Train Spotting… New Delhi to Pune….


Traveling on an Indian train is a series of mechanical exhalations, specifically for an Indian, whether in general second or cattle class or in First A/C. The surrounding levels of odors set the tone of the journey and with olfactory senses already in a limbo by the time the train streams out of the platform it is the sights and sounds that keep you engrossed.

An adventure prudie, guided by age, my the finger zeroed on Rajdhani Express for the rumbling journey in mid April 2015, across the plains of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan to Mumbai and from here a taxi ride along the Western Ghats to Pune. An ambivalent travel decision, to fly or track it, had resulted in Second a/c sleeper in the August Kranti Rajdhani, a clone of the original Rajdhani, clanking between Delhi’s Nizamuddin railway station and Central Station, Mumbai. A disappointment as I was hoping to touch down at Victoria Terminus or the present Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), with its  Victorian-Gothic style of architecture, constructed in 1888, a reminder of the British Raj pre-independence and more recently the scene of Dec. 26/11 terrorist attack.

The August Kranti train, named after the August Kranti Maidan, formerly the Gowalia Tank Maidan from where the Quit India Movement, launched in August 1942 and the train metamorphosed into more than a steel contraption. I was hoping for a revolutionary journey as far as hygiene is concerned. Late booking of tickets had resulted in upper berths, a hurdle because for senior travellers to climb up is nothing less than an acrobatic flaying of limbs. The consolation is that one can ask a younger traveler to exchange seats, but our luck was on back-burner. There were senior citizens on the other two berths and an elderly lady on the berth along the aisle leaving us with no choice but to butt up.

Discomfort forgotten, this was the first long distance train journey in India after a gap of nearly thirty years. The earlier train journeys had mostly been short distances, to Nainital via Kathgodam or to Mussorie and Shimla and later after marriage between Delhi and Allahabad. The August Kranti would be covering nearly 1,377 kilometers in 17 hours and 15 minutes and in train speak it was one of the reliable ‘on time’ trains. The diehard BJP supporter, in adjoining berth, attributed this to present government’s railway policies and we hoped for the best…clean and sit-able for 17 plus hours.

The coach was clean but it was the morning train toilet smell that I dreaded. In 1998 I had traveled  Hong Kong-Beijing-Shanghai-Hong Kong by express trains and sitting in the Indian train it was a reflex comparison with the lux coaches of the Beijing-Shanghai express, the spiffy uniforms of attendants, the bathrooms, the hot water availability. Though by end of Hong Kong-Beijing segment we were toilet searching for usable ones.

Personal fiefdom…Mathura Station

The train slided out of Nizamuddin Railway station around 4.50 pm, on time, and jogs, judders, lurches past New Delhi city swamps and algae ponds choked with plastic, industrial townships of Faridabad and Palwal towards Mathura- the land of Lord Krishna and his shenanigans. The Mathura platform played host to a cow or bull, could not make out from the moving train and I wonder how it came to the platform. So much for ‘Clean India’. The phone service provider had kept us updated about territorial boundaries as we crossed Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra…the last two in the night and early morning. Nothing appeared to have changed as the setting sun highlighted the stark villages, the mud houses in between newer brick constructions. As sunlight faded I turned inwards, to the compartment and its inmates.

We were sharing the lower berth, sitting with the lady, a silent request granted silently. The gentleman was not so obliging and stuck on to his lower berth. They were seasoned train travelers judging by the way they made themselves comfortable. The lady was enterprising, carrying her gastronomic condiments along…crushed cardamoms to add to the train tea and pickles and chutney as food asides. More interesting was her bagging the sachets of tea, milk, sugar, salt, tomato ketchup, served with tea and dinner, and by the time the train touched Borivili (Mumbai suburb), her departure point, she was richer by a few sachets. Her preferred mode of travel was train because of airline baggage restrictions giving credence to Santosh Desai’s words… ‘We never travel alone… we travel with our entire way of life and sometimes that has trouble fitting into an airline cabin’   (Mother Pious Lady..Making sense of Every Day India).’ Santosh Desai.

The gentleman, a shoe trader, was returning to Mumbai after attending his Guru’s camp in Mathura while the lady was on her way to attend the sermons of her guru in Mumbai. I found him taciturn and vocal by turns and the duo turned us into mute audience of their wisdom talk. Within time the conversation veered towards professions and economy and I watched how the lady inveigled an interview/assignment for her shoe designer granddaughter.

Finally, it was time to clamber up to our berths and In between toxic stares at the shoe trader, for not offering me the lower berth, I dozed into dreams of clean toilets, clean stations and gourmet cuisine. Waking up I realized that I should accept that ‘travel remains a journey into whatever we can’t explain or explain away’. (Pico Iyer).

