Second Annual Great Circular Indian Railway Challenge

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#1 Mar 7th, 2011, 14:09
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Inspired by the success of the Great Circular Indian Railway Challenge, I am pleased to announce the Second Annual Great Circular Indian Railway Challenge (SAGCIRC).

Proposed starting date is 3rd March 2012. The later start will mean slightly warmer conditions at the northern points such as Udhampur, and slightly lower costs in the south at Kovalam, as the tourist season will be winding down. If there is a compelling reason to do so, we could start a week earlier, on 25th February. A Saturday start will get us into Mumbai on Sunday, as explained below.

Proposed finishing date is 21st March, the Spring Equinox. The 19-day tour will allow efficient use of a 21-day IndRail pass, with an extra couple of days on the pass to allow for travel to and from the starting/ending point. Also will fit with 21-day excursion flight packages.

There will be a Circular Journey Ticket option, for those who are residents of India, with both 2A and 3A fares available.

The route will be essentially the same as the GCIRC, with a few modifications, based on the recommendations of Mark and the other veterans.

The tour will start and end in Goa, to allow for a relaxed additional stay before and/or after. Goa could also be "base camp" for family members who might want to come to India but not do the tour.

There are two main themes for the SAGCIRC:

1. TSE = Touch Some Extremities (stations at the end of the line).

2. MRS = Metro Rail Solutions (sampling the local transportation options in the four metros).

Some examples of TSE:

1. The tour will actually start at Vasco-da-Gama, the western terminus of the east-west line connecting Goa with Bangalore and Chennai, with a local train ride to Margao. This is for the purists. Others can join at Margao, which is also the ending station.

2. I'd like to include one or more of the following:
- Pathankot/Chakki Bank to Joginder Nagar
- Kalka to Simla "Himalayan Queen"
- Dehradun and/or Rishikesh
- Puri
- other suggestions? Jaisalmer?

Some examples of MRS:

1. We'll take an overnight train from Goa, arriving Panvel on Sunday morning. I'm expecting that the Mumbai local trains won't be quite as crowded on a Sunday.

We take the local train from Panvel to Mumbai CST, where there will be an A/C passenger van waiting, to take us and our luggage to the Elephanta Island dock for a boat ride out to the island; then to the Taj for afternoon tea and a stroll around Gateway of India; then via Churchgate Station, where the purists can catch a local train unencumbered by luggage, to meet up at Mumbai Central for our departure north-bound.

2. In Delhi, I'd like to include a ride on the new metrorail, plus perhaps the circular suburban train route. This may mean an overnight stop.

3. In Calcutta, we'll include a tram ride, a ride on the metro, and the ferry over to Howrah.

4. Not sure yet about Chennai, but I think we may make it an overnight stop, which will allow some time to ride the local trains.

I think the ideal group size is exactly a dozen.

In terms of costs, I envision having a "Lap of Luxury" option, with A/C rooms on the overnight and day-room stops, riding in 1A or 2A, and using taxis; and a "Budget" option, in 3A if using the CJT, non-A/C rooms, and using autorickshaws.

I won't start deciding on specific trains until the new timetable comes out in July. First I want to nail down the stations we're aiming to include.

Who's game for this? I'm definitely on board, and undertake to make it happen.

KS, I'd be honoured if you would agree to be co-pilot.
It's all part of the adventure of travelling!

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#2 Mar 7th, 2011, 15:20
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Originally Posted by Jean-Philipe View Post KS, I'd be honoured if you would agree to be co-pilot.
OMG! No way!!

I am mad ... but not that mad

You have not met Nari (Faustus77 on IM) who is the most suitable co-pilot for this. He has great knowledge on railways, hotels and food availabilities. He was lamenting not having done the full tour on GCIRC. When we reached Ahemdabad he was trying his best to see if he could somehow book rest of the tour with us ... but it was too late by then.
.
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#3 Mar 7th, 2011, 15:32
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Not to sound pushy on this, but both KS and faustus can do this and be co-pilots as well. being from Bombay (I think?) helps.

