Hooray for Bombay

So, after some typical dithering from yours truly about where we are going to start this from, I’ve ended up back at Mumbai. Everything is still work in progress, but I need an excuse to make a second post and my first proper facebook spam, so here goes.


Photo by Nimboo

We have our first candidate from the superior sex to have put themselves up for the entire route!. The full circle gang is now up to 7, I think it’s going to end up several times bigger than that at this rate.

We have a start date of the evening of Saturday February 19th, 2011 at Mumbai Central Station. We ‘ll end up back at the famous VT, pictured above, 2 weeks and a couple of hours later, “round about midnight”. Well , of course, that’s what the plan says.

There are several reasons for including Delhi, even though it’s not on the edge of the network as Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai obviously all are being ports. There’s a major Railway Children project there, the routes going through it are several orders of magnitude more reliable than the more northerly ones direct to Mordadbad from Jammu, and I’m hoping we can get a large posse to join us in Delhi to do the Assam section.

We’ve also factored in a contingency day at New Jalpaiguri, so despite my previous stance that we wouldnt be doing any toy trains other than at Tipong, we might get the chance to do a wee bit as this is the start of the Darjeeling Railway. But there’s absolutely no way we’ll be going all the way up to Darjeeling and back on the train, it would take 2 valuable days. But we may get to do it one way, or at least a section, during the contingency day (if we’re not spending it catching up) and provided there are enough of us as we’re going to have to charter a train. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society do this kind of thing in the early months of the year.
My “CTO” is currently enjoying the delights of moving house, so I can’t get the new route signed off as yet. There’s a bone of contention regarding going via Delhi we need to resolve, and we are just having to come to terms with the concept that some of us will be insisting on 1st class if and when it’s available.



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24 responses to “Hooray for Bombay

  1. I think this is a great idea. Looking forward to see how it pans out

  2. skk

    great pic of VT aka Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus ( Marathi:छत्रपती शिवाजी टर्मिनस ) – so long as English translations / romanisations are provided I reckon its pretty ok to use subcontinent language fonts, right ?

    ummm, can you put a blurb up right up there, at the front,saying what exactly this great Circular India Rail challenge is ? Putting myself in other non rail-fan people’s shoes I don’t think its totally clear – for example something along the lines of : “We welcome people to join us for some or all the time on a 2 week railway trip that goes along the perimeters of India” – as a byline.

    Great pic and this all looks really good – Assam is going to be challenge.

    I’ll probably tell people about this blog sometime Sunday onwards.

  3. Lester

    Thanks SKK, I will stick up a “we welcome all creeds and cultures” bit right at the top of the About page, and else where, asap. In fact I’ll make it clear that no-one on this trip, bar VSP Guru, who is just a lightweight part timer, is actually a fully fledged member of the league of train-spotters as things stand. And the more this takes shape the less likely it is that this project is going to be culturally biased in that direction in any way. It’s clearly something that appeals to India fans rather than rail fans. But having the likes of Steve (who insists he can’t tell a steam engine from a DMU) and the more rounded guys from IRFCA, puts us in a great position me thinks.

  4. Lester

    furthermore. feel free to use all the marathi you want, in fact I’ll stick up a menu option for you if you’ve got one.

  5. skk

    whoah ! – now that’s a hell of a base pic – Way to go. Thanks for the change.

    Separately, help me understand what “sticking up a menu option means” ? You mean something you click on and then the entire website is in another language, or once you click your keyboard produces Devnagri or something else ?


  6. Lester

    ooh, i wonder if that can be done with google translations, end up with it all going into sanskrit, I’ll go check.

    No, i was being dippy hippy again. I wanted you to rumble up advertising copy in marathi “get up all you travel fans” *wobbles head*, “lets show these Britishers how it’s done” menu option. but it’s completely pointless, patronising and pretentious, no one getting involved in this will speak worse English than I does.
    Still, when we get the map worked out (I’ve got a mate at the open map project) it would certainly be cool to have exotic script on it.

    • skk

      Nahh, I get you – how good do you think _MY_ Marathi is huh ? I’m pretty sure I can manage a Marathi translation of the title “The Great Circular Indian railway challenge”. I’ll do it later tonight.

