On 28th March, I reached Mumbai from New Delhi (via Bhubaneshwar, Kolkata and Jaipur). I was supposed to reach Bangalore from Bhubaneshwar around March 15. The reason for my cross-country railway marathon? Trying to, or rather having the vast courage to, book my railway tickets online from IRCTC. If you are an agent making a living from overcharging tourists, stop reading NOW. And if you don't want to read this long, heart-rending post, a few quick bites before you go away:
- 6,111 agents have been blacklisted by IRCTC
- Of them, 4,310 were using multiple user IDs
- 1,005 have been claiming fraudulent TDRs
- 2 super-thug agents from Mumbai have been banned by the Railway Ministry
- Problems related to IRCTC are discussed daily on Consumer Forum sites, Grahak Seva, Cleartrip Forum, National Consumer Complaint Forum, apart from loads of blogs
- A friend Tweeted, 'Rajnikanth is faster than Intel Processors, but IRCTC can hang Rajnikanth'
I had gone to Orissa on work. A series of interviews and meetings were lined up till March 11. There was also an added incentive. I knew that the beautiful, ancient temple town of Puri would be celebrating Holi on March 10. I planned to take a few random snaps, in and around the temple that evening. Thereafter, the aim was to head back to office in Bangalore sometime between March 11 — 13 (depending on my degree of drunkenness on Holi).
I go to Puri every year. And Tatkal train tickets are always available for the journey home. Rather, they used to be….
Let's go blow by blow.
March 10: I couldn't log into IRCTC till 9:30 am. All Tatkal tickets were over by then. Holi rush.
March 11: Internet Explorer can't open IRCTC, Google Chrome allows me to proceed up to the list of trains, Mozilla Firefox is incredibly slow and hangs once I start searching for trains. Local agents are unwilling to risk booking AC tickets on Tatkal.
March 12: I proceed up to the payment gateway, and then the page throws up an error telling me it doesn't exist anymore.
March 13: IRCTC ditches me on my laptop, and also on a parallel desktop at a cyber café. An agent wants Rs.1000 for a confirmed ticket, but cash first. Another fellow is honest enough to tell me he can't promise me anything, but yeah, at Rs.1500 I might get a Sleeper ....
March 14: I've given up on Bangalore. Mumbai, my home town, is an impossible dream on IRCTC. Desperate, I try Delhi. There is a train from Kolkata to Jaipur the next night. Three seats left in Second AC. I buy it. IRCTC freezes in anger, my laptop hangs (probably in shame). I pay an agent Rs. 200 for a Chair Car ticket to Kolkata that costs me Rs. 635. I walk to the Jagannath temple in the afternoon, feeling totally blessed.
The journey to Kolkata is uneventful. Sealdah Station, from where the train to Jaipur left, can compete with any government hospital on collecting, and lovingly retaining filth. They charged me extra for dahi and papad for dinner on train. I didn't have the strength to fight it out.
By the time I reached Jaipur, I was beginning to feel unwell. A weekend of rest only worsened it. En route to Delhi, I liberally used Indian Railway's restroom facilities in the train. The best part is that the loo never ran out of water. Then I blew an entire week in Delhi, being wonderfully sick with a virulent tummy upset (fancily called Amoebic Diarrhea), compounded with another exotic stomach infection. The doctor said it was a water borne thing, and suggested I stay away from travelling. Heh heh.
And no, I didn't get tickets from Delhi to Mumbai.
But yes, I did get one from Jaipur to Mumbai on March 27. So I dashed back to Jaipur again, and came home on the morning of March 28. I had lost 2 kg, thanks to my many trips to the toilet in two cities and oh-so-many trains. I was also very, very broke.
Luckily, I have benevolent friends across this country, so I could save on accommodation. But the Italian tourist I met in Puri had to borrow money to pay for the unplanned delay in his travel schedule. A group of Bengali students paid the agent double the ticket price to get back to Kolkata. An executive paid Rs.1000 to get back to Delhi in Sleeper Class ….
IRCTC claims 74% of the online transactions in February 2012 were successful. But how many could reach up to simply logging in, let alone making a transaction?