A horrendous journey narrowly avoided

Pathankot Travel Blog

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Waiting for the train at Kangra Mandir

In spite of all the flexibility that a complete lack of planning affords you, occasionally it can turn around and bite you. So it was with our journey from McLeod Ganj to Jaipur.

The route we had picked was a multi-legged affair, consisting of a taxi from McLeod Ganj to next-door Dharamsala, a bus from Dharamsala to Kangra Mandir station, the narrow-gauge "toy train" from Kangra Mandir to Pathankot, a taxi across Pathankhot to Chakki Bank station (on the main line), and an overnight sleeper train to Jaipur.

The "toy train"
In fact, we hadn't even decided whether our destination should be Jaipur or Jodhpur; we were just going to turn up and see what trains were going!

The taxi and bus legs went smoothly. Lots of nice views from the bus windows for most of the journey. From the bus we had to take an autorickshaw to the station, and then walk across a narrow bouncy suspension bridge, over a small river, to Kangra Mandir station. We bought some snacks for lunch from one of the little shops on the approach to the station. I've never seen a station which isn't accessible by road before. I thought that it would be a scenic ride, winding through the hills on a little narrow-gauge train, but lack of information at the planning stage meant that we were boarding the train at the foot of the hills, and heading away from them, so all the good scenery was seen from the bus, and the train ride wasnt' as exciting. We were quite squeezed into a small compartment, and it took ages to get to Pathankot, so by the end we were thinking that it would have been better to go all the way on the bus. On the approach to Pathankot the trees along the side of the line were all covered in a grey dust, which made them look as thought their leaves were a strange grey-green colour. The pollution in India is horrendous at times.

We got across Pathankot to Chakki Bank station (really Pathankot mainline station) in an autorickshaw no problem. This is where the fun began! We encountered a man working at the ticket counter who was a true exponent of the irritating art of not answering a straight question, complete with head-wobble and deliberately unrecognisable mutterings. This meant that we speant an awfully long time trying to work out what our options were in terms of getting on a train to somewhere in Rajasthan.

We established that there were trains to Jaipur and to Jodhpur (this we did without ambiguity on our own, from the timetable). The Jodhpur train was very late, so we decided to go to Jaipur. However, we were not allowed to buy a ticket for the Jaipur train; this we could safely assume was correct because, had we been able to buy one, the man would surely have sold us one. What we didn't know was why we couldn't buy a ticket for the Jaipur train, but it seemed reasonable to us that this might be because we wanted to book a sleeper berth, and the train had already left its point of origin (this was an assumption because the man at the counter refused to either confirm or deny this suggestion). The most infuriating thing was that he would give us no information about options for buying a ticket for the same train tomorrow. What would have been helpful would have been some sort of response to the question "if I come back tomorrow morning, can I buy a ticket for the train to Jaipur?" which I apparently annoyed him by insisting on asking. Even if the answer had been "I don't know; come back later when someone else will be here who will know," then I would have been moderately happy; we could have found ourselves a hotel for the night. But we didn't even get that; just the obligatory head wobble.

In the end, in desparation, we bought the only ticket we could buy for that night's train, which was an open ticket, meaning permission to board the train an nothing more. Once on the train, we should then find the conductor and pay the extra for a sleeper berth. That was the theory, anyway. When the train pulled in, we got on to find the most crowded train we'd ever been on. You could barely move around because there were people lying  or sitting on a lot of the floor space. We were suddenly faced with the prospect of 15 hours on this train, without even room to drop our rucksacks to sit on them. Arrgh!

And now the good bit: after walking up and down the train, no doubt looking rather disconsolate, some friendly people let us perch on the end of their seat for a bit, and we got chatting to them. They managed to locate the conductor for us, and he managed to locate two sleeper berths. We'd been up and down the train already a couple of times, and there were no beds free, so we weren't hopeful. However, the conductor had a list which told him who'd acutally paid for their beds, so he was able to find a couple which were supposed to be available, and throw off the people who'd claimed them. We weren't next to each other, but we didn't care!

We arrived in Jaipur having slept not too badly, although I was next to a large Sikh gentelman with a rasping snore! We felt like we'd narrowly avoided a horrendous night.

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Waiting for the train at Kangra Ma…
Waiting for the train at Kangra M…
The toy train
The "toy train"
photo by: o_mendfornd