Mention of a railway journey invites memories of the good, and not-so-good travel experiences over time. More than the destination, it is the sheer experience of being on the train journey that replays through awful encounters, amusing anecdotes, and avoidable follies. Yet, there is something compelling that continues to entice people to persist with their train journeys, quite often as a matter of choice! It is, however, another matter that barring few trains, the appalling status of most locomotives and carriages are in need of a complete overhaul in terms of comfort and safety. Contrary to common perception about status of trains and train journeys, the charm and humanity of being on a train has remained impossible to replicate anywhere else. Train travel is a great leveler, making you rub shoulders as much with the ordinary as with the elite. With a veritable mix of experiences, a train journey allows to reconnect with the soul of the place and its people. Even the chant of ‘chai, chai’ at railway stations goes through regional iterations, allowing for an unrestricted peep into unedited footage of other people’s lives and cultures without them getting any inkling of such intrusion.
Mark my words, a train journey remains a distinct aspect of our existence. Whatever be the experience – good, bad or ugly – one can never have enough of it. Every journey is worth an exclusive story! Recently, a friend flew across to the southern tip of the country to undertake country’s longest train journey from Kanyakumari to Jorhat before flying back home in Delhi. When asked what made him undergo the ordeal of a four-nights-five-days long journey, the discerning feel to be part of the whole had got him going on the arduous journey.
Like many others, I refuse to believe that the lure of railway journeys is fading. Those who think so, won’t ever know what they might be missing. Many years ago I had spotted what was later named a Thums Up mountain, while crossing Manmad railway junction in Maharashtra. What makes the train journey exciting is the plain fact that the traveler never has full control over what it might harbor. That is the small price one has to pay to be part of the rolling libraries of information, provided one is willing to relinquish home comforts; is ready for the unexpected; and is alive to searching the unknown.
Not many would believe me if I tell you that one can watch a full-length movie in a theater without a break in journey during a train travel! Perhaps, it is only of its kind experience anywhere. Book yourself the night train from Kotdwara, in the Uttarakhand foothills, to Delhi, and hop across to a cinema theater at Nazibabad where the hapless bogies go through the agonizing wait to join the Mussoorie Express that arrives from Dehradun past midnight to continue on its onward journey. Need it be said that such a train journey ‘happens only in India’.
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)