The one thing that characterises life in a country like India is uncertainty. Maybe that’s what attracts foreigners to travel in India because life here is uncertain, chaotic, unpredictable while life in the western world is ordered and relatively predictable. Trains generally run on time, information to customers of public services is quite transparent and there’s generally enough (services) to go around for everybody. This is not the case in India. Uncertainty and red tape are key features of life. Thanks to the internet and more e-governing and the RTI, things are getting more transparent in India but we have a long way to go yet.
The reason I talk about uncertainty is because we are (were) travelling with our dog Abroozi on Sunday by train for the first time. There are only a few blogs out there (including mine) that give good advice on travelling with your dog in India, written by people who have actually done it. The best one I’ve found on travelling by train with your dog is The Restless Souldier who gives step by step advice explaining the process of boarding the train with your dog. As well as all the things that could go wrong and will go wrong. A very revealing account about how difficult the Indian Railways is to people with animals.
If you want to travel with your dog you have to travel by First A/C Coupe only. You have to book out the entire coupe. There is no point booking out the entire 4 berth if there are not 4 of your own people travelling because the TTE on seeing vacant berths will allocate it to people on the waiting list and then you are stuffed. The other option is to leave the dog in the brake van/guard’s van which is apparently a worst case scenario option and not advisable.
Like us, you will book a coupe but you will not be told whether you have been allotted a coupe or not. Indian Railways does not give you a seat number for First A/C, only a confirmed ticket. The seat allotment is done manually. You will not know if you have been allotted a coupe until 45 minutes before the train leaves i.e when the reservation chart has been put up. So websites advise you to write a letter to the Chief Commercial Manager (CCM) of the railway station from where your train is originating as he’s the guy who makes the passenger reservation charts and has the authority to allot coupes. For everything you need to know about First A/C coaches, click here.
Because our train does not originate at Vizag where we are boarding, we have to contact Howrah Station in Kolkata where the reservation chart will be made. Thanks to the internet I located the CCM’s fax number, telephone number and email address all of which turned out to be invalid numbers. We then went to the local Vizag Divisional Commercial Manager, waited an hour for him to come back from his “lunch” (there are no official lunch timings mentioned) only to find out that he has no jurisdiction what so ever in allotting coupes. Moreover, he doesn’t even have the contact for the person in Eastern Railways, Howrah.
We have also been advised to go to the station 2 hours before boarding to give enough time to weigh the dog at the Parcel/Luggage Office and get a receipt for the dog. We have been told that your PNR will be entered in to the computer system. Only if it shows that you have been allotted a coupe will the reciept be made for the dog. However, if you are at the originating station and the chart is made 45 or even 15 minutes before the train leaves it will be a hellava task getting the recipet,running to pay at a different counter and running to catch your train on a platform at the other end of where you are.Lucky for us we are not at the originating station so our seat details will already be entered in to the system and we can do this process at least 2 hours before the train even arrives at the station
It turns out that the parcel office in Vizag is a 2 km drive from the railway station, around 15 minutes drive. So you would have to get your ticket stamped as having been allotted a coupe by the reservation office at the railway station, then drive to the parcel office, weigh the dog, pay for him, then drive back to the railway station to board the train.
But here’s where the mother of all uncertainty occurs. We were informed by the Movement Control Officer (MCO Army) that just yesterday a person with a dog got bumped off the list because an MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) wanted the coupe. You have no idea how livid that makes me. It is notoriously difficult to get a train ticket in the first place, this one we booked 3 months in advance, and then to get bumped off the list by a local politician would make me want to strangle someone. In the armed forces when you get transferred from one post to the next the MCO will give you the Army quota coupe pre-allotted to you so travelling with your dog on transfer is not an issue. But since we are going on holiday, this does not apply to us. Furthermore, we still have a return journey to make and we’d face the same problems in Chennai which is not our city ie. have no place to stay with the dog.
So 4 days before we travel we are having jittery panic attacks. Everybody deals with uncertainty in their own way. Some have a plan B, others hope for the best and expect the worst and the rest just keep panicking. So we have called in our plan B which is to drive, something we vowed never to do again. But this time round, we have found a place to stop midway through the journey, to rest and get a good sleep. (I called 20 hotels yesterday and none of them would accept Abroozi; I begged, pleaded, lied that it was a family emergency and the dog had to be there. It is only our armed forces connection that has secured us a place to stay, so sadly cannot share this with the public). So a 16hr back breaking journey in the Gypsy will now be replaced by a journey split over two days in the luxury of the Nano. The Nano is being sent for a good servicing and hopefully she’ll make it all the way, all the 950kms.
Here are some useful blogs/articles on travelling with your dog by in India:
Since it was the British who gave us our railways, just for comparison I looked up the rules on how to travel by train with your dog in Britain. Get this: dogs travel free on any railway as long as they are on a leash and accompanied by a person. That’s it. That’s how simple things are. That’s how much they love and respect their animals. That’s how civilized they are. Gandhiji said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated. I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to the protection by man from the cruelty of man.” If you agree with him, then we are hardly a great nation or a nation with moral progress.
I’m sorry to say that in India, we have no respect for our animals. None of what I have described above is given as official rules by the railways. They are incredibly vague about the rules. The procedure has been unearthed and documented by ordinary citizens who’ve had to learn the hard way.
So my message is a rather cautious one – if you are planning to travel with your dog by train, remember that there is no guarantee you will get a coupe. You must write a letter to the CCM at the originating station and be prepared and have a Plan B.