Taming the Iron Tiger

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we hit India with nothing planned or booked except for our first nights accommodation and one flight. Our plan is to get around India using the railways. From my past experience the trains were an experience unto themselves, but were fairly easy to navigate and a fun way to travel and meet locals.

Now we had a plan and that involved 3 cross country train journeys to get us to our end point in Delhi. Now we had read that you should book in advance but we were not too rushed to do so, we’re traveling, its just one of those things you get to! Well that might have been the wrong attitude, we had taken a couple of trains already in 2nd class which is the lowest class of travel, but the journeys were no more than a couple of hours, so for the longer journeys we knew we needed AC and a bed, as the shortest was going to be 12 hours and the longest about 18hrs.

It was when we got to Varkala and Steph tried to book on line that we realized very quickly that there were waitlists for all trains we wanted, for all classes that have a bed with or without AC….Ooopsie! Steph was shocked at why everything was waitlisted or sold out, it’s not high season here ‘why are so many people traveling?’ my response was there is 1.2 billion people in the country!!! That may not have gone down so well!! Anyway a statistic we later learn is that in the month of March 33 million people had traveled on the railways….we were in trouble!! The situation obviously frustrated us and we were annoyed at ourselves for being a little too blasé. Let’s just say for the next couple of days we went through plan B through H.

After these shenanigans over the internet, we decided to deal with it directly at the station. Now if you are a potential employer this is where you should be paying attention as for the next 4 hours I watched Steph in all her glory kicking ass and taking names. From the moment we arrived at the station in Varkala she was not going to be defeated, she was going to tame the India Railway System; she had the look of determination and the relish of the challenge! I was happy to sit back and watch the tale unfold, I was on luggage duty.

From the first queue she got in there was no stopping her. Have you ever experienced being on the wrong side of Steph when she is on a mission? Well one Indian man was killed a thousand times over when he tried to cut the queue and talk over her at Varkala station, I watched him sidle up to the counter, but the rest on the Indians in the queue being too nice said nothing, he nudged next to Steph, her head turned slowly she gave him a look, he paused and then stepped back! That’s my girl!

In Varkala station she found the reservation office, she went in armed with the 3 possible routes and 6/7 possible trains we wanted to get us from Mumbai to Varanasi and back again, all these trains were waitlisted online by the way, she emerged with that glint of success, our preferred route from plan D had availability for at least one of the trains with AC, but we had no time to book as our train south was due in 10mins, this booking would have to wait until Trivandrum our next stop en route to Kovalam.

Once in Trivandrum we head for the reservation office, have you ever been to the DMV in NYC or the Job centre in the UK? Imagine that busier and hotter, although to be fair more people spoke English here that at the DMV!! It had a number system so we took our ticket 825, they were on 617……It was going to be a while!

This office was like the coliseum and Steph was a Gladiator going out to battle. She decided to go to the enquiry counter to get the information on the second train we needed. She got in the queue (line for you Americans) and patiently waited, she got to the counter and I lost her in the throng.

Every now and then I would see her head, holding her ground and standing firm against the crowd around her, remember the guy who tried to cut in at Varkala, one man was killed a thousand times over by the look, Steph was holding firm so much even the counter clerk did not try and deviate from the conversation. She came back with a glint in her eye, she was enjoying it, she sensed victory and no one was going to stop her. I pointed out a Chief reservation officer’s office, she headed off to get the availability checked we were all good space in AC on both, now it was just a matter of getting to the counter in a hope that two of the 33 million travelers don’t beat us to it!

Luckily the waiting time was actually not as bad as the numbers suggested; Steph was in the queue with her number about 40mins after we got there. I watched from across the room in case there were any problems, apart from a man who tried to barge in and got the look, the exchange seemed to be going well. She left the window and came back, she smiled! She had tamed the Railways!