After 2 months of travel through India and many hours spent on the vast rail network (legacy of the Brits) here a few facts and experiences.
Kilometers traveled: over 3000 km
Hours spent on Indian trains: over 700 hours
Longest delay: 14 hours, on the journey from Varanasi to Kolkata (normal duration: 12 hour, our trip: 26 hours). Reason unknown.
Most scenic ride: with old steam engine from Darjeeling to Ghoom (1 hour, with views of Khangchendzonga range)
Most luxuries train experience: train from Delhi to Jaipur with food service (tea, nice breakfast and plenty of water bottles)
Most crowded journey: 5 hour ride for 90 km between Pathankot and Kangra, half standing half sitting.
Funniest moment: naked boy running around the wagon, climbing on my lap and drawing in my notebook.
Urban legend: people offer you food/drink on train that contains sleeping pills so they can rob you. We kindly declined any food offer.
Toughest moment: trying to board the train in Kanpur, with hundreds of people trying to get on, others trying to get out and others trying to rob you.
Only foreigner met: Teresa from Barcelona, lovely lady travelling on her own without speaking any English, delighted with the experience.
Nicest encounter: young man who offered to switch berth with Oskar so we could sleep in the same wagon and family inviting me for tea in the morning.
Nicest feature: some trains have a tourist quota, so it is easier for spontaneous tourists (like us) to find a last-minute seat on the usually crowded trains.
Worst feature: Reservation system. Even though we were well prepared (we own the bible of all train schedules in India), the reservation process was painful. The forms are lengthy and after completion it depends on the skill of the railway employee to find you a seat on the requested train or not.
Favorite class: unsure. We tried all classes (except first class), sleeper is cheap and uncomplicated, good views since there are no windows. 2A and 3A are cleaner and less crowded, but sometimes the AC is too cold.
Favorite sound: “chai,chai,chai” (tea vendor shouting tea at 5am)
Favorite train name: Darjeeling Mail
Nicest moment: Arriving!