When we travelled by train in India until the 90’s, we made sure to take a lot of food along with us. This was due to the vagaries and unprecictable time and length of our journey. The lines could breakdown due to weather, accidents whatever. We really took along lots of food that included the important curd rice. At that time, the reason for taking along all this food seemed trivial even though my mother would prophecy all possibilities of dire circumstances. When these events actually happened to me, I understood the plus points of traveling with extra food.
It was a routine trip from Chennai to Mumbai. I was traveling with the children and carrying three bags, my pillow, without which I do not go even to Tambaram (suburb of Chennai) , food basket, water jug and a bag full of plants selected from a famous nursery in Chennai.
We had dinner and were looking forward to reaching Mumbai the next morning. The train began to slow down, stopped, started and continued in this fashion for an hour. We chugged into a sleepy, dark, one-platform station called Jeyur. The train stopped. Some of our co passengers got off to inquire about the reason for the delay.
A bridge had collapsed and the trains could not cross the river. Hours went by in the darkness until the authorities found a solution. State Transport buses transported passengers in the two trains on either side of the river across a road bridge some distance away. The trains returned to the station of origin after exchanging passengers. By the time we reached Mumbai the train was 15 hours late. We were tired, dirty and fractious. But, we were not hungry at all.
The food that we had carried was also shared with other passengers in the compartment. Of course in this entire cross train movement there was one casualty — my plants were left behind in Jeyur. Even now, when my train passes that station, I look out for my plants hoping that some kind soul had planted them and they had found a new home.
This could happen only in our motherland, you may say. Wrong, I had a similar experience in Europe as well. My daughter was very impressed with the movie ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’…Indian version of ‘Roman Holiday’ So, we decided to see some parts of Europe while she was based in Paris. Our first adventure was to Amsterdam. Our train left Paris after 6 p.m. As the train chugged into the border of Belgium, it stopped.
There was a flash strike by the railways and no train could pass through the country. The only way to transport passengers was to bus them to Rotterdam and there we were, repeating our Jeyur adventure with a sense of déjà vu. The only problem was contacting our hotel in Amsterdam to assure the owner that we were on our way but could check in only much later. The railway official in the bus with us helped out with his mobile phone and we reached our hotel after midnight.
A couple of days later we were on our way back to Paris. The train stopped and started until finally we reached Rotterdam and braked to a screeching halt. Engine failure was the diagnosis and we waited till another replacement train came to cart us to Paris. On the way to Holland we were well equipped with sandwiches, cakes and yogurt.
On our return journey, our tuck box was empty. What we got on the train was a lovely, transparent, well-decorated box with five kinds of cheese, only one of them being edible and not smelly. Chocolates, soft drinks and chips were aplenty and we reached Paris to find the last metro gone. A long wait for a taxi and a shared cab home in the wee hours of the morning was the end to our adventure. Of course, unlike our railways, the Dutch company reimbursed 50 percent of our ticket fare for the delays caused.
The Euro adventure was not over. On our next weekend trip to Spain we had a typical Spanish couple get on to the train — a six seater/berth compartment. The lady was very fussy and demarcated her areas of storing luggage, coats, seats etc in scrupulous detail. Just as the train was to leave, an elderly gentleman and his daughter boarded with a few extra pieces of luggage. The Spanish couple was visibly unhappy and persuaded the conductor to change their seats to another coach, the reason being that the other pair was from Guyana. The young lady was on her way to Madrid to her wedding and therefore the extra luggage.
We were on the final leg of our rail journey from Barcelona. The departure time was late at night. We were very early at the station avoiding late night movements in strange places. The train was on the platform and the conductor allowed us to board the sleeper coach. We were just settling down in our seats when suddenly the train began to move with a jerk. The other passengers who had got in with us were standing on the platform and even the conductor was missing. In panic, not knowing where the train was heading, we pulled the chain. The train came to a halt and we hurriedly got off. But the train could not leave as the brakes were on in our coach.
There was a lot of shouting and arm waving from the conductor, engine driver, signals man and others who tried to intimidate us with dire statements about fines and punishments for causing delays to the train. We stood our ground and said that it was the duty of the conductor to warn us about the shunting. All this of course, in a three way conversation; my daughter in French, the railway guys in Spanish and I in my Indian English with asides in Tamil and Hindi to my daughter. Finally things calmed down and we stood in the platform for the same train to come back and take us off to Paris.
I still love trains and am willing to travel anywhere by train. I even took the 12-hour Starlight Express between San Francisco and Los Angeles to see the vast beauty of the West Coast of the U.S. The entire journey was alongside the sea. The train was great, with observation decks, dining cars, sleeper couches and other features. Vegetarian food? You guessed right. It was a nightmare as I was not equipped with my tuck box of idli and curd rice!
Millennium advances have added to the comforts of rail travel. Online booking, muzak information on phone, foil wrapped assembly line food, vendors on the train, bedding on demand have stripped the surprise elements of train trips. The only constant has been delayed journeys and derailed travel plans.
Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Akanksha, Anu, Ashok, Conrad, Delirious, Gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie11, Nema, Noor, Ordinary Joe, Paul, Maria the Silver Fox, Rummuser , Will Knott, and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get seventeen different flavours of the same topic.