Can’t complain about Indian railways

Day 4 of our isolated un-trip to India and things are going much more smoothly than I could have imagined.

Indian Railway system is possibly the only lasting benefit left by the British during their occupation of the place. The network is extensive, trains are frequent and mostly run on time.* Also, at least outside of cattle class, they are quite clean and sleeper beds include linen. Did I mention fares are also pretty cheap?

So our trip from Amritsar to Haridwar (near Rishikesh) would have been fun and a new experience for Petronella, had we taken it. But I think even had our flight not been cancelled, all Indian trains have been.

Right now we would have been on the banks of the upper Ganges River, wondering why it seems compulsory for Western women to wear yoga pants 24/7 in this city. Well, I would have been, she would like have been wearing yoga pants.

Ganges River at Rishikesh

Tonight we won’t be travelling by train to Khajuraho, site of the Karma Sutra Temple. In a day or 3 I’ll share some rather racy photos and update you on the incredible things we don’t do.

* this is based on experience, not any collection of data across the whole network. For all I know hardly any of the trains run on time – and it wouldn’t be surprising – but apart from 1 that was cancelled, 1 that was 5 hours late, 1 that was estimated 12 hours late and a few other delays…OK, so they sometimes are on time.

Best travel leg ever

Jetlag is a pain. You arrive at your destination and for the next couple of days your body is catching up with local time.

But not this trip. It is as though our bodies are on local time all the time. It is incredible, people are using our regular currency, speak our language and we blend in as though we belong.

I know Air Asia is regarded as a budget airline, but this time I am all compliments, it was as though the flight over didn’t happen.

I have to say that in all my travels, airline food has never looked like this.

Airline breakfast

Who ever heard of getting Montmarte Patisserrie croissants on a plane? And for lunch, Chilli sin Carne and salad with home-grown ingredients.

Not Airline Food

Of course, departure day didn’t quite go as expected. Before we flew we had to handle the flu with a last minute vaccination. Despite initial fears, no one fainted which was a good thing.

Flu shot

Thanks to our corporate sponsors for providing free shots.

Next stop won’t be Amritsar where we won’t visit the Golden Temple, the Pakistan Border or the maze temple. But more about those places when we don’t get there.

Navigating India railways

India gives the impression of being a tech savvy country, but you wouldn’t know it if you used the India Rail web site. Given that it represents a huge government organisation it is definitely one of the most difficult sites to use; it has too many ads (since when does a government business site have google ads?), parts of it don’t work, parts of it are confusing, parts of it are pointless…it sucks.

I spent about 8 hours trying to book some train tickets, constantly hitting a wall “foreign cards not accepted” with any card I tried. Doing some research I found 12go who will book for you, but R500 ($10) worth of tickets cost an additional R800 ($16) booking fee.

India’s railways carry 23 million people per day

Then I remembered cleartrip who I have used successfully in the past but they took money without delivering a ticket. I have previously had refunds from them so am not worried, but it was frustrating trying to get it to work.

There had to be a way around this and a few sites had mentioned that IRCTC now takes Atom payments which work with foreign cards.

This is what the payment screen looks like – errr…well, I would show you a screenshot but…

which proves my point.

So if you do manage to connect and choose your India train trip and want to pay with a foreign card, there is a way to do it. I am posting this as a test blog post and also so that people wanting to buy India rail tickets with foreign international cards don’t have as hard a time figuring it out.

Once you get to the review trip page, instead of choosing Debit Card with PIN – which seems the most obvious, choose Multiple Payment Service – here’s a screenshot I prepared earlier.

India Rail payment page

No, I have no idea what they would hide it in there except T.I.I. (This Is India). Once in there the International Cards using Atom payment thingy is obvious

IRCTS Atom payment for foreign cards

Obviously your results may vary, but the first ticket literally took me most of a day – but it is best to not get too frustrated or you won’t survive being in India. Once I discovered the Multiple Payment Service, 4 more tickets took about 30 minutes.

I have downloaded the tickets to show the officious conductors, all I need now is for them to show up in my list of purchased tickets on the IRCTC site…sigh…