On the occasion of the railway budget, a few observations and experiences on trains:
There are train journies I have taken and train journies I would like to. The long haul from Bombay to Calcutta by the Howrah Mail via Nagpur that I have undertaken. It is like crossign four countries in Europe. The scene continuously changes; you start with Wills Filter, half way across you find that they are selling only Scissors cigarettes, known as Kanchi, and you begin with tea in a cup at Kalyan and on the second morning find yourself drinking tea at wayside stations from disposable mud pots.
And the experience of crossing the Ganga, the glow of the furnaces of Jamshedpur at four in the morning. And, finally, the Howrah bridge, swinging into view like a giant picture-postcard.
But I have not crossed the sub-continent to Calcutta by the Gitanjali Express. I would like to, thought I do not suppose it would be as interesting. I like trains that stop at wayside stations to trains that express through, so that I can walk on the platforms and consume the various local specialities - the srikhand at Baroda, the pedhas at Pagra, and yes, and batatawadas at Karjat, certainly.
The Bombay-Pune Express, I have used frequently. My first all-cordior train, scrambled eggs-on-toast in the dinning car (the buffet), newspaper from A.H. Wheller, chikki (four varieties) at Lonavla, on the way back. I fail to understand why so many people choose to travel by the Asiad bus or the taxi, where you sit cramped between two total strangers, one smelling of Paan Parag and the other of Parachute Hair Oil.
I once bought a circular ticket and toured through a South by trains: The Egmore, Kanchipuram Passenger, changing at Villupuram to a branch line, outward bound to Rameswaram, taking the Tirunelvelli Express, then getting on a shuttle service to Tiruchendur, where the railway line ends on the ends on the beach and India's frontiers end. And the West Coast Express, thundering down to Cochin Harbour. Perhaps, not thunder; very few Indian trains thunder any more, they rattle and groan.
But I have never been to Shimla or Ooty, and though I have been to Matheran, never by train. That is going to be my next project, by train to Matheran. And I want to go by train to Goa, past Doodhsagar, up the hill and into Vasco.
And, on the occasion of the railway budget, there is one more observation I would like to make. Had Mr. George Fernandes not organised the pointless all India railway strike and put the railways to such heavy and unrecoverable losses, perhaps there would not have been the need to increase the railway fares in his budget.