When I was in India on my second solo trip, in January 2001, I visited Mumbai and Goa. After find India more than tough going in 1999 and swearing never to return, I was actually back on my very next trip! I know today that there is no place I could say I’ll never go back to – I’ve even been back to Burkina Faso where I had contracted malaria! Absolutely when it comes to travel, I now say ‘never say never’.
This train journey, another over-nighter, would be a very different experience to every other train experience I’ve had in India, before and after. Why? Well, I went to the amazing train station in Mumbai to buy tickets. Today’s name is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, but history knows it as the Victoria Terminus, one of the most impressive train station facades in the world. Yes, it a hugely a symbol of British colonialism, but it’s huge, and beautiful. And so it was kinda odd that the ticket windows were few and had no queues!
I learnt there that I was unable to go my usual way – in second class. It had been completely sold out, and so I had no choice but to quadruple the cost of the ticket and go first class air-conditioned sleeper. And that’s what made it so different.
For those sticking to a low budget like I have been every time I’ve headed to India, first class is a pretty budget-damaging option. However, if you do have the extra cash up your sleeve, it isn’t a bad way to travel at all. Although all the carriages look pretty much the same from outside, the interior is another story.
The beds have linen, and on this journey at least that linen was white as white can be. There was breakfast too, a pillow, it was very comfortable. Second class is great because you see a whole community come alive in front of your eyes. People with stoves actually cooking on the train. It gets full, it gets hot, people are talking, there’s activity left right and centre. In first class you do miss that, in fact you’ll find a lot of foreigners taking first class. It’s not really that expensive, just comparatively when you’re backpacking and have a tight budget you notice the difference.
The train went on through the night, and the only issue I had was the stopping, which all India trains do. It tends to wake me up and I can’t fall asleep again until we’re moving along at a steady pace. It was a classic leaving in the evening and arriving in the middle of the next day, around lunch time deal. A couple of hours late, but you happily take that in India. I got off the train in Margao, and then took a taxi to Calangute where I was to spend the next four or five nights. Met some nice Canadians on the train too and we ended up sharing the taxi and going to the same guesthouse.
Really, if you have had a couple of second class overnight journeys in India and another sounds like hell to you, splurge on first class. It’s really worth a bit extra if you’re looking for a little comfort and the chance to actually sleep a bit. Today there are fast trains that can do the journey in under 9 hours, or some that can take 16 or more hours if you want to take it slow. The India Rail website has all the information you need. Look for Madgaon or Margao as your arrival station. It’s one beautiful place to another. A great journey, two brilliant spots to visit!