I am back on the road again. To be precise, I am on the tracks at the moment. I am taking a 40+ hours of train ride from Kochi to Agra. I have bought a ticket till Delhi, but I will get down at Agra. So that is my plan for the moment. But I have other ambitious plans too. I am going to write while I am on the road. The feelings, emotions, thoughts, philosophies on the road as fresh as its been felt. Its been a while, I have done active travel blogging. Do follow my journey if you like it.
Before the journey : The Travel Anxiety
I personally feel, even if someone is a seasoned traveller, been on the road for a long time, have been to many strange places; he or she might experience some sort of travel anxiety just before the trip. At least it is true for a guy who calls himself ‘trablogger’ and pretend to be a travel blogger! Well, that is me.
I do get travel anxiety before embarking on a journey to a newer place all by myself. The reasons are very simple and obvious. You are venturing into a place that is unfamiliar to you, you might not speak the same language, you might not get the food that you like, you might not get a comfy place to stay; everything is uncertain. You are out of the familiarities of your comfort zone. You gotta be anxious! Otherwise you are not a normal human being. Maybe you are Bear Grylls!
But at the very moment you start the journey, everything changes. You get into the groves of the present moment and from there to the next and so on and you will be living in the present. You will be alive, you will regain confident and you become that traveller!
Starting of the Journey : Mixed feelings and responses
My train wasn’t late. That was good sign. Earlier in the day, the first bus that came when I was waiting for it, took me much nearer to the railway station. That was also a good first sign. With two heavy backpacks, one on the front and one on the back I walked to the station and saved some money from the backpacker budget by not spending on an auto rickshaw. Another reason for walking with the backpack would be to get used to the travelling days ahead. And I have to get fit for a trekking too.
The past year has made me a quite lazy traveller. I mostly used my motorbike and a jeep to get around, even for a few kilometres. On and off I did some cycling. But mostly due to the comforts of these vehicles, I became quite lazy to travel the hard way which used to be my usual way!
I have a feeling that, I’ve become a travel softie who can start to complain at the slightest first discomfort. I don’t want to be that kind of person. So here I am back on the tracks again, sitting on a sleeper coach for the coming 40 hours or so.
First Impression, the best impression
As soon as I walked into my compartment, the first sight I saw was of two men. Those who have familiar with Indian railway must be knowing that, the toilets are just at the entrance of each compartment. In one of the toilets, I saw a man helping another man to ‘pee’! That was my first sight!
My instincts said, either the guy who was being helped would be drunk or he would be very sick. It couldn’t be a PDA or any of that sort! Brushing it off as a random event, I went ahead to find my seat. When I reached the seat, it looked like everything was already taken!
For long night journeys, I always choose Upper Berth on Indian sleeper trains. The advantage of selecting an upper berth is that, it is independent. You can always go there and sit there or sleep there without worrying about the other passengers.
Someone had already spread their bed sheet and kept their luggage at my spot! Also there wasn’t much space left to keep my humongous backpack anywhere near my seat. Not a very good signs to start off with! The softie traveller in me was already about to get disheartened at this mishap! To make it more interesting, those two gentlemen whom I have already introduced to you all, were standing just behind me. I was blocking their way! Well those are the people who would be sharing the journey with me. Yes, they are my neighbours during this journey!
But when you get into the travel mindset, everything becomes easy. Soon we were all became friends and sorted out all the seating problems and other ‘space related issues’! After listening to their story, I felt quite sad. The family was travelling from the Southern most part of Kerala to North of India for the treatment of their son. The boy was around sixteen or so. He cannot sit or walk by himself. He needs someone’s help to move around. His father and mother, who were in their late 40s or early 50s were doing everything for him, right from feeding him to put him to sleep. What I saw as I entered the train was just one such event!
The Real Story
The family was from Gujarat. For specialized medical treatment they had to travel all the way to Trivandrum in Kerala, to the south part of India. After finishing the treatments from there, they are heading to New Delhi for further treatments. Apart from being sad after listening to their story, I was thinking about India and its politics for a moment.
