I’ve always loved travelling by train. I love the feel of the wind against my face and seeing the landscape rush past me!
My first memory of travelling by train is to Delhi. I must have been around 3-4 years old and I remember travelling in a kind of a coupe for that journey. We were four of us then (my parents, my sister and me) and it was this closed kind of a room that we were in. That’s all I remember of this journey.
The next journey I really remember was when I was around 6 years old on a trip down south. We were supposed to go first to Mysore (as it was then known), then a trip to Bangalore and then finally Chennai to attend a family wedding. Those days, there was no direct train from Mumbai to Bangalore and Mysore and so we took probably a Chennai train and got down in a station in Andhra Pradesh called Guntakal and then changed from the broad gauge line to a narrow gauge line which took us to Bangalore. Then another change of train, most likely a commuter train from Bangalore to Mysore. The trip must have taken around 30-32 hours from Mumbai to Mysore with two transits. Then we came back to Bangalore and then took the Brindavan Express which used to be a double-decker train those days to Chennai. I remember standing on my seat trying to look out of the window since we were seated on the lower level and the windows were higher up.
Around the time I turned 9/10 years old, my paternal grandparents moved to Bangalore for their retirement years and we started travelling there every year on a train that was introduced then: Udyan Express. The first few years, the train left Mumbai around 8 pm and reached Bangalore 24 hours later with the return journey leaving Bangalore at 8 am in the morning and reaching Mumbai at 8 am the next day. After that, they switched the train timings with the train leaving Mumbai in the morning and leaving Bangalore in the evening.
Those were the days before the internet and smartphones were probably just a far-fetched idea in someone’s head. What we had for entertainment was the company of our co-passengers. We spoke and became friends with the eight people in the same bay, shared food and sometimes found common acquaintances and even relatives. Some of these friendships went on to become deeper and stood the test of time, while others were as transient as the train journey. We also couldn’t track the train in real time and relied on our own memory and the ever-present railway timetable to figure out if our train was late or not (more often late than not as it turned out). Frequent passengers knew which station the train would or rather should reach for meal times and what is special about that station. I remember drinking and eating special food at various stations on the way to Bangalore and the frequent cries of the tea vendors during the run at night.
But a train journey was not always nice and rosy. You also had instances of passengers molesting young and vulnerable female passengers, especially at night and of frequent cases of luggage being stolen, especially in the middle of the night. We were also exhorted not to eat or drink anything that a stranger gave you since it could be laced with sedatives and they would then strip you of your belongings when you fell unconscious.
Then when Bangalore was sighted and Bangalore East station was near, it used to be a big rush to gather all our belongings and as soon as the train left Bangalore East station to go and station ourselves near the door. We used to get down at Bangalore Cantt station and it used to be a big rush because the train stopped there just for 3-5 minutes. As soon as the train stopped, we would see our grandparents waiting for us. Then quickly get down and get home for a month-long holiday!
I really enjoyed writing this post and it brought back so many memories of our summer holiday trips to Bangalore. This post was actually triggered when I tried using google maps to chart out the Bombay-Bangalore route and couldn’t find the train and the various stations we used to be so familiar with. I haven’t taken a train ride in a very long time and I am sure any experience today will be significantly different from what I used to experience and have written above. I do hope that one day soon when holidays are no longer rushed, I can once again take the train and relive my childhood and teen years.