You know you’ve done a fair bit of travelling when any journey under 5 hours seems like an absolute breeze and you can’t comprehend how you ever complained about those 3 hour trips back home.
I’m totally used to long, overnight journeys now but even after a dozen Indian sleeper trains, this 34 hour journey from Pondicherry to Kolkata was taking it a step further. In this case the train departed just before midday so that was a hell of a lot of time awake and only 1 night’s sleep to pass the time with!
As we were doing a loop around India, starting and ending in Delhi, heading back up north from Pondicherry made Kolkata the inevitable destination. Apart form the Sunderbans National Park (which would have to wait until next time) there wasn’t much on the east coast drawing us in for a stopover. We were on the start of a long trip around India and Southeast Asia, so were in full budgeting mode, hence the reason for taking the train over a flight.
How to survive the journey
Here are some things you can do to make a 34 hour train journey in India more comfortable and ensure you don’t die of boredom!
Choose AC3 or AC2
If you’re anything like me travelling on a budget and making the most of how cheap India is, you’ll have been used to taking sleeper class on the trains. We decided to upgrade to AC3 to make the journey more comfortable, but if I did it again I would choose AC2. The difference in price is minimal and worth it for the extra space. The jump from sleeper class to AC3 however was a litte bit. You also need to book ahead as this route only went once every Wednesday!
Eat before the train and bring plenty of snacks
Being a former French colony, Pondicherry is home to a number of bakeries. This made it nice and easy to stock up on breads and pastries for the journey. I have to say that we went so overboard that I didn’t want to touch another baked good again (obviously have). Here’s what I found myself with: 5 vegetable samosas, 1 apple Danish, 1 vegetable puff, 1 pizza bread, 3 cookies, a handful of sweet puffs, pepper sticks and 2 packets of crisps. Nutritious I know. If you’ve gobbled all your snacks early, there’s a food service on board as well as the usual chai and snack sellers.
~ Indian train carriage and my bag of pastries!
Wear layers and if possible bring a sleeping bag liner
The AC can get chilly so I was happy to have packed my sleeping bag liner in an easy to reach part of my backpack – for a little bit of added warmth and because the blankets they provide on the train are damn itchy! It also has a little hood so I could cover my face from any potential stares whilst sleeping. Yes, that can happen.
Bring a book, or two
I don’t think I’ve ever done as much reading as I did in India. All those long journeys and lack of decent wifi made sure I finally got round to finishing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – highly recommend the trilogy by the way.
Be prepared for lots of interest
Indians are curious about foreigners on any journey, and if you think their curiosity will die down more along the journey, it probably won’t. Lots of people get off on route and more people get on. The sooner you realise you just won’t be able to be anonymous, the better. People want to know where you’re from, what you do, why you’re here, if you’re married, children etc. Just roll with it.
If the guy whose job seems to be folding blankets keeps laughing at you declining food because you have your own snacks, you just gotta let him. When he aggressively starts demanding a tip, only from you, for his blanket folding services, and you’re a little cranky from being enclosed in a small space for 30 hours, well that’s a different story.
Make sure your devices are charged
If you’re lucky there will be a charge point in the carriage, otherwise you need to make sure you’re all charged up and hope that you can stretch in out over 34 hours.
Get out the notebook and do some writing
Behind on your travel journal? Need to put together some blog post ideas? This is the perfect time to be productive and catch up on some writing or planning. I’m guilty of not making the most of this, sometimes I much prefer staring out the window and wishing someone could just record my thoughts!
Download some games to keep you occupied
Have some games downloaded before hand and hope that you’ve got some juice left on your phone/ipad etc. Or just go old school with cards, crosswords, sudoku or whatever else takes your fancy!
Make podcasts your new obsession
Despite the 1000s of songs on my phone, I found myself pretty bored of the same old soundtrack not long into our trip. Adam had always listened to podcasts, usually of the sport variety, but I could never find anything that gripping. That’s until I discovered travel podcasts exist! I’m still catching up the Extra Pack of Peanuts travel podcast and am always looking for more recommendations.
Luckily with all of the above, the journey really wasn’t that bad. It was probably one of the only trains we got in India that was on schedule, which was good seeing as we were pulling into Kolkata late. We met an American dude at the taxi rank and shared the ride with him into the city.
What’s been one of your longest journeys and what did you do to make it more enjoyable?