Thursday, 2 April 2015

31 Mar - Resting in Ratnagiri......and considering the train

Day's run: 26 km - to train station
Total: 1,861 km

It was a spur of the moment decision...... I'd been zig-zagging around south western India for about 5 weeks and was now comfortable with and accepting of all that had amazed and confounded me in the early days. I had 2 weeks left. I could either carry on up the beautiful, scarcely populated coast to Mumbai or relocate to Delhi. Distance-wise, like moving from north Portugal to London. To be honest, once you've seen 10 pristine unspoilt beaches, then you've seen them all.

I knew Seat61 was a brilliant web resource for foreign train travel but I had only had a scratchy 2G internet connection in my hotel and so just took the plunge and headed for the train station, 13 km out of town.......feeling absolutely clueless.

Nationalised in 1951, and probably under-invested-in ever since, India Railways has one of the largest networks in the world with 115,000 km of track, 7,172 stations and carries over 8 billion passengers per year. Staggering. First impression's count ......Ratnagiri has a dirty rundown shit hole of a station. Now, with hindsight, I know it is no better or worse than the rest.

You have to reserve seats on long distance trains. Of the eleven enquiry hatches in the Reservations Office only one was open. The queue inched forward frustratingly slowly, with 'chancers' always trying to get in at the front resulting in heated arguments. As I arrived at the front a placard slid across the hatch and the teller disappeared. Tea break! I was suddenly transported back to RAF Lyneham in the 80's. Don't bother visiting ESG (Electronic Supply Group) at 10:00 or 15:00........the shutters would be down and locked.; not at all confidently..."An air-conditioned sleeper ticket to Delhi for tomorrow morning please". Disbelief, tempered with amusement.  What planet is Johnny Foreigner from? "Tomorrow!" Hahaha! "Trains all full"......and a piece of paper is thrust at me. It's an application for a waiting list place for the 07:40 tomorrow morning,..... April Fool's Day. I retired to a pavement outside to puzzle out with the flies how to fill it in. 'Address' is always a challenge. They don't like my Kerala mobile number much either as they don't recognise it. " You will get text tonight, 8pm, so better give me proper phone number". My form is accepted and I hand over my money and am given a ticket.......which may well be worthless. I speak to the freight department about my bike. He looks at my ticket. "Be here at 06:30" the man said.

As I cycle 'home' to the hotel I try and work it out. I'll have to leave for the uphill ride to the station at around 05:45 and be pannier-packed ready for a 30 hour train journey.......or an 85 km ride up the coast.......all depending on this mysterious text.

I'm sat in a restaurant when the text arrives. It's as clear as mud to me....

Frm RN to NZM
Chart Prepared

 I have no idea what 'chart prepared' means. Have I got a seat or not? The staff cannot help, I wasn't even sure what I'd ordered to eat. Eventually an old guy comes in with good English....such a relief. "You are on Waiting List". Yes, I know, I just told you that, but do I have a seat or not? Vigorous head-waggling......not a good sign. Later, having found a 3G signal, I feed the PNR into the rather good India Rail website. It says I'm W/L 6 and quotes a coach and a berth number. Now I'm still confused but assume I'm still 6th on the list. Ah well, back to the beaches.......tomorrow morning I'll go to the station anyway, my status might change overnight and I have to go to claim a ticket refund.

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