I read a post somewhere last week, about a train journey in North Eastern India, and that took me back instantly to my own. Once upon a time in my life all long distance journeys meant roads and rails, flying in a pressurised metal capsule on the silver side of clouds wasn't necessarily synonymous with travelling. Air travel is fast, efficient, no-nonsense, very business like, just like the rest of our fast-paced urbanised-upto-the-gills lives now. But I still feel I haven't really travelled a country till I have negotiated the bumps and the culverts of its roads, or waited interminably for the signal to turn green stuck in a train miles away from anywhere. I still insist on a long-distance bus or train trip on every holiday, otherwise I feel I haven't really got my money's worth.
The shortest train ride I have taken is maybe 20 minutes, the longest is around 45 hours, from Trivandrum to Kolkata. I don't think I would like to spend such long hours inside a ladies coupe now, though I certainly didn't mind that trip when I made it many years ago. A cousin and I went on a two week trip to South India and padded around - Bangalore, Mysore, Ooty, Kanyakumari, Trivandrum and then up along the backwaters of Kerala via Cochin turning east to Chennai (then still Madras) and up through Vizag and Rajamundhry to Kolkata. Unforgettable, the little vignettes of rural India through the train windows. Interesting travel companions too, two young women from Germany, much like us, they were nurses they told us, and had saved up for this holiday, travelling the whole of India on a budget. They ate only bananas the whole journey to avoid the dreaded bugs. My cousin and I marvelled privately, we couldn't imagine how much money it took to go off to a different continent like that. It would have taken me half my lifetime to save that much and go off on such a trip, beyond the realms of dreams.
That journey was a one-off, I have never again been on the same train or route, the opportunity has never arisen to travel so extensively in the South. Of course I flew in and out of Chennai and Cochin and Bangalore a few times, and took a cab up the Nilgiri slopes to Munnar on work-related hurried trips, where there was no time to walk around and smell the coffee and the flowers; I went on a holiday even, to Coorg just a few years back, but then we flew into Bangalore airport, with its flower export handling facilities and wifi in place, a very far cry from the old, ancient railway platforms and the colonial era red brick station buildings. Just not the same thing, the feel of those trips. Train travel is so much more relaxed and restful, so much more grounded, a longer, more in-depth learning opportunity in that close brush with the co-passengers, cooped up in the coupes, in those vignettes of life flashing past the windows. Air travel can't ever hope to replicate that same magic.