Train Travel in India

Having briefly mentioned in a previous post about the opportunity train travel provides to meet with alien characters, I intend to write a full post about it. Moreover this series may feel incomplete without such a topic since train journeys are so much part of our real and reel life. Talking of reel life who can forget the Dada Muni’s Rail Gaadi … Rail Gaadi …

It is such a wonderful rapping ode to the railways. But you can’t spot a train in this song. Similarly, I had not seen one till perhaps I was thirteen and had not rode one knowingly or unknowingly till I was fifteen. I got the first opportunity when I traveled from Brahmapur to Sunebeda as part of our school NCC group. We boarded a passenger train at 9 in the night without knowing when we would reach the destination.

But, then who bothered about the destination? We were in teens. For most of us it was the first train journey. Next day also there was no chance of getting bored as the train threw us one spectacular view after another as it passed through the pristine landscape of Koraput District known for its forests, hills, brooks and tribal life. I have written about this journey in detail in an earlier post about a memorable meal.

The first goods train ran in India in Madras in 1837. Then in 1856 the first passenger train ran from Mumbai to Thane. Railways was introduced in India for the purpose of carrying goods for various commercial activities and to earn direct revenue by ferrying passengers. Thereafter rapid expansion started and by the end of the nineteenth century all the major cities and regions were connected by a network of rail lines.

The contribution of Indian railways to India’s freedom movement cannot be undermined. After coming back from South Africa Gandhi himself traveled all over India by train to take a first hand account of people of India. It became possible to organise huge all India congregation of freedom fighters. Print material carrying the atrocities of the British and appeals for united fight against the Raj could be circulated with ease across regions.

After independence the railways in India thrived while it collapsed in Pakistan and Bangladesh. But for the Indo-pak Samjhouta Express and the Indo-Bangladesh Maitree Express, the railways of these two neighboring countries would have become extinct. Of course the railway scene in Bangladesh is getting revived with the help of India and other countries. But, in Pakistan it is getting worse and may face extinction soon with the future of Samjhouta Express in jeopardy.

Like me, have you ever dreamed on these lines? You are sitting on a train. Suddenly the track vanishes. Or the train derails but you have escaped. Or, the train stops and then it would not move for hours and hours. Or, you missed the train but you are running and hoping to catch it at the next station. If yes, get ready for glimpses into similar real life train travel through this BBC documentary. If you are interested in documentaries this is a good one to watch to while away the idle hours of lock-down. It is about the last frontier train of Nepal from British era connecting India and Janakpur – the sasural of Lord Rama. Of course now Janakpur has been connected by Indian Railways with new tracks and trains.

After I joined the defense service train travel became frequent. It is not possible to recall all such travels but some incidents leave their imprint in memory. For example the first time I travelled with fellow recruits to the training centre. We had no reservation and two of us shared the upper berth of a general compartment for the overnight journey to next connecting station. My face had to adjust with his feet and his with mine. Of course such experiences repeated a couple of times afterwards when I had to travel without reservation on emergency.

I remember this occasion when the whole coach crowded around a lone radio to listen to the live commentary of a final match involving India and Pakistan. All of us behaved as if we had been neighbors for years. Coincidentally India won and the train erupted with celebrations. Those were the pre-cell phone days. Now a days everyone especially the young ones are mostly lost in their own worlds with their cell phones and earphones.

On one occasion I was sandwitched with Marwari Pilgrims who had booked all the seats in the coach except mine. When their group leader approached me I was as usual expecting him to request me to exchange my seat with his relative in another compartment. He said, “Sir, please don’t book lunch”. He did not wait to hear my response.

When the train halted at a station before lunch time, a group entered our compartment and distributed packed lunch to every one including me. They would listen to none of my protests with one elderly lady reminding me of my grandmother and how she used to force feed me. Though vegetarian it was no ordinary lunch packet. ‘Must have come from a star hotel in the town‘ I assumed. After the lunch it was desert time. Then there was a pan session too. The same thing was repeated at dinner and next day breakfast.

The people who brought lunch were their relatives who had settled down in the locality. One of the co-passengers told me that the railways had played an important role in the spread of Marwaris through out India. You would not find any town or city in India that is connected by railways but does not have any Marwari.

One of my paternal uncles is also an ex-military man. Once I narrated to him about a boring 30 hour train journey from Delhi to Brahmapur. He laughed and narrated to me about the seven day train journey he had from Assam to Hyderabad. In his time express and direct trains were few and he was further restricted in his choice of train because he was travelling with his family and his transfer luggage.

Indian railways is on a continuous path of progress. It has been able to connect with many remote and difficult parts of India. There has been marked improvement in services and cleanliness over the years. In spite of the availability of cheap air travel, trains continue to be the popular mode of long distance travel in India.

Do you have any train related personal anecdote to share? In case you have written a blog post about it you are welcome to share in the comment.

PS : This is alphabet T post of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ where in I explore various facets of India and also some places and events of India I have been closely associated with.

All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.

