Train journeys in India have always fascinated me. A 24-hour drive on any route, in any direction, and you feel entire India. From bucolic country-sides to sedative garbage dumps – you get to see it all. Not to mention, a variety of interesting people, you meet on the way who challenge the ambiguity of the Indian mind, and its awkwardness, or better put, its ludicrously confusing state!
I’m writing this as I struggle to grab myself from an arresting view of open farmlands, perfectly beautified by a group of silent, comely hills in the backdrop (near Mumbai) – something far more magical than the open skies of an aeroplane’s window. And only a few seconds later the landscape changes into an almost dried, soundless river, with a couple of fishermen in their boats – battling to acquire their routine dinner.
I was almost spellbound, when I realised that I’ve still got a lot more to see and a plenty more to experience, as in the next few hours I will enter into the redoubtable railway tracks of Kerala, something profoundly ill-famous to man-trap even the most uninterested people with its beauty.
Where train journeys are a perfect playground for people who love wandering outside its windows with ever-changing sights, it’s even better for those who love the company of strangers and feel a different sense of excitement in it. Let alone, how these people – with all those small talks, that always lead to long, profound conversations – educate you and broaden your understanding of the world you live in.
But the way these conversations sometimes change and develop a more confusing, perplexing state among the speakers, is always the most interesting part.
Out of 100, politics make 99.99% of these conversations in the Indian trains, with never having two people thinking alike. The discussion always starts with one person (almost) accidentally making a foul comment on someone else’s ideal politician, and within minutes, the discussion plunges off into a level of detail that leaves you swivelling your head in bewilderment.
This is exactly when the junior Arnab Goswami steps into the debate – almost out of nowhere – trying to dominate others, puffing his cheeks, blowing out air with every word he speaks. At this moment you realise that you’re the only person not nodding vigorously or repeating ‘Yes’ over and over again, like others do, to calm his nerves down. But he only breaks off with the arrival of a station, as everyone gets a perfect chance to be excused.
If you are lucky and end up being in the company of a few people, who all have nothing but just one thing in common – the will to talk, then even a couple of days’ ride seem no less than fun. Even if not, you can enjoy your journey eating the ever-changing, interesting food, delivered right on your seat.
You start out from Delhi, eating Samosas and Rotis, but soon introduce yourself to the first cultural makeshift by having Dhokla in Gujrat. This momentarily changes into Garam Vada Pav in the main course as you hit Maharashtra, and then into Idli Sambhar in Southern India.
But one thing that always makes the snack are the red chilli powered Cucumbers – I guess Indians have some sort of love affair with them. Despite getting an immediate feeling of disgust in our stomach coupled with regret we just can’t stop eating them.
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Long, uninterrupted train journeys are unique in their own way. With (almost) everyone looking out for each other. Here building a healthy relationship with others – particularly for those travelling alone – is the key to a seamless journey. Not to mention, they always give you a chance to meet some of the nicest people you never knew existed around you.
I believe train journeys add a significant value to my life as well as a traveller – given their ability to exude a lot of character, no matter in which part of the country the train is passing through. The stories, the adventure, and all those good and bad experiences, are absolutely unparalleled, leaving you with no other option but to appreciate the entire journey altogether.
But as I moved here to give this piece of writing a perfect end and appreciate it a little more, our train made a quick halt across a not-so-appeasing pile of dump yard, giving me a whiff of changing reality, by making each breath a struggle in itself.
But hey, this is real India – and I’m here to see it all!
Do you also travel in Indian trains often? What has been your best or worst experience so far?