A Lesson In Patience: Train Travel in India

Train travel in India takes an understanding of the system.
Waiting for the train in Varanasi, India.

The world’s largest employer, with more than 1.5 million employees, is the Indian Train System Institution. Part of their services include air-conditioned tourist rooms reserved especially for foreigners, a place such travelers can receive special help.

Where I was, in Varanasi, the holiest city of the Hindus in northeast-central India, the room was more like an office where ticket agents were supposed to sit at desks with potential passengers. Four foreigners waited as the two agents chatted loudly, ignoring those expecting service. The quieter of the two left and the other finally served an Israeli guy patiently sitting.

“What?” the vendor curtly solicited, lifting his chin sharply and pointing.

“I want a ticket to Calcutta.”

“For when?”

“When can I go?”

“When do you want to go? Listen, if you don’t know what you want then don’t come here to waste my time. Go away and come back when you know what you are talking about.”

I instantly felt intimidated waiting for my turn.

“Can I go tomorrow?” the Israeli guy asked.

“You can go tomorrow,” the vendor snarled, checking his computer. Snapping all the way, he continued. “It will cost you 167 rupees (US$ 3.84), 2nd class sleeper. It leaves at 4:30 in the afternoon. Show me your passport and bank receipts for traveler’s checks.”

“Oh, no,” I thought. The law states foreigners must prove they changed money in an official establishment, but no one ever keeps account. I mean, I never did.

“I don’t have my receipts…” the Israeli guy said.

“You cannot have the tickets without producing the receipts,” he barked, pointing at a sign on the wall.

“Yes, I know, but it would be better for me if you gave me the ticket…”

“Not without the bank receipts! It’s the law in India!”

My heart sank. The clerk back at the guesthouse where I stayed hadn’t provided any receipts when he and I had cashed traveler’s checks a day or two ago. He knew that mentioning the regulation would spook a newly arrived rookie like me. It was late and I couldn’t recall seeing any banks in that zoo of traffic and mayhem on the streets I was trying so hard to avoid. In my haste and panic, I thought perhaps I could change some money at a bank to obtain a receipt to keep this ticket-selling man at bay.

Continued on next page



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