Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Indian Railways, a window to our culture


I'm a recent entrant to the world of Quora and am finding it a fascinating forum for exchanging a wide range of experiences and ideas. What I like best here is the depth and variety of the posts by members. Quite the opposite of the superficial drivel that can often clutter Facebook.

I saw a question asked by a member, "What do you think of when you hear the words Indian Railways?" Here's what I shared about one of my favourite train journeys:
Apart from that lovely song, Toofan Mail', my favourite train journey used to be on the Karnataka Express from Delhi to Bangalore way back in the Eighties of the previous century.

This route, connecting the North to the South, gave a wonderful panoramic view of India, better than any textbook or documentary film. From 'chai garam' to 'sooda' or 'bisi' kaapi, from aloo paranthas and cutlets to idli dosas and Ambur biryiani, this 36 hour journey was a peek into our cultural diveristy.

The first sight that struck me after leaving Delhi was the Chambal Ravines, once the haunt of legendary dacoits. In more recent times, the area seems to have been reclaimed and those stark, deep rifts dotted with scrub, are no longer so prominent.

Chambal Ravines
Gwalior Fort

Sikandra, Gwalior Fort, The grand stupa of Sanchi, are some monuments visible from your comfortable perch near a window.
Sanchi Stupa
Sikandra, Emperor Akbar's Samadhi

The route passed through the Dandakaranya forest, and I used to picture Shri Ram and his entourage doing penance there.

It was normal to make friends with fellow travellers, exchanging homemade food, books and magazines, and playing games to pass the time.

True, the toilets were smelly. But arent we also to be blamed for that partly? Why do we always expect someone else to clean up after us, neglecting to flush etc, even when it works?

Some of the old first class coaches even had showers, and I remember taking one too.

At the cost of being a nostalgic dinosaur, I miss those leisurely journeys.


Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan said...

Nice post, Moni! I miss the old trains too, except of course for the smelly bathrooms! Not having AC really made you feel more connected with the world outside. Oh for the wind in your hair and being covered in coal dust!

monideepa sahu said...

Hi Harini. Ooh, I remember those coal trains which used to run on the Delhi-Calcutta line. The Karnataka Express was diesel-electricity powered, so no sooty coal grime. AC coaches were there too, in the late seventies and eighties. The view was better from the large windows sans dust. Only problem being, you could see very little after dusk, thanks to the light muting windows.

Vibha said...

And the smelly state still stays ! In fact, that is what puts me off the 36 hour journey now. I love rail travel ... if only the loos were usable !
Your blog took me down nostalgia lane and itching to get into a train now. Evocative !

monideepa sahu said...

Thanks for dropping by, Vibha. During my last journey on the same route in 2010, the loos were tolerable. But then it was Rajdhani Express. I hope I'll get the chance to make such long train journeys again. Vendors at stations sell interesting things, local handicrafts, if you happen to spot them, are especially interesting.

Neha Gupta said...

Nice re.. now i want to travel the same train

monideepa sahu said...

Hi Neha, yes, it's an interesting journey. Do travel on this line if you can. the Rajdhani Express is best. Happy journey.

B Pradeep Nair said...

Hi Moni... The post made me think of my train journeys. How much ever common they may be, trains evoke a sense of awe in us. Unlike a flight or a bus journey, travel by train has a touch of romance and we get to see a collage of both urban and rural landscape and the lives therein.

monideepa sahu said...

Welcome back, Pradeep.Totally agree with you. Flights get over before you know it. Most of the travel time is spent commuting to and from airports, and waiting in lounges which all look the same. But train journeys, they are unique and offer fresh surprises every time.