The sheer volume of people places huge pressure of every aspect of every journey. As a western visitor, or as one of India’s growing wealthy classes, it is possible to sidestep some of the crowds, but doing this throughout a visit misses the opportunity to sample real India.
Our opportunity came in the form of an invitation to visit friends in Vellore while staying in Bangalore just over 200 km away. “An easy train journey, just come for the day”.
The first challenge is getting a ticket. The number of travellers mean that you can’t just turn up and travel, and buying a ticket means you seem to need to talk to most of the 1.4 million people employed by Indian Railways. You need to find the right booking office. You need to pick a train, there a lots of choose from. You need to pick a class of travel, it’s not just first or second. You need to decide if you want a confirmed booking or just to be wait-listed. All these decisions should be easy, but everyone involved in the transaction has an opinion, as do lots of bystanders. “First Class air-con.Very comfortable”.
Eventually we find our way through the station crowds, a mix of travellers and others apparently just milling around watching the travellers, and start to negotiate the complexities of the ticketing scheme. We identify a train. We decide on “non air-con”, previous experience telling us that air-con means you can’t see out of the windows. We even get a confirmed ticket for at least part of the journey. Success.
We haven’t got anywhere yet, but we’ve managed the first step of being an independent traveller in India.