I am sure this tour will have more participants as well.
#4 Mar 8th, 2011, 01:30
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Starting and finishing in Goa may prove a very expensive option for UK residents, and even more so for other foreigners, Mumbai is almost always the cheaper option.

You seem to be aiming this tour at rail enthusiasts, this could lead to a very boring tour and you may struggle to attract others.

Whilst planning this tour, the local trains seem like a great addition, however, the reality is that after the first big city, the local trains soon lose their appeal, limited time, heavy luggage, eating and a desire to do something different are the main considerations, also taking a shower on longer stays and finding a good place for a beer.

Unless the Circular Journey Ticket rules have changed, a maximum of 8 breaks of journey are permitted, though there are ways around this rule as breaks of less than 24 hours are not considered as one of the breaks of journey, the very strict rules regarding CJT's may render booking the whole tour on a CJT almost impossible.

Kolkata has it's trams local trains and ferries, yet most of our group were happy to forgo those things for the chance of learning something about Mother Teresa and having some beers at the Fairlawn.

The Kangra Valley Railway is nice, but will only really appeal to hard core rail enthusiasts, it would be very hard work for others.

Panvel on Sunday morning, no local trains from 08:00 till 14:00, I was told this is always the case on a Sunday.

Puri (?) Konnark maybe, but easily done from Bhubaneshwar.

You need to be sure what kind of people you want on this tour, rail enthusiasts or not, for the most part of our tour there were clearly 2 groups who had different ideas of what to do, and this, without effective communication, brings it's own little pressures on the whole group.

And the most important thing, communication at each and every step of the way, and be prepared to accept that one part of the group may want to do something different from another section, this is actually a good thing and keeps everyone happy, as long as everyone knows what's happening.
#5 Mar 8th, 2011, 02:30
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Just hit the home. I'll send my response to this tomorrow.
Delhi-Delhi might be better but it doesnt fit with Narain obv.

Also, Matheran is a world class mountain railway, and the quaintest hill station of the lot.

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#6 Mar 8th, 2011, 10:55
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Steven, Mark:
Thanks for your feedback. The reason I suggest Goa as the start and end point is based on several comments by Mark about the expense of using Mumbai. I was under the (perhaps mistaken) impression that there were charter flights from UK/Europe direct to Goa. Plus, lots of travellers to India do or can include Goa in their travels, so the SAGCIRC could be part of a longer India adventure.

The info about no suburban trains from Panvel on Sunday mornings is very significant. If that is indeed the case, we would want to start one day earlier, and have our Mumbai day adventure on a Saturday.

Steven, could you elaborate a bit about the two types of travellers on the GCIRC? This will help me clarify the target audience for SAGCIRC. As you have noted, "rail enthusiasts" certainly applies to the tour as I have suggested it. (But why would that make for a boring tour?)

As much as possible, I would have the metro local transit excursions be optional, with a "lollygag beside the swimming pool" alternative also available.
#7 Mar 8th, 2011, 11:33
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getting the park-egmore train, something argued about at length in here, was a no brainer. the train is not packed full, even during the peak hours we were using it. note indrailers dont need to buy a ticket.
we managed to wait for someone to reserve a seat from mumbai-delhi, get money out of the atm, cause a bomb scare, walk to park and also then across egmore, and still beat the rickshaw people.

