awakened by the occupant of the upper bunk arriving at some point during the night. The aisles in the trains are not over wide, and passengers tend to accidentally drag open the side berth curtains as they squeeze past with luggage, so not quite a sound night’s sleep…

I had paid for my bananas with the last of my small notes, so the morning chai vendor had to pass me by, unable to change my Rs500 note for a Rs10 cup of masala chai. biggrin.gif

I was saved in the end by the breakfast guy coming through, I bought his “bread cutlets” offer and so got change also for the next chai bloke.

When the next guy came through taking orders for lunch, I said “veg please”, he replied that veg was the only option on this train. Was surprised by that, but it explained why there was no “bread omelette” option for breakfast!

These two staples of the railway breakfasts arrive in a foil container with either the veg cutlets or the omelette, together with two slices of plain white bread and a sachet of sauce in each container. There are some traditional Indian style breakfasts too. On this train the ANUVRAT EXPRESS , the breakfasts were Rs40 only.

I felt quite at peace with the world as we rolled northwards towards Rajasthan, although I had caught a heavy cold, and began coughing and sneezing frequently.

Lots of green crops growing, I saw several places where cotton was being picked. Further north many of the field were brown, either recently harvested, or just sown with fresh seeds.

I ate all the meals offered by the train crew, breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The meals were more substantial than those on the Rajasthani train, containing thicker dal, and more vegetables, etc. The food arrives on a tray with foil containers of rice, dal, and one or two veg curry items, together with a few chapatis. Always a sachet of hot pickle too! Eating from the foil containers, it is rather like a “take away” at home, although it is usual to decant the take away food onto plates of course.

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The lunches and dinners were priced at Rs.110 each, so pretty good value. I don’t think one would put on any weight if one ate only these meals, but decent enough for the price.

The chai walla came through frequently and did good business from me, as did the hot tomato soup walla. I found the hot drinks helped my cold. biggrin.gif

The chap in the bunk above mine had claim to sit on my berth during the day, but he found somewhere else, so I was able to leave the berth in “sleeping” mode, rather than converting back to two chairs. I am not averse to an afternoon doze, so that was handy.

I was given a greenish knobbly fruit by the upper bunk guy, it was only after closer inspection that I realised it was an orange. I am used to oranges having quite smooth skins, so the very lumpy skin confused me, as did the colour. Very similar to regular oranges inside, although rather dryer, not quite as juicy as one expected.

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I commented a while back about a woman watching videos on her phone at 4am at full volume, well it seems that everyone with a phone feels it is ok to play videos and music at all times on a train! I understand that “personal space” is not really a strong Indian concept, so I guess the projecting of ones personal music is just an extension of that…

I was surprised to find we were on time arriving into Bikaner, considering the number of quite lengthy halts during the journey, we were held up several times for between 10 and 30 minutes.

Salt is produced in this area...

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One very noticeable aspect of this route is the sheer amount of track improvements taking place, extra tracks, electrification, underpasses replacing level crossings, etc. Together with the large number of freight trains, I imagine this would be a good time to invest in Indian railways, if I were not against privatisation that is!

After two days on the train, I felt I deserved a beer or three... biggrin.gif

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An early night and a visit to Bikaner Fort in the morning...
 

Bikaner Visit Nov. 2018.

Bikaner visit, Nov 2018.

I first visited Bikaner in 1983. We were en-route to Jaisalmere from Amritsar. The first leg of that journey was to Sri Ganga Nager by bus from Amritsar, we were surrounded by a huge crowd at Sri Ganga Nager, seemingly tourists did not turn up there very often. I can’t remember how we travelled from there to Bikaner next day, but I think by train? I seem to remember we stayed in a hotel somewhere near the station, but it is all rather hazy now.

We did visit the camel breeding centre at that time, and saw a new born baby camel, but strangely we did not visit the fort, so I am making up for that again this visit.

