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Eccentric View

Why Indian Train Rides Are More Than Just About The Commute

By | Blog, Eccen-Tips, Eccentric View, India | 3 Comments

 

Indians love it, so do foreigners. If there is one mode of transport in India which can claim to be almost as famous as the Taj Mahal, then it has to be the Indian Railways. Traveling on Indian trains can itself be a life changing experience, more so if you come from the western part of the world. But have we ever wondered why do so many travelers go ga-ga about Indian trains despite the crowds, unpunctual performance and shitty toilets(pun quite intended)?

If you haven’t wondered, I have. And I am going to try and answer the question.

Service to India and its citizens

Indian trains are a microcosm of the country itself, and there are not two ways about that. Everything about the Indian railways, from the loud and chaotic train stations, to the overbooked trains and the general compartment are experiences that you can term as quintessentially Indian.

But if you look closely towards this madness you may see more than what meets the eye. One early morning when I reached Lucknow railway station, I rubbed my eyes twice to be sure I wasn’t still asleep. There were hundreds of people sleeping at the railway station in well formed rows. Though people sleeping on railway station floors are a common sight in the country, the number of people at the station was five times more than anywhere else I had seen before.

After lounging around for a bit, this mass of people woke up in one ago and formed a queue. Imagine hundreds of people waking up and forming a queue in a couple of minutes. It was then that I realised that these were young men from far out places in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who had arrived to give a competitive examination. Their trains arrived the evening before, but since they probably had no money to spend on a hotel, all of them had parked themselves at the station. Good, bad, ugly – I will let you be the judge. But if the poverty of our country is without a parallel, then the role of the railways as a social organisation is also second to none.

You might find your life partner during an Indian train ride. No kidding!

So yes, if you are patient enough, beyond the chaotic welcome lie some experiences that would be hard to come by anywhere else in the world. Strangers freely sharing food, looking after one another and becoming friends are things that almost define an Indian train ride.

I have to make a small confession to make, my first real relationship was with a girl I met on a train from Bangalore to Mumbai. If that doesn’t sound interesting enough, one of my friends met his future wife on a train from Mumbai to Kerala. See in how many ways Indian railways contributes to your life?

Gives a real taste of India’s diversity

Well, we have all heard that India is a diverse country and that language & people change every 100kms. However, while hopping from one airport to another and in between our Uber and Ola rides, the magnitude of this diversity is lost upon us.

The Dibrugarh – Kanyakumari Vivek Express – it’s not a train, it’s a city on wheels

Indian trains are the best way to experience the diversity of India first hand. Sample this, Vivek Express is the longest train journey in India from the southern tip of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu to Dibrugarh in upper Assam. According to Drivespark, the train covers 4273kms through 7 states in India and takes 57 halts. That in itself means that you are bound to hear seven different languages on the train and if you include Hindi and English, that makes it nine. Having traveled on the train, I can also say that there are way more people who travel on the train from the North East who speak other languages like Garo, Khasi; etc.

The language signs on the railway stations change every few hours and so does the food. The Vivek Express is but one example. Even shorter routes sometimes have more diversity on display. I also happen to have traveled on the Trans-Siberian (the longest railway route until a few years ago), and that trip only underlined how vibrant and varied things are back home. Although I love Russia for many reasons, the diversity of its cuisine or people (or at least of the people you meet on the Trans-Siberian) isn’t on my list.

So want a crash course on India’s lingual, cultural and geographical diversity? Get on a long distance Indian train, will ya?

Acceptance is the key

Breathe, breathe – you will eventually be able to get in(Image source: Firstpost.com)

Yes it really is. Although it may not be best on its part, Indian railways does teach you to accept things that are beyond your control once you have taken a few rides. Late trains, lack of hygiene, loud co-passengers and if you are ever in the general compartment overnight, you will also have to accept lack of sleep.

While some of these are definite need for improvements, these experiences do teach you the virtue of taking things in your stride. Many backpackers from multiple countries feel the same way.

So you see, India train rides are in many ways filled with life lessons, and thinking of them only as transport is limiting their impact on your and the country’s life. Ask me, I took 25 trains in 25 days one time(really, I did). So if the learning experience of Indian trains is what you seek, follow us or better still send us a message. We may have something interesting in store for you.

Featured image: Business Insider

Golden Temple Amritsar

Amritsar – Of Biscuits, Bhaang and Trips

By | Blog, Eccentric View, India, Most Popular | 5 Comments

It was already the end of a long and weary day when we reached Amritsar. We had little idea what the evening had in store for us. Thanks to some inspired googling, we were armed with the knowledge that a local version of marijuana, called Bhaang was an easily available commodity on the street. We were only familiar with one form of Bhaang – Bhaang Lassi, and therefore we started scouting for Lassi shops. A few futile attempts at a couple of such local shops had us a little less hopeful about acquiring the consignment. We had almost given up when we asked a local auto-wala if he knew any place that sold Bhaang. He sheepishly pointed to a local shop that sold general provisions, and told us we would get what we wanted there. Then, a little kid, no older than 6 years, sitting cross-legged in front of the shop pointed us to a Paan shop, with a definite grin on his face. And so, we proceeded to ask the paan-wala how much Bhaang would cost. He replied, ‘2 Rupees.’ I figured he had gotten confused that we were asking for Paan rather than Bhaang, and so I repeated our request. And to this, he said that he had Bhaang in the form of biscuits and each biscuit was just 2 Rupees. That did it. We bought biscuits for 30 bucks, and set off happily, smug about our successful score. We had no idea how many biscuits we needed to eat, or how high it would get us. We decided to be on the safer side, and the five of us popped two biscuits each. If insufficient, we would take one more later. Sound reasoning. In the spirit of praemonitus praemunitus, let me go ahead and tell you that the biscuits taste quite ghastly indeed.

