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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The queue conundrum

‘A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving’.

So professed the ancient Chinese wiseman, Lao Tse, and I would have been wise to remember the snippet when booking a train ticket yesterday. I certainly got an interesting insight into the operations of the Indian rail system.

I go to purchase a ticket (long queue No. 1). At the front of that queue I am told to move to another counter, with no explanation given (long queue No. 2). At that counter, I ask for the ticket, am given one, pay for it. Not so bad hey? But soon I realise I was given the wrong ticket. I queue again (long queue No. 3), only to be told that I have to ask at the information counter (No. 4). I get there, to be told that they will not be able to give me the information I need until 3pm (it is now 1pm). I return at 3pm (long queue No. 5), to be told that there are no seats available on the train, but that I should go to another reservation office. I go there and queue for a ‘token’, so that I can wait in another queue (No. 6). When my token number is called I go to another counter (wow, no queue), but there I am told I have to go to another information desk (queue No. 7). There I am informed that there is a train the following day and seats are available. So I queue for another token (No. 8), and when my number is called I go to the designated counter. There I am told to go to another counter (No. 9)… but at that counter, I get my ticket… I am amazed!

The thing is I now have two tickets, the one I need, and the one I bought for the wrong train. I ask if there is a way to get a refund. I am told to go back to where I started off... (warning, warning) but I queue there (No. 10), and low and behold, I get my money back.

And it only took 3 and a half hours!

All that said, it is worth it. Train travel in India is one of the pleasures of the place. Open windows, scenery cantering by, thoughts wandering, chai being served, conversations to be had, reading to be done, and on overnight journeys, falling asleep to the lullaby of the tracks. I would queue for that!


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