Advice for first-timers

#1 Feb 28th, 2012, 23:59
Join Date:
Jan 2012
  • First7timer is offline
I have just returned from my first trip to India. I found the information and help from this website to be invaluable. I thought the following notes might be of use to others who are embarking on the Indian rail travel adventure for the first time. I appreciate that this is based entirely on my first-time Indian rail journey in February 2012 on the Netravati Express from Mumbai to Varkala in the south. For background information, the train left Mumbai at 11:30 on a Friday and arrived in Varkala at around 17:00 the following day. Other trains may be different but, for what it's worth, here's my advice:

1. You are quite likely to find yourself in a compartment with a mix of men and women. Donít worry about it because everybody sleeps fully clothed.

2. Take a cable-type bike lock with you to attach your suitcase to the carriage. There are said to be loops of some sort below the bottom berths for the purpose but I didnít find any so locked my bag to the brackets holding up the small table.

3. In an air con 2-tier carriage your berth will include two sheets, one small pillow and one blanket so if youíre likely to want something more substantial on which to rest your head it will be worth carrying an inflatable pillow.

4. You will find that the local people want to help you. Itís true that some of them may be of dubious intent so you need to take care and make a judgement on whose advice you accept but my experience was that many of the ordinary passengers wanted to help.

5. Bear in mind that some railway staff speak excellent English while many donít. My experience was that the ticket and enquiry office staff spoke English while it was much less likely that train and catering staff would be fluent.

6. On the train that I travelled on a man came round each morning and afternoon to take orders for meals. Donít expect quality catering. On the other hand, youíll probably pay around 90 Rupees (just over £1) for lunch or dinner. At other times people will pass through the carriage selling food and drinks.

7. Chai isnít merely the Indian word for the drink that we know as tea. It may be chai masala which is a spiced version of the drink. Coffee on the train will be poured from an urn with milk and sugar already added.

8. Donít assume that you will see India from your seat especially if youíre in one of the privileged classes. I travelled air con 2-tier and the carriage had low-level windows that were tinted orange so that it looked as if the sun was setting throughout the day. If you want to see the country, youíll have to stand or sit by an open carriage door.

9. In India, people dispose of rubbish by dropping it. There are bins at the ends of the carriages but if these are full, local people will tell you to throw your rubbish out of the open door. As a consequence, you need to be prepared for the fact that wherever you go, you will see shoals of litter.

10. Many Indian people ask very direct questions: be prepared to be asked ĎWhere you from?í by everybody you meet and even by people you pass in the street. I was asked why I wasnít travelling with my family and a child asked ĎHow old are you?í. It isnít meant to be intrusive although I never figured out whether it was natural curiosity or a desire to practice their English.

11. If you are more than six feet tall, take care when youíre passing from carriage to carriage. The train on which I travelled had a sharp edge of metal at the end of the connecting sections between carriages. As I discovered, bang your head on it and you will bleed.

12. The train I was on stopped for up to 15 or 20 minutes at some stations. It seems normal for people to get off and wander around the platform while waiting for it to move off again. The driver will sound the engineís whistle so youíll get plenty of warning.

13. When you reach your destination youíre likely to find people on the platform who say they want to help but in reality want you to hire them to drive you or want to take you to a hotel where theyíll get commission. In my case, at Varkala, the crowd of people leaving the train was walking to my left. A man tried to persuade me that I needed to go to the right because, he said, that route was shorter. I ignored him and followed the crowd, kept walking, smiled and said I was going my way, not his. He eventually gave up as did two others who tried the same tactic. I believe the key here is to keep walking. Stop to talk and youíll be on the back foot.

14. On a long journey, take: toilet paper (there wonít be any on the train); clean wipes or antiseptic hand gel; drinking water; fruit you can peel such as bananas and oranges; biscuits.
#2 Feb 29th, 2012, 00:06
Join Date:
Apr 2011
UK (mostly) - India (sometimes)
  • Mirjam2 is offline
Excellent and really practical advice, wish someone told me all this before I got on an Indian train (or to India) for the first time.
#3 Feb 29th, 2012, 04:29
Join Date:
Aug 2010
United States
  • DaisyL is offline
Welcome to IndiaMike, First7timer!

I had no idea that you had to so careful on the trains if you are tall! I'm short, so I didn't have to worry about hitting my head. I hope you didn't hurt yourself too badly. Thanks for the practical advice and observations about trains.
#4 Feb 29th, 2012, 08:11
Join Date:
Jan 2009
Perth, Western Australia
  • Keith H is offline
Excellent advice, First7timer. Makes me want to pack the backpack and get on a train trip!
#5 Feb 29th, 2012, 09:33
Join Date:
Mar 2008
Hong Kong
  • hongkonger is offline
Yes, good advice for newbies!

However, I had to say that almost without fail all the trains I travelled on during my recent trip (about 7 or 8 rides, including three overnighters) had an adequate supply of loo paper, even on the long overnight trips! Of course, we always had our own roll handy because of previous experience. Perhaps Southern and South Western Railways take more care??
#6 Feb 29th, 2012, 21:04
Join Date:
Jan 2012
  • First7timer is offline
Thanks Daisy L - actually it hurt a lot when I hit my head but at 6 foot 4 inches I'm used to hitting my head. It wasn't until one of the other passengers told me that I was bleeding that I realised that it was worse than I thought.
#7 Feb 29th, 2012, 21:37
Join Date:
Feb 2012
  • Jotravels is offline
Thank you so much for this post, I have taken note!
#8 Mar 11th, 2012, 02:00
Join Date:
Sep 2011
United Kingdom
  • thepits is offline
Thank you for the info - it all helps for we newbies 3 weeks and counting ....

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