The setting: the night train from Mumbai's Bandra Terminus to Rajasthan's 'Lake City' of Udaipur.
The duration: 18 interminable hours
Days since last shave: 4
I have to say, the experience of BOOKING my train ticket was far more challenging than the actual journey.
(Actually, the experience of getting to Bandra Terminus in Mumbai was the most infuriating part... Lots of walking, one commuter train, a rickshaw ride, more walking, desperate searching for an internet cafe with a printer for my e-ticket, a random act of kindness by an Indian gentleman who helped me FIND aforementioned internet cafe... Good thing I left my hotel 3 1/2 hours before departure!)
Anyways, the India Rail website takes a bit of getting used to, but once you understand the significance of the various terms used in the reservation system (eg. WL, RAC, 3AC versus 2AC) it's pretty straight-forward. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to booking my ticket - a mere 7 hours before the train's departure - there were no spots left in my preferred class. So, instead of a cheap, non-airconditioned bunk I had to suffer the misfortune of spending the trip in an airconditioned carriage. (Oh, the horror! The shame!) ;-) Sure, it was nice to have aircon, but the approximately 12 pound cost for that ticket (versus about 3.50 for the non-aircon sleeper ticket) was a bit outside of my budget for this trip... Better book farther ahead in future, to make sure I get the cheaper and extra oven-y train experience next time round. :-)
Due to my late booking, I was also relegated to a side bunk, which is significantly shorter than the standard bunks. You can see why that was a wee bit of a problem for my lanky frame... I couldn't stretch my legs out more than a tiny bit, and thus I only slept for about 3 hours over the course of the night. (But hey, I learned the new Lily Allen album almost by heart.)
Luckily, the boredom was also broken by the guy seated next to me (and later, sleeping in the bunk below me, once we turned our seats into bunks). He spoke the best English of anybody I'd met in India to that point, and we chatted a fair bit about the things to see and do in Udaipur. Apparently he works for a company that sells biomedical equipment, sort of a travelling-salesman job, so he gets around India quite a lot.
My view of the Indian countryside during the hours of the journey for which it wasn't dark was magnificent... Lots of rice paddies and river estuaries as we rolled through Maharashtra province, and later a drier and bleaker landscape that reminded me of the area around San Diego, as we approached Udaipur.
Overall, the trip was enjoyable - but I definitely need to make sure that next time I get a longer bunk! I only stayed sane through my first long-distance Indian Rail experience with the aid of the uber-sweet tea provided by the chai-wallas, and the company of my trusty iPod. I doubt I'll be doing any more travel by train for at least another week or two, though... The preferred method for getting around Rajasthan is by bus. I'll let you know how that turns out. :-)