The Trip

The biscuits would take at least an hour to kick in. Quite innocuously, we entered the premises of the Golden Temple, and sat down near the lake in the middle silently looking out at the magnificent temple in front of us; all the while waiting for the initial buzz. We must have sat there for around half an hour. It had already been 45 minutes since the biscuits had been ingested. And we got up and looked around us. Boom. What was it? It was nothing like anything. The transition had been so smooth that only the movement had made us aware of it. A regular marijuana user would have been staggered, let alone a first timer. Everything seemed different. A warm pulse of energy rang through our heads, as we set out on a walk around the temple. Heck, a walk is a mild word. It seemed more like an expedition.

As we paced on, the effects of the Bhaang grew more and more intense. The brain seemed ridiculously capable of processing and perceiving more information, and coming to some deeply intimate conclusions. I think the location plays a great role in ‘trips’ like this. The temple was a marvelous scene for introspection. My first thought was that somehow, a mini-utopia had sprung into existence. As my thoroughly stimulated self slowly walked on, I watched magnanimous and selfless Sevadars offering large cups of water to the thirsty devotees. It was so simple, and yet, so brilliant. I remembered Da Vinci once writing about water being the life force of all nature. How nice to be offered a drink of water, I thought, as I got myself another bowl. I started grinning and looked around. There were poor, homeless people sleeping near the temple walls. As one entered the Golden Temple, he/she had no place for any ego. The symbolic act of covering your head with a scarf or cloth meant that everyone was together, seeking solace in an unknown force; a force that had been channeled most creatively to create a paradise of sorts. Soothing music played in the background (Kirtan) provided an atmosphere that I can only describe, weirdly, to be a homogeneous blend of serenity and courageous exuberance. I was humbled beyond repair.

The Golden Temple, Amritsar

All this was within an hour and a half of our entry to the temple. We were nowhere near the peak of the high. The temple seemed to be divided into three tiers, each resonating with subtle and unique vibrations. The next part was, according to me, the most magical.  As we waited patiently in the line, to visit the inner chamber of the temple, a most delightful wave of calm crashed through my body. Evil, as an entity, had been negated. The very idea seemed stupid and laughable. If there existed anything called positive energy, this was it. In front of us, a couple of majestic looking devotees lifted up a majestic looking rope, and let people through, few at a time. I remember looking at them with awe, and a little fear, as well. As I looked around, I realized that I had been separated from my friends at some point. It didn’t matter. I was sure everyone was bound to be having a grand time on their own. And as my turn to enter the chamber came, I could barely conceal my excitement on what I was going to see. A Guru sat in the center of the scene, with a scroll in his hands. Or something like a scroll. I can hardly recall what he was doing because I was transfixed by his face. A breathtaking countenance of composure and a remarkable sense of purpose was what I managed to discern. There were other figures and activities going on in the inner chamber as well, but I was simply unable to peel my eyes away from what I had first glimpsed. As I walked out, the lingering image of the Guru in my mind told me that I had been absolutely blown away by what I had witnessed.

The rest of the trip pales in comparison, really. We had a delicious dinner at the famous Langar, where volunteers serve food throughout the day. This is carried out with a supreme attitude of service and compassion. It quite simply gives the Golden Temple its distinctive flavor, if you will. Everyone is welcome to partake of their heart’s content, but one is not allowed to leave with food on their plate. Of course, one can refuse and stop when being served. And as we walked out, with full stomachs and the warm satisfaction of having been treated to a phenomenal experience, it was difficult not to appreciate the marvel that is the Golden Temple and everything associated with it.

Tip:

If you do plan on going to Amritsar, it goes without saying that you must visit the Golden Temple. For the more intrepid and adventurous, I would definitely recommend you searching for some Bhaang beforehand. They are easily available in several shops, packaged as Ayurvedic medicine, in the form of Golis, for 3 rupees a pop. Two Golis make for a phenomenal trip. It is true that a normal trip to the Sri Harmandir Sahib would arguably turn out to be a most riveting experience by itself. But on a Bhaang high, it promises to leave you with a spiritual experience that will have you spellbound.

 

Note: Views expressed in the above story are of the writer. Eccentrips does not promote/encourage the use of Cannabis in anyway.

Eccentric View: Why You Will Miss The Indian Poor In Brazil

By | Blog, Brazil, Eccentric View | No Comments

This article was first published on www.dailyo.in.

Beautiful women, good beer, even better beaches and soul stirring music. This side of Brazil should help you forget that Brazilian cities are quite unsafe. Thankfully, the locals won’t let you forget that. Safety here is a real concern. Every conversation steers towards safety in minutes, if not within seconds.

Almost all of Brazil suffers from a crime epidemic. Reports suggest that the average crime rates have been dropping in the past decade. Still, it would be fair to say that these are the most dangerous cities in the world. Read More

Bolivia For Oddies: Why This Coca Loving Country Is A Perfect Trip In Your Twenties

By | Blog, Bolivia, Eccentric View | No Comments

It was over four years ago, at the age of 27, that I visited a country I knew absolutely nothing about. My in-depth internet research told me that it was ruled by an authoritarian dictator and that it was connected to Cocaine. ‘Probably folks out there do a lot of that white powder’ I thought.

So yes, expecting abundance of both Evo Morales and Cocaine, I walked across the border from La Quiaca, Argentina to Villazon, Bolivia. Read More

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