Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Monday 11th - BCT - ADI A/C Double Decker Express

The luxury living must come to am end. But not before we have one of those wonderful Intercontinental breakfasts. You haven't lived until you have had a man carve your banana and strawberries for you. We nip out to a Cyber Cafe just to let the world know that we are alive. R spends a last few minutes in the glamorous ambience of the Intercontinental's lobby and then it is time to go. We are getting the hang of Mumbai taxis - the ride to Mumbai Central costs less than half what we paid last year to travel in the opposite direction.

At the station R is deposited with the bags in the rather grand Upper Class Waiting Room while D sets about some admin and exploration. He has a surplus ticket purchased in Kolkata in order to test the Foreign Tourist Booking system. At the ticket counters there are long queues except at the one marked Refunds - it is closed. There is even a long line at the Ladies Only desk so there is no point in sending R. On the way back into the main station D spots a Platform Ticket counter so buys one. The chap behind the desk seems rather startled to be disturbed from his reading.

Of course the main objective today is to sample one of the new double deck trains that Indian Railways have been introducing over the last year or so. These are all Chair Class accommodation. Our train arrives from Ahmedabad at about 1.30 and they are still finishing off the cleaning as we board. First observation is that these coaches do not have a lot of luggage space. One of our bags will not fit in the overhead rack above our seats and has to be put at the end of the coach. The length of chain that D has lugged round India finally comes in useful. We have rear facingseats at a table for 4 in the centre of the upper deck. Most of the seats are airline style - 3 on one side of the aisle and 2 on the other.

The peace and quiet of our coach is shattered when a flock of about 15 Aunties descends upon us. They are on some sort of outing and most of them are wearing matching saris. Boy can they make a racket. As usual with the Indian ticketing system they are dotted around the coach and each takes turns in trying every single seat on the group ticket. The rest of the coach fills up apart from the table of 6 opposite us which the Aunties commandeer as the site for their running buffet.

The food just goes on and on. A young man appears to claim one of the window seats at the table and is shooed away. He has to stand at the end of the coach when the train gets under way. We have been joined by a chap who is going to Ahmedabad to look at a flat. He seems determined to start a row with every vendor who passes as he complains about short measures of chai and sauce sachets that won't open. At the first stop the table opposite fills with a family of six, the spare man sitting at the last seat of our table. There is a bit of a row about who is taking up all of the luggage space - we keep our heads down.

The train makes good progress - according to the information display at the end of the coach there are times when we hit 119 kph. We cross from Maharastra into Gujarat. At Bilimora and Kosamba we see the 2'6" gauge branch lines that still carry one or two daily trains. There was rolling stock visible but our train's speed made photography impossible. Gujarat still has a good few narrow and metre gauge lines. Pity that they also have prohibition. About half way into the journey the TTE arrives, scarcely glances at our ticket and fails to collect the additional fare due. About an hour later a youth in jeans and a pink tee shirt stands next to us with a piece of paper and looks forlorn. Somebody translates for us. "He needs 70 rupees" D expresses doubts about his official status and asks for a receipt. The youth goes away and is rreplaced by the TTE who occupies a temporarily spare seat at the table of six.

For the next hour we feel as if we have front row seats at a performance of a familiar pantomime that has been dubbed into Serbo-Croat. There are gales of laughter all round as the TTE is offered paan that is not to his taste and when one of the family help themselves to a vendor's napkins while he is looking the other way. Even D's comment that nobody in India has change gets a laugh when the time comes to pay up the extra fare. Then various other people in the coach arrive to pay their surcharge, apparently quite voluntarily. For his piece de resistance our TTE gets tough with the platform vendors who try to sneak on board at Vadodara. All in all it is a very jolly hour though we haven't really got a clue what is going on. The Aunties even chip in with a bit of singing.

After running ahead of time for much of the trip we sit outside Ahmedabad for 20 minutes and get in late. Trying to get out of the station is like trying to leave a football match while carrying luggage. We grab the first auto. The driver is either seriously mad or on something and we are pleased to reach our hotel in one piece.

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