My digs now in Bikaner are only 200 meters from the train station, a former posh walled residence of some Rajasthan royalty, the family still live there, but also provide guest accommodation nowadays. The walls all display faded sepia photos and certificates of dignitaries and sporting events from back in the day… They serve beer, so together with the sound of the horns from the trains nearby, what is not to like? biggrin.gif

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Apart from the fort and camel breeding centre, the other place that puts Bikaner on the tourist map is the “Rat Temple”. Folk feed and revere the rats here, believing that they may be reincarnations of their former relatives. Given that the rats run free, and one must remove footwear, I decided not to visit. Not my thing at all.

Weather here is very hot and dry, so apart from visiting the fort, I was content to just put my feet up and relax with some delicious home cooked food, a few beers, and a good book to read.

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The fort itself is massive, and in good repair. Many rooms with ornate decoration, painted wooden doors, and furniture and personal possessions of the late Maharaja.

I will let a few photos of the fort do the talking…

bikaner-fort.jpg

bikaner-fort.jpg

bikaner-fort.jpg

While I was there, an international gathering of artists were painting in the grounds of the fort. You may see a couple of pics here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...1&l=2f0d7b33ca

Ed.
Edited by caravanman

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Do they still call it Connaught Place? I thought they had changed the official name to Rajeev Chowk, which is the name also of the associated Metro station?

Did you prebook the LD trips on IRCTC, or did you book them at the Foreign Tourist Center in Mumbai or at the regular reservation center/ticket window as you went along?

Bikaner is close to where I lived in India and went to school and college at Pilani. Actually the closest rail station to Pilani, Loharu is on what used to be the Meter Gauge trunk line of Bikaner State Railway before it was consolidated into Northern Railway. Now of course it has been converted to Broad Gauge.

Edited by jis

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There is understandably a drive to re-name places from the British to more Indian names. It seems under Mr. Modi that this includes re naming some Mugal names.;)

Having said that, I guess old habits die hard, so it will take a while for the new names to come into current usage.

I did pre book only my first ride from Mumbai on the IRCTC website, I booked the next two as required via "Cleartrip", which is easier to use with foreign cards online, and my last ride at Bikaner reservation office, paying cash. I have used the foreign tourist facilities at Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai in the past.

Surprised you lived near Bikaner, I always assumed you were from the Kolkata area!

My last post mentions buying my ticket from Bikaner...:

 

Bikaner to Delhi. Nov 2018.

Bikaner to Delhi. Nov 2018.

My ad hoc travels since arriving in Mumbai have been required, to a certain extent, by availability of Indian train tickets. Leaving my travel arrangements to the last minute sometimes means that one has to go “the long way round”. biggrin.gif

I enjoyed my short visit to Bikaner, and was feeling rather chipper after staying in nice hotels recently, in Chennai and now again in Bikaner.

Looking up train availability from Bikaner, I noticed that there was one train with good availability to take me back to Delhi, which did indeed go the long way round, heading north, and taking twice as long as the fully booked direct trains, and costing twice as much into the bargain. Cost is calculated by distance, so a less convenient longer route costs more. biggrin.gif

I went to Bikaner station to buy my ticket, wanting to spend a bit of cash and give my credit card a rest. One needs to find the “reservation” building outside the station, rather than buying from either of the two ticket offices inside the station.

Not St. Pancras station architecture, but rather splendid:

bikaner-station-detail.jpg

At the reservation office I was grabbed by a guy who tried to suggest he had the answer to me getting on a sold out more direct train. He probably did, but I chose not to take up his offer, and waited in line to buy my ticket. One has to fill a form to reserve a berth, these are found somewhere near the ticket windows. I was aware of all this form filling, and had already looked up my train number, fare, and the availability online, so no problem.

Successfully obtaining an actual train ticket in my hand in India always seems a minor victory against the odds, rather than the routine transaction it is in Europe! Pleased with my lower berth allocation for this train too.