      Regarding this project, I hereby nominate myself as the Chief Risk Officer for this project – until somebody better qualified shows up at which we’ll take risks at 10 paces and he/she”ll win. The motivation for it comes from – heck I’ll just cut and paste those emails I sent to Steve and you ( do you think he was taking the piss when he said “translation please?” – no way, no how right ? 🙂
      === email start====
      I asked Mark to post the above up on his blog or forward it to you and in best DEC( sigh, I get all nostalgic over those days ) tradition, he said: “Do it yourself” – ok I will, but when its under _my_ name I need to clean it up a little – in the meantime, this is what I reckon meets my commitment to you:

      You wanted me to translate the following post, where I gave a progress report in my usual business-speak form.
      1. Need for a data feed of IR timetable identified.
      2. No progress on procuring one.
      3. Need for an incident DB of IR identified.
      4. Reach out to some SME’s done. IT contacts NOT yet identified.
      5. Web-scraping as a backup technology for data feed identified.
      5. problem sizing done – 10-30 node network – looks like not an issue.
      6. elasticity as a concern identified -how does that square with theory TSP – rmalik to advise.

      I am very interested in this trip-and naturally I want it to be a huge success. I, like any other person, will use the skills one have – in my case computing and math( though my peer group may disagree about the _level_ of skill 🙂 ).

      But I also was steeped in the DEC ( Digital Equipment Corporation ) tradition of “just do it” – or “better to ask for forgiveness later than to ask for permission first and it looks like you, Mark are also off the DEC mold so…

      I thought I saw a way of looking at the schedule, plan, route for the circular route for India in a more mathematical manner – in a risk optimisation way – I posted about it and another poster rmalik resoundingly corrected me – there was a to-and-fro between us two but the upshot was that we’ll have a bash at doing it and I committed to do a weekly report on our progress towards that goal. The 6 points were my progress report !

      So, regarding the points :
      1. Need for a data feed of IR timetable identified.

      Any computing way of algorithmically scanning the timetable requires that data to be available in electronic format. That’s the need.

      2. No progress on procuring one.

      I reached out to some people, VSP, Murli etc to see how I could achieve point 1 above. I failed. This just states that.

      3. Need for an incident DB of IR identified.

      As I looked at that report of the Rajdhani Express being stopped by Naxalites, suddenly ( yeah, right, as if I shouldn’t know but honestly, with clean air, blue skies, children laughing, young men and women bicycling for a hobby ) in happy-dappy Boulder one forgets about the realities in India ) I was reminded of risks associated with this project. A knowledge of what’s happened in the past on the Indian Railway system will helpful – thus I added a goal of looking for a database where stoppages/delays/cancellations of Indian Railway trains are recorded.

      4. Reach out to some SME’s done. IT contacts NOT yet identified.

      This simply means I reached out to VSP but he wasn’t able to give me names of IT people in the Indian Railway system that I could talk to regarding 1 and 3 above.

      5. Web-scraping as a backup technology for data feed identified.

      To get the timetable in electronic format, I can always just “scrape” the time table information off the screen when its displayed – its sort of like a computer acts like a human keyboard to input information and as a human eye as it records what’s displayed on a screen. Got me ? Its not at all the desired solution – webservices, SOAP is the way to go but this option is there, as a last resort.The above item records that.

      6. problem sizing done – 10-30 node network – looks like not an issue.

      Solving the problem requires sizing it, amongst other things – I looked at the schedule that Steve put together and counted up the number of halts – i.e. nodes. The above item reflects that.

      6. elasticity as a concern identified -how does that square with theory TSP – rmalik to advise.

      Conventional travelling salesman problems, which is what we are doing on this journey, don’t worry too much about missed connections etc – at least as far as I knew in my grad studies ( BATH Uni ROCKS ) in 197? – rmalik looks like he is much more up-to-date and more deeply knowledgeable about the travelling salesman problem so I’m sort of dumping this in his lap. This item records that.

      Does that clarify? I’m absolutely not trying to muscle into any glory or anything – in so far as it will be in my power, anything I do will be under a open source license, under a creative commons license – but I’m willing to concede intellectual property rights to anybody who does significant work on this – I’d LIKE them to be all altruistic and creative commons about it all but I recognise that a human has to eat and eat well at that.

      But I do want this trip to go off without a hitch -I OWE THAT TO MY WIFE in so far as I am able to help in achieving that.

  7. Lester

    its the historical info that’s needed, multiplied by a bullshit factor and a catastrophe quotient, and whatever other stuff the bad news people have to work out the chances.
    the first exists, though think about it. we’re dealing with india here. just reflect on the paper work alone involved to get hold of this data. you only get summaries of it on indiarialinfo, but they must be getting it from somewhere.
    if you really want to go for this we have to make contact with the insides of erail.in or indiarailinfo.

    • skk

      OK, as discussed about a Hindification/Marathification of this – here goes my effort at the Marathi version of your title:

      lit: द ग्र्र्ट स्र्र्कुलर एन्डिअन रेलवे चालेन्ज

      semantically : भारत म्य्यादि रेल आव्हान

      Do NOT trust this and be prepared to be laughed at; I’m shipping this off to my niece and she will correct it as and how and when she finds the time. I’ve already checked this with my wife – shit, I know more than her !Be absolutely prepared to be laughed at – I’d only get a E in Marathi/Hindi ‘O’ level yanno. Hindi predominates Northern India so anybody offering a good Hindi version – GO FOR IT – all alterations are just fine – I won’t be offended in the slightest.