If I was doing it again I'd do Delhi-Delhi, but make sure that there is a mumbai commuter day, where you get off at Panvel and come into VT and leave by central after catching the train at churchgate up to CSTM.
Udhampur has few redeeming features, unlike everywhere else, but amritsar certainly does, so out of the two I'd say amritsar is more essential of the two if it meant just turning round at jammu if trains were late.
Also, unless someone is going to do the train from darjeeling all the way down (i.e it's fixed and they like spending 8 hours on a narrow gauge), then I would trade dhemaji for that. on our schedule if we'd have done both (as per original plan) we'd have been utterly knackered. My most sentimental part of the trip was finding that the original cottages at Kovalam are still there under the lighthouse, and I could close my eyes and warp back 30 years. But by far the saddest was how Darjeelings streams and rivers have become, just like Manali, stinking disease laden plastic filled sewers. The town, truth be told, was a dump 30 years ago, but it was a much happier place all the same.


But if you do end up bombay-bombay, i'll be insisting that anyone who has never been to matheran does so, the views on that train are stupendous, way way better than either darjeeling (unless you have a perfectly clear winters day I guess) or shimla. it's such a lovely little place at the top too. I find it harder than ever now to understand why there are no bollywood songs on it.

as for make-up
you may get a higher proportion of indians next time round, but be wary, I had 50 at one stage. obviously none of us lot are ever going to do anything quite like this ever again, but I've had several "can I come" with days to go so I'll send them over to the new thread.
DO NOT agree to bring everyone's tickets, that was a dumb move by me which I never got thanked for by some people, it was very stressful on the lead-up to the trip.
#8 Mar 8th, 2011, 11:35
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#8
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jean-Philipe View Post The info about no suburban trains from Panvel on Sunday mornings is very significant. If that is indeed the case, we would want to start one day earlier, and have our Mumbai day adventure on a Saturday.
A part of Mumbai suburban railway shuts down for a part of the day on Sunday for maintenance. I think they call it Block maintenance. It used to be from 8am to 2pm when i was there. Don't know if it is changed now.
#9 Mar 8th, 2011, 11:37
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Looking at the back-to-back train travel GCIRC plan (that Mark put out even before asking people to join) even I got the impression that this was a rail-fan tour. But the actual crowd was more interested in seeing India (I think); not just the train rides. So objectives and the target crowd must be better matched in future plans.

My own impression/insights from the GCIRC is that:

1) Indian Railways 2AC Berths are a great 'value' substitute for costly Hotel-Stays ; even while moving Miles from one location to another. The FT Passes with no limits except validity period is ideal for that. Wish there was something like that for us Indians. Must write a letter to Mamta Banerjee on that and ask my many Bong friends to sign that petition.

2) The 'sightseeing bits' that we had on GCIRC, as day-time breaks (at Dwarka, Rameshwaram, Margerita, Kovalam) were really enjoyed by most folks on the tour. Thats the component that can be added more (and even pre-planned) if total time permits. Having Buses/Taxis waiting for us at such tourist spots for pick-up and drop-off will be great (like it was at Dwarka and Makhu).

3) Touching the 4 railway corners of India was a nice objective ... but that adds to a lot of on-board time (14 nights in case of GCIRC). So either retain that objective and extend total period to a bit to 21 days OR make it Regional or Main-Tourist-Areas kind of Tour OR chop off North-east beyond Darjeeling.

4) SAGCIRC can turn out to be great value for "First-time" and "Budget" India visitors, especially with 1 or 2 good India-experienced Organiser-Participants on board the group. May be attractive to even Indians, to see India quickly.
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#10 Mar 8th, 2011, 12:50
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the charter flights to Goa only tend to sell flight only seats late on or if not can be horrendously expensive booked way in advance-the tour companies want to sell packages rather than flight only and most of the flights available are only for 2 weeks.
#11 Mar 8th, 2011, 12:56
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#11
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Originally Posted by Mark_Lester View Post getting the park-egmore train, something argued about at length in here, was a no brainer. the train is not packed full, even during the peak hours we were using it. note indrailers dont need to buy a ticket.
we managed to wait for someone to reserve a seat from mumbai-delhi, get money out of the atm, cause a bomb scare, walk to park and also then across egmore, and still beat the rickshaw people.
This is perhaps the best example of why good communication is by far the most important thing on a tour like this, here's the same situation from another point of view.

