He Said/She Said: General Seating

He Said/She Said: General Seating

Limited visibility due to the hundreds of passengers in this train car with a capacity of 80.  Note the person riding on the luggage rack above, each rack had 6 passengers enjoying relative comfort to many.

When the masses of India need to travel they queue up and buy a General ticket on the trains.  Known as cattle cars there are no limits to how many people can ride in each car and Machiavellian principles reign.  Here are our experiences squeezing into the general car…




It’s 100 degrees outside and I’m standing in an airplane sized bathroom with 10 people.  There is no window, the only airflow is coming up from the drop toilet hole.  And yes, people were still squeezing in to use the hole…

Honestly I was happy to be where I was, the rest of the train car was even more packed compared to my relatively spacious location in the bathroom and hall between the two.  Depending on the shifting waves of humanity I was able to be inside the loo or at the door, but I wasn’t packed in like most people in the train.  The capacity of the car said 80, there were at least 500 people in the car.  So it goes in “General Seating”.

There is no limit to the number of tickets they sell for the General cars, a problem and a blessing.  For many of the people in the car they need to be somewhere due to family problems, religious ceremonies, or limited windows for travel that is only made possible by there being limitless tickets.  In other words, if there were limits on the number of people in the car they would not make it to their destination at all; traveling in the general section is not a choice, rather a necessity.

The other aspect of the General Section is the price, it is cheap.  For a ride that would have cost us $8 to have reserved seats cost us only $2 here.  I can assure you we did not do this for the money savings though, we did it also out of need.  It was spend 2:30 on this train or 10+ hours on jarring buses.  We bit the bullet, pushed into the crowd like defensive linemen and somehow managed to get out of the doorway by the first station after we joined the party.

I’m glad we did this.  India is a poor country, very poor.  Over 75% of the country lives on less than $2 a day, making it home to the most poor people in the world.  When we set of on this trip we decided we wanted to experience as much of local life as possible.  We don’t really consider spending the night in Mumbai slums possible, so General Seating is as close as we’re going to get.  This is how the vast majority of Indians live and travel, seeing it from the outside is nothing like experiencing it from the inside.




Me in my “seat” with three other people.  These men were gracious enough to share their meager space.

They should advertise the general seating on Indian trains as free Cirqe d’Soleil training because the way you have to contort your body in order to ride for even just one stop is impressive.  Why do you need to be a contortionist to ride in general seating you might ask, well because in one train car you may encounter up to 500 passengers and the only way to fit is to squeeze into whatever area is available.  Never has my yoga training come in so handy, that’s the only way I managed a smile in the above picture.

General seating in India falls under the category of “I can’t make this stuff up” there were literally more than five times as many passengers than would typically be allowed in each car.  In addition at each stop dozens more people would push their way onto the train.  My most pressing concern (no pun intended) with each onslaught of new passengers was to fend off breast fondlers and butt grabbers.  With so many people packed into the car it was the perfect opportunity for men to grab a handful.  Ladies, just for future reference pinching works best, especially when you don’t share a common language and you can’t see the offending man’s face with whom the grabbing hand belongs to.

Once I had a system down for keeping wandering hands at bay I was able to “enjoy” my ride like the locals.  I watched music videos from the cell phone of the man sitting between my legs.  I pulled out my camera, which offered hours of entertainment for the passengers surrounding me and made instant friends.  This helped to capture the experience as well as got me a bit more space for the entertainment I provided.   In fact, by the end of my general seating journey I had made several new friends that helped me negotiate for space and keep the men at bay.

Without my new found friends I don’t know that I would have survived my general seating experience.  In talking with thinkCHUA he also befriended a passenger for survival and in the end we were both happy to have had the experience, but it is not one that either of us ever plans to repeat.  Ever.


What are your most crowded travel experiences?  Are there any times you were crammed in somewhere so tight you didn’t know how you would escape?  Share your stories in the comments below.

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» Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) :
Apr 25, 2012

I’m glad the “She Said” portion of this talked about the very real fear I have about being groped or fondled on one of these packed Indian trains! While the idea of giving people a lap dance isn’t my preferred means of travel, I’d really be worried about wandering hands. I’m not sure if I’ll have the bravery to go this route when in India, but I suppose as you say, sometimes necessity trumps comfort.
Read Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)’s awesome post What’s in a name?

LOCAVORista Reply:

Steph, wandering hands were a concern as I noted, but pinching and causing a scene quickly remedied the situation. I also had my new Indian friends there to help make sure I was safe and had space to sit. As you said, this wasn’t so much a choice as a situation where necessity trumped comfort and we did get where we were going.

» Bka :
Apr 25, 2012

And your both smiling and pleased with the journey……need I say more, your amazing…..so I assume the new phrase is when in India, do as the Indians do…..peace….be safe….love dad

LOCAVORista Reply:

Dad, this is one of those situations where the only option was to “grin and bear it.” We have definitely learned that when in India it is do as the Indians do, because there really is no other choice. It has been nice to take a breather in Nepal, but we are excited to explore more of India.

thinkCHUA Reply:

I’ve decided that “when in India, see where the locals go and avoid that place.”

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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