100 Days in India Project

Man wearing grey hoodie cycles an empty rickshaw in New Delhi, India

36/ 100 The Marudhar Express Part 1 – Choosing a Train

We found the long distance trains in India to be brilliant, mostly. We used them a few times on our trips across the enormous country and generally they were punctual, comfortable and efficient. One of them, though, was not any of those things and there is so much to mention about one single (very long) train trip that I will have to break it down into smaller chunks. It turns out that choosing a train in India is no easy task.

Our troubles manifested long before we even got to the station in Varanasi, where we began our journey. In India there is a Government website that you can use to book trains. It does work, to be fair, but the confusing barrage of flashing images and adverts doesn’t make life easy. The site lets you choose which train you want to use for each given route. Unlike here in the UK, where you might pick the time of the departing train that’s heading to your destination, there are several different trains, with different names, all plying the same line. We were traveling from Varanasi to Agra and chose the speedy sounding Marudhar Express overnight sleeper train.

We knew from various blog posts that the trains in India can be significantly delayed for various reasons, so we kept checking the website for updates. Sure enough, in lurid 1980s graphics, it said it was most definitely not on time. Unfortunately it didn’t say by how long it was delayed, or have an estimated departure time, but you could see that it hadn’t left the last station yet, and that was several hours away.

A few hours more passed and we kept checking the status of the Marudhar Express, stress levels rising and the train apparently getting no nearer to our station. Our good friend and host at the time, Sonu, told us that this was quite common and nothing to worry about. We should, he said, simply become more like Indian people and what will be will be.

Some days before we had actually asked Sonu about our choice of train and, in typical Indian ‘I’ll withhold all the significant information so as not to upset you’ style he just told us it was fine and was an acceptable choice. However, sat around our packed luggage late that night in his hotel reception he did break with tradition and told us that, in fact, the train we picked was actually famously late and, rather worryingly, sometimes never showed at all. He would never have chosen it. Ever.

If he had told us just that morning we could’ve easily rebooked, but now we were committed.

At about 11pm we made the decision to head to theVaranasi Junction station anyhow and wait there instead. Who knows, there might be some information available.

Intended Train departure time: 5.30pm
Current delay: 5 hours