28 thoughts on “Train Travel in India

  1. This is such an interesting read on Indian Railways. Really enjoyed how your narrative meanders through your personal recounts, history of Railways in India, and Trains in Bollywood! Awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Indian railways and the trains occupy a very fond corner in my heart too. My mother is from Mumbai and father from Yavatmal, a district in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, every summer I have travelled by train with my brother and mother to go to my maternal grandparents. Those were the days of second class travel and my mother used to carry the bedding for three of us. One suitcase was enough to pack the clothes for three for about a month’s time. She also took a “shagal”, a kind of water bottle that would keep the water cool for the entire journey. She would pack the homemade Tiffin for the journey as it used to be overnight. I remember having got into fights with my brother for the window seat. It was usual to get friendly with the fellow passenger and exchange food with them. Your post made me nostalgic.
    Now though we travel by AC coach, the journey is not as charming as it used to be then!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Before bottled water became popular, various forms of water containers used to be a constant companion especially if you were travelling with your family. Yes, in AC coaches, particularly in 1st/2nd AC you miss the camaraderie of other classes. Sometimes you may complete the whole journey without ever speaking a word to your neighbor.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have several stories of train travel. Even of not getting a confirmed ticket and standing at the railway station, requesting the TT to relent and then looking for a bus.
    I can’t imagine why Pakistan should crumble their railways. It’s such a backbone of any economy.

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  4. The longest train journey I have undertaken was the 50 hr journey from Thiruvananthapuram to Delhi. I was glad that I had my friends for company. But as you said, we come across a lot of interesting people during train journeys.

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  5. What beautiful stories of trains. I would look forward to train journeys as a child for the variety of food and the landscapes it passed through. And the chai. As a kid I loved having chai in the terracotta cups which added their earthy fragrance to the chai. Now of course, it has been years since I took a train journey…

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  6. I enjoy train journeys and have so many stories to tell. Now long-distance train journeys have become scarce for me because of the cheap airfare and lack of time. But traveling in train, striking new friendships , getting lost in the beauty of nature of remote Indian villages is a priceless experience.

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    1. Unless there is no other choice, many do not take long distance train journey these days. Of course there is also the shortage of time. When I traveled from home town to Bengaluru a couple of months back by train, I was doing so maybe after four or five years.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Durga, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. Your narrative is applause-worthy and keeps the reader intrigued while imparting information at the same time.
    Since Dad was in the armed forces we have travelled all over the country using the rails. The web of railway network has not only connected places but hearts and bonds through time. I rarely use the rails anymore since there always seems to be the paucity of time and a flight seems a better option. The fun and the myriad, spectacular views that a train journey offers is incomparable to any other. I loved your post from the bottom of my heart. Waiting to read more. Cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You have so many sweet memories of train journeys. It was nice to read. It was very sweet of the Marwaris to get meals for you as well. I haven’t been on long-distance train journeys much. With many of the trains to nearby places not sticking to the schedule, I prefer taking the bus. And I do happen to have an old blog post about a train journey. :p Here’s the link –

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Such a lovely post…. Took me on a nostalgia ride… Train journeys hold a very special place in my memory as we used to take the train every year to Odisha in my childhood to spend our vacation at grandparents place. Also train journeys were the means to travel to home during engineering days… All of them form such lovely memories. But yes, as you said those were per mobile days… Life was different then… People who met in train spent the journey sharing their lives with the other… I don’t think today that must be the scenario!!

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  10. I shudder at the thought of completing a seven day journey in a train. However, I distinctly remember trains used to be cleaner and a lot less congested in my childhood. I am not sure whether the exponential explosion in population or people becoming more and more mobile, or both, has resulted in unbearable conditions of trains in India. The worst problem of trains is the all pervasive filth and unhygienic conditions of the entire system.

    Your experiences are both amusing and eye-opening. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Train travel specifically in a country like India is a vital aspect of one’s life….I had a very pleasant experience of train journey from Childhood….the first as far as I remember is my journey to Visakhapatnam from Brahmapur where my grandfather was serving the Indian Navy….one recent episode I remember that we had to board the train at 4.50 am in d morning but unfortunately we cudn’t wake up in time & by the time we reached the station just the train has started to roll…sitting in the car & seeing the train departing in front of your eyes was the most devastating experience still we didn’t give up hope….came back home & took our breakfast & started for the destination again…that’s a hilarious experience….we got berths ofcourse we had to change 3 trains but the best part was that all my family became so much involved in it that they were giving faster information than any other app…we halted in those stations which had scenic beauty….waiting for another connecting train….in this way we reached Bhubaneswar 5 hours late but the experience was exciting instead of devastating.
    Experience of Indian railways with a brief sketch of its history is very well written .

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It made me travel down the lane. Countless memories are associated with the train journey. I have experienced almost every kind of travel on trains. The best thing about a long journey on the train is- we can sleep properly!!
    What a sweet gesture by the Marwaris and their relatives!! It must have been a heartwarming experience.

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  13. This made for a very interesting read! I travel a lot by trains for my work and have had many interesting experiences and have shared quite a few of them on my blog. I remember traveling without Ticket from Kolkata to Malda in 1999, The queue at the ticket window was LOOOOONG and it was time for the train to start its journey, someone behind me suggested to get in the AC compartment and then pay for the ticket when the TTE arrived in the coach. The TTE never came, and that was my most stressful train journey. I got down at Malda but was caught by the Ticket Checker at the gate. When I made a show of searching my bag and said I couldnt find it, that guy smiled and said I’d have to pay the fine. I have never been that happier while paying fine!.


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