I've taken the train only three times in India. But, each experience was a fascinating one, due to the fact train trips are usually long enough to feel or notice aything.
The first time was a trip two years ago from Delhi to Indore, about 15 hours on a night train. The second time was a 25 hours trip from Bangalore to Bombay almost a year ago. The third one is the one we just did, from Chennai to Bangalore, last week.
While we are accustommed to have 1st class and Second class in Switzerland, the indian rail ticket classification is more complex. The cheapest one are the wodden bench class in a coach without glass on windows, the there is the class with seats without AC. Then the sleeper car which is non AC as well and has therefore no glass on windows and no compartment.
Then come the 3/3 AC classes, AC 1st Tier has 2 or 4 berth per compartment and a door you can lock for privacy, AC 2nd Tier has 6 berths per compartment, 4 in the boxed area, 2 parallel to the aisle, there are curtains for a little privacy, The AC 3rd Tier has 8 Berths, 6 in the box area and 2 parallel to the aisle and no curtains at all.
On my Bangalore to Bombay trip we had the AC 2 arrangement, and even with all the comfort those trains have, 25 hours in there is still long. Long but interesting if you have the lower Berth in the box and are alone in the day time (rare but it still happens). There is a luxury treat you can indulge yourself in : lay down on your stomack proped on your pillow and admire the landscape out of the window. Observe the rural side of India from that priviledged observation point. A good part of the day is gone that way without you noticing. If you can't lay down it's also fine doing that in asitting position but it's not the same.
Another thing that amazed me on this long trip was how much staff there is in trains. From the guy distributing bedsheets, pillow, and blankets package when you board. The guy who sells tea, the food sellers, the ticket officer who is also the guard on board, the persons who more or less try to clean the place and other magasine sellers...For 25 hours, this long steel snake is carrying a small village in it's belly, and passenger try more or less t make their allowed space more comfortable and personnal.
My last week small 7 hours trip was nothing like that. It was a night trip only, and quite short by Indian standard. We took the AC 3rd, and it really looked like those army dorm you see in movies. This time dbf and I got upper berth which means there was some climbing to do. One of the berth was in the box area and the other was an aisle one. Silly me, I took the aisle one realising too late that it was fitted for a pettite Indian body frame. My head touched one wall, and my feet the other. I should have asked dbf to switch so I could have my feet pointing in the aisle but nope I didn't ...my fault entirely. As soon as the train started all the passenger in the coach prepared for their bed time rituals. One laying the bed sheet then the blanket then himself under the other thin bed sheet. Another one putting head phones on this ears to go to sleep with some music. Another one using only his pillow. Me struggling with bed sheet number one because I don't like seeping on vinyl. Trying to do that without seeing what I was doing (remember upper berth) then climbing all the way up and hitting my head on the "ceilling" (ouch) before trying to nest myself in a confortable position. Watching dbf discard the 2 bedsheets and usig the blanket and pillow only. Progressively the coachload of people calmed down while as we all went to sleep...Sleep? It was the first time ever I could not sleep in a train. I don't know why. I ended up tossing and turning catching a few zzzzzzs in between. Opened my eyes to see what appeared to be a baby corckroach on the ceilling in the central area... which was all I needed not to go back to sleep. I watched the beast wander about, witnessed the stupid creature's liking of my side of the cieling, crawling slowly toward my berth....arggggggh! Stupid pest! I can't even scream here, you vicious creature! You knew that I hate crawlers at night! Act of heroism from my part : I squashed the thing with my blanket, making sure I wont touch this area of said blanket for the rest of the night.
Another snooze period, and the need to attend nature's call called...performed an acrobatic number down my nest trying to be as silent as a cat doing so. And realised it's probably useless considering the incredible number of snorers (dbf included) in that coach. Made my way to the spacious bathroom with indian style toilets. Watering the flower in that squatting position when you are sleepy in a moving train is hard...real hard...mission accomplished! I pee on my feet, or pants! While washing my hands I got to read an awful add claiming AIDS could be cured! With yoga, and some probably fake Ayurvedic methods. I wondered if I had the right to tear that bullshit away from the wall and realised that even if I could it was strongly glued in place, felt angry for the fake hope it provided, because not only did it claim to cure AIDS but arthritis, allergies, asthma and I don't know what else not mentioned on the sheet.
I went back to my half sleep for a few hours, and when I finally did find sleep, the light in the aisle right above my head suddenly got switched on...argggggh! After a few minutes, I realised I was in the train and saw all the passengers getting franctic at packing stuff, discarding their blanket. A sure sign we were arriving to Bangalore. How do the others know it's time???? No one announced the station in there. Still sleepy, I got down and sat on the empty seat beneath my berth and looked for my bag and my shoes while dbf woke up. Soon enough, we were out in a huge crowd pushing our way to get an Auto to our new home...freezing in the chilly dawn air, Chennai did not prepare me to feel cold again. At the time it was the only thing that made me realise we were miles away from our old house.