Let me preface this by saying that I am an experienced traveler, especially in the developing world, and yet even I face these 5 stages almost every time I try to book a train. These are really only applicable to when you are booking a ticket that is available, because when you’re booking yourself straight to the waitlist, you generally skip these stages and go straight to defeat and angst, where you remain until the moment your status is changed to confirmed.
NB: If you don’t have an Indian credit card or bank account, the only website you can book trains on is ClearTrip. In order to do so, you still have to have an account with IRCTC, the Indian rail company. In order to make an account, you need an Indian phone number. So if you have to book before you get to India, which most interns do since we need to get from Delhi to induction somehow, ClearTrip helpfully lets you use a dummy number and then you can email IRCTC to get your mobile one-time-password via email and make your account.
Excitement. In which you’ve spent days, possibly weeks, planning and dreaming about your next Indian adventure, even if it’s just a weekend. You’ve spent hours on TripAdvisor.in and other blogs, figuring out the best and cheapest way to get where you want to go, where to stay there and what to see. All that remains between you and discovery is time and your train tickets.
Denial/table flipping. In which one of two things happens. Either A, you reach the page where you put in all the information like passport numbers and then click “book” and it tells you that it cannot get current train information from IRCTC, please check back later and you have the sudden and overwhelming urge to flip the table you are sitting at, after lifting up your computer and chai, of course. And with every time this little red error message pops up when you click “book”, you fall deeper into this state of denial and disbelief until you abandon hope, fall back into your indoor-use plastic lawn chair and wave the proverbial white flag.
Alternatively, you encounter situation B, in which IRCTC asks you a security question that you never made because you were never able to actually get into your account on the IRCTC website because you couldn’t receive the mobile code needed to make your real password because you made the account with a fake phone number, and you can’t change that fake number because in order to change your number you need to get into your account which you need a mobile code to do. So you find yourself being asked your pet’s name when in fact you don’t have a pet. So you send lots of emails and call numbers that either don’t exist or don’t have any humans on the other line until you give up and just make a new account using your real Indian phone number.
At this point you start the whole process all over again and soon find yourself on the page where you are about to be finished, all you need to do is put in your IRCTC password and enter the “captcha”. It all seems so simple. You’ve made it, finally. So you enter the password and captcha and it tells you that your credentials are incorrect, or that the captcha was incorrect. So you try again, and again, until finally you lean back and close your eyes in quiet defeat.
Quiet defeat. In which you sit staring at your computer, wondering why, why do bad things happen to good people? Why is this so hard? Why is it so hard to book a train in this country that the simple idea of doing so is used to cut diamonds? Your musings about this question quickly spiral into an existential crisis and you find yourself staring off into the middle distance wondering “why do you exist, IRCTC and ClearTrip, respectively, and why am I here, trying futilely to use you to accomplish what one might otherwise and naively presume a simple task? What is life, little box on the white screen asking me for a password that even Shiva does not and cannot hope to know? And most importantly, what reckless fool invented captcha?
Renewed hope. In which you’ve had some chai and moral support and are ready to try again, bolstered by the promise of another adventure awaiting you once you complete this process and the pressure of the fact that you likely have people relying on you to book their tickets as well.
High blood pressure. In which you have your train booked and yet you feel no joy or satisfaction looking at the email from ClearTrip, the confirmation from IRCTC and the multitude of indecipherable text messages you receive from ClearTrip, IRCTC, perhaps your mobile provider, the train conductor, the Prime Minister of India and the ghost of Mahatma Gandhi. You instead feel the desire to drink 7-10 cups of chai and the need for some sort of sedative. Not for another 12 hours or so will you return to the pre-booking process euphoria and excitement of knowing you will soon be in another unique and colorful city seeing and doing and tasting and hearing things you will never forget and perhaps having your snacks stolen out of your unexpecting hands by a monkey or being offered a ride on a camel-drawn cart by some kind and curious locals who will likely want to take a selfie with you. And then it will all be worth it.
|Naddi interns and myself at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the previous weekend destination.|
|A staircase in Rishikesh, my most recent destination in my explore-north-India-in-my-weekends project|
PS: Ironically neither of these places were reached by train, but we've been booking extensively for upcoming trips - just trying to find our way :)
Women's Empowerment Project Manager in Naddi