19 July 2008

Incredible Indian Railways / Kereta Api India Yang Luar Biasa

Incredible Indian Railways

Indonesian passenger trains only have three classes: economy, business and executives, but in India they have no fewer than eight classes. The most inexpensive class is the Unreserved 2nd Class, the most expensive Air-Conditioned 1st Class (AC1). The Unreserved 2nd Class have simple wooden (or sometimes plastic covered) benches and barred windows to prevent people from entering through them. AC1 coaches have air conditioned compartments, dark tinted windows and carpeted floors. Each compartment contains 2 or 4 beds which during the day are converted into seats. AC1 tickets are seven times costlier than those of Unreserved 2nd Class. Other classes are AC2, AC3, AC Executive Chair Class, AC Chair Class, and 1st Class Sleeper. 1st Class which is similar to AC1 but without the AC is being phased out and therefore not very common anymore.

AC3 uppermost tier

In Indonesia, we have only one rail gauge, 1067 mm. India has four: 5'6 "(1676 mm), 1000 mm, 2'6" (792 mm) and 2 '(609 mm). Indian Railways (IR), a state owned monopoly, each day carries 11 million passengers and one million tons of goods. The 63,140 kilometre IR network (reputedly the largest railway network in the world under one management) is passed by more than 14,440 trains each day. IR employs about 1.6 million people, making it one of the largest employers in the world.

Two railway lines in India are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Darjeeling Himalaya Railway and the Nilgiris Mountain Railway, the only rack and pinion railway in India. Chatrapati Shivaji Station (formerly Victoria Terminus) in Mumbai is also registered as a World Heritage. Up to 1995 IR still operated steam locomotives regularly.

Currently, the National Rail Museum in New Delhi houses the 'Fairy Queen' made in 1855, recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest working steam locomotive in the world. The Kalka Shimla Railway is also recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the steepest railway line, continuously climbing for 96 kilometres.

When the 34 kilometre long Bori Bundar (Bombay) to Thane was opened on 16 April 1853 India became the first country in Asia to have a railway network. This was followed by Indonesia (1867) and China (1876). Later on 42 railway companies were operating in India. These companies were nationalized into the Indian Railways after India’s independence. Today, the railways are still the mainstay of India’s transportation system. In the cabinet there is the post of Union Minister for Railways.

But if one wants to really know how extraordinary the trains of India are, one must experience it first hand. The uniqueness of train travel starts from ticket purchasing. The trains are very popular, so one has to book a place as early as possible, especially for long distance travel. When places on the trains are sold out, there is still a possibility to obtain the status of 'Reservation against Cancellation (RAC). After all RAC quotas are sold, prospective passengers can still be on the waiting list. When there are cancellations, the name in the RAC list replaces them, while those on the waiting list go up the RAC list. The passengers list can be seen at the station two hours before departure and on a piece of paper sticked next to the carriage door.

IR provides special quotas for foreign tourists, which must be paid in “hard” currencies such as U.S. dollar, euro or pound sterling. These 'Tourist quotas' can be obtained at the International Tourist Bureaus at stations in tourist centres such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Agra, Jaipur and Varanasi, without the need to queue at the crowded counters. It should be noted that the stations in India are always very crowded, like stations in Indonesia during Id’ul Fitri. Indians tend to travel in large groups occupying every corner of the station.

When planning the trip from New Delhi to Agra, Varanasi, Gaya and back to New Delhi again, I opted for the AC2. The price of the ticket is only half of AC1 but still quite comfortable. But the Agra - Varanasi train was full, so I had to go to Tundla Junction (about 24 kilometres from Agra) and the places available were only in AC3. The difference between AC2 and AC3 is that in AC2 the berths are two tiered, while in AC3 the berths were three tiered and had no curtains.

