160 years of Indian railways and more….

This fabulous doodle awaited me one fine morning….160 years of Indian Railways

Caught up with meetings and power point presentations i didn’t click on it till late in the evening. Google celebrates 160 years of Indian railways shouted all the headlines and i felt ashamed.

How could I have let this momentous occassion pass me by?

Well to make up for it, here is my railway story…

I fell in love with the Indian Railways very early in life, much before I got acquainted with the wonderful Paul Theroux and that redoubtable guard.

Hazy memories come streaming through as I sip my chai and surf the web reading stories from other lovers of the indian railways composing odes to the snake that trails this great country uniting people in a common cause: travel for whatever reason.

Even as I browse through images and read posts I am a pony-tailed, scrubby-nosed kid again and chaos reins in the joint family household composing a nanimaa, nanu, maasis, maamas, chachas and chachis not to mention the innumerable cousins. It’s the summer hols and we watch as some members of the family set out on their annual pilgrimage.

The customary preparation began with a visit to the South Western Railways. A younger maama would take us along to the ticket counter to fill up forms. A clutch of forms and long lines later we would head back home in the afternoon sun happy for getting reserved tickets.

At home, preparation for the long journey ahead was like watching a traveling circus.

Cotton mattress were rolled up and belted in tarpaulin sheets; kamandals polished and kept in front of the household deity before they were considered fit to make the journey; cotton sarees; lungis; stacks of comic books if we kids were lucky to accompany the adults; steel containers filled with condiments for the long journey; leaf plates stuffed with curd rice and pickles, puliyogare, lemon rice, roti and aloo subzi; steel pots filled with water; tumblers; serving spoons and news papers were just some of the interesting items that made part of the 12-16 pieces of luggage.

Finally, our merry coterie would accompany the departing adults on scooters, autos and cars. I’m surprised as I recollect these scenes that we didn’t have a mini tempo or a movers n packers or even the brass bands assist us in reaching the railway station.

On reaching the station, there would be a scurry to get platform tickets. These were treasured as the stubs would be used in board games during the long summer vacations.

While the kids held on to each other forming a chain with the eldest adult being our guide amidst the jostling crowd ferrying us safely to our platform, the rest of the junta would manage the luggage precariously balanced on their heads or shouldered; the ladies would carry the steel containers and parcels of food; nani would carry the kamandal and nanu would generally shout directions at anyone who cared to listen.

B 9839

(Courtesy: Google Images)

Strong scents or smells, depending on your sensibilities, hit the nostrils. The smell of piss and fecal matter were the first to win the race in reaching your nose much before the smell of sweat, flowers, fish, dung, chai, samosas, vadas and people could hit you hard.

A veritable fear of missing the train always made us reach the station atleast an hour and a half before the train was scheduled to depart. And to this day, that habit has never left me. (And I still get confused between the old station and the new one.)

The South Western Railways, their motley crew of engine drivers, guards, TCs, porters  and the platforms they ply on deserve another post dedicated to them.

Those days the stations danced to the tune of tea and biskuut vendors selling and shouting chai chai kaapi kaapi kaapi instead of the TV screens playing the latest dinchak hits.

Last minute purchases included boiled sweets (Parry’s coconut bar available for 10 paise was a favorite); parle-g biscuits; oranges; books from Wheeler Book House or Higginbothams depending on which station you boarded the train from; Parachute coconut oil and comb.

Parry's toffee

Finally, as the coaches of the train arrived at the designated platform we kids would be shephered back into the waiting arms of a maasi, while the men fought their way into the coming train as soon as the doors were flung open. With 12 and more pieces of luggage, they deserved applause for securing baggage space for every single item including the kamandal which never left my nani’s arm despite all the cajoling and pleading.

Some time later (it seemed to us forever) by what was nothing but a miracle the travelling circus had settled down and we were allowed to board the coach to wish the departing relatives fond farewells.

The whistle would sound in the distance and we would feel the faint jerk of the train as it began preparing to pull out of the station.

Squeezes, hugs and kisses and we were whisked out of the coach. The departing ones would squeeze their nose to the metal rods barring the coach windows and we would furiously wave running along side the coach shouting and cheering….

And so ended yet another journey to the Railway station till we became old enough to accompany our adults.

but that is another post……

P.S; And while you are surfing to read more on the great Indian Railway bazaar, check these out:

The Overland Chapati Express

Around India in 80 Trains

Grandtourism Travel

and this very intriguing….The Great Circular Indian Rail Challenge


The Great Indian Railway Bazaar

With due credit to Paul Theroux, and dedicated to my girl Chota Don!!

Nothing beats the Indian Railways if you want to meet the real India or Bharat as some may say.


It starts from the time you try to book your tickets through irtc. If you know other ways of complicating a simple booking process, please be sure to write to them. I’m sure they haven’t conceived or employed all of it and your suggestions will be more than welcome.

Or perhaps they wish to keep the online booking process nerve wracking just so you walk into the rail reservation counter or any of the 3rd party agents and provide them gainful employment and revenue.

If you plan to take pets along, pray to the Gods, steel your nerves, take a deep breath and proceed.

Now here is the rule book according to the Indian Railways. But rest assured nobody including the kind souls at the luggage counter will know of it.

Always, always plan this part of the journey well in advance.

I didn’t.

