The NGO for which I work has recently just opened a new operation in rural Maharashtra and I wanted to head out there to see the clinic in action on it’s inaugural day. This meant taking the 10 hours overnight train from Dadar Main Station to Belapur on the Thursday night and then back again on Friday night. I was excited. My first experience of overnight trains.
I travelled with a female colleague, our train left at 11.10pm and we were in carriage 3A/C, one of the more comfortable carriages. The train station was buzzing with people, it seemed like mostly families with young children and huge amounts of luggage. The train arrived, miraculously, bang on time and we boarded with ease. My colleague and I were both booked onto bottom bunks. Each ‘cubicle’ has 6 bunks, 3 on either side of the cubicle. There are then 2 more bunks on the other side of the aisle in a slightly more private, but smaller cubicle. My initial reaction was how quiet and peaceful the train was. People whom had already boarded at CST were tucked up and snoozing already. We quickly shuffled our bags under the bunk, got our super crisp and clean sheets, blankets and pillow (all washed at the Dhobi Ghat) and made our beds.
I found the bed comfortable and am now at the stage where sleeping on my back does make me a little breathless or light headed, so I curled up facing the middle of the cubicle. Generally the night was quite undisturbed, except for one man grabbing my foot thinking he was in his cubicle and not mine. I am sure he was as shocked to find someone in what he thought was his bed as I was to have my foot tickled in the dead of night!
The journey was meant to take 10 hours. We were due to arrive in to Belapur at 9.20am. We didn’t arrive until 11am. Luckily we weren’t on a tight schedule!
I watched my liquid intake during the night as wanted to avoid having to use the toilet in the night (normally I’m up at least twice in the night now). I couldn’t quite make it all the way to 11am (12 hours afterall!) so did use the toilet in the morning. It was a squatter toilet and although it smelt a little funky it was relatively clean. Personally I prefer public squatter loos over public western toilets. They somehow seem more hygenic as you don’t have to touch anything! Still, I travel with hand sanitizer now a days as, with this occasion, there’s not always water available to wash hands!
Our journey back wasn’t as simple. The train was scheduled to depart at 5.40pm and arrive back in Mumbai at 3.40am. Not ideal timings. It arrived on time as before. On this occasion we were booked on the middle bunk which starts the journey “down” – as the back of the seat for all the passengers in your cubicle. It’s not ‘train ettiquette’ to set up this bed before ‘bedtime’ as it means no one can sit and would force everyone to lie down. I had a great book (Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother) so I was happy. We carried some great Gujurati snacks with us and generally enjoyed the peace and quiet of the train. In fact I also bought some bhel puri, which I have wanted to try for some time now. It was delicious. More a snack than dinner, but I recommend it.
I made up my bed at about 8pm and went straight off to sleep. Sleeping on the middle bunk is somehow more unsettling and being right by the door meant people were continuously knocking into me or bashing my legs. The train was also 2 hours delayed again, so instead of arriving at 3.40am we got in at 5.45am, but spent the last two hours of the journey worrying about missing our stop! I arrived back feeling exhausted and somehow ‘jet lagged’.
Mr M and I are taking the overnight train from Kolkata to Darjeeling in a couple of weeks time and I feel more relaxed about it having experienced it already. My only advice would be not to have two consecutive nights on such a vehicle and to take a pillow of your own. I awoke with a sore back, achey hips and a stiff neck!