Monday, February 9, 2009

Train hopping

There is something romantic about train journeys. No, I’m not talking about those claustrophobic Mumbai local trains but those long distance 1000 km+ train journeys, which thanks to the leisurely pace of our trains take anywhere between 16 hrs to a day and sometimes even more.

Train travel, unlike air travel is unhurried, relaxed, even refreshing. As one of my recent co- passengers aptly puts it, trains allow you to take a break from work and unwind which is not true of air travel since it’s just a 2 hr flight and then you have to get back to the grind of daily life.

One of my favourite pastimes is to just observe by the window as the world whizzes by, nature in its myriad forms and shapes, shiny ribbons of water as the train passes over a bridge, pitch dark tunnels and lush green forests, not to forget the dense white blanket of fog which completely envelops the countryside if you visit north India in the winter months.

Mumbai-Pune route

One of the journeys that I recollect most is the Mumbai-Pune one which cuts through the Western Ghats connecting Mumbai on the windward side of the ghats to Pune, on the leeward side. The route passes through one of the most beautiful landscapes in India, weaving its way through innumerable tunnels, some of them more than a kilometer in length, flanked by mountains on both sides and deep valleys covered with trees. In fact, on many occasions, the train track is barely a meter away from the edge of the mountain, beyond which lies a sheer drop, giving panoramic views of the valleys. It is an added treat to take the journey in the monsoons, when you can see waterfalls gushing down the face of the mountains into the forests below. Standing by the door, the rush of air which brushes past me is truly invigorating.

Another journey which I recall is the Mumbai-Delhi one through the central route passing through Ratlam (of Jab We Met fame, remember Hotel Decent), Agra and Mathura. This one is not for the scenery but the culinary delights on the way. This route passes through 7 states and each of them has something different to offer. Ratlam and Bhopal have their poha and kachoris, Agra has its petha and Mathura has its pedas. Its really a treat, getting down at the station and savouring all these delicacies.

Of course there are some unremarkable, boring routes as well. One of them is Jodhpur to Jaipur. Jodhpur is on the fringes of the Thar desert and Jaipur is of course the capital of Rajasthan. The route passes through the endless expanse of the arid desert and a lake called the Sambar lake which is a saltpan and has no water throughout the year (wonder why it’s still called a lake).

Today trains like the Rajdhani express and Shatabdi are redefining the travelling experience, offering fast, comfortable and convenient point to point travel. The Mumbai- Delhi Rajdhani for instance offers wonderful hospitality and service, something not associated with the Indian Railways.

Things are surely changing for the better !!

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