India is a big country and for its common people- which includes me-to travel from one corner to the other corner, it takes at least 2 days. Most of the time, more than 2 days considering other factors like getting to the actual destination, delay in train running etc. I guess in India, many people spend most of their time commuting rather than doing productive work. If you are a Bangalorean, you must be complaining about the amount of productive hours lost from one’s life, while transporting from point A to B.
Then came the thoughts on Indian politics. Everyone would agree that, the present prime minister of India is bringing development to this country. But this family is from the same state which India’s present prime minister was ruling for some quite some time. These people had to travel 2 days, each time to get a good medical treatment for their son. But for me the most interesting point to note was that these Gujarati family came to Kerala, a state which was compared by the very prime minister with Somalia for its development or lack of it! And this Gujarathi family is going to New Delhi to get another treatment which is also governed by a political party that opposes the agenda of the party to which our prime minister belongs.
Taking a long Indian train ride with the local people would give a decent insight into the lives of the most of the common Indians. This particular train was going through most south Indian states to enter into North India through Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
People often say that in India, a subtle change in culture, geography, weather and many other things happen with every 20 kilometres. This isn’t an exaggeration. Once you take a long train journey like this, you would understand it.
The easiest way for an untrained and uninitiated to understand this would be by observing the local food vendors. There are certain standard food items that are sold throughout Indian trains such as dal vada, chilli bhajji, cutlet etc. But at certain stations, newer and newer food items might appear and disappear. For those who have taken a Konkan train journey, (through Mumbai, Goa and similar areas) would be familiar with the Lonavala Chikki, Ratnagiri Vadapav and such. Guava, cucumber, groundnuts are some of the other local specialities that might make its appearance on the way.
Sometimes the dressing style changes drastically. If you see ladies wearing more than usual vibrant colour sarees and jasmine flower on their hair, you are probably going through Tamil Nadu region. If the saree is coming through their right shoulder, maybe they are from Gujarat. A Punjabi guy with a turban is hard to miss.
If you are familiar with many of the Indian languages and their pronunciation peculiarities, it is easier to figure out the differences. But the task itself is very difficult!
More Indian Life
Indian trains are one such place where one will get to learn the art of Indian bargaining. All you have to do is closely follow various vendors and their customers. Some of the extreme bargaining starts from such low prices so that the vendor gives up and starts to walk out even without trying to sell anything to them!
Some of these train vendors will have some cool travel gadgets such as mobile display magnifier which is used to make cell phone displays larger with the help of a magnifying lens. Some sells very useful stuffs for the travellers such as chains and locks to protect the luggage, card holders, LED torches etc. If you are travelling through Goa on a General class, you might even find alcohol sold just at your seats!
It is interesting to observe these vendor’s life. They are the ones who actually travels to work! Some of them travels quite a long distance, throughout the day to try and sell their things. Some of the ladies would get on to the train with a head load of guava, mangoes or some other locally grown fruits and do an up and down journey to sell everything and reach their homes with empty baskets and money filled purses. On a good day, the ROI they make would be good. But still they have a hard life. These are the real Indian business people!
During the day, once you settle down after breakfast, an army of people would come one by one, asking for money. That is another business altogether. But some of them are genuine, some of them are not. Some of them ask money for who they are while some of them do something useful for the people in return for the money they ask. Some of them are quite talented artists and some of them are quite talented con artists! Like Shakespeare said after all, they all are actors on this stage to live their lives, just like you, me and everyone else, just that their roles might not be very attractive in a general perspective!
After learning about the lives, eating different food items, experimenting with the bargaining skills and observing the people, the day was approaching to and end, at least in Sun’s terms. Sitting at the door step, enjoying the freedom offered by the Indian railway and soaking in these thoughts, I was enjoying the sunset. All of a sudden a paper cup flew in front of me which came from one of the windows near me. I quickly changed my thoughts and started praying for a litter free India.
NB: As these are the notes from the road, no research has been done, less edited and quickly uploaded. So it is prone to have errors. Hope you would understand and forgive.
Share your Indian train journey experience. Do you enjoy the freedom to throw anything and everything through the windows and doors?!