The early morning scene of the peaky backwaters of Mumbai was a pleasant sight till we nudged closer to the city and the whistling local trains or steel cages transporting herds. Finally Bombay Central and a vortex of human bodies, stench and luggage, and we made a hasty exit for the taxi stand for commute to Dadar station. A 20-minute journey extends to more than 45 minutes, as the streets/lanes are jammed with humans, vehicles vying for tarmac space. The scene was reminiscent of Indian movies, of village bumpkins lost in the clamor and chaos of this tinsel town that is more squalor than cheesecake. One wonders why the state’s political parties squabble over beef bans and Marathi supremacy instead of channeling their energies towards making the city clean and livable.

(Did not click any train and station pictures)

Duronto Express….Return from Pune

Pune Station

The return train journey was no Continental soiree across rambling Alpine villages or prairies of North America, but a staid rumbling in another superfast train, the fully air-conditioned Duronto express, across the plains of Central India towards New Delhi, the capital city of India.

IMG_2830We were advised to book berths in the Duronto, as it is the fastest train on the Delhi – Pune sector covering 1520 kilometers in about 19 hours and 45 minutes. The luxury is the fairly comfortable padded velour first class berths and the freedom to stretch, burp or loll. The full day cooped up in a coupe was slightly discomforting and I segmented my hours; first few hours, till lunch time, gazing out at the flashing landscape that was no ‘Picasso blur of light and color’ but burnt sienna of the Deccan soil. The patches of green fields, the flat mountainous projections in the hazy distance add occasional people brightened up the dull scenery of the Western Ghats.

The train makes it first stop at Lonavla and later at Khandala and I start to hum ‘Aati kya tu Khandala’ from film ‘Ghulam’, sung by actor Aamir Khan on-screen. The station is least inviting and I leave Khandala and my humming behind and look forward to, two more stops,  ‘shining’ Gujarat. There is very little to differentiate between the villages and towns of the adjoining states, Xerox copies of each other, and it is the signboards that are giveaways of changing territorial boundaries. The people waiting on platforms mirror the city or state, the train had stopped at Surat and Vadodra, and we had a brief glimpse of colourful Gujarati turbans shielding business-dead pan faces. By this time the velour comfort takes hold and i stretch out,  breathing the rhythm of ‘back and forth’ as the train trundles on towards the desert plains of Rajasthan… is night by the time we cross the Gujarat border. The clacking over the rail joints and brief stops in middle of night fail to rouse me from my sleep.

Green cover

Train food is nothing to slurp over, a slight improvement, and the vegetarian and non-vegetarian Continental fare  accompanied by ice cream, were edible. Being First class the service was good and the chicken cutlets with steamed veggies a shade better than the lunch fare.

A.H.Wheeler...still continuing
A.H.Wheeler…still continuing

We had opted for train travel, probably trying to relive the romance of the railways and not compare it with airline travel. The one advantage of land travel is that there are no long queues, security pat downs, luggage restrictions and most important, the space or leg room. Stretch, exercise or play along the aisle, as the young mother and her two kids were doing, and no reclining seat-in-your-face. I finished a 250-page novel, curled up on my personal berth served by polite attendants, oblivious to the occasional flares of light from villages and stations as the train hurtled into shadowy blackness.

The 5.30 a.m. knock on the door and the smiling attendant placed our tea trays on the stool. What more could one ask for? It was time to unwind and prepare to disembark. A journey to relive the past had come to an end, a sanitized journey minus the shenanigans and subterfuges of past journeys when we had to chain the luggage for fear of pilfering during the night. The caution is still there, despite armed guards and security on board. Also missing is the constant stream of vendors, not allowed in First class compartments, climbing in and out at different stations. The stations too bore the ‘bare’ look as the proliferating books, fruit and snack stalls regulated leaving the platforms for travelers and their luggage.

On time and we were in Nizamuddin Station, New Delhi….the beginning of the end.

Captivating –Images

Jake’s Sprinters Sunday Post – Captivating.

SanyaChina  live mannequins outside a bridal store.


Guangzhou – Shoe selling


Statue of Liberty?  Guangzhou ( Guangzhou Martyrs’ Memorial Garden)


Guangzhou – Bags all shapes, sizes and color in the wholesale market

Bags galore

Banff, Canada

Banff Town

Wall Wonders

Water Wall – Houston This 64-foot U-shaped fountain recycling  78,500 gallons of water every three hours and 20 minutes is a marvel. The surrounding three acre park with more than 180 live oaks provides space to cool off in the commercial environs.


