The diverse landscapes swoosh by: barren lands with thorny shrubs to gushing waterfalls, sea coast to hills and mountains, dark smoky tunnels to vast farms stretching to the horizon. But the more common are the vast stretches of farms. If it were to be seen from the top, it would look like a land of different colored patches put together, like a beautiful Indian patchwork. The palm and other trees often mark borders of plots. The closer ones run past, while those at a distance, provide some company.
The view changes drastically with the nearing of any big city. Big and posh buildings left aside, the rat infested slums is the more common sight around. There is a stench; dark almost black water flows around it. In this hell, little children play cricket and other street games. All enjoying themselves. The other teenagers and youngsters wave us goodbye. The ladies are sitting in a group or are seen washing clothes and utensils in the single govt. tap provided for the entire slum dwelling. A number of small shops, even clinics, are located in the slums itself. In the night, the light of the bulbs, often with illegal connections, provide a dim light.
This is India in its truest form, covered in the shortest time, by the life line of India: the Indian Railways. Spanning over 65,000 kilometres and carrying over 2.8 million passengers daily, this is the fourth largest railway network. Different people, different cultures, different customs, all come together here.
The daily passengers, who over their shared travel time have befriended other fellow travelers, chat, share a snack, sing, pray,. The family, parents with their kids, travelling to visit the grand parents, during the summer holidays. The salesman carrying his goods to sell in some other part of the country. The professionals and students, going home for their weekend break. You see them all!
The different classes of compartments, offer another interesting scenario. While those in A.C. coaches, typically hailing from upper middle class families, enjoy a more peaceful and undisturbed journey with lesser vendors, the second class, as the regular non AC coaches are called, offers full flavor, with the vendors and open windows. The other unreserved compartments often are over filled to their capacity, with a queue forming hours in advance to get a seat. Getting a place to stand properly is luck enough. The villagers carry bulk of goods on a single ticket. In addition to the commotion, other vendors hop on selling their ware. You can buy all odds and ends while travelling in the local train too: hair clips, stickers, key chains, ear rings, mobile covers, children books, etc. you name it they have it!
Food is not to be missed in this cultural confluence.There is a wide variety of food at different stations. The vendors run along, from window to window, carrying fruits and small food parcels of local dishes . As soon as a station approaches, the tea vendors hop on to the running train, eager to get in first to get more customers, shouting ‘chai… chai… garam chai’. The tea varies, from cutting tea in Mumbai, called so because of the quantity, half compared to the regular size, to the tea served in tiny earthern pots, known as kulhads, to the masala chai in the west.
So next time you want to visit the “Real India”, the diversity, the people, the cultures in one huge confluence, skip the air travel, hop on to one of these. It is not just a transport, it itself is the travel.