Ever since I read about the Great Circular Indian Railways Challenge at Indiamike, I have been hooked. So last night I invited Mark Lester to do a guest post for me and he was kind enough to agree. So over to Mark Lester and his post.
That’s a preposterous claim I know, but it appears to have gained your attention. You can actually do something like this. It is possible to travel round the edge of India’s vast railway network, visiting the furthest points north, south, east and west, plus the highest station in India, and the most coastal, plus visiting the 4 greatest cities in India. You can even stop off for an hour or so at 3 of the most sacred temples in all of India, see parts of Assam few travelers have ever seen, and all in 15 days flat on a train ticket costing as little as £60.
You can even do it with an as eclectic a range of people you could find on any trip. From aging English ex “hippies” to respectable middle class Indian doctors. From backpacking trek trooping mountaineers to more sedate Maharatsran housewives. From technocrats from Massachusetts to, well, technocrats from Karnataka. All of them distributed up and down the various classes that comprise the Indian train. Some of the group are wizened old travelers who have been visiting India for 40 years. Others have never set foot in the country. Some are Indians who can remember Nehru running the country. Others are Indians who can’t even remember what life was like before mobile phones became as essential to life as having a wrist watch.
The Great Circular Indian Railway Challenge was cooked up by a small group of middle aged guys in England and India 12 months ago, largely as a reason to do something they had all wanted the excuse to do since they first climbed aboard a long distance Indian train. Like many of these kinds of projects, the excuse that they’ve been pedaling to their spouses for the last year is that they are “raising money for disadvantaged kids in India”, via their chosen charity Railway Children.
Finding people daft enough to embark on 2 weeks of virtually solid train travel around the subcontinent, on a mission that dwarfs the Trans Siberian in every way possible, would have been difficult 10 years ago. But then the Internet happened. There are over 50 active travel forums up and down the world wide web, and GCIRC has had a go at each and every one of them, to the best of their knowledge. There are now up to 50 people who are currently hoping to participate in this exercise in anarchic social networking.
The only travel agent involved in any of the project is the official IndRail pass agent in the UK. Even they are of little use to native Indians who will have to book their tickets with meticulous precision, 90 days in advance of each of the 19 departures. The rest of the details are largely up to the individual. The rush for the shared use of hotel rooms at each change of train in search of a rapid sit down, shower and a shave, where applicable, is likely to be an event in itself at many of the stops. In the more remote areas, and in particular in Assam, group provisions are being made in advance. There has also been a considerable effort made to ensure that the participants won’t have to survive on train food for 2 weeks, or get sick through not knowing where the best food in town is to be found, which often is not at the most expensive table.
This is not a sponsored fast, or a sponsored stink. But there are no rules. Some people will travel 1st class for as much as they can. You can do so for 75% of the journey, but some of the route is more egalitarian. Others will be traveling in 2nd class sleeper the whole way round. Some will share rooms at the cheapest hotel they can find in order to have an essential wash after each epic section of the trip. Others will just sneak off to the best 5 star hotel that their relatives or business contacts could recommend.
You won’t get to hang out at the Taj, or hang out anywhere really for very long. But you will manage nigh on 20% of the 3rd largest railway network on the planet, and have a travel story few of your friends will be able to match.
The Great Circular Indian Railway Challenge
For more information follow Mark on his own GCIRC blog.