The Indian train system was developed by the British and even today it exists with mintoTravelling by trains in India is one of the most amazing experiences (positive or negative) for any person be it a foreigner or an Indian. The various landscapes, people, cultures, rivers etc can only be experienced and seen by travelling on trains and not airlines or luxury liners.
Till the time I was back in Muscat, travelling by trains used to be very rare. If we took a train, it would mostly be Shatabdi from Delhi to Lucknow. Now Shatabadi is the best and fastest train in the country with the most modern facilities and services. The full train is equipped with A/C. It wasn’t until I reached VIT that I started travelling by other trains to. Needless to say till the time I was in Muscat, I had no idea about the way to book tickets. Actually there wasn’t a need to learn because dad easily did everything.
But over the four years, along with learning to book tickets, I learnt to travel by all kinds of classes that is sleeper and unreserved. Actually I had travelled so much by unreserved that after two yrs when I travelled to Lucknow on a 35 hour journey by Raptisagar Express in 3 – tier A/C, I felt that I am travelling in ultimate comfort. My first journey was to Chennai from Katpadi station (Vellore). After getting the ticket for Bangalore-Chennai Express, I realised that there was only 2nd sitting. So I was surprised as to how this could be possible since trains normally have 5 – classes : First, 2 – tier A/C, 3 – tier A/C, sleeper and unreserved. Later on as I travelled more and more to Bangalore, Trichy, Coimbatore etc, I realised that the night trains have the above mentioned classes while the day ones have only 2nd sitting. The knowledge of these classes maybe obvious to the common man. But me having spent my life in Muscat, it was a new, exciting and learning experience.
When I took a ticket for the unreserved class the first time, I just thought how it would be like? Whats the difference between the other classes? On first sight, it reminded me of the scenes of Swades. Many people sleeping on the ground, some sitting near the bathroom as well as inside the bathroom, people with huge parcels and boxes to keep in such a small place (god! They never seem to understand that there already is a large concentration of human mass in that area and adding more load would increase the problems.), some lying drunk on the ground, some taking drugs or gutka, some sitting on the footboard jam packed ground with people and luggage with no place to walk are few of the interesting things I got to see on entering the place. The general crowd in the compartment is the low income groups where people have families of 5-6 and above.
There were loads of difficulties as to many times there was no place to stand forget sit. I have seen that in an unreserved compartment a lot of people go to the toilet without chappals (Now that is yuck!!…and no it wasn’t for Swami Ayyapa or something.) The kind of smells, dirt and people stinking of drugs and alcohol can make a normal person crazy. But this was a great learning experience for me. Being in Muscat, I had never got the opportunity of travelling across India. Other than places in Tamil Nadu, I also got a chance to cross through Central India to reach Roorkee as well as East India to reach Guwahati and see the changing climates, cultures, people etc.
Even though there are newer forms of transport coming up in today’s world, trains were, are and will always be the heart of the Indian transportation system.