“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” Rabrindranath Tagore
“Are you mad?” They all said.
I should be used to that call by now. It’s usually what entices me to do whatever mad thing I have just suggested.
To circumnavigate India by train and NOT write a book about it. Just to DO IT, you know? No fanfare, leave the social media at home and just travel. Old school style. Again.
From Guwahati to Kanyakumari on the VIVEK EXPRESS, a journey of 3,680 kilometers over 72 hours. Then up the other side in three stages.
People tried to scare me but you can’t scare a woman who has ridden a luggage rack crunched into a foetal position for 18 hours straight.
“There are RATS,” warned one. “Big as your arm!”
Hah! I spit on scary rat stories! I have bigger hairier more menacing snatched from the jaws of death train stories so away with your Rat Stories!
“But you can fly for less,” they said. “And you don’t have to talk to anyone.”
Which is exactly why I wanted to do this mad Rail Yatra, to travel from Guwahati in the North Eastern state of Assam to the very tip of India, Kanyakumari, a journey of 3680 Kilometers. I wanted to talk to people again.
I was never totally sold on train travel in India. Sure it’s ridiculously cheap if you travel like a backpacker and go second class sleeper, but It’s not partiuclarly comfortable for a woman alone and not terribly secure either. I used to travel with a knife in those days and have used it.Now, I was the first person in the bloody queue the day budget airlines opened in India. Are you kidding me? No more filthy second class sleeper for me baby, I was moving up in the world!
I HATED train travel and saw it as a necessary evil, a journey loaded with risk and discomfort and possible train smash, I was obsessed that I would end up a statistic in one of India’s massively tragic train smashes. I would get panic attacks if I heard pilgrims singing on a train because everyone knows that it’s always train loads of pilgrims that derail massively. I never travelled during festival times because of that.
Sometimes I would pass another train at a station and shiver in horror at the idea of a journey lasting more than ten hours. I would glance at those captive passengers with grim sympathy and thank GOD that I never would be forced into a similar situation.
Then the budget airlines opened up and my life changed. Catch a train again over a long distance? Me? HELL no! Give me the airconditioned comfort of air travel, the airline staff kissing my ass and calling me madam, the great shiny expanses of floor free of camped out families, the vacuum sealed swiftness of it all.
But then you should always do the thing that scares you most, right? And I missed the rock and roll of the journey. I missed the feeling of having had a journey, of particpating in the journey. I was in danger of simply moving from place to place like a seal wrappped airport sandwich and falling out of sympathy with my fellow man.
What I got was a full smorgasboard of light and shadow, of sunlight playing on water, of molecules and hearts bumping, a sense of time and place passing, existing, hardly giving us a backward glance or waving fit to bust. A six thousand kilometer story about reaching out and touching the sides.
Really, take a train. It’s travel the way it used to be.