Train departs at 16.45 next day, so on my last day a little more beer, relaxing and reading was called for.

bikaner-to-delhi-train.jpg

Pleased to find that my train departed from platform 6, side nearest the hotel, so no need to carry my luggage up the stairs. I was aware that there was no “pantry car” on this train, so food would not be available. I had some provisions with me anyway, and bought a couple of bottles of water at the station. I was still surprised that no “unofficial” vendors came through the train, not one on the whole journey! Maybe the large non A/C portion of the train was better served…

Sadly, my coach was in poor condition compared to the others on this trip. Very tatty and grubby and by the morning, all the toilets stank to high heaven…

I knew that I had chosen to live in a slightly protected “bubble” thus far this trip, choosing to pay a little more for better hotels and trains. This journey terminates in Delhi Sarai Rohilla station, and as we inched towards it in the morning rush hour, I was looking out on mile after mile of squalor, pools of stagnant water, rubbish piled up, rag pickers, poor people living next to the tracks in hovels, barefoot children amongst the little fires in the morning mist… Quite a contrast to my own recent environments.

I did my usual trick of refusing the station’s exorbitant auto rickshaw prices, and set off to find a cheaper quote just outside the station. Doh! Sarai Rohilla is located at the end of a very, very long lane, there is nothing much else for a very, very long way. Coming to my senses eventually, I accepted an auto ride after walking for a km or so, dragging my poor old suitcase along the bumpy ground. Yep, only paid the same amount as I was quoted at the station. Smart move Ed!

Nice room in Delhi, softest mattress on this trip. Time for a snooze. biggrin.gif

delhi-digs.jpg


After a few days in Delhi I decided to return home, my credit card was groaning under the debts mounting on it. :D  Pleased to report no tummy troubles at all on this trip !
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Ed.

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8 hours ago, oregon pioneer said:

Thanks so much for your stories and photos of India! I just love traveling along with you!

Agreed.  I have never had any serious interest in visiting India myself, and I've lost a lot of interest in long haul travel in general, but I still enjoy reading about Ed's travels.  Ed, if you're reading this do you mind if I ask why you've traveled to India so many times?  Most of the time if I was curious enough to visit a country once I'd find a reason to return again in the future, but I've never come close to the number of visits you have to India.

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3 hours ago, Devil's Advocate said:

Agreed.  I have never had any serious interest in visiting India myself, and I've lost a lot of interest in long haul travel in general, but I still enjoy reading about Ed's travels.  Ed, if you're reading this do you mind if I ask why you've traveled to India so many times?  Most of the time if I was curious enough to visit a country once I'd find a reason to return again in the future, but I've never come close to the number of visits you have to India.

Interesting question, one I ask myself too.

India is a very different place to anywhere else I have visited, and my 5 months tour back in 1983 was an eye opening, if not quite life changing event. I have also been to Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, so have something to compare. I love long distance train travel, and my recent visits have allowed me to indulge that interest. As well as Indian trains being fairly economical, one can get by well in India on a limited budget, which describes my current situation. :D

As to why I like long distance train travel, I can't say exactly... something about everyone on the train being in a state of flux, away from their norm, and perhaps also the notion that I am free, I can't be called upon, I am now seperate from everyday life, part of another (train passengers) society...?

India is very diverse, with different religions, climate and geography, so one can go back several times and see quite different things.

I don't have any language skills, so the fact that English is spoken widely in India must be a factor too, to some extent.

No definative answer, India is amazing, upsetting, exotic, wierd, stunning, and much more besides. One would have to be dead to find India boring!

I am finding the "long haul" travel less fun these days too, so this may be my last visit. I said that last year, and the year before, so who knows... :)

 

Ed.

 

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I guess Ed's reason to visit India many times is similar to my reason for visiting the UK many times. That is riding the trains to various corners of the country. Of course one could probably spend a lifetime doing so in India and still not be able to cover every branch line.

