Friday, 6 August 2010

How to pack for a train trip in India

There is a single, salient truth about train travel in India: the further you are from the toilet, the better. That's why I always dance a little jig whenever I find that I am positioned close to the middle of the carriage.

Train travel here is a fine art. Those who've been doing it since childhood have it all figured out and know all the quirks: when a waitlisted ticket will definitely get confirmed, how to get the best seats, which trains are better than others. After perhaps 8 or 10 train journeys I'm slowly getting to know things. First rule of train travel: don't go to the toilet. The trip is far smoother if you don't. That might mean sipping rather than drinking water for the duration of the journey, but trust me on this one.

Another is how to pack. What you don't pack is as important as what you do - particularly as I sleep almost on top of my bag for safety.

I have a few short trips coming up in coming weeks so am doing a master pack now that I will then hone for each trip. I'm a bit loath to do a packing post - particularly after watching one such video post by a blogger I had previously admired, in which her key bit of advice was to pack a toothbrush.

But this may well turn up in Google searches and people probably do want to know - so here goes.

Silk sarong: this is an indispensible travel item regardless, but particularly useful on overnighting Indian trains. The sheets might be fresh and clean but still, I like a barrier. It's a sheet, a pillow, a pillowcase, a towel, a scarf, a shawl. It can also be a skirt, a tablecloth, a napkin, a veil or a blankie if you must. Three months backpacking in Greece when I was 21 introduced me to the many and varied uses of a sarong. I got mine a few years later in Goa, and it's been my travel staple ever since.

Book: the lighter the better. Forget India After Gandhi, you will curse it as you struggle through tight corridors and slender doorways. My ideal train read would be something light-spined but meaty, say a Penguin Classic such as Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. However a review of Frank Gardner's latest is due next week, so that's what's in my bag.

Earplugs: Sod's law means you will always end up in the compartment with a snorer.

Tripod (optional): To combat the above menace, a camera tripod can - and has - been used, with minimal force of course, to gently prod the snoree into remembering to roll over.

Spray fragrance: The carriages might be old and rickety but they're usually clean and, if you're away from the toilet, olefactorily neutral. Nevertheless it is nice to be reminded that nice scents do exist. I usually carry Caudalie's Eau de Beaute, which doubles as a face spray, but it was recently nicked by my evil maid.

iPod/iPhone (optional): If you have one. I don't. I hate anyone who does.

Toilet paper: for if you really must venture that way.

Soap, hand sanitiser, other toiletries: I don't need to tell you this. Surely y'all know to bring a toothbrush.


sk said...

You capture an aspect of Indian train travel well ! You need parfume ! You don't think it was called for eau the toilette for nothing do you ? like the nosegays they carried in the 1800s in Europe to mask the unpleasant smells around you.
Though to be honest, all the 2AC, 3AC sleepers I've traveled on have perfectly ok toilets.

You mentioned several upcoming short journeys. If these are to 2nd tier cities and especially if they require connections you might want to check out my totally free and ad-free website to plan your travel. It will find near optimal trains between any A and B in India for you.

I got so fed up with the IRCTC train search process that I wrote my own :-)

Ramit Grover said...

Now I am really curious. How can the trip be smoother if we don't go to the toilet?

What's the idea?

desiderata said...

@Ramit - because the toilets stink!

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