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caravanman

India trip report now updated

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Ed, I was just pulling your leg in my "imperialist" remark. Hope I did not offend you.

Incidentally, there is a standard notation used to identify each class on Indian Railways in specifying Rake/Coach positions (Rake is what is called a Consist in the US). The notation is:

  • A  - AC 3 Tier
  • B - AC 2 Tier
  • C - AC Chair Car
  • D - non-AC Chair Car
  • DX - non-AC Ex Class?
  • E - AC Executive Class Chair Car
  • F non-AC First Class (more or less nonexistent)
  • GS - General 2nd Class
  • H - AC 1st Class
  • L - Locomotive
  • PC - Pantry Car
  • S - non-AC Sleeper (3 Tier)
  • EOG - End on Generator cum Brake - cum Luggage
  • SLR - Second + Luggage + Brake

So for example on indianrailinfo.com the Rake Composition of the Howrah - New Delhi Rajdhani is depicted as:

186107946_HowrahRajdhaniRake.jpg.ce0a8e912ef15f69669fc4bc7113de75.jpg

Notice that it also specifies the locomotive type (WAP7) used, the loco shed it normally is assigned to (HWH - Howrah) and the car type (LHB)

The identity of the cars as shown here also appear on the side of each car and on the electronic car designators on the platform, and on your E-ticket for reserved accommodation. So by the time you get to the station you have very good idea where on the platform your car will be found when the train arrives.

So if my reservation is in AC 1st Class, Coach H1 Berth 12, I know to stand near the middle of the platform under the electronic sign that flashes H1. OTOH if like Ed, I was in AC2 say in Coach A3 Berth 28 I would stand a little bit towards the rear under the sign that reads A3.

There is absolutely no restriction (well except for platform tickets for those not holding a travel ticket at certain large stations) on getting to the platform in India. So you can pretty much go to any platform at any time. So by the time a train arrives, msot passengers are close to the location of their car, and the boarding can proceed through the usual bedlam, instead of people racing up and down the platform looking for their car. With 20 to 26 car long trains, without car positions being known ahead of time, trains would have to dwell at stations forever for eeryone to find their reserved accommodation.

Incidentally, the full information page for 2301 Howrah - New Delhi Rajdhani is at: https://indiarailinfo.com/train/-train-howrah-new-delhi-rajdhani-express-via-gaya-12301/1316/1/378

It is a time marked URL, so I don;t know how long it will continue to work. But if you get to the document reached through it, you will find that it is quite a treasure trove of information on that particular service. There is such a page on indianrailinfo.com for each train operated by Indian Railway, including international trains to Bangladesh and Pakistan.

 

Edited by jis

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Given the speed of change in India over the last 10 years, I imagine it would be much changed in 20 years time, if you have to wait that long to visit. Previously rather isolated from the ills of the west, India is now rushing to catch up, and the unique India of 30 years ago is morphing into an Indian version of the modern world, with all it's problems. If you can visit for even a few weeks, sooner, that would be a chance to see it before it changes even more...

I was slightly surprised by the "Imperialist" jibe, given my well known left-leaning stance, but no offence taken. :D

I do enjoy browsing the indian train websites myself.

The problems sometimes occur when the overhead platform position indicators are not working, as with my recent ride from H.Nizamuddin to Chennai. Asking a porter is a good option, they always know where the richest pickings are to be found...

I notice you missed out the HA1 coach from your list. :P

 

Ed.

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Oh, there are way too many combo types to list HA is a more common one. There also are ABs, CEs and a host of others but they are not as common as HAs, and even less so than SLRs.

Yes, electronic signs not working is a pain.

BTW,  in my recent visit to UK I noticed the digital displays that have been installed in places like Reading which display the consist layout of the train at the platform. This is particularly helpful with the 80x class D/EMU&s since they come in different lengths and orientations, unlike the standard length and orientation of the GWR HSTs. Amtrak could do with something like those given the different orientations in which trains can arrive at a station, provided of course they have a mechanism for diplaying accurate information in a timely manner on such digital displays.

The 80xs also have this neat feature of giving an indication of which cars are how full. I wonder how they get accurate info for that, but each time I used the info it was pretty accurate.

 

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Sadly, I seem to know more about Amtrak and Indian trains than I do the current UK services. It is the travel itself that I enjoy, although the hardware is of interest too. I guess travel abroad is always going to have more allure for me than domestic train travel, although I do use the UK trains whenever I can.

How long were you in the UK, where did you get to on this visit?