Ed, to answer your question about where I lived in India. I was born in Kolkata, but we left Kolkata about when I was four years old. We first moved to Bhilai (in what is now Chhattisgarh State, then it was part of Madhya Pradesh) where my Dad was Chief Electrical Engineer of testing and commissioning at the then under construction Bhilai Steel Plant. Then we moved to Pilani (naer Bikaner in Rajasthan State) when I was 8 years old, and pretty much lived there until I moved to the US. Did my schooling (Birla Public School)  and college (BITS) both in Pilani.

As for renaming Connaught Place (named after Prince Arthur, the first Duke of Connaught and Strathern, son of Queen Victoria), that was done soon after Rajiv Gandhi (son of Indira Gandhi) was assassinated. So it has been a while, over 20 years now. But colloquially it is still referred to as CP - short form for Connaught Place.

BTW, the UP State Government (not Modi) has decided to rename the venerable Mughal Sarai station to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhaya station!. Now that they have run out of British names to rename, they are going after random things, which a slight emphasis on Muslim sounding names. And usually they come up with these completely ridiculous unusable long names. More crazily, on the Kolkata Metro, they renamed station which originally were named after the locality they are in, to names of individuals (e.g. Tollygunbge became Uttam Kumar). So now you cannot tell where they are located from their names. There is no limit to this madness and it spans the political spectrum.

Edited by jis

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Thanks for the info, how was the Bhilai streel plant powered? I believe some use coal/coke for smelting, but some used electric arc?

There seems an upsurge in Hindu nationalism recently, so I guess any "invaders" names are ripe for change. :D

I was pleased to see at least some of the old railway stations still retain their original codes, such as "cape" for Cape Cormorin, rather than Kanyakamari as it is known today.

I have experienced some difficulty myself trying to find the correct station names for certain geographic locations.

Ed.

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Generally they do not change the station code when they change the name of the station. For example the code for Gomoh remained GMO even after they changed the name of the station to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Then again, they did change the station code of Victoria Terminus in Bombay from BBVT to CSTM.

Bhilai was built originally with Coke fired Blast Furnaces and Open Hearth Furnace for Converting iron to Steel. It has since been converted to Electric Furnaces. Bhilai is one of the largest plants of the Hindustan Steel Group, and primarily produces structural steel components like Beams, Rails, and Sheets.

When we arrived in Bhilai there was nothing above the ground at the factory site. There were big holes in the ground for foundation work. When we left four years later the first production chain was in place (Coke Ovens, Blast Furnace, Open Hearth Furnace and Rolling Mills) producing rails and beams. That was a bout a fifth of the original plan already in production.

From a railway perspective, back then there was the single track Calcutta - Bombay via Nagpur trunk line which had one through train (Bombay Mail via Nagpur), and a few passenger trains each day. There was a single station at Durg, where Bombay Mail stopped for three minutes, and that was it. Now the Kolkata - Mumbai Main Line is three and four track fully electrified affair through there. Bhilai has four stations serving it ( Durg, Bhilainagar, Bhilai Junction, Bhilai Power House), it has a medium sized Electric Loco Shed, and it has several Express trains originating and terminating either at Durg or Bhilai Jn. Recently a new Indian Institute of Technology got set up in Bhilai putting it on the academic map, with an attached technology transfer zone for startups to take technology from the IIT and productize them. The growth has been absolutely phenomenal where there was nothing in 1955.

Edited by jis

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Indeed, I was expecting to travel from Mumbai to Delhi from CSTM, and it was only the intervention of a local chap on the "Indiamike" forum I use, that alerted me to the fact it departed from MMCT station. (I know these are rail  codes, but I do think that in general, India seems to have a great love of abbreviations, newspapers are full of them for official jargon... :D)

The pace of development in India seems ever faster, I noticed that even over the last 10 years. There are many ongoing large rail improvement projects too.

I am glad I also saw the "softer" less westernised India of 1983 though...

 

Ed.

