Railway stations in India are a carnival like hive of activity, where hundreds of passengers and well-wishers blend with a multitude of vendors.
Waiting at the wrong end of the platform could spell disaster, particularly when the train may only remain at station for a couple of minutes and you're burdened with a lot of luggage.
Here's how to go about finding and boarding your train.
When You Reach the Station
At the station, the first thing you should do is find the platform where your train will arrive, and the particular place on the platform where your carriage (coach) will stop. This is very important as standard passenger trains in India have 18 carriages, increasing to up to 24 carriages on popular routes. Don't even try to imagine what it would be like to be stuck at the wrong end of a crowded platform when the train stops!
Most stations have boards showing the details of departing trains, the platforms that they will depart from, and the order of the carriages on each train. Look for this board, or if in doubt, ask a railway employee.
On the board, above each carriage type, is a number. Check your ticket for your carriage number (for example, A1, B1, or S1), find it on the board, then identify the number above it on top of the board. Also, obtain the platform number of the train from the board.
On the roof of each platform, you'll find a row of numbers spread out along the length of the platform. These numbers indicate the points where carriages will stop. Position yourself at the number corresponding to your carriage from the board and you'll be at the spot where your carriage will arrive.
Still confused? Ask one of the vendors on the platform. They have great knowledge of the trains and usually know where each carriage will be positioned.
When Your Train Arrives
The platforms at Indian railway stations are very crowded, and pandemonium often sets in as the train approaches and everyone wants to get on first. As well as dodging people, you'll also have to avoid large cases, bags, boxes, and sometimes steel trunks. If you're brave, be prepared to push your way on. Otherwise, it's best to stand back and wait for the masses to board.
Inside the train carriage, you'll find that all compartments are numbered. However, don't be surprised to discover that someone's already occupying your place. They'll usually move once everyone else finishes organizing themselves and their luggage.
Alternatively, Hire a Porter
If all this sounds too hard, opt to hire a coolie (porter) who will carry your bags and locate your compartment for a fee. They're plentiful at railway stations and can be identified by their red jackets. However, be sure you negotiate the fee before availing of their services.
Licensed railway porters do have fixed charges according to the amount of luggage. The rate varies depending on the location and category of station. It starts from 40 rupees for a bag weighing up to 40 kilograms that can be carried on the head. At major stations the rate per bag is 50-80 rupees. However, rarely will porters agree to this. They will usually demand more money, so be prepared to negotiate.