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Surprises by the running tracks

Would you care to believe it if I were to tell you that one can watch a full-length movie, that too sitting inside a theatre, while on a train journey? Unbelievable, but it is truly a one-of-its-kind experience. Book yourself the night train from Kotdwara, in the Uttarakhand foothills, to Delhi, and hop across to a cinema theatre at Nazibabad railway junction while the hapless coaches go through the agonising wait of over three hours to join the Mussoorie Express that arrives from Dehradun past midnight to continue on their onward journey. The Railways does not make that offer, but passengers have crafted such a theatrical opportunity to make the best of the stranded time.

I have availed myself of this rare opportunity twice, which has added to my memories of the good as well as not-so-good rail travel experiences over time. It is the sheer experience of being on the train that replays through amazing instances, awful encounters, amusing anecdotes, and avoidable follies. Yet, there is something compelling that continues to entice people to persist with their train journeys, quite often as a matter of choice! It is, however, another matter that barring a few trains, most locomotives and carriages are in need of a complete overhaul in terms of comfort and safety.

Contrary to common perception about the status of trains and train journeys, the charm of being on a train has remained impossible to replicate on any other mode of transport. Train travel is a great leveller, making you rub shoulders as much with the ordinary as with the elite. With a veritable mix of experiences, a train journey allows one to reconnect with the soul of the place and its people. Even the chant of chai, chai at railway stations goes through regional iterations, allowing for an unrestricted peep into unedited footage of other people’s lives and cultures without them getting any inkling of such intrusion.

Mark my words, a train journey remains a distinct aspect of our existence. Whatever be the experience — good, bad or ugly — one can never have enough of it. Because every journey is worth an exclusive story! Recently, a friend flew across to the southern tip of the country to undertake the country’s longest train journey from Kanyakumari to Jorhat before flying back home to Delhi. When asked what made him undergo the ordeal of a four-night, five-day journey, he said the discerning feel to be part of the whole had got him going on the arduous journey.

Like many others, I refuse to believe that the lure of railway journeys is fading. Those who think so won’t ever know what they might be missing. Many years ago, I had spotted what was later named a Thums Up hill (after the popular aerated drink) while crossing the Manmad railway junction in Maharashtra. Atop the hill, one can spot a rock protruding like a thumb. If not on a train, how else would I have spotted such a landmark? What makes any train journey exciting is the plain fact that the traveller never has full control over what it might harbour. That is indeed a hidden gain to be part of the rolling libraries of information, provided one is willing to relinquish home comforts; is ready for the unexpected; and is alive to search for the unknown.

sudhirendarsharma@gmail.com


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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 3:43:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/surprises-by-the-running-tracks/article37719177.ece

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