One of the reasons we had, out of a few options, chosen to visit Palampur after Dharamshala, was the fact that we could travel the whole way from there to Jaipur by train. There was an old narrow-gauge train running from Palampur to Pathankot. From Pathankot there would be a night train to Jaipur.
The trains in India are often fully booked months in advance. We had booked our train from Pathankot to Jaipur four days beforehand and got to the position of thirty-something on the waiting list. Therefore, in the morning of our journey, we didn’t even know if we were going to be able to board the train in the evening or not. We decided to head to Pathankot anyway and find another solution, in case we were not getting our waiting list tickets confirmed.
A change of plans
Early in the morning we took a taxi from our hostel to the tiny Palampur train station. There we were told that the train tickets will not be sold more than ten minutes before the departure of the train. As we still had plenty of time, we had breakfast at a street restaurant nearby.
Ten minutes before the train was leaving, when we were finally allowed to buy the tickets, we were told that for the last four months the narrow-gauge train hasn’t been able to ride all the way to Palampur. Apparently, there is a broken bridge on the way. So instead of riding the 100 kilometers to Pathankot, we could only get to a village called Samloti, 25 kilometers away. There we would need to change to a bus.
In the narrow-gauge train trough the Kangra Valley
The narrow-gauge train is also called “toy train” and it truly was small and charming like a little toy. It chugged slooowly through the beautiful Kangra Valley, between the mountains and lush green fields.
A group of kids in the train, with dirty faces and clothes, tried to catch our attention in any way possible. After a while we decided to share our snacks with them. For a while it was fun to hang out with them, but also got a bit exhausting at some point. Finally, after two hours we reached Samloti. It was later than expected because, for some reason, we had been standing long at the stations in between.
Short visit in Samloti
Samloti was a small, rural village. In the end we were happy that we had to get out of the train there. First of all, the train was so slow that we would be much faster with the bus. And secondly, otherwise we would have most probably never come to see this place. We didn’t have to wait long by the road until the friendly locals told us that we should get into the approaching bus. For us it wasn’t possible to recognize the right bus because the sings were written only in Hindi.
On the bus to Pathankot
The bus ride took around 2,5 hours with a lunch break. We got to sit in the front of the bus, so we had the best views and the journey went fast. During the bus ride we got a message from the Indian Railways (the train app is quite handy!), that we got through the waiting list and had now one RAC ticket. RAC means that two persons are sharing one berth together, but for us that was more than fine.
Our bus arrived in Pathankot around three. This meant we had some five hours before our train would leave after eight in the evening. There was no luggage storage room at the station but a super friendly woman at the ticket counter promised to take care of our bags while we explore the city.
Pathankot was a pretty chaotic Indian city. Honking horns, trash eating goats, cows standing in the middle of the road, small shops selling everything from food to giant Hanuman statues.
While we were having a lunch at a street restaurant, we got a message that our train was going to be three hours delayed, leaving at eleven. We didn’t think we could make it that long on the busy streets, so we tried to find a more peaceful place to hang out.
First, we went to a small mall and then we visited a nice temple. After that we still had more than enough of time, so we googled some cafés and ended up at one called My Little Cafe. It was a bit more expensive than the typical restaurants in India, but the place was cozy and located on a peaceful rooftop terrace. There was a wedding photoshoot with several cameras and lights going on and the crew also wanted to take selfies with us, this time with professional photo gear. After that we stuffed ourselves with cake and did some further travel planning.
Night (and day) in the Indian train’s Sleeper Class
We got a rickshaw (a nice party rickshaw btw) back to the train station around ten, even though at this point we already knew that the train was going to be even more late.
After hanging out a few hours at the train station, we could finally board our train around one at night, five hours later than expected, and start our first Indian night train experience of this journey. We traveled in the cheapest one of the sleeper cars logically named as ”Sleeper Class”.
Because it was already night, we started sleeping almost straight away, sharing one berth as we had the RAC ticket. Just when we had fallen asleep, a conductor came to us and told that there is a free berth where one of us can sleep. Johanna continued her sleep in the middle berth on the other side of the aisle. After a while she got woken up by some guy, who shyly told that the berth was, in fact, his. Johanna then moved back to the same berth with Seri. We couldn’t sleep long until the conductor came to us again, wanting to be helpful by moving Johanna to another free berth.
Besides this hullabaloo and the passengers coming and going throughout the night, also the cold kept us awake. The windows of the Sleeper Class are not very tight, and the doors are often kept completely open. This means, of course, that if it’s cold outside, it’s also cold inside. We slept with our hoodies, jackets, beanies and scarves on and were still freezing (in Sleeper Class there are no blankets or such provided).
The morning started early with chai sellers who entered the train at the stations, rushing through the wagons yelling “chajaachajaachajaaaa”. Soon also the snack sellers followed. But we were not grumpy with getting up to this after finally getting some sleep – the snack and chai sellers in Indian trains are the best and we have really missed them! The rest of the day passed by snacking and watching the world go by. We arrived in Jaipur at three in the afternoon, five hours behind the schedule.