Railway reservations: The pains and pleasures

The chasm between those who take flights and those who brave the sleeper compartments of trains is about as wide as that between those who take the bus to work and those who cab it (everyday!). This is not to say that some of us don’t do a blend of both. However, only a train rider will know the sheer bliss of booking a tatkal ticket at 10 AM sharp and the agony of learning at the last minute that your train back home has been cancelled.

Forget being able to land a ticket, the process of navigating the IRCTC website itself requires a crash course for many. In school, we had a chapter where we had to analyse a railway timetable and answer questions about the arrival and departure times of various trains. Needless to say, the experience traumatised many of us and left us wondering as to how we would book long-distance trains in our adult life.

Nevertheless, I honestly believe that when it comes to domestic travel, the Indian railway is a real lifesaver. I can comfortably endure and even enjoy journeys of up to 18 hours. On my last trip to Madhya Pradesh, I had an AC side berth all to myself and I spent many tranquil hours gazing outside the window and reading Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck. What is your upper limit for a train journey’s duration? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Is it really worth shelling out four times the amount for a flight when a 3AC sleeper seat assures you of curtained privacy and comfortable naps with the rumble of the train serving as a lullaby? The first time I took a flight, I thought it would be super quick but I hadn’t accounted for the fact that one has to turn up two hours prior to the departure time. Combined with all the time taken to board and disembark the plane, I ended up being rather disappointed.

In my next encounter with the Indian railway, I would like to experience the charm of a luxury tourist train; perhaps, The Palace on Wheels or The Maharaja Express. I have an ongoing love affair with the culture-rich state of Rajasthan and what better way to explore its forts and palaces than on a train with coaches named after former Rajput states? And if I plan in advance, I might be able to escape the ordeal of tatkal booking and use an e-booking service instead.