If you've ever been to Asia, you know that there is a big difference when waiting at a counter. Lines don't exist really in most countries, and it can be a really frustrating thing for westerners the first time they visit. It's uncomfortable for us to just push our way in, because in our culture that is extremely rude. Well, that's not the case here. Usually. I found the only place it seems to matter.
Turns out, when you ride in the unreserved section of the train, the line matters. Because it will make a difference in what seat you get, or rather IF you get a seat (realistically just for the first half of the people). I found that out when a bunch of people yelled at me to get in the back of the line, because I wasn't technically in it. Great, the one time lines matter here, I'm out of place. Chalk it up for a learning experience.
As for riding in "second class" or "unreserved class", well it's an adventure. Not for the faint of heart. I had a choice for a 14hr overnight sleeper bus ride, or a 10hr overnight train in Second Class. I've heard the bus is so bumpy that you can't sleep anyway, and it was like 3x the cost, so I opted for the train since it was only 10hrs. I'm not saying it was a bad choice necessarily, but I'm not sure given the same situation what I would do next time. People are literally hanging from everywhere in the train car; sleeping on the luggage racks two at a time (sometimes three), on the floors, in the aisles and five or 6 to a seat. It's really an interesting study on what kinds of positions you can fall asleep in. No joke, like something out of a movie, I had two people fall asleep on my shoulders. I didn't sleep.
On top of the (over) crowdedness, people are smoking, it smelled like pee, and there were babies crying. Then again, I was right next to the bathroom, another mistake. My recommendation for anyone brave enough to try riding back here is to do it during the day. It would be manageable if you aren't trying to fall asleep. 6 hours is probably the limit on time too, or 8 if you can deal with crowded confined spaces well.
But, I will add, again, it was not without a redemptive aspect. Again, so many people were so friendly. Most were just curious why a foreigner was riding in Second Class. And where I was from, etc. I had some great conversations with people. I just don't remember them entirely because I was so tired.
I'm in Darjeeling for today, but I will probably head to Gangtok up in Sikkim today and spend some time up there before I have to be back in Siliguri on the 1st. Darjeeling is an amazing place, a town literally clinging to the side of the mountain. It's also where Darjeeling tea comes from (I'm sipping some right now, it's solid). It's cold here, though I won't complain, as it is certainly no Chi-beria (for my friends back in Chicago). Certainly much more so than the other parts of India I've been in recently.
Anyway, gotta run. See you soon.