September 18th, 2009 – by: mdfehmel
Interior shot of my coach to Chandigarh.
On the morning of 18 September, my agent and I took an express train from Delhi
travel guide">New Delhi 250km due north to a small city called Chandigarh. Since no flights were available, our choices were train or road. After already having spent 4 hours by car going the 250km to Agra
to see the Taj Mahal, I figured that the much shorter 2 hour ride plus the adventure of riding the Indian rails sounded like a much better choice. My journey really started as I exited the car at one of New Delhi's main train stations. As expected, this area was extremely crowded with commuters and distance travelers.
Shot of one of the New Delhi train stations.
My agent immediately flagged down a porter, who is distinguishable from just anyone who will likely run away with your bags by a the copper placard they wear around their bi-ceps. Both my suitcase and my agent's weighed at least 50 lbs each due to the amount of marketing materials we were bringing with us. This didn't seem to bother the porter who donned a towel pad on his head and stacked both atop. My agent gave him the coach number and platform in case we were separated, which wouldn't be hard to do as the narrow corridors feeding the numerous platforms were jam packed with travelers. Of course, we were departing from platform 1 which was the furthest away. My thoughts at this point were concerning the interior condition of the coach. All I could think of were the commuter trains that I've seen with people literally popping out all windows and doors.
My friend and our porter, with about 100lbs atop his head.
Once I even saw people riding on top of a train - an overhead electrified train!! It was quite warm and the congestion made the air thick. Once we got to the platform, my eyes wandered to see the mix of people waiting for the train to arrive. There was a pretty diverse mix of business travelers, domestic tourists and foreigers making the next leg of their respective journeys. The platform was extremely dirty due to the millions who had trod there. The tracks were very wide - European and American standard gauge tracks are 4' 8.5" apart; Indian tracks are wide gauge - 5.5'. They were also in a serious state of disrepair, with running water eroding the supporting ties as far as the eye could see. We had about a 45 minute wait until our train arrived.
Commuter train. You can tell that its early as there aren't people hanging out of the window and doors yet.
It was very long - maybe 25-30 cars pulled by only 1 electric engine. I, being an American rail fan, was able to watch other trains chug by, particularly a yard switcher (which would eventually pull our coaches into place) and 1 or 2 commuter trains. When our coach came to a halt in front of us and we were able to board, in fine India fashion, every passenger tried to board at once. We let the crowd subside a bit and then made our way to our seats. The seating arrangement was 2 seats on each side and our coach happened to be facing backwards so that we would sit facing rearward during travel, which I can't stand. The interior consisted of molded plastic bucket seats with vinyl covers, not unlike a typical American commuter coach, although it was extremely dirty.
Diesel yard switcher. This one is going to fetch our train before the engine consist hooks up to the front opposite of the direction it pulled the train into the station.
My window had apparently been shattered by a stray rock. Only the unbroken sheet of protective plexiglass kept the accumulated water between the panes from drenching me and, unfortunately, the broken window hindered my view of the Indian countryside while in transit. The arid and bare countryside north of Delhi isn't rich in sights anyway, but the rail networks through India, are in and of themselves, impressive sights. Plus, literally millions of Indians makes their homes along the tracks, sometimes so close that it is a miricle that the passing train doesn't collapse the shanties. Avoidance of trackage isn't a concern in India as it is through Eurpore and the U.S. which is evidenced by the tens of thousands that are killed in railroad related deaths every year in India. It was not uncommon to see people dashing across the tracks in advance of speeding trains. Overall, this was an experience for the books, but I don't care to travel this way in India again.