I had the best part of 3 free days in India and wanted to take a train ride – somewhere, anywhere! – how hard can that be? Well, as a non-Indian I don’t seem to be able to buy a ticket on-line before I get there (has anybody else figured out how to do it?); never mind, perhaps my hotel concierge can help me out on arrival? Nope, he checks it out on his computer in the lobby and any of the trains I want to travel on are full – day 1’s opportunity is gone. OK, I’ll just go to the main, central train station in the Country’s largest city tomorrow and I’ll sort it out there myself….simple. Errrr…….Mumbai traffic takes the first toll on the available hours of the day and then it takes me over another hour at the station just to find out HOW to buy a train ticket. And the solution is? …..join a queue at that kiosk over there in order to collect a form…….fill in the form with passport (lucky I had it with me), visa (I don’t have a visa, I arrived by another, less common, but perfectly legal and legitimate manner), desired train number (how do I find that out?) time and date (well today, obviously) details. Take the completed form (another hour or so gone by) upstairs to Kiosk number 52 (of 70+) which is the only one that deals with tourists……Join another queue. In the queue I get chatting to the other ‘tourists’ and get laughed at when I say that I want to travel today!….no chance; they are all trying to buy tickets for tomorrow or the day after. Day 2’s opportunity is gone and I give up. How can this be? Surely I have missed something here? This is India – it is famous for its trains – and how can they ever be full? I’ve seen photos of Indian trains in which you can’t even see the train for the passengers hanging off them. In the cities, people get around by walking, bicycle, taxi, tuk tuk, bus and motor scooter, but to travel any distance (and in India the distances can be great) the train seems to be the obvious answer. Why is it so difficult /impossible to turn up at a railway station and buy a ticket for a train that leaves within the hour? How can the normal populace travel from one city to another at short notice? As per the title of today’s blog – The Indian Train System provides one of Life’s True Mysteries.
Amused, but frustrated by the whole experience I wander out onto the station concourse to try and take a photo that might encapsulate the episode. The station sits behind an incredibly impressive 126-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site stone edifice, but it is the shabbier interior with its exposed girders and corrugated roof, it’s food stalls, litter, dogs, crowds and active mood of hustle and bustle that I want to try and capture. BUT WAIT!! There is no photography allowed in the station – is the illustration of such inefficiency considered vaguely pornographic, or is it akin to burning the National Flag, I wonder? So, putting my normal camera away and risking arrest or worse, I walk to the far end of the station and covertly snap this shot on my smart phone…..Apologies to the Indian Government if I have compromised National Security.