As with everything else I do, this was a last minute decision. But the zillion+ Indian Gods smiled on me and there was an angel at the luggage booking counter as well.

Since I was traveling on the South western railways and my boarding point was yeshwantapur station I had to approach the luggage booking counter here. Finding the luggage booking counter is nothing short of a treasure hunt.

It is after Platform 6 at the farthest end. A lonely godown cum warehouse where bikes, turkeys and furniture reside.


Have a smile on your face at all times, and do not let murderous instincts and aggression take over.

The guard at the outpost is a friendly soul and always willing to be a part of your sorrow when you are trying to make the railway personnel understand that “Yes, sir I wish to take my dog along.”  “Yes, he is my own dog.” “Yes, I will be there at all times to take care of him.” “No sir, he doesn’t bite unless provoked.” “Yes sir, of course I will be there at the destination to collect him,” and so on and so forth.

This interrogation done, a form is given for you to fill up. Do not worry by the complexity. I’m sure most of you will find a trignometric problem easier to solve. For the duds like us, the railways have pasted a completed form on one of the walls, which is obscured largely by a pillar. If your sharp eyes catch this form and you have filled it up that is half the battle won.

Walk over to the gentleman/lady at the counter and wait patiently for them to finish their important phone call or chat with their buddies at the next counter before shoving the form up their nose.

Remember, these are important people working for the Indian Railways, so don’t ever rush them.

After an hour and forty minutes, if you are lucky that is, they will look at the form and inquire about the date of journey, which stupid you have already filled up! They will then ask you about the train number, really how stupid are you , you filled that up as well!!

Such repeat performances later, the lady/gentleman will shove the form back under your nose and say “Why did you bring this now? You should have told us your journey is after a week. You come back one day before the date of journey and give us the completed form.”

“Huh, but didn’t I inform you in the first instance the journey was a week later.”

Huff and a puff, and I will blow your house away. Unfortunately you can’t my friend. So patience and come back a week later.

This time you are the wiser one. You know where the luggage counter is. You have the form filled up, and you are ready to fork out the fees that will see your darling pet travel with you.


They have you again. Fool you.

“Sure, give us the form.”

“Oh, good. You completed it.”

“Ok, I will paste it here. Come tomorrow morning an hour before the journey, pay the fee and you can take the dog to the luggage van.”

Sweat glistens on your forehead and you are ready to black out. Courage, dear heart, courage.


The day of the journey draws bright and early. You circumvent the maddening crowd, you yell at your folks to head to the coach and haul all the luggage so the coolie can take it onwards. You pray that the luggage doesn’t get lost, let alone them.

And you run with your hyperactive dog to the luggage booking office.

And he has to be really hyperactive you see, after all he is excited as you are on being able to travel on the GREAT INDIAN RAILWAY BAZAAR!!

At the luggage counter:

Where is the dog?

Here he is sir.

Your dog.

Yes sir, mine. See, he knows me too (of course, the mutt decides to snarl and growl and refuses to obey you)


Ok, pay (consulting a book) (and all he had to do was lift his head and look at a huge poster on the wall opposite that says Dogs, cats, horses – RS 60) … yes pay 60 rupees.

You happily pay the money. (this is the nicest part since your dog travels cheaper than you or even your senior citizenry folks)

Now listen young lady, if the brake van doesn’t have a kennel than I cannot allow you to take your dog with you. You will have to wait for a van that has a kennel.

See, they know how to keep you on your toes.

But, but sir my parents are on that train.

I’m sorry young lady but those are the rules.

But sir, I came here last week and they never told me anything about this.

Hmm, fools.

Sir, please please do something.

Let me see. (A benign smile)

Ok, do one thing, take this along with you and show it to the guard. Mostly, the brake van will have a kennel. So don’t worry.

Off you go in search of the guard, who is invisible. You send a silent prayer, locate the brake van (usually the last coach on the train after the disabled coach) and open it gingerly.

Ah thank you God. I will break coconuts and I will pray and I will worship and I will give you my pay, etc etc…..There is a kennel after all. Hallelujah.

You quickly shove your mutt inside. This is when he realises he is a dog, a descendant of the majestic wolf, a member of the pack. He will not let you shove him easy.

You need to have a jujitsu hold handy and be ready to block, tackle, push, pull and get bruised and battered in the process before your mutt goes in the danky kennel and you are able to slide the door down.

After the wrestling match is all but done you hear a voice.

“Here, young lady, what do you think you are doing?

Just a minute sir.” And with one last reserve of energy before you give up the fight you push your mutt’s butt inside and down goes the door and you turn around sweating.

“Yes sir. What am I dping? Well, I have booked my dog’s passage on this train. Here is the receipt. I spoke to the station master and the booking counter person who have asked me to contact you since you are the most important.”

And your try to give what you think is your most winsome smile.

The guard looks at your sweaty, pasty face all bruised and battered.

He looks at the receipt.

He smiles.

“Ok, but be sure to get here when the train makes longer stops at junctions X,Y and Z.”

You are ready to do a jiggy and kiss him as well, but remember you are sweaty and your folks have probably given up on you by now.

So, run baby, run.

Have a good trip. Bon Voyage!!!!

P.S: Before you break out into a grin, remember you will do an encore at the return point as well, and God forbid if there is a dog already booked before yours or if there isn’t a kennel in the brake van. Good luck, baby!! Just remember, the guard is your best friend. For now, forget the dog.