As much as I love trains, something recently struck me as my most boring, stupid train journey in my life: New Delhi to Amritsar on the Amritsar Shatabdi. Well this train gets an Alstom LHB rake (unlike the regular azure-blue rakes that we see all over the country). Click here to see a video of an LHB rake. The loco we had was a WAP5, slightly less powerful than the one in the video. The train started slightly late from NDLS, negotiated the various points slowwwly and continued slowly for the rest of the journey.

Or so it seemed. Till I went to the door. Before I reveal what happened, a little word about travelling at the door in Shatabdi and Janshatabdi trains in North India: You are automatically assumed to be what I call, "the ubuquitous and disinterested traveller", in other words, the "I'm a busy arse" kind of person, who, at the first moment of getting into a train (or any other moving object for that matter), shuts down completely and goes to sleep, his only goal being his destination. So, most doors are jammed with big crates and what not. If you try to open the door when the train is moving, you are given stern, suspicious("Suicide case?") glances by the people inside. Well I managed to evade a couple of those glances, and parked myself at the door. The train was doing 110+ and the gentleman at the helm (read Big White WAP5) was making mincemeat of the whole rake. Add to it the fact that the WAP5 loco has a feature called BPCS, similar to cruise control, and it was probably set to 118kmph, so the whole train was just going on and on at that speed. It was quite frightening to stand by the door, actually :) Since it was a straight, long section of track for most of the journey from NDSL to ASR, it was pretty boring too. Last but not the least, it was an electric loco at the front, so none of that powerful turbo or chugging sounds or the smoking action all we diesel lovers love :)

So much for the outside, now for the inside. Inside, it was a room. A 'room' because in any room, you wouldnt expect it to shake or emit sounds or give you an identification at what speed it's travelling (given that it travels at all). That was how the LHB coach felt from the inside. Food kept arriving by the minute - snacks, tea, soup, supper, ice-cream. None of that "clickety clack" of the wheels, none of the air rushing through the open window at high speeds, none of the echoes of the horn of the loco sounding on a curve, nothing.


And the people inside read magazines and listened to music from their phones without so much as a cursory glance outside. They have a sleek carriage.. they need to get to their places fast, they have it. What else?

Amidst all this smoothening, polishing and trying-to-make-it-look-more-like-an-aircraft kind of design, what's lost is the very essence of the train journey. The journey is what entertains you, unlike journey by air. Heck, that's why they HAVE the inflight entertainment onboard aircraft --> simply because there isn't anything else to do. (Oh wait, maybe you could try counting the number of electric lamps inside the plane, or try to guess the air-hostess's age. Which are, in my opinion, rather dull and pointless means of passing the time).

Metre-gauge train to Bodinayakkanur, shot by yours trulyTake the second class coach in a casual express train on a non-electrified route. The lovely horn sounds, and a slight tug tells you that you're moving. A few seconds later, the chugga-chugga-chug music from the loco sounds and the train picks up pace. There are no cantenaries (posts that hold the overhead wires) periodically blocking your view..Just plain green Indian countryside, with rocking movements from the coach and lovely rhythmic track music to add to the cheer.

Wayside station near Trivandrum. Shot by yours trulyThis is India laid bare. The train passes at a comfortable pace, blowing lots of dust at top speed onto the tiny platforms in wayside stations, and stops for a crossing somewhere deep in the heart of the journey. Enjoying a cup of fine tea and waiting for a crossing train at some wayside station, under the shade of old banyan trees with the birds chirping overhead is something with no words to express it. Yes, in a couple of decades we will have high speed rail transport - plush cars and sleek trains, but what is lost is the Indian touch to it.

Yet the ever present irony continues across the country. Parents still introduce babies to trains in books as "Koooo.. chuk chuk chuk". Steam traction disappeared off Indian mainlines and branch lines by the end of the last millenium. When these toddlers grow up and see an electric locomotive on the track, they'll obviously be left to wonder what the hell went "koo chuk chuk" in it. Hell, you want those lovely steam engines in colouring books, picture charts and general train 'iconification' but you DONT want it in real life. HOW MORE HYPOCRITIC COULD YOU GET? I fully agree to Ranga's view that the steam locomotive is the most awesome machine ever created by man. Who would have thought it possible? Just climb into the cab of a steam loco (in Ooty, for instance) and check out the number of levers and gauges inside the beast. It is mechanical engineering at its best. All run on superheated water.

