As long as we can avoid the roof falling in, a dengue fever outbreak, and most of the contestants deciding to stay at home due to security fears, the project should be fine, or at least I can just blame the contractors if anything does go wrong . But there are some issues which have enabled me to make another of my shameless SEO blog post titles.
One of my many concerns has been that we might be stuck in the luxurious expanses of 2 tier air conditioned class for almost the entire run, and thus not get enough real India for our time and money. The problem with 2AC is not the 2, I quite like that bit. It’s the AC, which comes with fixed windows. They can even come with that appalling honeycomb advertising stuff daubed all over it which enables you to look out, just, but not for people to look back in at you. That’s like traveling around India in a burkha, something which we only recommend for anyone who plans to do the northern section of the Kashmir line.
“Good news everyone”, the Indian Railways quota-calculating-department have seen fit to limit the number of 2AC berths reserved for foreign tourists to just a handful on all but the last of our trains. The last one, from Trivandrum back up to Mumbai, has an amazing 133 2AC berths set aside for tourists. This is a whole order of magnitude more than anywhere else on the route. Most of the time the majority of us will be limited to nothing more luxurious than 3 tier AC . In 3AC, you have 8 berths to each bay. 3 on each side of the bay obviously, and a further 2 on the other side of the gangway. Well that’s no better than SL. And SL doesn’t have those nasty windows that are rarely spotless at the best of times. It also has a lot more action going on, both inside and outside the train. Try selling chai, or nibbles, to someone on the other side of a fixed glass window. SL also comes with these handy fans bolted onto the ceiling for cutting your head open on.
Here’s a seating plan for SL and 3AC, courtesy of our resident Indian Railways guru Steven Ber. In AC, the last bay, berths 65-72, are taken up by the AC equipment. Click on it if you actually want to look at it.
The tricky bit, for anyone stupid enough to invite everyone they can find on the Internet to join them on an epic trip round Indian railways, is going to be where to seat everyone. We aren’t going to be in one contiguous block, with the girl gang at one end, couples in the middle, and the posse of middle aged, follicly challenged Indiaphile blokes guarding the rear. I am therefor going to have to ensure that each of these sub-groups, and in particular the ladies, maintain their group integrity. For this reason, please get your backside into gear if you are IndRailing so I can go visit Shankar and the pair of us can work out how we are going to skin this. And those of you of dual nationality that I’ve been banging on to about getting an IndRail and avoiding the booking problems, er, you might want to think about a circular ticket and utilizing more of the local quota. Current thinking is that the concerns over the 8 stop rule on a circular ticket are false, you can get off anywhere you want as long as you get back on the train within 24 hours. Technically we will do that twice, though in practice you will be almost constantly moving.
On closer inspection of the number of people who are actually serious on coming, i.e have bought a ticket, we will actually be able to all hang out together in AC2 for almost all the run. Though I will probably force everyone into SL for the odd train just to sex it up a bit. But it’s still a great excuse for another of my Google busting post headlines.
1. We’ll be heading for Jamnagar instead of Porbandar on the way back from Dwarka. Jamnagar is actually home to the worlds largest single site oil refinery. Not a compelling reason you may think for choosing it over Porbandar, birth place of Mahatma Gandhi. But we do want to optimize our time at Dwarka and the Dwarkadhish temple. We’ll be able to catch the 7pm sunset if we go for Jamnagar , and have time to wash and eat. As Jamnagar is a local industrial hub, we’ll have no problem getting transport back to there. If we go to Porbandar I’ll be twitching nervously because if we miss that train back it will have gone all mango shaped after just one train.
2. We’ll go for the 2445 Uttar Sampark Kranti from Jalandhar on the way from Amritsar to Udhampur, It means waiting at Jalandher Cantt till 2:45 am, but once we are aboard we can stay on it all the way up to Udhampur.It also gives us an extra 45 minutes at Amristar, and we should be able to get the FC carriages for this short run. I need to check out the quota on this which may be minimal. FC is the very best of both worlds. You get 2 tier luxury but with the iron bars instead of the nasty fixed windows. IR are phasing these out so it’s quite likely this isn’t going to happen.
3. We probably wont spend the night at Singpho eco lodge after all. But we may still stop off there for a meal on our way back from Ledo. I’m now looking to designate our Assam night, one of the only two not on a train along with Darjeeling, as “free play” in Dibrugarh. That means you have to work out what you are going to do for a bed yourselves. I’ll send a post with some options later on.
In other news, one solution for getting more of India if you don’t think you’re getting a good enough view from within your air conditioned carriage, is to try what this lady did when crossing the famous Pamban bridge, which we will be doing twice on the same day before and after our visit to Rameswaram.