Edited by caravanman

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Yeah most Delhi trains and all the Rajdhanis and of course Golden Temple Mail (erstwhile Frontier Mail which used to run all the way to Peshawar Cantt, the Indian end of the Khybar Pass Line to Landi Kotal on the Afghan Border) depart from Mumbai Central, being Western Railway (erstwhile BB&CIR) trains. There are a couple of Delhi trains that depart from CSTM, like the Punjab Mail (IIRC) which are Central Railway (erstwhile GIPR trains). It is actually quite amazing how little the general routings and station origins have changed for the descendants of the per-independence trains. Same is true around Kolkata between SER (ex BNR) and ER (ex-EIR Howrah and ex-BAR Sealdah)

Edited by jis

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On ‎11‎/‎26‎/‎2018 at 5:25 PM, caravanman said:

As to why I like long distance train travel, I can't say exactly... something about everyone on the train being in a state of flux, away from their norm, and perhaps also the notion that I am free, I can't be called upon, I am now seperate from everyday life, part of another (train passengers) society...?

This is brilliant Ed, you've captured it.

Hope you travel India again, it's very enlightening, thank you

 

Edited by v v

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As always Ed, a fantastic and well written trip report with a lot of humour. Love the photographs. I don't think I'll ever ride the Indian trains. All those crowded places and as you said, "no personal space" is very off-putting.

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Some questions for you Ed.

What are you paying for an overnight 12-24? hour train journey in 2nd Class, and what is the comparable 1st Class cost and how does 1st Class differ from what you have shown us here?

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Some questions for you Ed.

What are you paying for an overnight 12-24? hour train journey in 2nd Class, and what is the comparable 1st Class cost and how does 1st Class differ from what you have shown us here?

It looks like Ed traveled mostly by AC 2 Tier Sleeper (AC2). There is a cheaper AC 3 Tier Sleeper (AC3). And then there is non-AC 3 Tier Sleeper (SL), (and a special lowly brand of it on Garib Rath Expresses, which is a little cheaper yet), which is the cheapest Sleeper accommodation available. Even less expensive is unreserved General Second Class (GS), which is not recommended for the faint of heart.

Indian Railways does not have any non-AC 1st Class in circulation. The only overnight accommodation Class above AC 2 Tier is AC 1st Class (AC1) which is more than twice the cost of AC 2 Tier, and you get a berth in shared compartments. There is no accommodation where you can have a compartment to yourself, except by chance.

For day trains there is non-AC Chair Cars, non AC 2nd Class, AC Chair Car (3x2 seating) and AC Executive Class (2x2 seating).

Also the fares even in the same class differ depending on what class of train you are traveling by. Fares are lowest on passenger trains, followed by mail/express trains followed super-fast trains followed by special class trains (e.g. Rajdhani or Shatabdi) in order of rising fares.

So other than the general rule of thumb that AC is double or more of non AC and AC 1 double or more of AC Sleeper, it is hard to tell. It is even harder to tell for the class of trains that have yield managed fares, usually the more prestige trains.

 

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A large group of orientals

By the way, people from the East are now know as Asian, not Oriental. I grew up in Japan and no one told me until some Asian American who never lived in the Orient told me "Oriental" was racist.

Sheesh. How to survive in this world...

This is a trip I highly look forward to taking someday. Wife isn't interested one bit. I want to go from Kanyakumari to the train fields in Darjeeling narrow gauge country... 

Edited by VentureForth

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In the recent past, the term Oriental has very rarely been used to refer to people of South Asia. The usage mostly seems to be with reference to East Asia, which is very different from South Asia in every way imaginable - racially, culturally, linguistically etc.

In the past even the Middle East and South Asia was referred to as the Orient, but that usage has fallen out of favor over many decades back, and the term has been reserved almost exclusively for East Asia.

The racial connotation associated with the term probably has its origins in Edward Said's tome on Orientalism, which actually refers to mostly the middle east, incidentally.