We all arrive at Chennai Central station, 12 days of trains behind us, just got off a 27 hour train, we're told we'll all walk to Park station and get a local train for just 1 station, it's 5:15pm on a weekday, the alternative is a door to door auto for Rs17 each, for non rail fans, it was perhaps the easiest no brainer of the tour.

First, I've used Park station about 6 times (when I stayed in south Chennai) and whilst it isn't a long walk to Central station, it isn't fun when you have a backpack in the rush hour.

OK, the local train wasn't busy, but when you're standing in Central station at 5:15pm, you wouldn't bet any large amount of money on the local train being quiet, and 17/18 extra people with backpacks.....................

We agreed to meet at the main entrance of Chennai Egmore station, this was made clear to avoid any confusion.

We took 5 minutes to walk to the autos, another 3 to arrange and get into the autos, then maybe 7 minutes to get to Egmore, about 15 minutes and we were all waiting outside the main entrance of Egmore station, then we waited, and waited and waited, after about 30 minutes I decided to go and look around some of the smaller entrances, and another of the group went to look inside the station, when I got back to the main entrance I was told that the other group were in the upper class waiting room taking showers, it's fair to say that some members of the group weren't happy that none of the other group thought to tell those waiting outside.

As far as I'm aware, the Indrail passes are not valid on the local trains, I spent considerable time (a few years ago) being passed from 1 employee to the next before being told by a manager that the pass was not valid on local trains. (this was in |Chennai)
#12 Mar 8th, 2011, 13:58
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#12
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Originally Posted by Jean-Philipe View Post Steven, could you elaborate a bit about the two types of travellers on the GCIRC? This will help me clarify the target audience for SAGCIRC. As you have noted, "rail enthusiasts" certainly applies to the tour as I have suggested it. (But why would that make for a boring tour?)
First, when I said boring, I meant for the non rail fans (if the tour is designed for rail fans).

I will try and do a long reply about lessons learned on the first tour, but it may be a few days before I get the time, but a few quick points.

Facebook seems to be the king of places for anything these days, a pity for me as I just don't understand the website.

3 weeks is too long, once we got past 13 days it was noticeable how much many of the group seemed to become quieter, and more withdrawn from the group.

The North East can seem like nothing but problems, it's a long way out of the way, and no mobile or Internet dongles work (unless you have an Assamese address), and this is a very important consideration for many people.

It will be extremely difficult for you to come close to the dedication and hard work put in by Mark, but it is needed, and you'll get no thanks for it, and people will always be looking at you when things don't go according to plan.

Many people who join the tour will not have a clue what is involved, it really shocked me how many members didn't know what train we'd be taking next, how long the journey would take etc.
#13 Mar 8th, 2011, 14:15
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Originally Posted by steven_ber View Post This is perhaps the best example of why good communication is by far the most important thing on a tour like this, here's the same situation from another point of view.

As far as I'm aware, the Indrail passes are not valid on the local trains, I spent considerable time (a few years ago) being passed from 1 employee to the next before being told by a manager that the pass was not valid on local trains. (this was in |Chennai)
OK, so you beat us, did I mention the bomb scare ?. if we'd just gone straight to the station we'd have beaten you easily, and for free.

The pass is valid on ALL indian trains, bar stuf like the toy train, we've been through this several times already. Most of the TTE's had never even seen an Indiarail, so it's not surprising that someone will come out with the usual IR ticket master rubbish, you just have to stand your ground, and NOT get off the train . The rules are written in plain English on the ticket for goodness sake. line 3 I think it is "valid on all trains", backed up by shankar. We booked reservations on the matheran train, and John caught a local into central in 1st class and had his ticket inspected.
IR staff not knowing their own rules is just all part of the fun.