Courtesy http://www.wuwm.com/media/lake_effect/gallery/112206/slides/INDIA-10203.jpgCountries like England have preserved their steam beauties with a sense of pride. They run these locos for specials in weekends and the like, to uphold the reverence to the machine man engineered and perfected to embody the very notion of speed and power - You fed it fire and it ran. We Indians on the other hand, just waited to dispose of these workhorses and move on. I listen with envy when I hear my grandpa relate how he used to watch coal being piled into the firebox and how the smell of steam rose and the pistons hissed as the train inched out whistling, from the station. I was born too late to hear a whistle blow. I guess my children will never know it ever existed.

That's the way everything is, I guess. Life just goes on, isnt it. How very beautiful.


Sriram said...

PIC details: The first pic is the Madurai - Bodinayakkanur passenger, before Teni. Read this post for more about that line.

The second pic was shot in Neyyatingara station, south of Trivandrum.

The third pic is not by me... Taken from http://www.wuwm.com/media/lake_effect/gallery/112206/slides/INDIA-10203.jpg

Hari said...

Wow, someone's getting obsessed about PIC copyrights!

Nice post. Your narration rocks! :-) Better than the 'Tour' post, I'd daresay. :D

Sriram said...

@hari: PIC copyrights! Dunno.. I decided that the last thing I wanted was someone asking em to shut down the blog 'cos it was HIS pic that was in it :\ By the way, do u actually have to do this (copyright thingy)?

Vrij said...

Awesome.. I so abhore AC travel.. love Sleeper class and also GS travel! That way we connect to the world around us.

Sriram said...

@vrij: Exactly...Also, AC coaches don't let you hear the track music - only gnn-gnnk-gnn kind of grunting. It gets on your nerves after some time. And LHB coaches don't even sway :(

Macabreday said...

u cannot beat 2nd class travel. the sound from outside, air rushing in and all that jazz. i feel claustrophobic inside an AC coach

Anonymous said...

so true man...your train posts are filled with so much fine detail. Thts' the thing that keeps me from clicking on a link in your page. Your narration is the awsome. :)

And about it. Yeah, I think the Railways should consider what English peeps did with thier classic locos. But then Have you seen those, they look finished, and they Shine! in all that glory. And here, it's filled with puke n shit, and no one cares... :| But then, still hoping for the best..


Keep writing bro... :D

Sriram said...

@mac: ^5!

@nitin: But then Have you seen those, they look finished, and they Shine! Yeah man... the age adds bling to them! Look at the first Potter movie, for instance.... what made them put a grand ol' steamer at pf. nine-and-three-quarters instead of a silent TGV?

Sidhusaaheb said...

The trains that have been accorded 'World Heritage' status by UNESCO should continue to run, even for your children to see.


Check out:




BTW, even I wouldn't want to give up the pleasure of travelling while standing or sitting in the door-way of a second-class train compartment! It's a full-length window, sort of, with an excellent view.

Sriram said...

@Sidhusaaheb: These are 'toy' trains... what happened to the mainline black beasts?
Yeah, you are absolutely right about the doorplating!

rantravereflect/ jane said...

wap5.. wowww.. i dint knwo there was nethyn like that running in this country..
heeee.. lol at suspicios *suicide case* bwauuuuhh .. i dun why all thses oldies think that all youngsters have suicidal instincts...

no sounds and no smoking action---> nowww how will karan johar and shah rukh make a movie wih trains that don't chuk chuk and emit smoke..
n how ar rehamn make another chaiyachaiya without those rail gaadi beats, and how will smoking hot mallaika find smoke on the train, to give her that smoky effect..
this is sad-arse man!
but yeahh life's like a train that keeps moving..
n it's beautiful either ways :)

Sriram said...

wap5.. wowww.. i dint knwo there was nethyn like that running in this country.. They're only seen in the north, not counting occassional trips to MAS or HYB.

Niranjani said...

you did capture the essence of indian trains quite beautifully..during my recent swiss trip most of the travel was done by trains and we did miss our trains every minute.especially the night after the train journey you would definitely feel as if you are still in the train the minute you close your eyes.
all said and done..it is all right to be romantic about our trains,but can't stand it when that is given as an excuse for not improving the quality of our travel.

Sriram said...

@niranjani: especially the night after the train journey you would definitely feel as if you are still in the train the minute you close your eyes. Yeah.. the swaying rocks you to sleep, yet keeps you aware that you are in this lovely means of transport!

but can't stand it when that is given as an excuse for not improving the quality of our travel. You are right here. I defeinitely dont wanna sleep with a cockroach for company!

The Blue Indian said...

You stole my words man.. I was gonna write on same topic after my long FULLY DIESEL trip on Konkan Railway and Braganza Ghats.

While listing the things that make up the REAL Indian Railways, you missed one thing- you aint a true Indian railfan until you have seen the ground below your feet (or ass if you wish) while using the loo in a train!!!

Where else in the world is THIS facility available? :P