The next time you travel by train, make sure to notice the stations you go past. There is so much useful information stored on the boards.

When I was in primary school, I discovered the joys of train travel. Most Saturdays, we would take the morning Madras Express (“Number 24 Up”) bound for Chennai from Bangalore. We would travel up to Jolarapettai Junction. Amusingly, this train called the 24 “Up” Bangalore-Chennai is a downhill journey. Bangalore is 897 metres above sea level and Chennai Central Station is nine metres.

We would then take the “39 Down” Brindavan Express back to Bangalore City. The train was actually coming UP from Chennai to Bangalore!

Recently, I travelled from Bengaluru City to Chamarajanagar. The e-ticket (booked online) said “TPTY – CMNR Pass” (Tirupathi – Chamarajanagar Passenger), the train number was 56214. Every station has a letter code. ‘Passenger’ means that it stops at (almost) every station on its route. The same train going back CMNR-TPTY, via SBC (Bangalore City Central), is numbered 56213.

Even the train number is full of geographic information!

Look out

I noted the altitude of each station to Chamarajanagar. For almost all stations, this information is on the station sign at both ends of the platforms (see picture for example). In the bottom left is the altitude, marked ‘MSL’ and a number — so many metres above Mean Sea Level (sea level varies a little due to tides, so they use an average, or mean, value for that)

Next, I plotted my data as a graph.

The actual change in altitude from SBC to CMNR was 503 metres. From the graph, it seems that there were not many steep changes in altitude. Ah, but we don’t have information about the altitudes between stations; we have them only at the stations. This is still interesting because it helps you to understand data collection and using data intelligently.

If you plan to ride a train for your holiday, why not gather some geographic information online or in person? Be sure you have an adult with you for safety!

Or you can do this study online! Indian Railways offer many online resources for an interesting virtual (i.e., online) geography exploration. You can make your real journey even more interesting or create thematic online train journeys of your own. For example, a journey to several historically important places (Chennai, Bengaluru, Hampe, Kozhikkode, Kanyakumari, and Nagapattinam). Orfollow cricket match series around the country. Or a trip through different Indian landscape regions – for example, from the Kerala coast through the Deccan Plateau, Vindhya Ranges and Ganga Plain to the Northeast of the country. The possibilities are many.

Every trip would be an exciting way of studying the rich and interesting geography of India.

The writer is Founder + Director of The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies.

How I spent my summer holidays

Write your essay.

Collect data on the stations the train has passed.

Organise the data

Draw a graph

Discuss

Visit http://tiigs.org for a more detailed version.

Share your research with others. Send your project essay (with data) to geo@tiigs.org for publication in the geography blog.

Happy journey!