Been stuck away from home, I grabbed the opportunity to travel the moment the Special Rajdhani Train was announced. It was not easy to book the ticket online. With a lot of patience and trials, I got a confirmed ticket. Fares are dynamic – same as any other Rajdhani – and I got mine for Rs. 2750/-.
Note 1: If you wish to cancel the confirmed ticket of Special Rajdhani Train, cancellation charges are very high. I paid almost 50% charges for cancellation of Third AC confirmed ticket.
Note 2: Before starting, carry the following (1) Aarogya Setu App on your smartphone (what if somebody does not own a smartphone? There was no answer to this question.) (2) a comfortable face mask (3) sanitizer (4) adequate food & water for the trip, (5) blanket –as no bed rolls are being currently given and (6) a photocopy of the confirmed ticket, just in case and (7) be aware of the state advisory you are going to avoid surprises.
But the actual struggle started once the ticket was confirmed. Due to non-availability of public transport or cabs, it was a challenge to reach the boarding station. My family came to my rescue and I could cross state border (Noida to Delhi) to be able to board the train.
Note 3: The Government instructs passengers to reach the station 90 minutes prior to the departure. So, we left for the station 3 hours ahead of schedule (expecting possible police checks on the road), but there was little traffic and no checking at either the state borders or even within Noida and Delhi. We reached the station 2 hours prior to the scheduled departure.
Note 4: Be prepared to walk with your luggage as cars / cabs have to stop about 250m away from the station premise. A lot of people offered paid help with the luggage. If you opt for a coolie, please make sure you negotiate the rates before, or else you may end up paying more than double the amount. Do not expect any social distancing from the dropping point of the car to the railway station.
Note 5: Inside the station premise, remember that passengers are supposed to stand inside the circles marked on the ground to maintain social distancing, and Railways had provided adequate staff and police to guide you. There was a high level of discipline here as everyone maintained the social distancing during the check-in. The queue is free flowing with no stops in-between. The authority checks the E-ticket, maintaining the social distance and guides towards the platform. Thermal checking was done from far off, and not for all the passengers.
Last step in the boarding process was to enter through the door frame metal detectors along with the baggage in hand. Baggage does not need to be scanned separately. Note 6: If you are carrying a lot of luggage, ask the railway staff for the escalator or else you will have to carry it through the steps. Both railway staff and police are very helpful. This check-in/boarding process takes not more than 10 mins. To my surprise, no one asked for Aarogya Setu app during the boarding process.
Platforms were crowded, particularly near the point where the stairs land, and there was almost no social distancing. Most people (barring children) were wearing a mask, but not following social distancing norms. You would feel, your worst nightmare during the Covid-19 has come true and the only thought you have is – ‘Did I make a mistake of coming to the railway station?’ But, luckily the train was already at the platform and one could enter and settle down inside the train.
Note 7: No food or water is available on the platform. Train pantry serves only water and packed food like – chips, ready to eat rice, chocolates, etc. Train pantry people wore PPE kit, but not maintaining social distancing. They were serving the passengers throughout the journey or passengers were also allowed to enter the pantry to get the items for themselves.
Before the train start, a group of 6-7 boys were enjoying same as the early times. Few of them were not even wearing their mask or maintaining the social distancing – guess they belonged to the same family. On the other hand, some were obsessed with sanitizing the hands, every few minutes. You will view arguments between the passenger and the coolie just as old times which makes you smile and take your mind away from scary Covid-19 thoughts.
The picture in the bogie was different from the pre-Covid times. The passengers were seated at their own berths maintaining the social distancing with very little communication, no laughs. You would surely miss pre-Covid-19 times.
Many passengers had a lot of luggage, but not enough room for the same. Every compartment had only 2 charging points and none of them on the side berths. The AC cooling is as per the government guidelines. No bedsheet, no blanket provided inside the train.
The TTE will examine your e-ticket and identity proof during the journey, maintaining social distancing.
Note 8: Carry a comfortable mask that you can wear during the entire journey. When a co-passenger was sleeping without the mask on and the railway authority, passing by, warned him to have his mask on or else he would be asked to get down on the next station.
During the pre-Covid-19, most of the platforms were full of people, despite of the fact the train stops at the station or not. Now, the stations are empty and lifeless, with hardly 2-3 people (either the railway authority or the police). View of village passing by has not changed much. You can see a lot of people playing cricket or enjoying within themselves (without mask or social distancing).
At the intermediate stations, passengers were allowed to get down and board the train. At the destination station, we were guided towards the exit where there were 4 rows for de-boarding process. Note 9: The de-boarding process takes around half an hour. You may want to inform this to those who may have come to receive you.
(1) The authority noted down the residential address for every passenger and (2) inquired if Aarogya Setu app was installed in the smartphone (3) Every passenger had to get their hands sanitized, (4) go through thermal screening (This is a quick process and takes few seconds) and finally (5) before exiting the railway station, every passenger was given quarantine stamp – this stamp may vary by location.
View outside the station, is same as pre-Covid-19. People still struggle to get an auto/car and no social distancing norms are followed. In case, you have an onwards journey to another city from de-boarded station, you will have to arrange for a car / taxi. If you arrange for your own car, get approved E-pass prior to the journey, from state government websites. Your E-pass would be verified during the inter-city movement. There are hire-taxis available at the station, which requires approval from the concerned authority (This may vary by location).
Note 10 : Your journey may end, but your quarantine days have just started. You should be prepared to go into either a home or institutional quarantine for 14 days, depending on the state you are going to!