Train Travel in India: Some Pros and Cons

Chhatrapati Shivaji Train Terminus in Mumbai

When I asked the man at booth number 52 about the prospects of a dining car onboard a long-day train, he answered:

Yes there’s a car with food.”

I quickly assumed: It’s a day train.  Why wouldn’t it have a dining car?  Great!  I love to eat while gazing out at the countryside.

Buying the ticket was a cinch.  Unlike the score of other booths, this one was designated for foreign tourists. There were no other foreigners in line when I arrived.

The next morning I was sitting in a four person tier-2, a/c sleeper cabin. I’d arrived about half an hour early and was the only one in my little four-person room.  I thought: There’s no way I’m going to have this cabin to myself for the whole ride. If I’m lucky, maybe this’ll last for a little while.

The first person I spoke to was a young man with limited English.  He was able to explain what he could bring me.  Chicken or veg?  I made sure he understood veg.  He explained that at 1pm he’d bring me a veg dish, some fried rice, and roti.  I asked about the dining car.  He didn’t know anything of it.  All he knew is that he’d bring my lunch in the early afternoon.

Food and drink hawkers came on the train at stops, and rode along to the next, flying through the many train cars chanting what was on offer.  They sold coffee, tea, water and soda.  There were other concoctions like samosas, and milky treats that I didn’t dare try, as much as my curiosity wanted to take over.

On my other Indian train rides I’d consumed many cups of coffee and chai.  Now, I feel the need to be kinder to my stomach. There’s not a no-sugar option. I thought: The sugar dosage in these beverages is practically lethal.  Regardless of how much I enjoy the ubiquitous ritual of drinking sugar-laden tea in India, I have to say no this time around.

Train Hawker Veg Cutlets on White Bread

A vendor came by with veg cutlets on white bread.   I inspected them and paid the man 20 Rupees or $.40.  They were nice and spicy

I set up on the top bunk figuring I’d alternate most of the day with reading and napping if possible.   Since no one else was there I hopped down to the bottom bunk and plugged in my laptop.

I was even able to connect to the internet with my MTS data modem subscription that cost 999 Rupees or $20.04 for one month of unlimited use.  As expected during the ride, the connection faded in and out but worked great at many of the stops along the way.

The train left about an hour late; but, time stood still as I was cool and connected.  After about two hours into the journey, the conductor came by and checked my ticket.  I asked about being solo.  He smiled and said that it’d be like that all the way to Margao, where this train would terminate in south Goa.

I’d lucked out with my own chilled cabin where I could pleasantly stay plugged in and charged.  When I had a connection, I saved pages that I wanted to read.  I checked email and skyped until the connection faded out.  I wasn’t able to type a lot as the train was too shaky.

Before I knew it, lunch was served.   The same polite and uniformed government
employee had my food.

Being engrossed in the machine all morning had made me hungry.  The worker handed me a tin container with a mystery hot veg dish.  In another container was a generous helping of fried rice with mixed veg.  On a napkin was a helping of roti, my only bread option.

I paid him 100 Rupees or $2.01.

I ate and was satiated for the day.  I dubbed it barely OK at best, but, not bad for train food.  I was a little bit worried about the mystery veg in the brown gravy, and who knows if the wrong dirty hand may have touched that rice?

On Indian sleeper trains there’s limited daytime visibility. The windows aren’t kept transparent.  To see the lushness I had to crouch down to the right corner of the window.  In that position I saw the lazy, breezy landscape, with workers toiling hard in the unforgiving heat.

My ticket from Mumbai to Margao was set to arrive at 20:15.  It didn’t get there until 22:30.  I thought: This is always the case with trains in India. Take it in stride.  The ticket from Mumbai to Goa cost 1,073 Rupees or $21.53.

The One Great Con

I woke up in my shabby hotel room having to run to the bathroom.  I felt abdominal pain before many bouts of diarrhea that lasted for hours, and started 24 hours after I’d eaten the train’s entrée.  The viral infection passed in another 24 hours after that.

