Low cost airlines changed forever, how middle class Indians used to travel.
I took my first flight ever in 2005. SpiceJet, Mumbai - Delhi with a stop-over at Ahmedabad. I remember nothing else of it. I remember then taking a bus from Delhi airport to ISBT to catch a ST bus to Ludhiana. That bus journey like always, took me through several cities over 6-7 hours. Sights. Sounds. Smells. Flights sound boring.
Trains and buses have a certain romanticism associated to them. If time was not an issue, I would always prefer a train journey over a flight. If I remember correctly, I have traveled only 5 times on train since my first flight.
I would have never known Upma / Vada (south Indian delicacies), if it was not a standard breakfast in trains. Trains help us connect with and know about diverse cultures of India.
As a young boy, I used to get thrilled by getting down on station platforms on the way to a far flung destination. So for a long time, when I had never actually visited Baroda or Surat, I knew these towns by their stations. I always thought Shreekhand (sweet food item from Gujarat) was something special to these places. I always used to tell friends that I have been to Surat and Baroda and other such places, because I had set foot on their train platforms. Though never actually visited many of them, till recently.
I have traveled in sleeper class, in general compartments and in AC compartments. In the same train, people behave differently in these different compartments. Once traveling from Ambala to Lucknow, I had to sleep on train floor using newspapers as my sheet, among shoes of other travelers. It was a sleeper class, so people adjusted. This wouldn't have been possible in AC section. Sitting by the loo on your bag, in general compartment, where there were no reserved seats, made me value the physical space we are privileged to have in our lives. Every time you travel in AC compartment, there will always be two - three groups drinking liquor in cahoots with the TC and pantry boys who serve best snacks for them.
Train travel definitely adds to your world view and perspective. I will always remember one particular journey. We were returning from Ujjain after winning a national debating competition. Being winners, many people approached us and we made lot of friends in those three days. Few girls from Jammu, gave our team of two boys, special attention. Incidentally, we all were traveling back to our homes in Jammu Tawi express. It was a fun journey back, with all of us playing games and talking about stuff in general. I made friends with S. (Never asked her last name). We talked about changing India and things like that. Young, idealistic and idle minds. It was supposed to be a one day journey from Ujjain to Ludhiana,but things were to go wrong. The entire northern India grid failure happened on that eventful day of 2001. Our electric train got stranded in middle of nowhere. With no mobile phones then, communication was not like today's. We waited for 8 hours in that godforsaken place. The friendships strengthened. Next day early morning, around 4 am, we reached Ludhiana. S and her friends were in deep sleep. We were not sure, about saying goodbye to them, after waking them up. We never did. I often wonder, what would have they felt about it. We had exchanged our email ids. After many months she wrote me a mail and I replied back. But then, in rush of life, we never communicated again. Train rides provide that calmness, that time to build bonds.
If you are in chaos, take some time off and hop on a train.