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Memories of a train trip through India

A few weeks ago, talking about solo travel on Twitter, I virtually met a great traveler, Roberto, and I immediately thought I should suggest him an interview.

Roberto has always traveled and as I like: solo and using only public transport, which since 2008 is the leitmotiv of all my experiences.

When he told me about a train trip through India I started picturing his experience to myself and asked some questions he was courteous enough to answer.

Ricordi di un viaggio in India in treno

Tell me a little about yourself: what do you do?

My name is Roberto, I am 47 years old and I live in a small town between Padua and Venice.

I have a degree in Molecular Biology and a PhD in the same field. I am technical manager of a small biomedical research center within the University of Padua.

What led you to this trip to India?

I have to premise this is a 2002 trip to India and back then we were just starting to consider India as an industrial and technological power and the country was still relatively unknown to Italians.

From an early age I had an innate and visceral passion for travel and India was one of my dream trips. Then, to say it all, to people like, me who had already experienced many times the European inter-rail, the vast network of rail services available in the Indian subcontinent was an excellent reason to go there. In fact, using the trains I managed to go almost anywhere.

What was your very first impression?

The very first impression regards the arrival at Mumbai airport at night: I clearly recall the lights of that Indian megalopolis while landing. Not rationally organized lights, they were rather like a swarm of flames, as if the city were truly a living organism in itself.

Once the customs formalities completed, the Gaondevi-Vile Parle slum, one of the largest in the city, welcomed me immediately outside the airport. Informal settlements, to put it mildly, are a constant in India and remind tourists of the complexity of the Indian subcontinent, its immense problems, but also the extreme vitality of its inhabitants.

In fact, I remember that, despite being three o’clock at night, although we were in a taxi on the road that ran along the shantytown, you could guess a great deal of hard work with many people who carried things, traded or cooked something.

Could you interact with the locals? How did it go?

Contacts were random; I met and discussed with many people met on the various trains. In general, people were kind and on the edge of shyness towards Westerners.

I never had any personal security problems. The only place I felt “observed” and “out of place” was in Lahore, at the Diamond Bazaar. But Pakistan remains an unstable nation that I would strongly advise European traveler against going there.

What are the aspects that you liked the most?

I was impressed by some pearls: the Taj-Mahal, the cities of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer and finding a corner similar to South America as Goa.

Something you didn’t like?

The extreme widespread poverty and the very strong smells typical of overpopulated realities, that one can never actually like.

I also think that the quest for spirituality that drives many Westerners to travel to India is very questionable, but this is an absolutely personal opinion.

Roberto on the road

What do you think should be the right approach when deciding to go there for the first time?

When I went in 2002 I was already an independent expert traveler and yet it was still tough. The right approach is flexibility, patience and being immediately aware that you will run into a certain amount of inconvenience.

Which destinations, activities and / or attractions would you recommend even after many years?

Classical India deserves a visit, however, I would recommend, wanting to explore lesser known areas, Assam, Kerala and Kashmir,although unfortunately for the latter the political situation makes it currently off-limits for tourists.

Is there anything else you want to share?

It was a very significant journey of personal maturation, which I would be curious to repeat years later.

What other trips have you enjoyed and why?

Last year I was in Iran and it impressed me.

Given that it is a very special country for its political and religious situation and therefore an adaptation to the rules of local behavior is mandatory, its historical cities recall the East of the Thousand and One Nights and also the archaeological areas of Persepolis and Pasagardae are absolutely to be considered true wonders of the world.

Latest question: your next trip?

Two months ago I was in Argentina, now I’m thinking about China

Travel to India: practical information

India is a super modern and also super poor country. A sort of paradise of contradictions and this scares me, a lot. I therefore think this is one of those trips people should prepare carefully, not so much from the point of view of itinerary and visits, but as per the knowledge of culture and local reality.

Ricordi di un viaggio in India in treno

But let’s get to the practical information: the official website of India Department of Tourism:

To leave, you obviously need a passport, with a residual validity of at least six months at the time of entry into the country, but also a visa. For stays of less than 60 days you can request eVisa. Upon arrival you must also present a return ticket and sufficient financial resources for the duration of your stay.
For more than 60 days, a specific request form must be completed.

The Indian currency is the rupee and both euro and the American dollar are easily changed, but not the other way round as it’s not an exportable currency. That said, you can also use your VISA in authorized shops and in big city hotels. In order not to lose count of what you spend, I suggest you to download a dedicated app on your mobile phone.

If you cannot let go of your smartphone even while traveling, using a foreign SIM card is very expensive and moreover it only works in big cities, but you can buy a local card landing at the airport.

The time zone to be calculated is + 3.30 hours to Greenwich, which increase to + 4.30 when Europe gets daylight saving time.

Finally, with English you will have no problems and not even with Hindi if you are among the very rare non-Indians who speak it. That said, there are 23 other languages spoken in the country!

Safety in India and health claims

Microcrimination, as in all overcrowded countries with a high degree of poverty, should be taken into account almost everywhere in the country, as health problems due to lack of hygiene in the kitchen must be taken into account.

For these topics, however, I highly recommend that you consult the dedicated section on your foreign minister website and your local travelers medical center.

Have a nice and safe trip to India!

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Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.

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