In the few days after I left the Exodus group in Varanasi, I have done very little except take trains. What with late running and a tummy bug, I did not have energy to go anywhere except from hotel to station and back again. However, since my grandfather was one of the engineers who built and/or managed the Indian Railways, I am counting this as part of a family pilgrimage.
The three trains I booked for myself were in classes AC2, AC3 and AC1 respectively- air-conditioned sleepers with two or three bunks in a stack. I thought AC1 might be all on one level, but not so. It is called Executive Class, and the four bunks are in a room with a locking door rather than open to the corridor. They are also wider and softer, with the blanket coming wrapped in a duvet cover rather than bare. In the other two classes, there were frequent calls from the chai-wallah selling tea, digestive biscuits and occasionally other food; he did not penetrate the guarded carriage of the Executive Class. I had chosen that train, the Lucknow Mail, because it did not involve arriving or departing in the middle of the night, and it was more punctual than the other trains – only 45 minutes late arriving in New Delhi. But the main difference with travelling Executive Class was that we had a waiting room all to ourselves at Lucknow Station (apart from some station staff walking through to use the Western-style toilet). It was furnished with heavy wooden furniture and big soft cushions- two settees, four armchairs and four upright chairs, plus a glass-topped table.
As for the other trains: Mughal Sarai Junction to Gaya was due to leave at 20:00 and arrive just before 23:00. It actually came in, on the wrong platform, after midnight and arrived just before 4 am. I had got up at 4:30 the day before for our boat ride on the Ganges, so was very tired, and glad I had eaten a biriani on arrival at MSJ. Was that the cause of the indisposition the following night, or was it drinking water from a dusty bottle bought on Gaya Station? Fortunately the guard on our carriage told me we were due in at 4, so I could set the clock. I can’t use WiFi on the trains because you need an Indian mobile phone number to confirm your login. If I come again, splash out on a SIM card.
Gaya to Lucknow was only a bit late arriving, but I had fallen asleep on the station and had to be woken up. Someone asked to see my ticket, seized my bag, and found the right carriage and the right berth, and then wanted money. 10 rupees was not acceptable so I gave him 100, about £1.25. Well, I would have had problems without him. From that journey, I can report that, just as toilets everywhere were cleaner and better than I expected, this is also true of toilets on trains. There was even a Western-style one at one end of the carriage. All it lacked was a rubbish bin. One of the passengers in the block facing me was also going to Lucknow, so I did not have to worry about where to get off. They don’t tell you.
For a much more comprehensive study of Indian Railways, I recommend Around India in 80 Trains, by Monisha Rajesh, which I read for the third time while waiting to recover.