Do you enjoy your time in the UK, how do you find us as a country, major differences noticed compared to the US?

 

Ed

 

 

Edited by caravanman

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2 hours ago, caravanman said:

Do you enjoy your time in the UK, how do you find us as a country, major differences noticed compared to the US?

Waiting to read this too, interesting questions

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On 11/26/2018 at 10:25 AM, caravanman said:

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. 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...

My only connection among those particular countries is Thailand, which doesn't have much in the way of a passenger rail network.  It exists but it's slow, tedious, and undependable.  The roads are improving but flying remains the primary method for getting around.  On the plus side there is a lot of amazing food, inexpensive resorts, and the most amazing bone cracking muscle crushing massage.  For me visiting other countries started out simple enough.  Where I live foreign land is closer than the nearest neighboring state so it was a natural course of action. 

Long haul travel was somewhat less natural and started out as a lark.  On that first long haul trip I was pretty wrecked by jet lag and just living on the other side of the planet, but it sparked a curiosity that has yet to be fully extinguished.  Like you I keep thinking each long haul trip might be my last but the following year I'm back at it again.  Maybe India needs to be added to my list before I run out of time and energy.  I'm not sure I can do any more long haul coach though.  I guess they call it premium economy now but it's basically standard coach dimensions from a few years ago.  In any case it's become so uncomfortable that it's genuinely debilitating to me.

 

On 12/2/2018 at 4:37 AM, caravanman said:

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?

Where I live "Oriental" is not generally considered an overtly offensive word so much as an outdated term, kind of like Occidental.  In other words I would be somewhat surprised if a Millennial said it but wouldn't really notice if a Boomer said it.  For me "Eastern" isn't offensive so much as confusing.  East of what and of whom?  Knowing that we live on a sphere terms like East and West are interchangeable without context.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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I got a gentle "heads up" that maybe "oriental" was not in current usage, and also heard that the person who told me was not themselves offended by it's use.

No need for further discussion, let's all be nice...

Ed.

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3 hours ago, caravanman said:

I got a gentle "heads up" that maybe "oriental" was not in current usage, and also heard that the person who told me was not themselves offended by it's use.

No need for further discussion, let's all be nice...

Ed.

I agree. We all know what you mean and that you’re saying it thoughtfully and in good faith, so it isn’t worth it or necessary to continue discussing it.

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On 12/2/2018 at 5:37 AM, caravanman said:

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

Strictly speaking AC2 means AC 2 Tier, as opposed to AC3 which means AC 3 Tier.  Of course, AC1 means AC First Class and not AC 1 Tier :lol:

As far as "class" goes, both are Second Class. India did away with third class a long time back, about 15 years after independence. First to go was Inter Class soon after independence AFAIR. And next went Third Class. That is also the point when all Sleepers got some amount of padding on the berths. Before that Third Class Sleepers had berths with no padding at all.

Indeed IIRC back then 2 Tier Sleeper was considered Second Class with padding, and 3 Tier was considered Third Class with no padding. Back then there were no AC second or third class Sleepers. The 2 Tier non-AC Sleepers have been withdrawn. The only Second Class AC were Chair Cars, which were to be found only on the three AC Express services (also known as De-Luxe Express)  between New Delhi and Howrah, Bombay Central and Madras Central, later a fourth was added to Amritsar, by extending the Bombay Central and Howrah trains past New Delhi to Amritsar. They were all twice a week trains back then, and they carried a very nice AC Restaurant Car, which was a twin Kitchen-Restaurant unit in the latter days, before Restaurant Cars were completely withdrawn and replaced by Pantry Cars and at seat food service.

On Rajdhanis and such the food in AC1 is definitely superior to AC2 or AC3, with one extra course. And when things go wrong, you also get treated much better. Other than that, yeah it is just more space, and occasionally opportunity to rub shoulders with the hoi polloi, and usually much cleaner toilets through the journey.

21 hours ago, caravanman said:

How long were you in the UK, where did you get to on this visit?

Do you enjoy your time in the UK, how do you find us as a country, major differences noticed compared to the US?

I was in the UK for a week. I overnighted each day in London at my oft used hotel in the Russell Square area and went on day trips each day. I will write up a separate report on it, since the trips were numerous, and that would just hijack this thread if posted here.

I immensely enjoy the British Rail system, which is actually a system that can be used in general to get from anywhere to anywhere in the UK, unlike the situation in the US.

