First time for everything: Taking a sleeper train in India
To those who have not experienced it, train travel in India looks like an adventure. Passengers clinging on to the roofs, retro carriages! How exciting.
However, to those who have – a club that I have just joined – this romanticised view is a fairytale fed to foreigners. And rightly so, or we might never experience one of the world's most remarkable travel systems.
India's train network stretches across more than 40,000 miles of track, employs around 1.4 million people, and boasts more than 17,000 trains – though my journey only involved one locomotive travelling around 370 miles from Mumbai to Goa. I booked a ticket in a second-class carriage on this 12-hour sleeper train with a feeling that an enjoyable journey lay ahead, despite protests from my Indian relatives, who made it sound as though I'd be lucky to survive the trip.
I was 16th on the train's waitlist – an ingenious, if nerve-racking, invention that ensures that no train has empty seats if there are willing passengers to take them. In theory, India's train passengers are a fickle lot who cancel their tickets days before the journey, freeing up "reservation against cancellation" (RAC) spaces for those on the waitlist. RAC status gives passengers the right to board their chosen train. But, as I discovered when I was granted RAC status less than two hours before departure, it does not give them the right to a seat or bed.
Despite having to share a bunk around half the width of a single bed, the drinks sellers' near constant shouts of "pani, pani, pani!" ("water, water water!"), and the regular stops to allow yet more passengers to board the already-heaving third class carriages, I slept soundly and arrived in Goa happy and well rested.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 East 17 bandmember Brian Harvey in 'very desperate situation’
- 2 Germanwings plane crash: Video shows co-pilot Andreas Lubitz learning to fly as a teenager
- 3 Vladimir Putin says Russia will fight for the right of Palestinians to their own state
- 5 Ohio Democrat Teresa Fedor speaks out during abortion debate to reveal she has been raped – and is interrupted by laughter from Republicans
Win a trip to Tobago for two
Dreamland: Britain's oldest amusement park is set to reopen this summer in Margate
The Atlas of Beauty: Photographer travels around the world to capture cultural diversity through stunning portraits of women
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
Germany's great outdoors: The Black Forest, wine country and Saxon Switzerland
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
£24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...
£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...