Actually I also wanted to try the Unreserved Class, but I decided against it because it was not recommended for long distances. But the opportunity came when during journey from Agra to Varanasi I overslept. When I woke up the train had already passed Varanasi, also the next station, Mughal Sarai. Unlike in Indonesia, no young and friendly steward or stewardess wake you up at your destination station. The attendants I met on Indian trains were all middle aged men and usually not very friendly.

Sunrise at Buxar Station

I had to get off at Buxar station, about three hours from Varanasi. From Buxar I rode back to Varanasi on the Amritsar Mail. This was also my chance to ride on the Unreserved Class. In this class nobody spoke English, but that did not prevent my fellow passengers to point out the city Varanasi (or Benares) to me when we crossed the River Ganga.

The Ganga from the Malviya Bridge, the holy city Varanasi shimering in the background

It was different on AC2 and AC3. At Tundla station, waiting for the Poorva Express, I became acquainted with a Canadian couple who were teachers in the United Arab Emirates, and were going for their holidays in Nepal. On the Sealdah Express from Varanasi to Gaya I was involved in a discussion about "the meaning of life" with an Indian Army officer. He was on leave from duty in Kashmir to visit his family in Kolkata. He already had travelled two day from Jammu Tawi, and still had another day before he arrived in Kolkata. Back from Gaya to New Delhi on the Rajdhani Express, the pride of IR, I shared the bay with an American businessman of Indian descent and his wife. They where on their way home to the U.S. via New Delhi after attending the wedding their nephew. The businessman worked in Manhattan, New York, and he witnessed the collapse of the World Trade Centre (WTC) on 11 September 2001.

At the International Tourist Bureau in Varanasi I met an Indonesian political fugitive who was now living in the United States. She is now a writer and "professional traveller." She was very critical of developments in Indonesia and still knew some political figures. We walked the whole day visiting places in Varanasi and surrounding areas such as Dashashwamed Ghat at the edge of the river Ganga and the Deer Park, where the Buddha first taught the Dhamma.

Indeed, it is incomplete visiting India without trying its trains. One has a choice of classes: AC1, AC2, or AC3. For day trips one can take the AC Executive Chair or AC Chair which are similar to our Argo trains in Indonesia. Those more adventurous can try the Unreserved Sleeper class. Those who have expensive tastes will be treated like a maharaja on the luxurious "Palace on Wheels" during the week long New Delhi - Jaipur - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Agra - New Delhi route. And one must not forget to visit the National Rail Museum, not far from the Indonesian Embassy in the elite Chanakya Puri neighbourhood in New Delhi. More than 100 locomotives, carriages, wagons and other historic objects are displayed outdoors and in covered galleries in the museum’s 4.5 hectares grounds.

Kereta Api India Yang Luar Biasa

Indian trains have Indian (squatting) style and Western style toilets.

Kereta api penumpang Indonesia hanya mengenal tiga kelas: ekonomi, bisnis dan eksekutif , tapi di India terdapat tidak kurang dari delapan kelas. Yang paling murah Unreserved 2nd Class, yang paling mahal Air-Conditioned 1st Class (AC1). Unreserved 2nd Class mempunyai bangku-bangku kayu sederhana (atau kadang-kadang busa tipis berlapis plastik) dan jendela berjeruji untuk mencegah orang masuk. Kereta AC1 terbagi menjadi kompartemen berpendingin, berkaca gelap dan berkarpet. Setiap kompartemen berisi 2 atau 4 tempat tidur yang pada siang hari diubah menjadi tempat duduk. Harga tiket AC1 tujuh kali lebih mahal dari harga tiket Unreserved 2nd Class. Kelas lain adalah AC2, AC3, AC Executive Chair Class, AC Chair Class, 1st Class dan Sleeper Class. 1st Class yang mirip AC1 tapi tanpa AC sedang mengalami phasing out sehingga semakin jarang ditemukan.

