(ting ting ting) “Yaatrigan kripaya dhyaan de…”
If you have heard that familiar phrase, chances are you spent a major part of your life at railway stations in India. The automated voice of a woman announcing the train number, time of arrival, platform of arrival always manages to send people in a flurry..coolies (porters) and kids in tow trying to figure out where their coach is, after all in the end it is a game of first come first serve. While in all compartments except the general class, one has berths allotted, there always arises a need to jostle for luggage space. You’d also invariably find people trying to exchange seats with co-passengers, elderly folks requesting for lower berths, men of the family trying to swap berths to accommodate their entire clan in one compartment.
The train encompasses another world in it altogether, you see relatives dropping their family members ensuring they are seated comfortably and getting them some savoury snacks, water and magazines to keep them company through the journey from the Wheeler stalls at the platform. They wouldn’t step off the train until the wheels have begun to roll, and then goodbyes and bid.
Indian trains have either 6 seater or 8 seater compartments and for long haul journeys, chances are you will indulge in small talk with your co-passengers. There would be chatty aunties who’d want to know all about your family history and where you’re travelling for what business; the young person who’d usually perch him/herself on the upper berth listening to music and coming down only when there is a need to use the washroom; that family with annoying kids or infants that wouldn’t stop throwing a tantrum or crying their lungs out; or flatulent middle aged uncles who have major snoring problems. Hence, it is advisable to keep headphones, a book and a deodorant handy.
Now most long distance Indian trains are equipped with a pantry car which provide you with piping hot standard fare which would include rice, chapati, daal, pickle, curd and vegetable for lunch or dinner and two slices of bread with cutlet and a ketchup satchet for breakfast. If you aren’t a fan of train food, you could always carry a dabba from home or opt for the scrumptious local food served at various stoppages by station vendors–the palate changes as the geography changes.
While express trains like the Shatabdi and Rajdhani have impeccable cleanliness, other long distance trains might not be as well maintained; partly owing to lack of civic sense of the passengers, hence it is always advisable to use the Indian style loo as opposed to the WC, and carry loads of soap and sanitizer with you.
One thing I however love about train journeys is sitting by the window and watching the topography shift, oftentimes have come across people who make you believe in humanity with their random acts of kindness and just the general harmony where people are just happy traveling together irrespective of their socio-cultural backgrounds.
If it were not for time constraints and that challenge of booking a confirmed ticket on the IRCTC portal, I’d trade a flight journey for train travel in Indian railways any day!