While it can be a bit of a headache buying normal train tickets (see “Trainspotting” post below), for some tickets the process is fraught with even more difficulties: try the Toy Train running up to the hill station of Shimla.
For some (albeit not all) of the trains that ply this narrow gauge route, you can’t buy tickets outside of the Advance Reservation Period. OK fine but there is no clear information on what exactly or how long this period is. From a bit of research, it seemed to be either 30 days or 1 month: fine again but actually there is a difference which can be crucial when tickets are limited. For example, for one train only 8 tickets are available for sale.
Like some sort of crazed Justin Bieber fan wanting concert tickets, I started monitoring the IRCTC and Cleartrip train apps a few days in advance to try and work out exactly when I needed to attempt the purchase.
Roll on the big day and like a released coiled spring, I leapt into action. On my pre chosen train, the IRCTC app happily told me 136 seats were available but the “book now” button did not appear. It was only after 8am that we seemed to be back in the game and on a home run in this regard with the reappearance of that magic (and fundamental) button. However, knowing that one of the quirks of the IRCTC app is that they don’t accept foreign credit cards, I quickly opened the Cleartrip app. Unfortunately while giving real time information about the reduced (and reducing) numbers of available tickets, for some reason Cleartrip would not allow you to complete a purchase. As we were in transit (hence the early start), we had no option of turning on the laptop to go to the IRCTC website.
Half an hour later, the embargo on Cleartrip bookings lifted and again we seemed to be all systems go. Hallelujah. I completed all the normal screens and screens of required info (names, dates of birth, contact details etc, all the normal bureaucratic stuff) only for disaster to strike and at the final pivotal moment we lost our mobile data connection.
When I said we were in transit, we were in fact coming down from Pelling in the Himalaya foothills heading down back to the transit hub of Siliguri on the plains below in West Bengal. During our visit to Sikkim, we’d encountered power cuts most days and wifi in some of these remote parts was a bit of a luxury so it was hardly surprising that the signal didn’t hold on the mountain jeep tracks. But wholly frustrating too especially today…..
Finally however on a 3rd attempt, we did manage to get all the way through the booking, payment and reconfirmation processes and are now the lucky holders of 2 seats on the Himalayan Queen train on 30 April. Let’s hope it’s a fun journey and, more importantly, does not get cancelled (which happened to us in Darjeeling initially!)