A casual discussion with a friend and a tweet from another prompted this post. Its been a long time since I actually travelled long distance by the Indian Railways. Flying now is more preferred as time is saved and you could work for a day or two more and take fewer offs.
The railways is by far, for the best travel option when it comes to experience. Right from booking, to the anticipation of travel, the views, delays, the food, the card games, the conversations , the upper berth and in one case a eunuch. The journey itself was a mini vacation, each travel, a unique and enriching experience. A mix bag of stories come to mind with each aspect of this travel, so have just presented it like that. I wont go into details of different classes and types of trains as a lot of information is available on it.
This is by far the cheapest mode of travel, if you want to travel long distances. The sleeper class and the 3 Tier AC are incomparable when it comes to that. And thus most tickets get booked 90 days before the journey starts, on the day the booking commences. In our family, our parents always ensured that the tickets were booked for that years vacation well in advance so that there were no end moment hassles of waiting list and RAC (link to Indian railways FAQ for the new readers). Tom also has a good perspective on the classes from a foreign tourist’s point of view. Follow the link here
So as children, well before our exams began we knew where and with whom we were going. The dates of travel and the site of the printed tickets filled our hearts with joy and motivated us to perform well in our exams. Lack of such developed web world opened up a plethora of discussion forums with friends, sometimes making them envious of your plans. To be honest, even I was envious sometimes of my friends plans.
The anticipation of travel
This I believe is a symptom specific to me. I get butterflies every time I travel. I have never been able to figure out the exact cause behind it but since the time we start packing for the journey, I just want to enter the train. Something about the food makes me go hungry for hours before and keeps me awake imagining the possible people I would come across and the the distance of the pantry from the berth.
|Monsoon ride on the Konkan Railways – Mumbai to Chiplun|
As Benjamin Disraeli has said, ” Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen. ” the statement is the most apt single sentence packaging the picture frames that start circulating in my head like a scrapbook when it comes to Indian Railways. The train travels through bug and small cuties, towns and villages, farms and forests, industrial areas and areas to be industrialized. The railway reaches and connects all. One instance you would see a beautiful sunrise , on the other a farmer ploughing his field. A few kilometers away you might pass a small and tranquil town that just exists on a map. It is sometimes hallucinating feeling to imagine life in such places especially coming from such big cities. Since becoming an architect I have added another leaf to this story. I imagine my interventions, my designs in each of these places. It is exciting to know your own imagination possibilities..
Another aspect is train spotting, an art that I’m probably the worst at. However, counting the bogies of freight trains was something my brother and me found very exciting as kids. I remember counting up to 40-45 bogies in those trains and having discussions of the power required to pull those. Various types of freight containers is again worth noticing. One thing I have still wondered about freight trains in India, is that their carriages come from different zonal railways, how do they keep an account of where their carriage is?
Before anybody points fingers. Let me clarify, that in the last 10 years Indian Railways has become punctual. I have seen trains arrive before time as well. However, before that Indian Railways was famous for being late. An hour difference in the ETA was accepted as on time and 5-6 hours delay was the norm.
I remember a specific train journey – Haridwar to Mumbai via the Dehradun express. We took this journey in 2000 if I remember correctly and the train used to take 48 hours to cover the distance. That train has stops where the station is a 2 ft ditch below the tracks! Every other train passed it. Why I like it? You get to get off the train every half n hour, experience pollution free fresh air and soak in the magnum opus that Indian Railways is! That train had a 12 hour delay in a time where calling the railway helpline was the only sure shot way to know the trains performance as mobiles phones were still in the gambit of a privileged few! It sure did have our other family members worried at home.
As we grew, these delays added another advantage. We could smoke when the train halted in the middle of nowhere for an letting another train pass, waiting on the outer for the platform to be cleared or just some technical snag. That feeling is different. Cant explain it in words, you have to experience it once. Just be sure you know how to catch a running train!! You life is more precious than the smoke.
The emotions are getting on too much, cant hold myself back! The post length is becoming too long so I have continues the experience here in part 2 . Please bear with the overflow!