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