Here are two informative references on the subject:

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-tsuchiyama-oriental-insult-20160601-snap-story.html

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=oriental

I guess caravanman's imperialistic slip is showing :lol:

Edited by jis

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1 hour ago, jis said:

It looks like Ed traveled mostly by AC 2 Tier Sleeper. There is a cheaper AC 3 Tier Sleeper. And then there is non-AC 3 Tier Sleeper, (and a special lowly brand of it on Garib Rath Expresses, which is a little cheaper yet), which is the cheapest Sleeper accommodation available. Even less expensive is unreserved General Second Class, which is not recommended for the faint of heart.

Indian Railways does not have any non-AC 1st Class in circulation. The only overnight accommodation Class above AC 2 Tier is AC 1st Class, which is more than twice the cost of AC 2 Tier, and you get a berth in shared compartments. There is no accommodation where you can have a compartment to yourself, except by chance.

For day trains there is non-AC Chair Cars, non AC 2nd Class, AC Chair Car (3x2 seating) and AC Executive Class (2x2 seating).

Also the fares even in the same class differ depending on what class of train you are traveling by. Fares are lowest on passenger trains, followed by mail/express trains followed super-fast trains followed by special class trains (e.g. Rajdhani or Shatabdi) in order of rising fares.

So other than the general rule of thumb that AC is double or more of non AC and AC 1 double or more of AC Sleeper, it is hard to tell. It is even harder to tell for the class of trains that have yield managed fares, usually the more prestige trains.

Sorry, what does AC stand for?

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Thanks for the replies.

I was not aware that "Oriental" was an offensive  description.  No offence was intended, I simply had no idea. My original post on Indiamike has been read by almost 6,000 people, no one else has mentioned my faux pas, so maybe it is mostly a USA concept?  I have changed it to "eastern" now, hope that is ok?

Good luck with your plans to travel in India. I have visited Kanyakamari and Shimla, but not Darjeeling.

Physically, the first class coaches have a side corridor, like many European trains. There are 4 berth cabins, similar to the "City Night Line" German trains, and also 2 berth cabins, called "coupes". The cabins are constructed of solid material, rather than just being curtained off from each other as in 2A/C. They have a sliding door, which can be bolted from the inside. The layout is 2 lower berths each side, and two upper berths.  The coupe has one lower and one upper.

The Rajdhani trains are one of the faster services, food is included, and for example the fare between Mumbai and Delhi, overnight, taking around 16 hours is just under £30 at today's conversion rates for A/C 2 class, and just over £50 for first class A/C.

A lesser train, such as the one I took from Chennai to Bikaner recently, took 2 nights, 44 hours, and the fare in A/C 2 was £37, and £63 in 1A/C.  Food not included, but a decent lunch or dinner on a tray cost only £1.50 or so.

(The £ to Rupee rate has fallen back just recently, my fares were a £1 or two cheaper due to better currency conversion rate.)

The first class experience is not in any way a "deluxe" one. I think folk use it to get a bit more personal space, rather than any extra cleanliness or maybe in hope to travel with others of their "social class".  The first class Rajdhani type trains are a lot nearer to good train standards elsewhere than the ordinary first class in express.

One cannot "book" the specific berths in first class, you buy your ticket, and your seat will be allocated a few hours before the train departs. This is because some berths are held back for VIP travellers, such as local politicians. 

I think the A/C 2 is fine for the immersive Indian experience, much as coach works for me on Amtrak.

As mentioned, Indian train fares on the better faster trains rise as more seats are sold. I was able to avail of the "senior fare discounts" in previous years, but these are now stopped for foreigners... seems fair enough.

Indeed A/C 2 means air conditioned 2nd class.

 

Ed,

 

Edited by caravanman

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I've always considered AC2 to be the way I'd travel. AC1 seems to boring, and AC3 seems to chaotic. Either way, AC is probably a direct requirement.

I am worried about going later rather than sooner. It seems that between exchange rates and other factors, it won't be as much a bargain in 20 years as it is today.  But, alas, I must pay my corporate dues.

BTW, your reaction to the "O" word (sheesh) is still mine today. Too many get their feelings hurry too easily. For the record, I am not offended by it in any way. I find it a descriptor between the far and near East Asian population groups. 

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