I had to go to Palitana (in Gujarat) recently for a family religious function. The fastest way to get there is a flight to Bhavnagar (an hour from Mumbai), and then about 2 hours by road. On the way back, since there was no convenient flight, we chose to come back by train, a 13 hour journey. I was excited – it had been many years since I had travelled overnight by train. Modern life and air connectivity is such that the long-distance train ride is the last preference.
Lying down on the upper berth in a three-tier compartment and unable to fall asleep (in part because I was so excited to be in a train once again), my memories went back to past train rides. The earliest long train ride that I could remember was when we had gone to Kashmir in the late 1970s – must have been when I was 11-12 years of age. (To date, that remains my only Kashmir visit.) My parents, younger sister and I took the Jammu Tavi Express – it was just under 30 hours to Jammu. I remember sitting at the window and being fascinated with the changing terrain. I counted the states we travelled through. That was the journey which triggered my love for trains.
Of course, there are plenty of short train rides. But the ones I am most excited about are the long ones. For it is on these journeys that time slows and hours can go by staring at the countryside. My first solo overnight journey was a train to Chennai just after I completed IIT in 1988 – en route to Pondicherry to meet a friend.
The journey that has stayed with me is the one I did from New York to Oakland while I was in the US. This was in 1991. I had to go to San Jose for a meeting. I went to my manager (this was when I was working at NYNEX) and requested an extra day’s leave so I could take Amtrak leaving Thursday evening from Grand Central and reaching Oakland Sunday evening – in time for the Monday morning meeting. He readily agreed. And thus began my 72-hour odyssey. It is a train ride that is still fresh in my memories. The long chats over dinner with strangers sharing personal stories, the beautiful views sitting in the all-glass cabin, the time to myself and my thoughts. It is a journey I hope to do one day with Abhishek.
And now back to my most recent train ride. I ventured out at a couple of the stations to see the buzz of night-time activity. I reminisced about similar journeys in the past. And then I finally fell asleep to the swaying motion and sound of the train speeding along.
I know we are now all plane people, always in a hurry to get from Point A to Point B. I hope we can take some time to relive the magic of the long overnight train journey. There are times when we deliberately need to slow down the pace of our life, so we can take stock and think. There is nothing better than staring at the speeding countryside and letting the thoughts and ideas flow.