In defence of train journeys

| Last Updated: January 3, 2013 at 7:02 PM

Nothing compares with the romance and thrill of a train journey

Whenever I tell friends or colleagues that I’m taking the train instead of flying within the country, they look at me as if I am insane. Why would anyone choose Indian Railways with its decrepit trains and smelly stations over newly-renovated airports and somewhat affordable low-cost airlines?

I have a simple answer: I love travelling by train; it makes me happy. Thanks to my adventures as a child while criss-crossing the country on the Indian Railways network along with my siblings and dog, I’ve always associated trains with leisure, with family, with adventure and with the journey being more important than the destination.

My earliest train memory is etched in my mind. It’s an image of my sisters and me screaming blue murder because a man who had turned up his eyelids to make it look like he was blind, barged into our coupe when my Armyman dad was away and tried to make off with a large basket containing our food supplies. Given that the family then comprised three hungry girls under 10, a bawling baby, an alarmed mother and a half-Bhutanese terrier, it’s not surprising that the potential thief dropped the basket and exited hastily after being hit with our reaction.

Train journeys have come to be associated with leisure and old world charm

What is it about train travel that makes it so special? A close friend articulated it well recently. She looks at train travel as time she gets exclusively for herself. It’s ‘me’ time. She’s right. Train travel is like meditation. I can spend hours daydreaming during my journey; I read, stare out of the windows or into nothingness and finally fall asleep to the somewhat reassuring clacking of the wheels.

Being on a train alone is almost like being in a cocoon. I feel insulated from the demands of family and friends; from worries of the workplace; from the entrapments of the digital age and from the urban cacophony that is a vital, but unwanted, part of my daily life. I will, however, admit that you need a high level of tolerance for the deteriorating level of hygiene in trains and stations to be able to
enjoy a train journey.

In contrast, air travel is more about the destination. It holds no charm for me. It’s impersonal and clinical. It’s literally and figuratively cold. It generates no warm, fuzzy feeling within me. Airports have no character; they are clones, giant pods of humanity in a rush to get to their destinations.

Rail journey is an expedition through cultures and across lands

At the end of a holiday, I’d rather take a train back to work than fly because a train journey eases me into reality gently. It gives me a buffer of a few hours of peace between hectic holidays and hectic work. It allows me to come to terms with the fact that my break is over. Importantly, it allows me to stretch my legs. Air travel does no such thing. Given that many of us fly to save time in order to join work upon landing, air travel brings me back to reality cruelly and suddenly. There’s no waiting time, no easing in, no time to readjust before the fun ends and work begins.

 

The article was first published in the English daily DNA.

First Published: January 4, 2013 at 1:01 AM

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