Once upon a time, there were Indian Railways in which the modern day III Tier A/C didn’t exist. There was just II class sleeper or II A/C and sometimes I Tier A/C, the former meant for those who just wanted to get from Point A to Point B and the latter two meant for those who had varying amounts of cash to spare and comfort to buy. That they gave all the bedding (washed or not but white surely and those prickly blankets) made it feel special, like you’d won some lottery. Little did we know that this was the norm to much higher standards in developed countries.
People were chugging merrily along before the III Tier A/C compartment was introduced. And when it was, it brought with it a clash of personalities – was it a hostel on wheels or was it a luxury trip? Were bugs acceptable or was the very sight of them, let alone mice and rats, a scream for help? Some of the conundrums of III Tier A/C travel include lack of space (vertical in main berths and horizontal in side berths) and partial gymnastics to ease into them. Not being so tall myself (5’3”), I usually choose the upper side berth for obvious reasons – I can sit up all I want and sleep somewhat ok. Typically I don’t mind swapping for an upper berth on the main compartment and since I am a tummy reader. But the barter is seldom so simple. People bartering are always the middle berth ones – something I avoid swapping to. The middle berths are the Indian Railways’ way of parallel parking people into predefined wedges, whether they fit or not. God forbid, you’re over 50 years of age, or 80 kg of weight, you can consider it next to impossible to squeeze, yes, squeeze in. And if you do, you’re imprisoned the rest of the night. Also, it’s exceedingly common for the lower berth smug old man/lady to want to go to sleep right past 8 pm when in reality at home, they would no doubt be glued to some raving dramatic mega serial on TV.
And the woes of the side lower are just as bad – people brushing over you all through the night, while you clutch some possessions to your person (think chain, earrings etc) to be safe, the RAC people taking 1/3rd of the pathetic 5’6” space allotted (which I personally think is the only reason the Indian Railways has stopped at allotting middle side berths) or the random vendors who decide to take a break at your feet.
Oh, and if this isn’t enough, watch for the gymnastics that take place at 8 pm or just after, as people try to get on to any of the upper berths (look out for stunt performances at the side upper). The pathetic iron 3 rung ladder placed obliquely high and uncoordinated “handles” provided at the 2 upper berths make for a performance you’re unlikely to see anywhere else except with trapeze artistes. Sliding into the middle berths calls for reptilian antics too.
What’s the way out?
- If you’ve not booked the berth of your choice in time, you might as well forget bartering with others for their berths. I’ve seen pregnant women, old people and even disabled at times, been given the virtual finger as their requests are turned down.
- Look your age. If you look fit and young, no ones swapping.
- Arrive early and ask the incoming passenger for his berth within moments of his arrival. Take him by surprise and you stand a chance.
For everything else, hover over your computer hours before booking begins to get the berth of choice. Better still, invest some more and travel by a more comfortable class or by airplane. Good luck on this fantastically entertaining, always memorable journey on the Indian railways.
Coming up next – More experiences – locked in the loo, fight in the corridor and more! Stay tuned.