Two years ago I had travelled by train from Bangkok to Thanaleg, and it was a great experience. The journey was comfortable and quite luxurious too.
Last week I travelled by Indian railways from Mumbai to Pondicherry. I wanted to experience the train journey in India but was highly disappointed. There is only one 1st class compartment in the train (I was told) that is apparently always booked (for VIPs perhaps) so the next best choice was to travel in 2nd class 2-tier AC.
As I walked on the station towards my compartment, I passed general compartment that smelt strongly of urine. The platform was crowded. There were too many people waiting at the station with not enough benches to sit, many people sat on the ground, littered with filth and stink.
The tickets were booked on line by the fellow passengers. I was surprised to see that senior citizens had been allotted upper berth while youngster enjoyed the lower berth. How do they expect seniors to climb to the upper berth? I saw one woman struggling to climb to the upper berth, balancing her feet on narrow short ladder, trying to push her weight upwards towards the seat, its not easy. I think the booking computers should be set in such a way that senior citizens get lower berth by default.
As the journey began, I saw a woman bring out a big chain to secure her luggage under the seat. She chained all her luggage and inserted a huge lock saying that theft was the common occurrence in trains and many people get robbed during the journey.
Robbery can take place only when there are unauthorized personals in the compartment. I cannot pinpoint a thief , but there were continuous stream of hawkers in the compartment, it seemed like we were in a local train. I was told that there was no pantry car in the train hence the hawkers. Did they have a valid ticket to travel in 2nd Class AC? How can there be security if we have vendors crawling in the compartment all the time? These are the people who watch the passengers closely, observing and scheming their next move. While they wait by the seat, they notice every movement of the passenger and evaluate which are the easy targets and how they can succeed in stealing the passenger without being caught.
So, some fellow passengers entertained every hawker, since there is nothing else to do but to eat or to sleep. The food attracts insects, cockroaches and rats therefore I was not surprised when people started jumping and shouting when they had rats scurrying under their feet.
One of my friends sent me this picture of 1st class compartment.
Many passengers misuse the seats which is meant only for sitting. if the luggage is kept on the seat, there is likely to be a tear on the seats. The people too have to be disciplined. I cannot put the entire blame on railway authorities but if there is Railway Protection Force (RPF) stationed in each compartment, many things could be in order and the train journey could be a pleasure to ride.
Because train journey can be so enjoyable if these small discomforts are taken care of. The view outside the window is beautiful. From 5pm to 7pm, I watched the sun play games as the sky turned from bright red, to pink to dark blue, the scene changed from rows of tall palm trees to plains to hills, to lakes and then through village dotted with mud houses.
The plus point of the train journey is the rhythm of the movement, I lay stretched on the seat, the swinging motion inside the berth lulls me back to sleep.
I don’t see such kind of pleasures in air travel…….