Being a child of erstwhile loyal subjects of the last King (Queen Elizabeth missed being the Queen of India by a couple of years, though Pakistan did manage to have her as their Queen for a couple of years) from an erstwhile Dominion (for a bit over two years) and Colony, where the parting of ways was amazingly cordial, considering everything, I guess I inherently feel more at home in the UK than the US, even though I have lived in the US most of my life. Conversely, the Brits are also more at home with South Asians than the Americans, specially in the sticks are. As for how friendly they are or not, in general South Asians (specially from India and Bangladesh) appear to be more integrated in Britain than in the US. Fundamentalist Muslims from Pakistan and such are a different matter, as far as I have heard, though I have no personal experience with them since I don't know any myself. But familiarity also breeds contempt and one sees that off and on in Britain, but that is no different from anywhere else.

Our family's connection with the UK runs over several generations, which might have an impact on my attitude towards the UK too. One of my Grand Uncles went to University of Glasgow for his Masters degree in Civil Engineering. My Aunt who was the first lady Plastic Surgeon in India got her training in Plastic Surgery in the UK. Two Uncles got their graduate degrees in Civil Engg and Economics respectively in the the UK, and the Unitarian Bramho Samaj that I grew up in was closely linked with the Unitarians in the UK dating back to the times of the founder of the Bramho Samaj, Raja Rammohan Roy. So I am probably not a typical Indian to gauge general opinion of the UK among Indian ex-pats.

Long winded answer, but I usually enjoy my visits to the UK a lot. If I could have gotten enough funding to go to graduate school in the UK, I would have chosen it over the US. Fellowships and Assistantships covering my full cost clinched it for the US and New York State :)

Edited by jis

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Indeed you are 100% correct about 2 A/c, and 3 A/c refering to the number of berths, not the "class".

Glad you feel an affinity with the UK, and enjoy your visits here. It was a personal view that I was after, how you yourself felt when visiting, and how you felt you were treated, rather than any general Indian ex-pat opinion.

I look forward to reading your trip report!

Ed

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18 minutes ago, VentureForth said:

Have you any experience with travel into Bangladesh from India?

Not yet. But it has become easier since last year, to travel by rail since they now accept Visa on Arrival into Bngladesh by the Kolkata - Dhaka Maitree Express. There is no check at the border anymore. All Customs and Immigration processing happens at Kolkata International and Dhaka Cantonment stations. Also, if traveling from India one can get E-Tickets from IRCTC (the standard IR Reservation System) on the internet for the round trip. The Visa on Arrival facility is not available on the other cross border train, the Kolkata - Khulna Bandhan Express yet, and the Bangladesh border inspection happens at the border at Benapole. The Indian inspection is at Kolkata International.

The train now runs four times a week, soon to go to six I am told, and it is now fully air conditioned 4 AC Chair Cars (like in Shatabdis in India) and 4 AC First Class (like in Rajdhanis in India), and it uses the new LHB Coaches, one consist supplied by Indian Railways and one by Bangladesh Railways.

There is still a five minute stop at the border at Darshana on the Bangladesh side to switch engines from an Indian Railways WDM-3A to a Bangladesh Railway WDM-2, on the way to Dhaka, and of course reverse on the way back to Kolkata.

I know people who have done the trip recently and they say that it is almost like just any other train trip, though the C&I processing can take upto an hour at each end.

By Air there dozens of flights from various points in India to Dhaka, and it is just lie any other random international travel in South/South-East Asia (except those involving Pakistan). There is Visa on Arrival available and has been for quite a while now at Dhaka, and the various Indian international airports.

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3 hours ago, VentureForth said:

Have you any experience with travel into Bangladesh from India?

I have never been to Bangladesh. I gather there are relatively fewer tourists, and it is perhaps not as developed as India... Maybe a bit like India was 20 or so years back...?

Being a Moslem country I guess there are some things to be aware of...

Ed.

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1 minute ago, caravanman said:

Being a Moslem country I guess there are some things to be aware of...

What does that mean?

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49 minutes ago, cpotisch said:

What does that mean?

It could mean different things to different people...

Broadly speaking, wearing skimpy clothing, drinking alcohol, carrying on as one would at home may "upset" folk in a predominantly Moslem country.

 

Ed

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It could mean different things to different people...
Broadly speaking, wearing skimpy clothing, drinking alcohol, carrying on as one would at home may "upset" folk in a predominantly Moslem country.
 
Ed

Bangladesh is actually more like West Bengal than a stereotypical Muslim country. Whatever works in Kolkata and suburbs should pretty much work fine in Dhaka or Chittagong. One should be more circumspect in the rural hinterlands.

