I don’t remember my first train journey. Though it was a little over 70 kms, mother used to board a train to travel to her hometown (Kottayam) with two small baggage, me & my sister. So for us, train was just another mode of transport.
Year 2004, when i started on a long journey to my home in Cochin from Delhi, i instantly fell in love with train travel. Its like a small village born and perished in few days. Lots of interesting people, stories of lands unheard of, a window into a world you never knew!
I long for those train travels, those stories, that window through which world sped past, faster than the train!
This post is a compilation of some pictures and stories from a decade of train travel.
During train travels, you make new friends…while in some, you redefine friendship!
In 2006, six of us went on a long trip to Kerala. We lived out of a sleeper coupe for almost three days and two nights. Ah! the fun we had, probably one of our best trips. Did we sneak in alcohol to beat the winters of North India…i do not remember. But i do remember that we were always high..sometimes out of joy and at times sleeping high above others on the upper berths.
The great gamblers
I had a reservation for Jaipur, and i happily boarded the train at Gurgaon. Well, technically i didn’t board the train, i was hanging on the door. A crowd heading home after a days work in Delhi left no space for me to step into the coach.
Lesson learned: Always try to board a train from the starting station or avoid trains which leave immediately after/before work hours from the boarding station.
So i struggle, fight, kick and get kicked, to move two feet inside the train. I am not sure whether i am sitting on the washbasin or is it the ‘peer’ pressure which is helping me defy gravity. Suddenly i hear a roar and the sound is coming from a group of regulars who have managed to find their spot for ‘teen patti’ (a card game).
I was surprised at their expertise to be annoyed! They, my friend, are the great gamblers of the Indian Railways..travelling for hours every day…to earn a living and yet find time to live. I respect them the common man!
Of love found…and lost
Many of you might have read Chetan Bhagat and his romantic novels with a train playing the cupid. No I am not going to write one, though i did write a short-story on a girl i met in one such trip home (She woke me up). It lasted for few months over long distance calls, till the phone bills haunted us. Thankfully , not enough material for a long-short novel. Thus, my dear reader, you got spared from a torture.
Trust me when i tell you this, but love stories from train travels are very common. Few days (and nights) of captivity in a moving locomotive, with no (or very few) competition, chances of getting hitched are very high! Another reason for you to travel?
I have met many girls during my long trip home, tried those cheap tricks to impress them (and often failed)…few of them are good friends today, and we laugh over it…their life partners join in, of course.
Food…tasty, cheap & risky
Those quick stops in unknown stations, running out into the platform for tasty yet cheap food…i cannot think of them without craving for some. One of the best Vada-pao’s i ever had is from Madgaon station in Goa, during those scenic travel to Kerala via Konkan Railways.
Konkan rail route is always a treat for your taste-buds, starting with Agra peta and Aloo-poori from Jhansi, seasonal ber (fruit) from some unknown stations on the way, cashew-nuts, great chicory flavoured coffee and so on.
But food treats are not limited to one route, for example, i still remember the tasty Oranges from Nagpur.
Once i almost missed my train, lost in nourishing my taste-buds…a risk you will have to keep in mind.
What literacy means
Was it in 2004 or in 2005, i do not remember.
Krishnadas (KD) and me had confirmed reservations while poor Vishnu had an RAC (reservation against cancellation) berth. He was supposed to share it with a six foot giant from Haryana (if I am not wrong). The giant man was a the coach of some athletics team and travelling with some 15 odd giants.
(Un)Lucky for us, he didn’t know what RAC meant and asked Vishnu to leave the berth. Needless to say, none of our co-passengers dared to interfere. We tried hard to educate them about the rocket-science behind RAC and failed miserably. It was then that God appeared in the form of TT (conductor). We silently wished that literacy had a higher importance than sports.
Later, the same folks made us eat tasty paranthas, cooked in pure ghee, stuffed with a mixture (cooked in jaggery). Their love for us ‘kids’, in the form of food, was more of a torture. We ate silently, in fear! Another story which we laugh at, when we think about it today.
‘Larger than life’ beds… the platforms
“tak tak”, i cursed the one who was knocking the door, so late in the night. Slowly I opened my eyes to see a policeman with a long baton standing in front of me.
It took me few seconds to realise that i was sleeping on a platform in Jaipur, waiting for my morning train to Ahmedabad. I reached Jaipur by midnight and had my train to the Kites Festival, early next morning. A shoe-string budget and a ‘sleepy’ inspiration from the eight guys sleeping in front of me, i joined them to make it the ‘lucky 9’.
I guess i wasn’t lucky for them, hardly an hour of deep sleep, the policemen at station decided that we are threat to national security and woke us up. Thankfully, they were kind enough not to test their baton’s effect on my back. But i will treasure that sleep throughout my life, it was more comfortable than the king sized beds of five star hotels, from my corporate trips.
Food stinks…so does a fart
I walked into an AC compartment, thanks to my company’s travel desk. The train whistled out of the station and a stink found its way into my nose. A Tamil family opened their food reserves for the next two days, and it felt like the food itself was two days old.
I hate AC coaches! For the next two days, different shades of stink filled the coach with the air-conditioning ensuring that the stink stays till our nostrils die. The stink alternated between that of food and that of fart.
I understand that not many have the courage & ‘expertise’ to use the loo in a moving train. I am a bit proud that i took daily bath in them. But, suppressing your “nature’s call” (and still eating like there is no tomorrow) only to fart at regular intervals is no excuse.
Friends shared similar experience with families boarding from different parts of India, so its not just south-Indians, i sighed with a clip on my nose!
Lesson of Life & reality
The window of a train is a mirror of maturity. Years back,i saw beautiful landscape, green paddy fields, ambitious trees aiming for the blue sky and happiness all around.
Today, i see pain amidst prosperity, arid lands where a farmer breaks his back, women fighting poverty, arms begging for alms, sufferings… and the poor common (wo)man fighting it with dignity!
Is it the world outside my window? Or is it me who has changed with time? The logical explanation is…the windows are mirrors of my maturity.
Train journey has changed over time, with facilities like AC compartments, double decker trains, fancy food… the experience is changing. Its no more a time travel because we forget to look outside the window, instead the small screen of our laptops and mobile phones speaks to us.
For me, the train journey is in the window of a sleeper class compartment, where i look outside to see deep into me.
My train stories doesn’t end here, i can go on for days. In fact, i have enough stories to share, enough for us to travel in Himsagar Express, many times.
PS: My dear reader, Indian railways is a pride for India. One of the largest networks and one of the largest employer, it is sort of a back-bone to India when it comes to logistics. You have to trust me, no matter how much you have seen India, without a train journey, your visit to India hasn’t even started….chuk chuk