We have to get from Amritsar to Delhi where we are based on National Immunisation Day. There are three ways open to us to do this: coach, plane or train. There really is no choice however because to travel by train in India is more than “to travel", it is to experience the largest railway system in the world and it is quite something.
The one disadvantage of catching the train is that our Shatabdi Express (the word express is used loosely when compared to its use in the UK) is that it leaves Amritsar at 5 a.m and takes just over 6 hours to cover the 449km at an average speed of 71 km/hr (44 mph). The ordinary express train which leaves 15 minutes later takes around 8 hours. Whilst the plane leaves at a more reasonable 10 am it has a 15kg luggage restriction which would be a problem.
Although it is only 430am when we arrive, as in most countries, railways re a 24 hour operation and the station is fairly busy.
Pedal Rickshaws are awaiting the inbound train
and one of the halls is being used as a dormitory - there are often long gaps between trains and despite its overall superb efficiency, it is not unknown for trains to be very late for one reason or another.
Being a Shatabi Express, all our train does is to shuttle backwards and forwards between Amritsar and Delhi. Our morning express to Delhi becomes the afternoon express back to Amritsar.
It is waiting for passengers
and freight to be loaded
and with an efficiency which is not matched by any other railway system we know of, pasted to the outside of each carriage is a list of the passengers for this train and where they are seated.
The amount of personal space inside the carriage is much more than in lower classes of train,
it is almost as good as sitting in airline business class many years ago.
For those interested in toilets, both varieties exist
although the waste discharges straight onto the tracks. We found having our own toilet paper, hand wipes and hand disinfectant useful if only to try to prevent us from catching a local stomach bug.
One of the features of a Shatabdi Express is that you are promised a meal appropriate to the time of day during your journey. A 5 am departure means breakfast. We were somewhat sceptical of the possible quality what we might get - totally wrong, it was quite astonishing
Known as Meals on Wheels, having first been given a bottle of water,
a breakfast tray arrives with the menu on it.
Everything is detailed and the numbers of how many of each you will get is listed. Being India, there is a lot of choice for Vegetarians although the Non-Vegetarian option seemed to be meat free.
We started off with Tea / Coffee and biscuits
the tea is the usual sweet milky kind favoured in India.
then Cornflakes with hot milk.
The tray has a great variety of things on it including bread
with a history lesson about
the two slices inside the packet.
The vegetarian cutlet looked a bit anaemic but was perfectly edible. It appeared to us that at each station we stopped at, the train loaded the next course or unloaded the empties from an earlier course.
Based upon sampling a single meal, we can recommend it.
As we got closer to Delhi, more and more people
were living on the platforms of stations we went through
or in shanty towns beside the tracks.
Although we did not know it then,
this was a lifestyle we were to become familiar with on Vaccination Day which for us was the day after tomorrow.
We we got off the train at Delhi, we were descended upon by numerous porters who obviously know that western travellers are a more likely source of business than local people and also that they are likely to get paid more.
Delhi Railway Station is very large and there seemed to be about 40 platforms, hence the walk to get outside of the station is long. Porters get paid by the case and therefore they try to grab as many as possible. Each of these cases weighs in at around 23 kg - you think about walking with 46 kg on your head and a case in each hand!
Our train arrived exactly on time - it was an interesting, comfortable and enjoyable journey. Train travel in India is something which every traveller should experience. The last time we came were were on an Express Train (the next class down) so now we have been on the top two classes of train. It would be interesting to travel on one of the lowest classes next time.