My first long journey in a train was when I was probably 13 years old. It was surely an exciting and interesting way to travel when compared to the only other means I knew – buses. I had discovered a spacious and relatively luxurious way to travel. And I had loved the idea of travelling for long hours, with landscapes rolling back, and bringing new places and new structures that were once ahead of us, hour after hour. That first journey was along the coast of Kerala and I loved having to encounter rivers that we frequently crossed, the rivers that were on their way to meet the Arabian Sea. The villages, the lush greenery and the paddy fields and coconuts trees weren’t really new to me, but what had amused me was the population density that I had not seen before. I had loved the experience of seeing new things. We, a bunch of kids always tried hard to loose sight of the elderly to sit next to the door and watch the receding landscapes and indulge in the pleasure of wind hitting us as the train kept speeding. I did not make many train journeys later as a kid, may be another one or two in the next few years.
On a charming toy train
As I grew up, I hardly travelled beyond distances that could be covered by a bus and the train journeys were only a distant past. In 2003, I made another journey from Bangalore to Siliguri via Chennai and Kolkata. When I started, I remembered those pleasing journeys I undertook as a child and looked forward to reliving those memories. But what I did see was definitely not what I was looking forward to. There were two set of people who ensured that the journey was unbearable – the first set was we passengers and the second was the railways themselves.
A lot most people travelling in the train seem to find it delighting to dirty the train. I was shocked to see that the berths booked by large travelling families used it not just for sitting and sleeping. It added up as kitchen as well as wash area! It was hard to watch people callously wash their hands after lunch right below their berths and let the water flow freely in the compartment. And garbage was thrown inside or out of the window without much thought. Garbage and plastic was always there adjoining the track no matter how long you travelled. It was depressing to see all that.
The Indian Railways seemed to be eqully enthusiastic about keeping their property dirty. I searched and searched, and found it difficult to believe that there are no dustbins in the compartments. I was forced to use a plastic bag to store garbage, but had no choice but throw out of the window the wet disposables like coffee cup. It hurts to do that; I stopped consuming coffee in my further journeys. The stations are dirty and the railway tracks are dirtier. Howrah station on the way was depressing. Basic amenities like restaurants are missing even in larger stations. The food served in the train is not very appealing either and you don’t have much choice but to consume it. Railways seems to be hard at work to make the journey as miserable as possible. But the convenience of space and comfort and the pleasure of watching the world outside the window still remained.
I haven’t travelled first class or AC yet, and have been told that they are much better and convenient. But each time I made a decision to travel in any of these classes, at least for the sake of experience, I end up thinking hard and taking a flight instead. Fortunately, not all routes suffer from the same problem and there are places especially in the south where it still pleasant to make a journey by train. A journey on the Konkan railway is something I have been thinking of, and am looking forward to seeing the rail route from Mysore to Mangalore opening up. But in general, I still long for the experience that the trains can offer, and yet find it difficult to choose trains against flights. But I hope the days come when Indian Railways truly works to make our journeys memorable and pleasant and I can return to making the journeys I always loved.
What is your take on travelling in trains?