  8. Hello all

    First, a little introduction.

    My name is Steve, I’m 44 years young and I’m an India addict.

    I’ve helped with indiamike.com since the website started about 9 years ago.

    I’ve visited India 7 times and travelled 50,000kms on Indian trains.

    I’ve visited many different areas in India and have probably covered 90% of the journeys on the ‘Circular India Rail challenge’, but it’ll be fun to do it all in one go.

    Along the way, I’ve learnt a thing or two about booking trains and waitlists, and have an accurate India rail map stuck in my brain.

    I’m a Sleeper Class & roadside Dhaba kind of guy, but I’ve travelled in every class except Executive Chair Class, I’m unpredictable, always up for a laugh, and generally quite laid back, and I’m looking forward to travelling with you all.

  9. SKK

    Are you saying you need to get a feed from the Indian Railways website so that you can automatically find and track selected trains along our routes?

    In the last message, I forgot to add that me and computers/software don’t get along too well, we’ve had many run-ins over the years, and I always lose.

    I’ve had a fair bit of contact with erail’s owners over the years, I could ask them for their advice.

    I’ve also had a little contact with a man who set up a programme to track every train and find out every delay over a whole year, the programme would tell you the average delay of any train between any 2 stations, then it would tell you the worst delays throughout the year, it sounded awesome, and the man only done it as a hobby.

    I put him in contact with indiamike’s owner and the plan was to put this info on indiamike, so anyone could just look up the history of a train between any 2 stations, I’ve not heard anything since.

    I have his email address somewhere.

    • Lester

      You’re too modest Steven. You’re my number one selling point.
      One look at indiamike and you’ll see what I mean regarding knowledge of the Indian Railway and it’s many wonders.

      You should be able to post now without me having to approve you, oh, you just did :).

    • Lester

      This would be very cool. there’s a future’s market I’m sure some where in here.
      Obviously we are aiming to make a bullet proof plan, arent we. You dont want to have to see Mark reduced to tears after 2 days. We will need a multi option oh-heck scenario plan at least up to delhi if there’s some sizeable influx due there, involving blatant cheating if needed. (I.e.i’s gone seriously bad inside 1 day, go to a series of option airports and fly to srinagar).
      But it would be nice to put a price on making it on the given schedule. There may be some room for a bit of private charity betting among the pin-stripe brigade if we can put some science to it.

    • skk

      Yup, yup, that’s exactly what I mean – do please ask erail.in people about this.. Thx – if they ask who wants to know – there is a simple utterly truthful way to describe me – “I want to ensure, to the best of my ability, that my wife does this trip, utterly aware of the facts at hand The facts will be presented in a manner that really smart people can understand”

      aka – “Be safe”. ( I’d add “be lucky” but such heresies are frowned upon ).
      You’ve already seen my comment about assignment of intellectual property rights etc, right ?

  10. skk

    We will be travelling through some volatile areas – apart from the scheduling inconveniences – a threat to life and limb must be factored in – a judgment call requires a honest appraisal of the issues. Here is a heat map of incidents across the world, posted by Cory Doctorow:


  11. Lester

    Well. according to that map. the whole of the US and UK are bright red, along with Iraq. Kashmir is a mere orange.
    I agree, I’ve got kids, I can’t really do this. But it’s worth working out. If it’s possible to do then we have to offer it up for the terminally insane.

  12. skk

    Steve raises an interesting point about – where’s the challenge in this ? and that the cost of 2A, 1A will naturally diminish the potential for Indian-salaried human beings joining us and suggests that we think on this. He also suggests about us taking a group of children with us.

    I enthusiastically agree. Now the carping ( you knew that was coming right 🙂

    I really fully understand the aspect about 2A, 1A having budgetary issues for Indian-salaried people. My answer would be – I’ll do part of the journey in sleeper class, no problem. But not all of it. How’s that for the great British compromise ? realities of unequal economic resources are exactly that – realities; Any better solutions ? I’ll ask my bro’ in Mumbai and see what he says.

    After my wife’s and my experience of being swamped by 50 kids in Hampi,( apparently the chief minister there has decreed that ALL rural children get a trip round the tourist sites gratis – paid for by the state govt. – how cool is that – and how cool is it that I could understand enough of the Kannada to grok what they were saying ) plus nieces and nephews I’m a sucker for being around kids.