Of course doing it with 18 people might have been a bit different. As I spent the latter 3/4s of the trip desperately, and usually unsuccessfully, trying to detach myself from the 6 in a rickshaw brigade, I was quite happy anyway.
#14 Mar 8th, 2011, 14:28
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#14
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Originally Posted by Mark_Lester View Post The pass is valid on ALL indian trains, bar stuf like the toy train, we've been through this several times already.
You beat me to it. I knew it is valid, but couldn't locate documentation to support it. Of course the IR site doesn't say anything about local trains, but it does say that the pass is valid on the Entire IR network. So DMRC or other Metros that may come up that are not under IR are excluded.
#15 Mar 8th, 2011, 14:35
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#15
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Originally Posted by ks_bluechip View Post Looking at the back-to-back train travel GCIRC plan (that Mark put out even before asking people to join) even I got the impression that this was a rail-fan tour. But the actual crowd was more interested in seeing India (I think); not just the train rides. So objectives and the target crowd must be better matched in future plans.
correct, there were actually no "train-spotters" on the trip. Mick was perhaps the nearest, and he'll kill me for saying that. (I still reckon I caught him taking a picture of a diesel).
The original feedback I got about 5 years ago on IRFCA was "forget it, even we wouldnt try this, you have no chance". Well, sorry guys, thats wrong. It's quite doable, and yet you will end up feeling like you just did something a bit different.


Quote:
1) Indian Railways 2AC Berths are a great 'value' substitute for costly Hotel-Stays ; even while moving Miles from one location to another. The FT Passes with no limits except validity period is ideal for that. Wish there was something like that for us Indians. Must write a letter to Mamta Banerjee on that and ask my many Bong friends to sign that petition.
considerig how rare they are, the woman at the FT counter at chennai hadnt seen on for 6 years, I dont understand why they arent available. You have to do what we did to make it cheaper, it just makes it all so much easier to book.
Quote:
2) The 'sightseeing bits' that we had on GCIRC, as day-time breaks (at Dwarka, Rameshwaram, Margerita, Kovalam) were really enjoyed by most folks on the tour. Thats the component that can be added more (and even pre-planned) if total time permits. Having Buses/Taxis waiting for us at such tourist spots for pick-up and drop-off will be great (like it was at Dwarka and Makhu).
this worked so much better than I had thought. A bus waiting at cape station to do the short trip then zip us off to Nagercoil would have been a great idea. But you need mid teens of course to make it cost effective.
Quote:
3) Touching the 4 railway corners of India was a nice objective ... but that adds to a lot of on-board time (14 nights in case of GCIRC). So either retain that objective and extend total period to a bit to 21 days OR make it Regional or Main-Tourist-Areas kind of Tour OR chop off North-east beyond Darjeeling.
the main reason we needed a rest at Darjeeling was because of the journey up there. As I've already said, the saddest part of the trip, and something I'm still coming to terms with, is the litter up there, it broke my heart tbh. But I'd avoid putting in overnighters to "do it properly". You get 8 hours to check somewhere out then back on the train, if you deviate from that you lose the whole essence of it imho.

Quote:
4) SAGCIRC can turn out to be great value for "First-time" and "Budget" India visitors, especially with 1 or 2 good India-experienced Organiser-Participants on board the group. May be attractive to even Indians, to see India quickly.
the original idea was "there's no one in charge". well it wont happen of course if you dont have a steering committee, and someone actually chairing it. JP is a perfect person to perform that role. I know there are at least 3 indians kicking themselves for not goig for this. You had seen almost everything we were doing and still thoroughly enjoyed it. the snag is the IR pass, but shankar quite obviously does this for indians all the time. note: we were NEVER asked for the matching passport anyway. if you are with a group of foreigners and can pass yourself off as an indian émigré, you are going to be fine. I think the official rule is you have had to have been outside the country for 3 months and then you are legal anyway. i.e it's not just a case of "foreign passport holder anyway". Talk to shanks.
Last edited by Mark_Lester; Mar 8th, 2011 at 18:50..
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