Most of the time that I do travel in India it is by air. Go the airport, catch a flight, attend the meetings, and return back. Most of the times, all of this is manageable within the day. Travel is limited to the big Indian cities each of which is almost like the other. So, when I took a couple of longish train journeys, there was a sense of expectation that this would be somewhat different. The length is relative I was taking the train (Shatabdi) from Delhi to Dehradun and back, a journey of 320 kilometres which is covered in just under 6 hours.
A train journey is different from travelling by road or air, especially if you happen to be alone and sitting next to a window during a day trip. In short Indian flights, there are too many interruptions. Long international effects are somewhat like the train journeys but with one big disadvantage a constant outside view. The train has the effect of setting the mind completely at rest. Thoughts wander in and out. Sights outside the window spur some past memory and activate a new set of hyperlinks. Time loses some of its constraints as thoughts freely explore depths not normally possible during other modes of travel. In a car, one has to be constantly alert about the road.
I have always liked the train being fascinated by them since I was a child. There is something magical about seeing an engine pulling the bogies against the background of the countryside. Long train journeys in my life have been rare, especially in the past decade. In a trade-off between time and personal pleasure, time and flights usually win.
My most memorable train journey has been the three-day odyssey that I took from New York on the east coast to California on the West Coast of the US while I was working there. The New York to Chicago journey was not that exciting I was closeted in a small compartment. After a train change at Chicago, it was different. After all, I was now on the California Zephyr. From Amtraks introduction: Amtraks California Zephyr allows you to follow the trail of pioneers, gold prospectors and the Pony Express along Americas earliest transcontinental rail route. Get acquainted with farmland, prairies, deserts, rivers, and mountains. Amtraks Sightseer Lounge gets you up close to the natural splendor of the West without disturbing natures awesome beauty. Let your mind wander back in time as the train takes you across the country.
In the chair car on the upper deck of the California Zephyr, one had a sense of openness. I could stretch and move around. Peoples conversations flitted in and out. A viewing compartment allowed us to see the night sky above us through a glass dome. Dinner time conversations with strangers gave a better sense of the world around. One could talk and listen for hours at a stretch with people without the constraints of any kind of artificial limits set by fixed schedules. The spectacular views outside were a joy to behold. The three-day coast-to-coast trip is one few would undertake when the pressures of life and business mean that every hour is so important. But, at least once in a life, everyone should undertake a journey like the California Zephyr. It will help us discover and talk to our own self better.
Tomorrow: Delhi Station