    I am desperately concerned that these kids are protected – from “us lot” and seen to be so protected. We’ll have to make sure that independent guardians are on board so that there is no possible way for any shennigans to go unspotted. Second, what about the privacy of the kids ? They’ll get photographed, filmed etc – without so much as their say-so; anyway anybody underage cannot possibly consent.

    I do LIKE Steve’s idea – it would be tres cool – but I want to hit these issues too. I’ve no doubt that this is soluble of course – somebody with more child care experience – FEMALE – should contribute on this.

    PS1 – somehow the s/w thinks this is a dup post – this will fool it.

  13. markclester

    we dropped the “kids on board” idea after about 10 secs thought. andy thought of mascots, which i think is a fantastic idea, they make us a mascot, we carry it round and get it photographed next to station platform signs.
    ideally we need a second group to do this,. I’ve treid starting a thread on indiatree but I dont thnk they want to run it.
    rondel blew me away with her “oh i did one of those, 10,000km in 2 weeks, yeah count me in, 3AC right ?”.
    but this is 11,500 and you get to do all the corners, so up yours anyone who thnks this is easy.
    As for the class, I really do, and will, want to do as much of this in non AC. Apart from anything else I want to be able to feel india on my face. It’s just when sleepy time comes round that it all goes wrong, as we all know.

    So, the challenge is, to gain the maximum number of “real india” points based on a points scheme yet to be devised.

    (I trashed your yahoo mail, it has to be from your other mail account for it to work automatically).

  14. skk

    let me throw out a thought and promptly kill it – as kids we all shared and shared alike – buying a soda ( well pop but you know what I mean ) whoever had the cash bought it and we just shared – very commie – and that’s an option to solve this economic inequality issue; put together a kitty( with unequal contributions ) and then the group lives off the kitty.

    No way ! I’m just too damn old to do that sort of thing anymore – BUT… the younger, idealistic crowd may go for it, you know – so lets keep that option in mind, with an opt-out clause for old-fogies like me.

    I think a continual flexibility of mind will solve this and make this a roaring success.


  15. Lester

    we dont have any young idealists right now.
    i’m over on indiamike offering to buy their ticket.

    one of the reasons for getting stuck into the detail of eating etc is that, possibly in NJP, probably in some other places, and certainly at Tipong, we’ll need to make proper arrangements, This may involve upfront expense. I can handle that, within limits, but I’ll need to get everyone on board to agree with any expense I am incurring on their behalf.

  16. skk

    Re this food stuff, you are overly concerned, c’mon all we need is a little aubergine, no ? ( aubergine == eggplant == brinjal ) – and this comment is a reference to skits in a Brit comedy show called “Goodness Gracious Me” where some young women act the part of certain old-Indian-ex-pat-biddies who insist that all this spending money eating out is totally wasted – The punchline is always – “All I need is this little aubergine!”

    back to some of the issues – Steve is right you know – its inexorably true that kids are way more photogenic than you or me(ok,just me then) – and taking _some_ of them along is, IMO, ( as if I know) going to attract more media publicity than anything else. Another aspect – India is diverse; 13+ major languages, xxx castes and religions – I can see how the Indian media would totally love it, from a nationalist angle if we did have kids with us – kind of “showing the unity of India” as we went along the perimeter- we’ll have to put non-whites in front of the camera of course, when talking to Indian media; it will look,well you know how it will look – Brit media, whites are np.

    If we can fix that permission/privacy issue and the “safety issue ” – from potential child-abusers in our crowd and seen to be safe at that, there’s a lot of attractiveness to Steve’s idea.

    I’m sure we can fix this – we are all bright people here.


  17. Lester

    I think the food thing has tweaked a nerve here.
    I like to come back from India nice and fat, not emaciated cos I havent eaten in 3 weeks. This isnt a sponsored fast.

    The kids angle would be entirely down to Railway Children. To get to that we’d need a massive group. We arent going to get a massive group to go on a doomed mission to do this, on a published schedule where people can join in for bits, unless it’s doable for all creeds and cultures and frankly, wallets. Nothing is stopping anyone from going for the “real india” award.

    • skk

      Its best that this is discussed and resolved early – so does the Railway Children have Home Office ( or whoever does that stuff nowadays ) certification that shows that they have policies and procedures and annual internal and external, independent inspections that show that all over and above normal efforts are in place to prevent child abuse and that they proudly display such certification – you know – like when you enter a lift/elevator, there is a little certificate that says that xxx yyy has inspected it and found everything satisfactory – or if you go buy gas ( petrol ) there’s a certificate there that the pumping mechanism is compliant with the Weights and Measures Act(s). I’d want to see such certification of course.

      Lets get this out of the way, and who knows, _I_ might start getting the charitable itch !


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