The Three-Course Train Lunch

LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES:  Be leery of train food.  I think the hawker’s cutlets were fine but I can’t know for sure.

Next time I get on a train I’ll be sure to bring bananas and bakery food to hold me over until I can get to a restaurant.

From now on I’ll stick with sleeper trains for night travel.  If I can get non-sleepers (train with normal seats) that have clear windows, I’ll take day trains.

TIP: Overnight transport is a great way to spare a night’s accommodation.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Yes, I could go without train food in India too! You try it once I suppose… Sorry you got sick, but great that you had a cabin to yourself! Such luck!


    • SARAH: I must not have been thinking properly while ordering/eating that train food. At least the sickness was a quick 24-hour one and I learned a valuable lesson. As for the cabin, yeah, what a surprise. How often does that happen…


  2. Posted by Annie on October 26, 2011 at 22:26

    Hi Did you post something after October 22? I thought you did, but i didn’t get a chance to read it.

    I needed to change getting notified when you posted something new. I’ve been getting slammed with spam emails. Anyone else? Hopefully not getting notified will stop it. Its worth a try. I thought i could just go to your blog then and read your latest post, but i guess i’m wrong cause the last post is from Oct 22.

    Any ideas how i can read your newer post again? Thanks Annie


    • ANNIE: I hope that my site is not causing you SPAM. I haven’t heard of this happening to anyone else. I’m also subscribed to my own site just to help me empathize with my subscribers. I haven’t had any SPAM from wordpress. Is your SPAM from WordPress? If so, then I need to contact them.

      You’re right. You can go right to my site to read new posts. The post from the 22nd was the last one up until a little while ago. If you visit you’ll see that you will get the last post. Thanks!


      • Posted by Annie on October 27, 2011 at 10:31

        If no one else has said anything then maybe something else is causing the Spam email. The Spam isn’t from Word Press but that doesn’t mean they didn’t sell the email list or some hacker got hold of the subscribers list.

        I can read your latest post so i’ll leave it at that. I’ll just check your blog here and there for new postings and comments instead of getting notified. Hopefully this will make a difference with the Spam.


        • ANNIE: Honestly, I can’t imagine that wordpress would sell subscriber’s email addresses to spammers. It would be bad PR for them. They seem smarter than that. I’d like to think that they don’t engage in this activity because it’s super-immoral. I’m subscribed to a few other wordpress generated sites/blogs and none of them seem to be causing excess SPAM.

          Everyone gets SPAM from different places. Most of mine gets filtered into my SPAM folder. The rare one that slimes its way into my inbox I mark as spam instantly. I wouldn”t dare open up an attachment from one of those.

          I delete my SPAM folder once a week.

          GOOD NEWS
          I need to leave India in less than three weeks due to VISA expiration. I plan to go back to the states. While there one main goal will be to find a new theme and host myself. Then you can subscribe as I’ll assure you that I wouldn’t sell your email address. My ethical makeup wouldn’t allow me to do something like that.

          Right now my goal is to publish every few days. I can’t pinpoint exactly when as sometimes posting potential lies out of my control.

          Hang in there. My guess is that you’ve got good antivirus protection on your machine. As long as your auto updates are turned on you should be in pretty good shape. Hope that helps. 🙂


          • Posted by Annie on October 30, 2011 at 10:01

            Probably wasn’t Word Press since its not happening to others. Of course i get Spam email, but only a few at a time. The past month or so i’ve gotten slammed. Subscribing to Word Press was one of the last things i did, that was new so i just assumed it had something to do with that.

            Most go into my Spam folder and i also delete as fast as possible. I don’t open anything i don’t know who the sender is. Good thing i can tell when its a stupid email, so i ignore them etc.

            I do have anti virus and i try to be careful, so things should be fine.

            By the way, the beach and coast from your last post was beautiful!! I would stay there forever!

            Be glad your not home today. We got slammed with snow and wind yesterday. Storm is in your area now and Mass got 2 feet of snow! Enjoy the heat before you come home!

            Take care in your last few weeks in India!


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