Train-ing In China And India

Train Travel Made Easy!

When I travelled to China in October 2016, part of the journey included taking the Bullet Train from Shanghai to Nanjing. I was apprehensive and just a little nervous before the trip.  Old memories of motion sickness rose to the surface, but I needn’t have worried. The train was fast, obviously, but so smooth. In First Class, the refreshments served along the way added nicely to the level of comfort and luxury. If only First Class flights were that affordable, or Economy Class flights had that much leg room and comfort.

These trains are seriously fast!

Bullet Train in Shanghai Station

 

Plenty of supplies for the Bullet Train trip

Loading the train – China Style

 

Travelling the Bullet Train from Shanghai

Visitors to Shanghai make their way to the allocated carriage

When I signed up for the trip to India, part of the journey included a train ride. Again, the same apprehension surfaced, for the same reasons. You could easily argue that the motion sickness problems I had as a child may not be relevant today. But a more recent travel experience validated that those fears are still very relevant today. About seven years ago I decided to visit my daughter in Gladstone. Rather than drive or fly, as I usually did, I figured a leisurely trip on the train from Brisbane would be fun. Wrong!!! It was one of Australia’s fast express trains, so I hadn’t even thought much about the possibility of motion sickness, but I should have. About an hour into the eight-hour journey I started to feel those old familiar, nauseous sensations in the pit of my stomach. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t ‘psych’ my way out of it. I tried the usual distraction techniques to no avail. The nauseous feeling crept upwards, rising slowly but surely. By the sixth and seventh hour into the trip, the urge to disembark at one of the stations we stopped at was overwhelming. Luckily I managed to overcome the urge and eventually arrived in Gladstone with my stomach intact, only just. And certainly not relaxed and refreshed, as the travel brochure had assured me I would be.

The rail component booked for the India trip had a 50/50 chance of success, based on the last two long-distance rail journeys. I was hoping to replicate the Bullet Train experience, but the fact that we were boarding the train at Kalka brought its own measure of trepidation. We had travelled from Amritsar to Shimla by bus. Hours and hours of steep winding roads, up, across and down mountain ranges. While looking aimlessly out the window to pass the time, I noticed that we were 80 km’s from Shimla. A little over an hour later we still had 40 km’s to go. It was a very long journey. Apart from some spectacular scenery along the way, the journey was only notable by the number of  times we came face-to-face with another vehicle.  The bus driver deftly managed to duck and weave to avoid a collision, as both vehicles tried to occupy the exact same position on the road. Us, as we overtook another bus or truck, usually on a bend with little chance of seeing what was on the other side. And them, as they negotiated the bend on their side of the road, the same side we found ourselves on in the process of passing the other vehicle. Coming face to face with a large truck, and seemingly with no means of escape, certainly raises questions about your own mortality. Arriving safely in Shimla was a relief. The downside was knowing that we had to go back down the mountain to connect with the train at Kalka for the journey to New Delhi. The upside was the much shorter distance- but it was mostly downhill, meaning slightly faster speeds coupled with the same pattern of overtaking, regardless of how sharp the bend in the road was. Being on the top-side of the road had a few benefits, the main one being there was more chance of actually seeing another vehicle coming towards us since we were mostly on the higher side of the process. This in itself was a definite plus.

Standing in the heat of Palampur and looking at a snow-capped mountain

Snow on the mountains – but so hot in Palampur

 

High on the mountains of Northern India

The contrast of the valleys was spectacular

The feeling of safety that swept over me as we arrived at Kalka Station was indescribable. Since we were nearing the end of the 17-day trip, it was more than likely that the rest of the journey would be on reasonably flat ground and therefore a lot less stressful, hopefully.

Making sure supplies are onboard

Loading the train – India style

 

Train travel - with extra luggage

This takes luggage to a whole new level!