Two inquisitive brothers, Purush and Varun, on the Agra Intercity
Di Indonesia kita mengenal satu lebar sepur, 1067 mm, India mempunyai empat: 5’6” (1676 mm), 1000 mm, 2’6” (792 mm) dan 2’ (609 mm). Indian Railways (IR), perusahaan monopoli milik pemerintah India, setiap hari mengangkut 11 juta penumpang dan satu juta ton barang. Jaringan IR sepanjang 63.140 km (konon jaringan kereta api terbesar di dunia di bawah satu manajemen) dilalui lebih dari 14.440 kereta api setiap hari. IR mempekerjakan sekitar 1,6 juta orang, menjadikannya salah satu perusaahaan terbesar di dunia.

Dua lintasan kereta api di India diakui UNESCO sebagai Pusaka Dunia (World Heritage Site), yaitu Darjeeling Himalaya Railway dan Nilgiri Mountain Railway, satu-satunya lintasan bergerigi di India. Stasiun
Chatrapati Shivaji (dulu stasiun Victoria Terminus) di Mumbai juga tercatat sebagai Pusaka Dunia. Sampai 1995 IR masih mengoperasikan lokomotif uap secara reguler. Saat ini National Rail Museum di New Delhi menyimpan ‘Fairy Queen’ buatan 1855, yang dicatat oleh Guinness Book of World Records sebagai lokomotif uap tertua di dunia yang masih beroperasi. Kalka Shimla Railway juga tercatat dalam Guinness Book of World Records sebagai lintasan yang paling curam, menanjak terus sepanjang 96 kilometer.

Ketika pada 16 April 1853 diresmikan lintasan Bori Bundar (Bombay) dan Thane sepanjang 34 kilometer India menjadi negara pertama di Asia yang membangun jaringan kereta api. Menyusul Indonesia (1867) dan China (1876). Dalam perkembangannya muncul 42 perusahaan kereta api di India. Perusahaan-perusahaan itu dinasionalisasi menjadi Indian Railways saat India merdeka. Sampai sekarang kereta api masih menjadi sarana transportasi andalan India. Dalam kabinet ada pos Menteri Kereta Api (Union Minister for Railways).
For physically challenged

Tapi bila ingin betul-betul mengenal luarbiasanya kereta api India, kita harus langsung merasakannya. Keunikan perjalanan kereta api India terasa sejak membeli tiket. Kereta api sangat populer sehingga kita harus memesan tempat seawal mungkin, terutama untuk perjalanan jarak jauh. Bila kehabisan tempat, masih ada kemungkinan untuk mendapatkan status ‘Reservation Against Cancellation’ (RAC). Setelah semua jatah RAC terjual, calon penumpang masih bisa masuk dalam daftar tunggu (‘waitlist’). Bila ada pembatalan, nama di daftar RAC naik menggantikannya, sedang calon penumpang daftar tunggu masuk daftar RAC. Daftar penumpang bisa dibaca di papan pengumuman stasiun dua jam sebelum keberangkatan dan di kertas yang ditempelkan di samping pintu kereta.

IR menyediakan jatah untuk turis asing yang harus dibayar dengan mata uang seperti dollar AS, euro, atau pound sterling. ‘Tourist quota’ ini bisa diperoleh di International Tourist Bureau di stasiun-stasiun di pusat wisata seperti New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Agra, Jaipur dan Varanasi, tanpa harus berdesak di loket. Perlu dicatat stasiun-stasiun di India setiap hari penuh seperti suasana Lebaran di Indonesia. Orang India cenderung bepergian dalam rombongan besar yang menduduki setiap sudut stasiun.

Ketika merencanakan perjalanan New Delhi – Agra –Varanasi – Gaya – New Delhi saya memilih AC2. Harga tiketnya separuh AC1 tapi cukup nyaman. Tapi untuk rute Agra – Varanasi kereta api sudah penuh, jadi saya harus ke Tundla Junction (sekitar 25 kilometer dari Agra) dan tempat yang tersedia hanya di kelas AC3. Perbedaan antara AC2 dan AC3 adalah di AC2 tempat tidur bersusun dua sedang di AC3 bersusun tiga dan tidak ada tirai pembatas tempat tidur.