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I was going to say -

It was part of the British carving of religious people groups into Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.  But whereas I don't think I would step foot in Pakistan, I think Bangladesh is a bit more approachable.  But I don't know.  I did read what jis eluded to that there are now rail crossings between India and Bangladesh.

I know I'm REALLY straying off topic here, but I was surprised to see that there were some street view images of Myanmar!  For such a closed country, that really surprised me.  I wonder if rail goes there?

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Bangladesh is not Pakistan, but there were recent reports of up to 50 people, online bloggers and similar, being killed for "speaking out".

If I wanted to visit I would not be concerned, but just be aware.

I visited Mayanmar in 1984, and enjoyed the train ride from Rangoon to Mandalay.

As far as I know, there is no passenger rail option to enter or leave Mayanmar by rail.

Although tourism was frowned upon for many years, recently the country was thought to be moving towards a democratic stance, and tourism was seen as acceptable and desirable to help bring in cash.

The recent Rohinga killings might give folk pause for thought.

 

Ed.

Edited by caravanman

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Bangladesh has an underground Islamic fundamentalist movement with a political front party (BNP). There is occasional strife around that, but typically foreigners are not the target of anything.

Similarly India has multiple local groups agitating for something or the other which leads occasionally to bombing of trains or such. Just last week there was an incident in Assam on a train involving a small IED, which resulted in 11 injuries. Again the target was not foreign visitors, indeed it being in an area where foreign visitors require special permit to go to.

In the past there have been Naxalite (extremist communist) attacks on the Kolkata - Mumbai main line via Nagpur, the worst of which leading to derailment of an express train causing dozens of deaths.

I understand UK has had similar issues from time to time too.

But none of these are really cause for not visiting. It is important to be aware of the local news, and if you are not sure be very conservative and follow the advise of the US State Department. I generally don't do so myself, since I usually know more about the finer details than the State Department seems to, or at least cares to share. They are way more conservative, and rightly so, than I am. Being fluent in the local languages without any odd accent, and not standing out in a crowd as different has its advantages.

Cross border passenger service between India and Bangladesh is likely to increase considerably over the coming years, unless something unexpected comes out of the elections that are imminent in Bangladesh. For example if BNP wins then all bets are off, and Bangladesh might head the way of Pakistan. One hopes that such a thing won't come to pass, but one never knows. Anyway, current plans call for opening up three more border crossings and even running a train across Bangladesh from Kolkata to Agartala (Tripura) which will reduce the journey time to as little as 12 hours from the current 36 hours.

Currently Myanmar has no rail connections - freight or passenger - with any of its neighbors. Historically the only link that existed - built by the Japanese during the second world war, with Thailand over the so called "Death Railway" across the famous Bridge on the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi in Thailand, and then up through Nam Tok (current terminus of the Thai Rail service), across the Three Pagodas Pass, connecting to the Burmese Railway network at Moulmein in Myanmar.

Incidentally, at present there are two cross border train routes between India and Pakistan, both involving a change of trains at a border station:

  • The Amritsar - Lahore route involving a train change at Atari (Punjab, India) from the Indian train to a Pakistani train. This is the route of the Samhouta Express.
  • The Jodhpur - Hyderabad (Sindh) route involving a train change at Munabao (Rajasthan, India) from an Indian train (Link Express from Jodhpur) to a Pakistani train (Thar Express to Karachi)
Edited by jis

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15 hours ago, caravanman said:

It could mean different things to different people... Broadly speaking, wearing skimpy clothing, drinking alcohol, carrying on as one would at home may "upset" folk in a predominantly Moslem country.

Typical American/British tourists can upset citizens of other countries for all sorts of reasons, in all sorts of ways, regardless of the local religion or lack thereof.  I would say the primary difference is that in Muslim countries the likelihood of prosecution and the potential severity of the punishment can be greatly increased.  Many people consider Muslim countries to be extremely regressive, and many of them truly are, but some Muslim countries have developed a different set of rules and expectations for non-Muslims that may spare you any serious trouble so long as your indiscretions are private and do not involve any Muslim participants.  That actually seems like a somewhat progressive and pragmatic approach to handling cultural schisms with regard to moral and ethical standards.  In those cases Muslim citizens are able to expect conservative dress and behavior in public while Christian tourists are allowed to relax into their own cultural attitudes and attire when they arrive back at their hotel.  The only problem with this setup is that some or all of the dividing line may be de facto instead of de jure.

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