Like most long-distance rail travel, seats are assigned to each passenger and the seat needs to be occupied by the rightfully ticketed body in order to pass inspection by the authorised Inspector. India is no different. I was assigned a seat next to one of my fellow-travellers, but he had been offered a seat in the Bishop’s car for the trip from Shimla to New Delhi; an offer he quickly accepted, leaving me with a spare seat next to me. This appeared to be a bonus, but apparently, India Rail is very quick to on-sell any unoccupied seats, meaning I could have ended up with a travel buddy joining the train at any of the stops along the way. But luck was with me that day (I’d already figured that out by the fact we’d arrived at Kalka unscathed) and the double seat was mine for the five-hour trip. That was the plus side given the size of my ‘technology’ bag. There was plenty of room to spread out with all my chargers and gadgets right there where I needed them. The minus side – and this is a BIG minus – was the position of those two seats. They were both facing the wrong way! Great if you’re more concerned about where you’ve been than where you’re going, but not good if motion sickness is something you battle with on long-distance trains. This was a huge dilemma and one that wasn’t going to be easily resolved. I was able to negotiate a swap with another travel buddy, but it couldn’t happen until the Inspector had made sure that the rightful bottom was sitting on the nominated seat number – the one printed on the ticket. So I had to come to another arrangement – and fast – because there was no telling how long it would be before the Inspector arrived. I luckily remembered reading somewhere that if motion sickness is an issue, keeping your focus on something inside is better than watching the world fly by on the outside of the vehicle, which kind of fits with my distraction theory. There were two things in my favour

  1. it was late afternoon and darkness would descend sooner rather than later
  2. the shades were pulled down over the windows

I decided to leave the shades down. It worked. I opened my iPad and started typing, thereby keeping my focus fixed on something reasonably stable. I gradually became totally immersed in the process. Before long I discovered that I had confused my easily distracted mind into thinking I was actually moving in the forward direction. The smoothness of the train helped, as did the constant stream of food and water. Snacks, and Indian food that was absolutely delicious (and Vegetarian!) was served throughout the five-hour journey –  nicely presented – hot but not too spicy. Are you reading this Qantas?

Fabulous food, delivered right to your seat

A very welcome vegetarian meal on the train in India

 

Plenty of legroom between seats

Long legs? No Problem

And that’s how I came through the train trip, arriving at New Delhi Station feeling relaxed and refreshed.

One very interesting thing happened on that journey. From the moment we left Kalka, a gentleman sitting alone in the row behind me was having a rather loud conversation on his mobile phone. Each time we arrived at a station I gathered my extra gear off the spare seat, just in case I collected a travel-buddy from that station. I didn’t. But the guy behind me did. Without missing a beat, he jumped into the seat next to me, obviously more concerned about annoying his new travel buddy than annoying me. Luckily, the Inspector made his way through the carriage a few minutes later and before he arrived at our row, a passenger a few rows ahead of us obviously voiced a complaint about my new-found travel buddy. When the Inspector arrived to check our tickets, he, and my (not!) buddy, exchanged words and the man departed, back to his assigned seat. But the phone conversation continued. I’m not sure if the Inspector had just dallied at our end of the train or whether someone made another complaint, but he returned and promptly informed the passenger that he would have to leave the carriage. I’m obviously guessing about the dialogue that was exchanged because it wasn’t in English and I don’t speak Hindi, which I’m guessing was the language they were conversing in. After a brief exchange on both sides, the traveller collected his belongings and left. I’m supposing he was offered a seat in Economy but we didn’t see (or hear) him for the rest of the journey. The carriage was quiet. I comforted myself with the writing I was working on, others spoke softly to their neighbour and some used the time to catch up on sleep. It kind of sheds a new light on what a ‘Quiet Carriage’ sounds like – unlike the Quiet Carriages of the Gold Coast to Brisbane line that seem to be just as noisy as any other carriage. The wheels of the train continued to rumble along and all was well with the world.

Train travel will be my preferred means of getting from A: (Amritsar) to B: (Beyond Amritsar) when I arrive back in that land of beautiful people. And in fact, I’ll be exploring trains as a means of travel in other countries around the world. After all, the only train that has been an issue for me so far was the fast train to Gladstone.

My plan to retrace my footsteps to some of the fascinating places I’ve lived and visited is being revised. I can fly from the Gold Coast directly to Amritsar (thanks, Scoot Airlines!) for just under $600 return, base price at the time of writing (May 2017). Add-ons, like luggage and food, don’t amount to much and Scoot uses Dreamliner Aircraft that are seriously quiet and comfortable. From Amritsar I can take a train to a station not too far from Dharamshala, meaning less time spent on that road – the steep and very winding one that will be avoided at all costs. Trains connect most of the places I’m interested in seeing again, so India is covered.

And rather than come straight home, I could branch off at Singapore and head to Penang, Vietnam and Laos, thereby combining a number of trips into one. And I’m sure there will be a train connection somewhere along the way.

Simple!

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