The tale of travel in India for most Indians begins with a train journey. It is the beginning of an adventure, of a romantic escapade or return to grandma’s home after a year’s wait. Like blood vessels, Indian rails criss-cross across the nation carrying people, post and parcels from point A to B. But it would be a sheer understatement to call the railways just mode of transport in this country. For many the train journey is as important as the destination itself sometimes even more.
The Indian Railways has many variations. There are the express trains that connect cities and also the mountain rails travelling on their serpentine tracks. There are the locals that make life easier for big city dwellers and also the passenger trains that have more stops that the compulsory pauses between the words of a telegraph message. All in all the distinct services cover the needs of the entire nation and make train travel an adventure in itself.
Here is a peak into the many adventures that might be revealed in some of the Indian train journeys.
The Local trains and metros running in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are the public domains where people greet strangers everyday on their way to work and share each other’s life history. For some it is that sacred part of the day when they are compelled to do nothing better than read a book, glance through the newspaper, say their prayers or contemplate in advance the day’s proceedings. The hubbub surrounding them dispels like the white noise giving precious moments of introspection in a hurried life.
For some multitasking working women the local train is also time to shell peas, cut okras or snap the beans for the evening meal. It is a social gathering where the lady sitting next to you does not need to be requested to help you with the peas or hold your daughter’s torn school uniform while you get busy mending the damage.
The local train journeys have their share of drama and action too. Irrespective of class, gender or age people consider it their fundamental right to grab an empty seat as soon as it is available. And this action not just requires physical agility but also verbal ability to nullify other’s claim to the prized seat through various gestures and high decibel utterances. For the mute spectators, some sitting some standing, it is a ritualistic event that changes faces but entertains every day.
These are the leading actors of the Indian railways. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Maharashtra to Nagaland the countrywide network of express trains is magnanimous. And considering they have to carry the weight of the second most populated country in the world, it is only just to have the world’s second largest railway network for the masses.
Most Indian households make quite elaborate plans when they have to board one of the express trains for a journey. There is the meticulous packing and the detailed food preparation. It is just to say that food is one of the reasons why Indians like traveling in trains so much. It gives an opportunity to munch on the local specialties at every stop via the station food and also relish the packed up meals made lovingly by your wife or mom at home. Some families even have specific journey meals that are especially prepared every time there is a train travel.
Your social skills are put to practice best in these trains. Many Indians believe that the reason why you are sharing your compartment with various other strangers who are travelling to the same destination is because somewhere you are connected and this connection can be sealed best by sharing meals and conversations. The moment you board a train and identify your seat, there will be people staring at you blatantly and asking the first of the series of questions to come, “Till where you are going?” The answer will help them understand many things instantly. Whether you will be a good company till the city they are also travelling to. Whether you will ask them to exchange their lower birth seat with them or whether they can propose the same thing to you. Whether you will make a good friend and be in touch even after the end of the journey. Whether your wife would share the secret of her glowing skin with their wife and much such contemplation.
Many a business deals, public debates, spiritualistic revelations and chance romantic rendezvous have been staged during these train journeys and continue to be the heart and soul of these travels every day. When your co-passenger opens the bundles of home-made goodies for you or when you exchange business cards with a man who was a stranger not an hour ago, you know that the infectious Indian rail travel bug has bitten you too.
Luxury trains are few plying on the Indian tracks but what lacks in quantity surely compensates with quality. The pride of Indian Luxury trains is unquestionably The Palace on Wheels that travels mostly through royal Rajasthan and promises a week long journey that is equally lavish. The Deccan Odyssey, Golden Chariot, Royal Orient are few others that pamper you in style while travelling amidst the beautiful Indian landscape, sometimes through deserts, sometimes through ravine or sometimes past the scenic sea.
Local presence is somewhat less in luxury trains because of the very reason that they are luxury coaches, reserved for the elite and the ones who can afford the royal pampering. But the journey is a good experience for those who want to experience the Indian railways minus the crowd.
Whether it is the luxury trains, the locals or the multi destination choo-chooing express trains, the train journeys in India will always leave you with an experience that you can fathom in India alone.