On Indian Trains
When a German talks about trains, he commonly complains about his own and praises all of the others; but the ideal for him is the American Pullman car, which he has seen somewhere in an illustrated magazine.
In reality, this ideal of comfort is a highly old-fashioned conveyance which no traveler in Europe would enjoy. It really is practical, but only for the Pullman Company, and in no way for the public.
The cars are simply turned into sleeping compartments by a couple of dirty blacks. They stand on the left and the right in two rows across from each other, with the curtains closed, collecting as much dust as possible. A narrow corridor runs between them.
You clamber into your bed, undress, sleep and then dress again the next morning—as well as you can.
The washrooms are separated for the sexes, the ladies at one end and the gentlemen at the other—but such public washrooms are a doubtful comfort. While you are in them trying with the greatest of efforts to clean a lot of dirt from yourself with very little water, the black stewards change the sleeping car back into a day car, allowing for only a superficial cleansing at all, if you can call it that.
We Europeans can console ourselves that our diner cars and sleeping cars—are hospitable, even if they are not entirely up to muster, and certainly far better than the American Pullman Car.
Naturally all countries that have no train industry have this in common; they have the best trains—or could have them. At first this sounds like a paradox, but it most certainly is not, when you consider that such countries have free choice, and can purchase the best and the cheapest.
Naturally Germany can only buy German materials, England only English, French only French, they would—and with good reason—in any other case earn the bitterest reproach from the concerned governments about national policy.
But Romania—for a long time has had the best trains in Europe. They don’t have to take the train industry into consideration, because they don’t have any. They can test out the German, English, Belgian and Italian ones and order the best. And they can always buy these materials more cheaply than they can be purchased in the fatherland; in the same way that China, Argentina or Peru can always buy its cannons from Krupp, Ehrhardt or Schneider-Creuzot far more cheaply than they can be purchased in Germany or France, despite the far distance of shipping.
But I want to speak now about Indian trains and not about European cannons. India doesn’t have the advantage of other countries without a train industry; it purchases all materials from mother England. But despite that, its trains are the best that I have had the pleasure of knowing in five parts of the world, and next to the Australian, the cheapest.
You can travel somewhere first class for around a quarter of the price that you would pay in Germany; second class—is entirely good enough for the gentleman traveling alone, and you can scarcely tell the difference from first class. But it only costs half.
Third class only costs half again of second class, but for the most part has special compartments for Europeans. Not even a coolie would have the courage to take fourth class.
In first class you can have three native servants; in second class you can travel with two native servants at the price of third class. These will have a special nearby compartment, so they will always be immediately at hand for you.
Naturally, not all the Indian trains are that way—they are in the hands of private companies—different, but collectively good, with one exception. The black sheep is the Madras-Railway. “Black” as well, in so far as their corporate body is native, something that no other company has. This is not a good company to travel with; it is also the only one, where the traveler, burdened with luggage must carefully weigh everything and a ridiculously high duty is demanded.
Otherwise, trains are very liberal in this point, allow a crowd of luggage in the baggage car and also permit the traveler to determine at his own discretion, where to put his hand luggage. And what “hand luggage” is—you can learn about in India! Four large chests, six small chests, and a half dozen suitcases and handbags are not uncommon hand luggage for a single traveler.
The companies compete and watch, to make the journey of an hour or a day as comfortable as possible. On every new train, you see even newer comforts, namely those offered by the East Indian, Audh, Rohilkhand, South Indian, the United East Coast and Bengal-Nagpur lines. They offer every possible comfort in order to satisfy their public. I have traveled through India during the hottest times, with temperatures often over 50°C in the shade, for forty to forty-five hours and have not been as uncomfortable as a trip of only ten hours in Europe.
Each compartment is as large as a small room; the seats are not crosswise, as with us, but instead line the wall along the windows. All the cars are brilliantly lit with electric lights; they have mirrors, little tables and chairs; the walls are decorated with paintings of beautiful scenes—not a collection of regulations and advertisements as with us.
Every compartment has its own toilet and large bath, with a shower and warm and cold running water. The windows are five-fold. You can select your choice; a common glass window, a tinted one, to shade the eyes from the sun, an opaque wooden against the sun, a wire mesh screen and finally a reed curtain. This last one is especially comfortable in the heat. You push on a button—and water runs down from a basin over the curtain, like it does in the glass windows of our best floral shops.
If you want to go to bed, you push a little window back that leads to a nearby compartment, and call your servant. Oh, that is not really as magnificent as it may sound; it is very cheap in India to have a couple of boys.
In India today you can really only travel with a couple of native servants. You can easily acquire some that speak a little English in any hotel, and the added expense is so very little; the convenience of having your own boys so great, that every European will sooner or later acquire one or two.
So you call your boys and allow them to make your bed—every European brings his own mattress, sheets, pillows and covers along with them. I consider it extraordinarily practical; it is a much more comfortable feeling to sleep in your own bed, then in some strange European sleeping cars, despite all cleanliness.
In the meantime you take your meal in the dining car, extraordinarily opulent—over fifteen courses. In India, there are never less than fifteen courses—and most are truly enjoyable and always cheap. Then you climb into your bath and go to bed. In the early morning the boys bring hot tea and toast to your bed; you get up, take another bath and in the meantime allow your bed to be packed up again. I have to say that this is much more comfortable than it would be in any hotel.
Even more remarkable is the extraordinary cordiality of the authorities. They give the impression that there is nothing more they would like to do than answer the questions of a traveler—and yet, they are always boring questions and always the same ones. But the station conductor is always polite and relieves one completely of the drudgery that one often encounters at train stations.
At large stations I frequently saw a gentleman with a cane or a small whip—I don’t know who he was, but I will just call him “the friendly man”. This “friendly man” is simply magnificent. When a traveler is anxiously looking back and forth, as if he doesn’t know where he is or needs to go, the “friendly man” appears and helps. He takes care of the car, directs the coolies, knows everything brilliantly and gives absolutely certain and good advice. He does, what one of our station attendants should do; only he gets nothing at all from the authorities. He only does this as a total gentleman.
In many cities where there are no hotels, and the Dak bungalows—supplied for the company employees—are not suitable, the trains and train stations set up a series of rooms. Naturally each is fitted with its own bathroom and what would belong with it and is just as good as any room in the best Indian hotels—yet only costs a few pennies.
The food in the train station building is mostly just as good as on the dining cars—and you can never complain about not getting enough, at any time in India.
All in all, the train industry in India is for the public; while with us, the public is always there for the train—so the state or the owners can earn some really good money. They should travel in India sometime, so they can learn that it works just as well the other way around.