Beer Can House  Houston

DSCN3927A fetish turned into wonder. The “Beer Can House” is studded with 50,000 flatted empty beer cans and accessorized with pieces of marbles, glass, rocks and metal. DSCN3922The handiwork was an antidote for boredom as John Milkovisch got tired of mowing the grass and with cans piling up. Voila …a ‘canned wonder’


San Antonia River Walk


Floating restaurant  Jumbo Kingdom…Hong Kong…..


Another one from my stock..Chueng Chau Island…Hong Kong


Brooklyn…New York


My take on Ailsa’s Travel Theme -Walls

Ryokens, Onsens, Kuro-Tamagos…and a long life in Japan

Ryokans, Onsens, Kuro-Tamagos…. and a long life in Japan

Indra Chopra writes a guest blog about her introduction to the Japanese style of bathing. Originally from India, she is now based in Hong Kong with her husband. Indra’s own travel blog – Trails is about journeys, the constant and unexpected, of encounters with the known and unknown. The journeys are on foot, train and air and each has a special place in the blog-sphere.  [Read… [Read more]

Cheung Chau…An Island Treasure

A languid bluish iridescent haze wraps the hourglass dimensions of the 3+ meters Cheung Chau or “long island” visible through a firewall of fishing boats, trawlers, junks, sampan, houseboats and rafts.

The svelte appearance is courtesy the sentient mountains at either end tapering to connect in the center, the patch of flat land, user-friendly and approachable. A 55 minute ride from Hong Kong’s Central ferry pier and we join the resters and revelers, downloaded by ferries at regular intervals, to look for the hidden treasures of this Ming era 1368-1644 fishing village.

The ‘treasure’ refers to the undiscovered pleasures of the Island and in part to the ambiguous looted wealth of the notorious pirate Cheung Po-tsai who used the Cheung Po Tsai Cave on the southwest tip of the island as his den.


A 5 minute walk from the pier is the Tung Wan beach with more onlookers, dogs and children than swimmers and a lone windsurfer.

Close by is the Windsurfing Center and the Kwun Yam Wan beach opposite Kwun Yum Temple. We give the beaches and temples a miss and stroll along the inner lanes munching on spiral potato twist, local to Cheung Chau, and frozen fruit drops.

The freshly painted, garish blue or yellow B & B pads, three star hotel, boutiques, hair styling salons, education shops, stationers and cafes spaced out with local Chinese eateries, crowded housing and wet markets selling shrimp paste, local delicacies, fresh and dried fish, vegetables, fruits and household paraphernalia. Canopied Tri-cycles, cycles, motorized carts and walkers of all ages weave through each other in the crowded narrow lanes.

Few hours in the crowded inner lanes and the pervasive fish aroma, largesse of fresh squids, prawns, crabs, sea urchins, shellfish etc., lures us to the seafood restaurants along the Praya, the main sea front thoroughfare that comes alive with the setting sun.

The food stalls and restaurants keep pace with the clicking chopsticks and spoilt for choice we settled for French toast, fried chicken wings and wedge potatoes at the Cheung Po Tsai Restaurant & Bar on the San Hing Praya Street. On the first floor of the restaurant is a museum of Cheung Chau related artifacts.

The sun was sliding behind Lantau Island, replacing the blueness with black punctuated with colored lights and the day slowly stretching to 24 hours.

The View

The ferries continued to spawn nightlifers, residents and tourists and the Praya was reverberating with foot falls.

It was time to return to Hong Kong… or did we ever leave it.

Unbelievable..the crowds

Side Attractions:

Family Walking Trail: A must for hikers and nature lovers wanting to get away from the bustling Central Causeway of Cheng Chau. This is a three and a half hour walk around the Island, past craggy hillsides, quiet bays and beaches, temples and old missionary residences. The Southern half walk is decidedly more scenic, a two-hour walk, with spectacular views of Lantau and surrounding Islands and the Mini Great Wall or a walking trail.

The Pak Tai Temple: Constructed in 1783 and dedicated to popular Taoist God of the Sea and is venue of the annual spring time Cheung Chau Bun Festival.

Beitiao Pavilion: For a panoramic view of the Island and beyond

China Towns of Flushing and Lower Manhattan: New York 2011

Flushing Queens: I felt I was walking the lanes of Mong Kok/ Wan Chai in Hong Kong or it could be any city in China.

Hung Hom Station, Kowloon ?????
Familiar...the walking and the talking
Street Scene
Images from Lower East Side, Manhattan China Town… of the oldest Chinese enclaves out of Asia.
The Red Door
Corner Stalls
Where are we???????
Choy sum anyone
fruits from the Mainland
gifts galore