Shatabdi Express, New Delhi Station

Sebenarnya saya ingin mencoba juga naik Unreserved Class, tapi saya batalkan karena tidak dianjurkan untuk jarak jauh. Ternyata kesempatan muncul ketika dalam perjalanan dari Agra ke Varanasi saya tertidur karena kecapaian. Ketika bangun ternyata kereta api sudah melewati Varanasi, juga stasiun berikutnya Mughal Sarai. Tidak ada pramugari atau pramugara muda dan ramah seperti di Indonesia yang membangunkan penumpang menjelang saat tiba di stasiun tujuannya. Petugas di atas kereta api India yang saya temui semuanya laki-laki setengah umur dan samasekali tidak ramah.

Terpaksa saya turun di stasiun Buxar, sekitar tiga jam dari Varanasi. Dari Buxar saya kembali ke Varanasi naik Amritsar Mail. Ini kesempatan saya naik di Unreserved class. Di kelas itu tak seorangpun bisa berbahasa Inggris, tapi itu tidak menghalangi mereka beramai-ramai menunjukkan kota Varanasi (dulu dikenal sebagai Benares) pada saya ketika kami melintas di atas Sungai Ganga.

Amritsar Mail, Varanasi Station

Beda ketika naik kereta kelas AC2 dan AC3. Di stasiun Tundla saya berkenalan dengan suami-isteri asal Kanada yang menjadi guru di Emirat Arab yang akan berlibur ke Nepal. Di atas Licchavi Express dari Varanasi ke Gaya saya terlibat diskusi menarik tentang “tujuan hidup” dengan seorang perwira Angkatan Darat India. Ia sedang cuti dari tugasnya di Kashmir untuk menengok keluarganya di Kolkata. Pulang dari Gaya ke New Delhi di atas Rajdhani Express kebanggaan IR saya duduk berhadapan dengan pengusaha Amerika Serikat keturunan India dan isterinya. Mereka dalam perjalanan pulang ke AS lewat New Delhi setelah menghadiri pernikahan keponakan mereka. Pengusaha itu berkantor di Manhattan, New York dan dia melihat sendiri runtuhnya gedung World Trade Center (WTC) pada 11 September 2001.

Rajdhani Express, New Delhi Station

Di International Tourist Bureau Varanasi saya berkenalan dengan seorang pelarian politik Indonesia yang tinggal di Amerika Serikat. Ia sekarang menjadi penulis dan “professional traveler.” Ia sangat kritis mengikuti perkembangan di Indonesia dan masih kenal beberapa tokoh politik. Kami berjalan bersama sehari penuh mengunjungi tempat-tempat di Varanasi dan sekitarnya seperti Dashashwamed Ghat di tepi sungai Ganga dan Taman Rusa, tempat Buddha pertama kali mengajarkan Dhamma.

Memang, tidak lengkap rasanya ke India tanpa mencoba kereta apinya. Kita punya pilihan kelas AC1, AC2, atau AC3. Untuk perjalanan siang bisa naik AC Executive Chair atau AC Chair yang mirip dengan KA Argo kita. Mereka yang menyukai petualangan bisa naik kelas Sleeper atau Unreserved. Bagi yang berselera mahal bisa merasakan hidup bagai maharaja di atas kereta api super mewah “Palace on Wheels” melalui rute New Delhi – Jaipur – Udaipur – Jodhpur – Agra – New Delhi selama seminggu. Dan jangan lupa mengunjungi National Rail Museum, tidak jauh dari kedutaan Indonesia di kawasan elit Chanakya Puri, New Delhi. Lebih dari 100 lokomotif, kereta, gerbong dan benda bersejarah lain dipamerkan di udara terbuka dan galeri tertutup di kawasan seluas 4,5 hektar.


GhostRider said...

Nice article Buddy... Keep it up.

edo said...

nice info