The Indian Railways has always played a very important role most Indians' life, at some point or the other in life. Long distance reservations always meant standing in a queue and reserving tickets. The grime, dust and heat of the journey aside, most people enjoy the journey thoroughly. Reservations for tickets usually open 90 days (this was 60 earlier) prior to the date of journey.
Earlier, people used to go to reservation counters the previous night, and sleep outside counters. This was to ensure that they would be among the first few in the queue, when the counter opens at 8AM. This was prior to commissioning of networked reservations, and those days each station had a fixed quota. The concept of waiting list did not exist then. With the advent of All India, computerised, booking, the pressure to get a ticket at 8AM just grew.
Summer Vacations are usually sold out on the opening day of reservation itself, with some trains selling out all seats and entering waiting list within minutes of opening (of reservation). I had once written about one such hair-raising experience of mine, waiting at the counter for a ticket. (You may read that experience here) Today was a repeat of a similar hair-raising experience.
The only difference this time was that I was seated at home in front of my PC. I logged on to IRCTC at 0756, and checked the availability of my train (in tatkal quota). It said "Available - 0016". I waited till 0800, and now hit "login".... Lo! The words "Service Unavailable" popped up. There was no response on hitting refresh. I closed the browser down, and opened again. The home page opened, but then does not proceed further. The same thing repeated three more times.
Luckily, the availability remained stable at 16 all the time. The next attempt, I could reach all the way upto Payment options. Just after choosing the bank name, the "Service Unavailable" page popped up again. Now, I tried another browser - but the same response. Back to my old browser, and three more attempts later, it reached upto the payment page again. Meanwhile, the availability dropped to 12, and the clock now showed 0815.
Lo! Service Unavailable again! I was totally depressed now, and cursed my luck for the response. Two more attempts later, I managed to get through the payment gateway again. This time the payment went through, and it issued confirmed tickets - and guess what! With two lower berths and one middle berth!!! The time was now 0818. I just thanked my fortunes that no body else was interested in the train of my choice (thanks to the fact that it was a holiday special).
The 18 minutes of thrill-agony-and-anger could have been avoided had IRCTC tried their luck at improving connectivity, and perhaps their server capacity. The peak summer rush is proving to be too much for the poor server at IRCTC to handle. While IRCTC is surely an advancement over passengers plight of having to sweat it out at ticket counters early at morning, some advancements need to be accomplished in the server infrastructure of IRCTC.
IRCTC is a very friendly feature if you wish to book a ticket other than during opening hours! Happy Booking!!!